Naples, Pompeii and Vesuvius- Get Over the Fear

Itinerary: 

  • Day 1: Venice
  • Days 2-3: Florence
  • Days 4-6: Naples
  • Days 7-12: Rome

RTW Trip 2014: Peru→ Chile → Argentina → Antarctica → Argentina → Uruguay → Argentina→  Chile→ England → Morocco → Spain → France → Belgium → Netherlands → Germany → Czech Republic → Austria → Hungary → Croatia → Italy → Thailand → United States → Thailand → Laos → Vietnam → Cambodia → Australia → Taiwan

Dates: July 20-31, 2014

Our Odyssey: 

Going from Florence to Naples is like going from, say, Boston to Detroit. You leave a clean, beautiful city dripping in historical significance and arrive in a gritty, dirty city that has a bit of a crime problem and lacks any “charm” whatsoever. Naples is not pretty, and it is certainly not romantic. Naples is the home base for the major mafia families of the region (yes, those really do exist). Naples is not a stop on most tourists’ trips through Italy. But this little gem of a city is a food paradise and the best departure point for a visit to the ancient city ruins of Pompeii. We loved Naples!

Naples, as I mentioned above, is not a touristy city. The people you see walking around the streets are Neopolitans just living life. It was refreshing to walk around without having to dodge oblivious tourists with giant cameras. There aren’t really any significant sights to see in the city itself, so the city is not driven by tourism. Historically, Naples is a major port- many of the goods that get distributed throughout Europe come through the port of Naples. This is also where a lot of organized crime starts- the mafia in Naples controls a lot of the commerce and trade, and one estimate I read stated that over 60 percent of shops in Naples are controlled by mafia management. That said, most people in their day to day lives, and certainly most tourists, won’t notice the mafia in any obvious way.

We were in Naples for 3 nights, giving us one full day to explore the city and then one day to head about 45 minutes south to Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius. Italy’s National Archaeological Museum was a half hour walk from our hotel, and is the home of all the major mosaics and paintings excavated from Pompeii. This was our first stop on our tour of the city. This museum is huge- there are more statues and paintings than I could count, but by far the highlight is the area with the ancient mosaics, making the museum a great precursor to a visit to Pompeii.

After a few hours in the museum, we followed a route recommended online by a food travel guide that would take us through the most delicious stops in Naples. We tried several pastries during this afternoon walk, the first being a rum baba. Baba also happens to be the name I call my grandmother so I was pretty excited that Naples named a pastry after her. 😉 The baba is basically a sponge cake or pound cake shaped kind of like a mushroom that is drizzled with a sweet rum-based syrup. It is delicious and I recommend eating them. We also tried two variations of sfogliatella- another pastry filled with something that ressembles a bread pudding. One is soft a moist (the frolla), and the other is crispy and flaky (the riccia). Again, both are delicious.

Of course, no visit to Naples would be complete without eating a true Neopolitan pizza. Pizza was invented in Naples to please queen Margherita, and I think we are all glad that happened. Pizza in Italy is different from what we typically see in the United States. The pizza has a lot of sauce, 5-6 circles of buffalo mozzerella cheese, and a few basil leaves. (red, white and green- the colors of the Italian flag!). The crust is thin but not crispy. We found a place where this type of full size pizza was a mere 3 euros. Yes please!

That evening we got a cheap bottle of wine and the absolute most deliciously amazing doner kebabs I’ve ever had. If you ever visit Naples, it’s Aladin Kebabs, right by the train station. Like I said, Naples is a food paradise. It’s cheap and phenomenol. More people should visit just to walk around and eat things.

The next day we got an early start to take the local train to Pompeii. This was a really exciting day for me, because ever since I was a little kid, I have been fascinated by ancient Rome generally, and Pompeii specifically. It may or may not have to do with the water ride Escape from Pompeii at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia (okay it absolutely has to do with that).

The city of Pompeii originated somewhere between the end of the 7th and the first half of the 6th century BC. In 62 AD a violent earthquake struck the area, and much of Pompeii had to be reconstructed as a result. This reconstruction was still taking place 17 years later when Mt Vesuvius erupted, covering the city in ash and rock, and preserving it for us to learn from today.

The city of Pompeii really is exactly that- a city. It’s huge. The map they gave us after buying our tickets is the size of some of the city maps we have used during our travels this year. While with many ancient ruins visitors must use their imaginations to envision what life was like back then, at Pompeii it is quite easy. The city is very well preserved, and identifying what structures were used for is relatively intuitive. Bath houses, brothels, amphitheaters and ancient fast food joints (most homes were too small to have a kitchen where people could cook for themselves) are all open for visitors to explore, as well as several homes. One of the coolest experiences of being at Pompeii is walking along the ancient streets. You can see deep grooves on the roads from the wheels of the chariots that used to ride through town. It’s amazing.

When we were done touring the ancient ruins, we ate a lunch we had packed for ourselves and then took a bus up to Mt Vesuvius, the volcano that erupted and destroyed the city nearly 2000 years ago. This volcano is considered the most dangerous volcano in Europe today. It is still active, but releases no steam, so it is just building up inside and will one day erupt again.

The bus took us to an entry point into the national park and from there we hiked about 20 minutes uphill to the rim of the crater. While it was not the most beautiful hike we have been on, we got good panoramic views of the cities below and enjoyed being outside in nature and exploring the rim.

That evening we got kebabs from Aladin Kebabs again, topping off a really great visit to a very underrated Italian city.

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