My legs ache. In fact my calves are killing me today. I really hadnt any idea of what Pompeii would be like but I expected a nice gentle stroll through some ruins, peering at a few pots. Oh no, its not like that at all. Its more like The Krypton Factor.
We docked in Naples nice and early and once again Martin and I decided to eschew the organised excursions and do our own thing. That is - go to Pompeii on the train. First we had to run the gauntlet of Napolitan taxi drivers. They are a determined bunch - and they tell fibs. All of them telling us the train would be as expensive as hiring a taxi for the day. My maths has never been brilliant but at 100 Euros for a taxi and 2.4 Euros for a train ticket even a Labour Chancellor could work out which was the cheapest.
Naples itself is - well, to be honest, its a bit of a dump. And the traffic is dangerous, almost on a par with Rio. Trying to cross the road is really taking your life in your hands, the roads dont seem to have any lanes and cars and buses and mopeds come at you from all directions. The Italian style of driving is 'if all else fails lean on your horn - and then stick your fingers out of the window'.
Eventually we made it to the station, unscathed, where we met up with another adventurous couple off our boat, Mike and Kath, who were going to Pompeii too. Deciding it would be much more fun to get lost as a foursome we teamed up, managed to buy our tickets and even find the right platform. The station was heaving - really really busy - packed with Italians wearing thick coats and jumpers when it was over 25 degrees outside ! I guess that must be a chilly day for them.
The entire train journey only took 30 mins and for most of that time we were in the shadow of Vesuvius. It really dominates the sky line there, your eyes are drawn to the long extinct volcano which caused such devastation all those years ago. Now, ofcourse, its slopes are grassy greenand a great part of it cultivated. The beast has been tamed.
Pompeii is, quite rightly, a World Heritage site. Work is ongoing there and some experts believe only two thirds of the town has been so far uncovered. Which makes you wonder just how big this town was because at the moment it is massive. Street after street after street of houses, bars, shops, spas evidence the Roman way of life. Most of which seems to have been centred around sex. All the beautiful frescos in the houses have naked women cavorting on them - it would be a bit like having page 3 plastered all over your living room.
One of the most popular establishments, then and now, was the brothel. Situated down a little side street its presence was announced by the carving of a very large erect penis on the pavement outside the entrance - strangely there was nothing at all on the pavement outside the exit !
Adultery was illegal in Pompeii then - but in the true tradition of male skewed thinking - using a brothel was not. A man didnt even have to converse with the women who worked in there. Instead of telling her his 'requirements' there were pictures on the wall detailing the various positions and all he had to do was point at the one he wanted.
Most roman towns had a forum, a place where all the political wheeling and dealing was done, and the one in Pompeii is very impressive. Bascially it looks like a football pitch but with huge columns around the outside. Leading up to this the streets were full of small shops which sold bread, wine, olive oil etc and so were the equivalent of fast food. It just goes to show - things havnt changed that much really.
We were exploring the town for well over 2 hours - up and down the steep streets with their ankle twisting cobbles - hence my aching calves today - but it was the most amazing experience. Martin and I wouldnt have missed it for the world. It was however very hot there - and I can imagine it must be stifling in the heat of mid summer. So probablybest avoided then.
All the time we were wandering about, out of the corner of your eye, just around the corner, rising up from behind each tree was Vesuvius - looming over the town - it really made you think how catastrophic that day must have been 2000 years ago when it erupted and swallowed Pompeii up whole - to preserve it for us.
(My blog will be migrating to Blogger.com when I return - and have worked out how to do it!)