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11 August 2016

italy | snapshots of pompeii

a few days after we landed in sorrento, our first day trip was planned: we were headed to pompeii. before we go on, it's probably important that i tell you i'm pretty much terrified of volcanoes, and have been ever since i was about 15 years old and waking up every day of my holiday on the island of maui, looking out towards a puffing diamond's head. the back of the hotel door listed a "eruption evacuation plan" where the usual fire one would be, and stories of failed plans while on tours there haunted my dreams. or rather, nightmares.

in any case, we were in italy, and there was vesuvius, and here we were, planning a trip to pompeii. i had considered not going, at least not going up the mountain known to be the most dangerous volcano in the whole world, but rebekah quite rightly posed the question to me "if you didn't go, would you regret it?" and i suppose the answer was "yes". so i went.

now, i can't say i knew too much about pompeii before that day. we went on a sunday, meaning we were able to get involved with a tour group for the cost of the entry, which was handy as it would mean saving us a lot of data googling everything, or paying for super expensive private tours. we hadn't banked on the fact there would be so many people in our tour though, and we ended up in a group of about forty people. it was a lot, and our guide was not a natural english speaker - or very loud, so sadly we still missed a lot of the info she had to tell us.

i think i had it in my head that pompeii was caught in a river of lava that covered the city way back when vesuvius decided it was time, and that's how it was lost. not the case though, which does make me feel a little *better* about the whole volcano thing - though i'm still not sure i'd choose to walk up one again. when vesuvuis erupted in 79 a.d, it released a cloud of ash and pumice and rocks straight up from it that could be seen for hundreds of miles in all directions. when that cloud eventually came to settle - and it did so very slowly, it buried everything it touched with hot, poisonous ash and volcanic rock, and those silly fools who didn't leave when they had the chance, were essentially encased in a blanket of dirt for all eternity.

they even wrote pompeii out of the record books at the time of the eruption. the romans were not known for failing - not like that, and to have lost an entire city (plus surrounding villages) in a natural disaster like that, was not something they wanted to admit to. it was the story of one writer who had written a letter about the eruption he'd witnessed from across the bay that eventually led to the rediscovery of the lost city. so, that was pretty cool to hear.

about an hour into our two-hour tour, we got a bit bored of her broken english telling us that this statue was a "replica of an original" or a "recreation by a polish artist" and set off to find some of the real artifacts ourselves. hard though, when you didn't have the foresight to bring the map they were offering at the entrance, and you weren't entirely sure where you were in the ancient city. we gave it an old-fashion try though, because what was the other option.

before we left her though, we let her direct us to what used to be the city's brothel (or, one of them, i guess though it was the only one that has been recovered so far). they do say that prostitution is the world's oldest profession, and there's no denying there always has been, and always will be a need for those sorts of "services", i suppose. how did archaeologists know it was a brothel? well, back in those days, buildings had a marker above the doorway of the item or service they produced or offered inside. bakeries had bread, blacksmiths had shoehorns, and brothels had... stone carvings of the "male reproductive organ" hanging above their doorways. classy, right?

one we were inside, the classiness continued. tiny stone room after tiny stone room lay within, with nothing more than a high stone bed for a thin straw mattress in each. above the door ways in the main corridor was what i can only describe as a menu board. crude, numbered carvings in the stone depicted the services that were on offer to to visiting customers, and we were were hysterical with surprise at how "vanilla" the offering was in 79 a.d; there were no more than five options!

after that we wandered. for hours. we were planning to take the trek up to vesuvius that afternoon too, but the cloud was really low around the top of the peak, meaning that we wouldn't have been able to see much from the summit, thus making the climb to the top a bit meaningless. to say i wasn't grateful for that would be an understatement, but i *am* disappointed that the girls didn't get the chance to do the thing they wanted to do. still, we got to see some pretty parts of an otherwise wholly dusty and pretty uninteresting city.

ohhh i know, it's not uninteresting, sure. but it just wasn't exactly interesting either. without a guide we were basically wandering the ruins blind, and there wasn't a lot of info around for us to what we were seeing. we found some really pretty gardens, with some shade, which was bloody wonderful as it was hotter than hell that day, and being surrounded by nothing but stone was certainly not making things any more comfortable. after about an hour of being lost and trying to find the exit, we did, and we left. we'd been in there about four or five hours. twice as long as we had planned.

we were starving, so headed back to the restaurant where we had parked the car and popped in for pizza. because italy. while we were googling some of the things we'd seen inside the ruins, we discovered that another town nearby had also been affected by the eruption in 79, yet had been excavated to a higher degree. like almost completely, yet we'd never really heard of it. i mean, everyone has heard of pompeii, but who talks about herculaneum? no-one. so we went to investigate.

and it's bloody lovely. almost entirely excavated, and totally surrounded by gorgeous pink and purple blooms and vivid green foliage. there was shade, there was a village rebuilt around the outside of it, there was wonderful sea breezes coming up from the shore. it was everything pompeii was not, and it was not even a fifteen minute drive from the world-famous buried city. we stayed another half an hour, if that, and truly had a more pleasant time there than we had done the whole day (except for that brothel, of course).

so, i was a little let down by pompeii, but i am glad that i went. i've recommended herulaneum to others visiting sorrento, and i'll continue to recommend it to those who are bothering to go to pompeii. just because it wasn't for me, doesn't mean it's not for everyone, but the stark contrast between the two towns does need to be seen to be believed.

have you been to either pompeii or herculaneum? which of the two did you prefer?

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