There were two very specific reasons for visiting Naples: Pompeii and the Archaeological museum. I couldn’t convince myself to let go of Pompeii once we were so close, so I decided to give the city a few of our precious days. In hindsight, we agreed that we would much rather have spent our time just a bit farther south in Sorrento- more on that later!
I think Naples was a bit of culture shock for us. The very urban, fast-paced style here was evident in everything. We stayed in a larger hostel that had good public transit connections and was actually within walking distance to the Archaeological Museum. That was our destination on day one.
I wanted to visit the museum because it contains a vast collection of pieces from neighboring Pompeii and Herculaneum. Also on display are some magnificent Farnese Marble sculptures of antiquity. Here rest stately statues of Hercules, The Bull, and Atlas, at least one of which most people have seen in pictures. They are truly impressive in their massive size. This museum also houses what I came for: the mosaics collection from Pompeii. I love mosaics and their ability to tell a story with thousands of bits of tile. Many of these were amazingly preserved. Interestingly, there is also a small area in the museum known as the “Secret Room”. This area contains many pieces of erotic art taken from Pompeii. The room is literally an ode to sex and the penis. You’ll go in feeling curious and leave with a decent blush in your cheeks as you pass by old men on your way out. While I did feel oddly prudish after this exhibit, it’s also very fascinating to see how our views on sex have morphed over time.
After the museum, we headed down to the shopping area where we had some famous Naples Margherita pizza and amazing Gay Odin gelato and did some browsing through the hundreds of tiny shops. We found the Galleria Umberto I, and also took our first ride in a funicular.
Our second day started out very early as we wanted to get to Pompeii as soon as possible to beat other tourists- we weren’t that lucky. Pompeii is cool, beyond cool. It is preserved remarkably well even considering the throng of tourists it sees every day. The ancient city was snuffed out by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and lay hidden for about 1500 years. Strolling down the streets is mystifying and honestly, a little creepy. Knowing that so many people died with so much terror and fear, and then their story lay under ash for hundreds of years, I found it emotional. The city is beautiful though, and you can really get a feeling for how Pompeiians lived so long ago. You can step inside their homes, and walk the same cobblestones they did. You can see bits of their lives and their deaths here. An interesting side note that we learned was that there are vinyards on the site that are used for production by a local company. The vines themselves are very significant though as they were planted mere millimeters away from the vines growing at the time of Pompeii’s demise. The vines are also almost identical genetically to those planted in the original vineyards.
Feeling quite down after leaving Pompeii we decided to use our full day train tickets for a little bit of excitement. We boarded a train south, headed for Sorrento. After getting into town, we both quickly wished we would have more time in this beautiful little town. Sorrento is everything Naples was not: clean, laid back, quiet… And it had a small beach! The small city offers some views to die for. You can see across the Bay of Naples and view Mount Vesuvius, the Isle of Capri and even Naples itself on the far side. Sorrento is known for it’s production of Limoncello, which we unfortunately didn’t try, but we did see many shops selling it. After spying a small beach from the top of the cliffs, we made our way down a walkway on a shear cliff face so I could put my toes in the Mediterranean. One thing that, while it makes perfect sense, was new to me was the black sands at the beach. With so much ash and pumice spewing it’s way out of the volcano, Vesuvius has left it’s mark on everything in this region.
In Naples we learned that history can be quite unsettling but also beautiful and educational. So much lies around the Bay of Naples that you could easily spend a week there and still not experience the region and all it offers. Sorrento taught us a lesson as well: go off the beaten path and do some unplanned exploring. Leave you comfort zone and you could be rewarded with the highlight of your trip. That’s a lesson we have taken to heart and will remember for many adventures to come.