Tuesday morning we got up early to drive to Pompeii. I had arranged for a guide with Emiliano Tufano (pompeiin.com) to meet us at 9 am. The drive took a bit over an hour, though we hit traffic and the usual interesting Italian driving habits getting through Salerno. It makes Larry crazy that Italian drivers leave getting over to the exit until the last possible minute; and then when they enter the highway from an entry ramp, unexpectedly slow down instead of smoothly merging.
In any case, we easily found the Zeus parking lot near the Porta Marina entrance. After a series of texts and phone calls our guide arrived (he’d been given a different meeting point by the office). Although he claimed to be an archaeologist, he only gave us the bare bones of what we were seeing, and we found we had to ask a lot of questions to get more details out of him. At least he did know the back ways through the site, helping avoid the incoming huge groups from the cruise ships. (note to self–when heading to a popular place where cruise tours go, check the port schedule for the days with the fewest ships in port!)We were very glad we went so early, as by noon the place was packed and very hot. Pompeii is also not for those with difficulty walking–you’re constantly walking on ancient Roman stone roads, and have to be careful of your footing as you cross different levels of stone. I felt sorry for the many red-faced older or less fit people we saw struggling.
It’s an enormous place, with even more areas not yet excavated. Because of costs and labor issues, some of the areas were closed or under restoration–but there’s still plenty to see. I find I’m particularly drawn to the few remaining (most was either carried off by the Bourbons, or is in the museum in Napoli) frescoes and mosaics.
Speaking of frescoes, we opted to take the walk out to the Villa dei Misteri , at the far end of the site. A good choice as the crowds were building, and there were few people at this end of things. More importantly, it’s a fantastic house with wonderfully preserved frescoes, currently undergoing preservation. The “mysteries” refers to the subjects in one of the room, suggested to be of some sort of female rite. At the end of our visit Larry walked the 10 minutes back to our car along the road, much easier than returning through the site itself.
A few other tips for others–go as early as you can, preferably when the gates open at 8:30; or after 4, which our guide suggests is also a quiet time. The Zeus parking lot and Marina entrance are also easy to find and not as busy as other entrances. Bring water, and perhaps a lunch to eat in the shade above the theatre. The only food sold inside the site is from the Autogrill, though we did take advantage of their air conditioning for a rest. Also, be warned that the bathrooms are filthy. I was amused by the sign above the sink that asked people to not wash their hair or feet in the sink.
For lunch, we found Nonna Sceppa in Capaccio, a large restaurant with a breezy covered terrace. Groups of businessmen and large families had huge plates of seafood. We started by sharing an antipasto of polpo(octopus) salad, dressed simply with olive oil and lemon. Loved this. Then I had a slice of tuna in a sweet and sour sauce, with more gorgeously cooked zucchini. Larry had what I call fish french fries, alici (fresh anchovies) fried to a crisp. With a salad of lemony green beans, a delicious lunch.
After driving home we stopped at a roadside truck for cherries, relaxed in the late afternoon on the beach, listened to the Italy game from the beach bar tv (lots of silence from the watchers at the end) and had a simple dinner of bufala, bread, and wine. Then a stroll along the beach to the village, where the evenings entertainment were two local teams playing sand soccer on a field built off the Piazza. Gelato–fig and coconut for me, chocolate and pistachio for Larry.