Saturday, May 11, 2013

Eurotrip: Mt. Vesuvius and Herculaneum

Visiting Pompeii has been one of those "I should probably do that" items, but never one of those "I really want to do that!" items. I remember studying it a bit during art history, and I went to an exhibition about it at the Dallas Museum of Art. I still wasn't really interested. Then one of the partners I worked with this summer said Pompeii was her favorite travel experience ever. I certainly trust her opinion, so I gave it more credit. So when Angie suggested we go while in Italy, I said yes. Might as well go now, right?

This is the part where I fill you in on a secret. I thought Pompeii would take a day out of our trip, and then we could move on to more interesting things. What actually happened? I absolutely loved this part of our trip! I dare say it might top my "favorite experiences" list. I only wish I had know more before coming. I will certainly be doing some learning when I get back.

After moving our bags from a hotel in Sorrento to a hotel in Pompeii, we took the train to Ercano with the goals of seeing Mt. Vesuvius and Herculaneum. We opted for a roundtrip bus tour of Mt. Vesuvius first. Mt. Vesuvias is the volcano responsible for burying Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD. It last erupted in 1944, and although scientists had predicted it was supposed to erupt every thirty years, it thankfully did not decide the day of our visit was the day to make up for lost time.

The bus took us from the train station to *almost* the top, before dropping us off to walk the last 500 meters to the crater. Guess who sat at the front of the bus so I could snap some pictures of our ascent?

Our guidebook told us that it would take about 30 minutes to hike up to the top, and the trek was pretty rocky and steep. With photo stops, it took us 17 minutes... but it was definitely steep going!

Once we reached the top, we got our first glimpse...

This was my first volcano experience, so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. I was hoping for something a little more dramatic, like smoke and boiling lava. But I guess it would dangerous to let thousands of tourists climb up to that, right? Instead this felt like a very high hike with a dirt crater in the middle. Which was still ridiculously cool.

(By the way, my travel partner is a goofball.)

More interesting than the crater was the remains of rock and lava along the edges and the different forms of life growing around the crater.

The hike around Vesuvius had us starving, so we grabbed some pizza before visiting Herculaneum. Next we walked towards the ocean to visit the archeological site.

From the guidebook: "the limited size of the archaeological park and the lack, in the uncovered sector, of many of the buildings and places that normally made up the civil and religious panoply of monuments of a small city of Roman Italy at a first hurried glance might discourage a visit to Herculaneum, to the advantage of the better known, larger and monumental Pompeii. However the particular dynamics of the burial of Herculaneum - covered by flows of pyroclastic rock that solidified to an average height of 16 meters - has led to a phenomenon of preservation that is absolutely original and nothing like Pompeii." Okay, then!

I don't have much to say regarding the meaning of what I saw because I still don't fully understand it. I will just show some of my favorite pictures, knowing it is impossible to capture what it feels like to walk around an ancient city. The buildings, frescoes, columns, etc... all original! It's just mind-boggling.

Angie and I spent almost three hours wandering around, mouths agape, wondering how it could all be real. Like I said, I want to learn more about this site so I can further appreciate it. (I did read a few Wikipedia pages on both cities that evening.) I left feeling so thankful that I was able to see two incredible sites in one day, and I was thinking there was no way Pompeii could top it.

Little did I know! (More on that next!)


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