Getting to Pompeii
I have always wanted to visit Pompeii since 10 years ago when I planned a trip to Italy that never happened. As I was planning the trip to Pompeii, I learned that like many sights in Italy, Pompeii offers free entrance to visitors on the first Sunday of every month. Our trip to Pompeii coincides with the first Sunday of December, and we managed to get free tickets to Pompeii (get tickets to Pompeii on their official website here). To get to Pompeii, we need to align at Pompeii Scavi Station, opposite the entrance to the Pompeii Archaeological site. We took the 1hr high-speed train ride from Roma Termini Station to Napoli Centrale Station. From there, we took the Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii. The Circumvesuviana line is just a short walk from the central train station within the train station building. Well-marked signs led us to the ticketing booth and the platforms where the train would depart. The train ride from Napoli Centrale Station to Pompeii Scavi took about 40 mins.
Wandering Around Pompeii
True to my research, the Pompeii Scavi Station is located about 2 mins walk diagonally across the entrance to Pompeii. At the door of Pompeii, we chanced upon a booth renting audio guides and decided to rent it to give us some context to the ruins we saw. Unfortunately, none of the Pompeii guide apps I downloaded was useful before our Italian trip. Pompeii is a vast site, and these apps did not recommend any routes we could take to explore the areas more fruitfully. We thought the audio guide would do just that, but we soon learnt the audio guide wasn’t any more helpful.
The Public Baths – Entrance to the World of the Pompeiians
We were initially very enthusiastic and hardworking in following the directions and clicking on every audio file on the audio guide for each of the ruins we passed through. However, this enthusiasm did not last when we came to the Forum of Pompeii. The first few ruins were easy to navigate as only one path led through the sites from the entrance. Following the audio guide, we visited the first ruins, the Suburban Baths in Pompeii. We religiously followed the directions in the audio guide, going through the baths and looking at the murals mentioned in the audio guide. I must admit the audio guide did a great job narrating the building and what it was used for. After the Suburban Baths, we followed the numbering on the audio guide, listening to the introduction on the next thing we saw, the Marina gates and walls. Interestingly, the people of Pompeii used to be able to look out into the Bay of Naples from Pompeii as they walked from the city to the Suburban Baths, hence the name Marina gates. Today, the heavy build-up outside Pompeii obstructed this view.
Temples & Forum of Pompeii – Where the Pompeiians Gathered
A few ruins later, along the path from the entrance, we came to the ruins of the Temple of Apollo. This large temple was dedicated to the Greek God of the Sun and Light, Apollo. We saw a couple of bronze statues of Apollo near the main roads in the ruins. What remained of the temple were some columns and a platform that presumably houses the temple’s main altar. After the Temple of Apollo, we came to a vast open space. This is the Forum of Pompeii. A bronze centaur statue holding a spear called home at one end of the Forum, facing Mt Vesuvius, the volcano that swallowed the entire city. It is here at the Forum of Pompeii where the audio guide shows its weakness. There were no recommended routes that we could take to make the most of our trip to Pompeii. All we did was see which ruins were closest to the forum and found that to be the next point, we merely clicked on what we thought the ruin was on the audio guide and listened to its introduction. At times, the labelling of the ruins is different from the audio guide. At this point, we were still diligent in listening to all narration of the ruins we came across on the audio guide. We headed to the Basilica of Pompeii, located on the right side of the path we came from, which we thought was the most significant ruin next to the Forum of Pompeii. The Basilica was a two-storey building, and we can still make out the two-level reminds of the building. Most of the Basilica was reduced to rumbles, except for a few columns and stones here and there.
Amphitheatres – Where the Pompeiians Got Entertained
After exiting the grounds of the Basilica of Pompeii grounds, we walked along the streets nearby, passing some locked-up buildings that we thought were uninteresting. We arrived at the Triangular Forum and Doric Temple shortly. This was when our patience ran dry with the audio guide, we did not bother to listen to it but merely used it as a map to navigate around the archaeological site of Pompeii. At the Triangular Forum and Doric Temple, all we saw was a row of Roman columns, which I presume supported the Doric Temple and an open space planted with trees. As we continued on the road passing the temple, our path led us to the Large Amphitheatre. This was where the people of Pompeii came to get entertained. The amphitheatre is built on a depression on the ground, with steps acting as seats for the spectators. Unlike the Colosseum, which was used for execution and cruel games, the Large Amphitheatre was used for poetic and dramatic performances. The Large Amphitheatre was well preserved and is by far the most impressive structure we have seen in Pompeii today.
After sitting around at the Large Amphitheatre and enjoying the views of watching visitors plying up and down the site, our stomachs started to gruel. Looking at the time, I see it is already past lunch. We consulted our audio guides and spotted a building with a fork and spoon symbol. Thinking that might be a restaurant where we could settle our lunch, we made our way using the map function on the guide. The audio guide led us to the Small Amphitheatre next to the Large Amphitheatre. The Small Amphitheatre is much like the Large Amphitheatre but on a smaller scale and has no VIP sittings like the Large Amphitheatre. We also passed by Tempio di Vespasiano, a smallish building (looking at the walls surrounding the temple) with only one altar platform located very near the entrance of the building. After walking for another 10 mins, we came to the restaurant marked out on the audio guide. There were buildings, but the shops in these buildings seemed closed. We immediately consulted the map on our audio guide again and found a cafe marked out north of the Forum of Pompeii. This is where we had sandwiches for lunch and rested a little.
Garden of Fugitives – Where the Pompeiians Perished
By this time, we were pretty much getting bored with Pompeii. The audio guide was of no use in helping our visit to Pompeii in a more organised and meaningful way. It is merely a device that provides narratives and a map of Pompeii. During lunch, we decided to skip the rest of the ruins and head straight to the Garden of the Fugitives, where we could see the casts of Pompeiians. After lunch, we followed the map on the audio guide and arrived at the Garden of the Fugitives. It is believed that the casted victims of the explosion of Mt Vesuvius were found in the Garden of the Fugitives. The casted mummies of the victims were displayed in a glass casing. We could see most of the victims were covering themselves, with some shielding the young ones from the deadly explosion of Mt Vesuvius. After taking some pictures of the casts, we had enough of Pompeii and continued to our next destination for today.
Near the exit, we spotted a building – the Antiquarium running some exhibitions. We entered Antiquarium to check out the exhibits. Amongst the exhibits that showcase the lives and arts of Pompeii, more casts were being displayed at the Antiquarium. These casts were more explicit in their expressions and the victims’ posture before they died almost 2,000 years ago.
Bay of Naples from Sorrento
When we were resting for lunch, I asked my friends if they’d prefer to roam around Naples or wanted to see some gorgeous views of the Bay of Naples. Without hesitation, they all agreed to go for the idea. I did a quick Google search on how to get to Sorrento and where the best views were. After exiting Pompeii, we took the Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento. The train ride from Pompeii Scavi took around 30 mins. Leaving the train station, we made our way to Villa Comunale di Sorrento, a public park that offers views of the Bay of Naples. Villa Comunale di Sorrento was around 10 mins walk from Sorrento Station. Following the directions given by Google Maps, walking through the part of Sorrento town near the train station, we arrived at an open park. It was almost sunset when we reached Villa Comunale di Sorrento, where we were treated to the spectacular view of the bay. The view was incredibly charming during sunset, with the pink hue decorating the sky. We could see Mt Vesuvius sitting directly across the bay. As the sun set, the daylight was replaced with lights illuminated by buildings and streetlights. We did not stay at Villa Comunale di Sorrento for long as we would still need 1½ hrs to travel back to Napoli Centrale Station to catch our train back to Roma Termini. It was already dark when we reached Sorrento Station and managed to catch the train back to Napoli with 20 mins to spare before our train back to Rome. I told my friends we must at least try the Napoli pizza as the pizza was invented in the city we were in. We followed the signs to a pizzeria and got ourselves a pizza takeaway. The chef made our pizza right before our eyes in under 5 mins. We wanted to bring the pizza back to our hotel in Rome to eat. But on the train, we could not resist the temptation of the pizza and ate it on the train. We returned to our hotel to rest early for the night as we had to wake up very early for our Vatican City guided tour tomorrow.