When visiting Naples it goes without saying that the proximity to the ancient ruins of Pompeii make it a must-see. The town destroyed by the still-active Mount Vesuvius is something everyone has heard of and to visit the site seems a no-brainer when in the area.
However after speaking to a few people it seemed that the nearby ruins of Herculaneum are actually rated higher by many, as it’s less crowded and better preserved. Always one for taking advice from those who’ve been there and done it, I quickly added it to my list and dedicated a day to visiting the town.
The first port of call was Napoli Centrale station, where the line for Pompeii, Herculaneum and Sorrento is separate from the rest of the trains. I followed the signs for the Circumvesuviana train as I’d been told this left twice every hour, yet I somehow ended up buying a ticket for the much less regular Campania Express – a tourist train which departed every two hours!
Apparently just going for the shortest queue isn’t always the best approach! Still, with a return costing €7 I wouldn’t be losing any sleep if I took a different train home. If you’re pushed for time, this 12 minute train is probably a better option than the cheaper 25 minute one.
To be honest, by the time I’d got to the platform I’d already decided that I wouldn’t be using my return ticket as it felt a bit too organised with uniformed staff directing the everyone to their designated carriages. Nothing wrong with it, but certainly not my scene! The middle-aged man playing awful pop music out loud on his phone on the platform also may or may not have influenced my decision.
Despite being marketed as a tourist train I was quite surprised to see that there really wasn’t a great deal of pomp about it. Seat reservations were adhered to very liberally and it just felt like a normal train. I sat in a random seat and got chatting to an Australian couple about travelling and whatnot, and actually got so carried away I missed my stop.
In my defence, I had been told that the station was called ‘Ercolano Scavi’ and I could’ve sworn the signs only said ‘Ercolano’! Anyway, after a quick turnaround at Torre Annunziata and an extra €2 (big spender) I was back on my way.
Perhaps as expected, the trail from the station to the ruins was lined with places flogging food and drink, and the presence of people outside with menus did little to suggest the quality would be upto much. Still, I grabbed a quick plate of average pasta and headed down to the site.
Entry cost €13 and I opted against getting a guided tour and picked up a free map to explore at my own pace.
I have to say that in general I do find places like this enjoyable enough but tend to rush through them. I have memories in St Petersburg of the hostel staff almost falling off their chairs when I told them I’d done the Hermitage in about an hour! However here at Herculaneum I really got my money’s worth, and spent a good couple of hours strolling around the ruins and reading the history of them.
It’s quite incredible just how much of the site remains intact and to see the murals on the walls as well as random tables and whatnot that have survived the test of time is quite mind-blowing. As is to be expected at an area of constant excavation, certain parts were closed for maintenance including the baths which I’d heard were really good. Just my bloody luck!
Now I don’t claim by any means to be a historian and I don’t intend on this becoming a history blog any time soon, so instead of Googling any more information I’m just going to let the pictures speak for themselves!
An unintentional bonus of visiting Herculaneum was the fact that the shuttle bus up Mount Vesuvius departed from directly outside the train station. I was in town for a good time, not a long time, so decided to hop on-board and head up the active volcano.
Buses leave every 40 minutes (apparently) and for €20, you got a return journey up and down on the Vesuvio Express and entrance into the national park itself. The national park costs €10 by itself, so you’re essentially getting a return journey thrown in with your ticket for an extra tenner. It wasn’t a tour or anything – just a drop-off and pick-up service which suited me down to the ground!
After the obligatory 15 minute late departure – which I’m almost certain is classed as early in this country – a 40 minute winding drive followed up the volcano. Once we’d arrived the driver wrote a return departure time on a piece of paper and held it up as we exited the bus. All in all I had just short of two and a half hours to explore. More than enough!
From the car park to the peak took around 20 minutes on very loose terrain similar to that of Mount Fuji. Had I not been wearing boat shoes with no grip I might have been able to shave a little bit of time off, but with stunning views of the city and the ocean to my right I wasn’t all that fussed!
Maybe it was the time of day (around 5pm) but I was quite surprised that there weren’t too many people at the peak. After the procession up Fuji a few years back I was expecting something similar here but there was a lot more room to breathe and take pictures without people getting in the way.
The crater itself was huge and well worth a look, but aside from that there wasn’t a great deal else to do – hence the two and a half hours being more than enough!
Thankfully, help was at hand with a cafe/bar at the end of the walkway and I thought it would be a shame to come all the way to the top of Mount Vesuvio and not support the local economy by sampling a glass of the local wine. At €2 a glass (read: plastic cup) I couldn’t really say no and made short work of what has to be the most spectacular plastic cup of wine I’ve ever had.
The stroll back down the volcano took the best part of half an hour, although had I not been carrying half the ground in my shoes it might have been a different story. The driver for the return journey decided that we all wanted to listen to swing music at a decibel that I didn’t even know existed, which thankfully gave me a chance to catch up on my podcasts and write this post while heading back into the city for my daily pizza!