This Venerable, Beautiful City: Pompeii

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This is it. This is the last installment of my adventures abroad. It’s hard for me to process. After dashing around Italy and some surrounding countries, after basically keep Trenitalia in business for three months, my journey ends here (almost two months later, I’m finally getting around to writing about it).

One of the things that I wanted to do the most when I was in Italy was hike Mt. Vesuvius. You might ask why. Lots of people did. Apparently, it’s overrated. It has beautiful views on a clear day…if you’re lucky enough to get one. I don’t know. The idea of seeing the ruins of Pompeii (Italy spells it Pompei, so sorry for the probable change in spelling) and trekking up the wonder that sealed the dismal fate of that infamous city sounded like a dream to me, a self-fabricated method of connecting with history. I saved this for last since I was going down south to fly out from Rome and was only too thrilled to have the opportunity to do it.

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Let me tell you why we didn’t end up hiking Vesuvius.

After we left Capri, Ashley and I headed to Naples, taking the hideous Mt. Vesuviana line from Sorrento to Naples and getting there around 9 p.m. Thank God that our hostel was super close to one of the stops and that we found it on our first try without getting lost. Because Naples is not a place to get lost, especially at night. From the very first week that I arrived in Italy, I had hear horror stories about Naples. Ok, not really horror stories, but stories that encouraged extreme caution and warning. “Do not go there alone.” “My teacher got robbed in front of the whole class.” Those kinds of things. Naples, the birthplace of pizza and food capital of Italy, for some unknown reason had stayed off my list of places to go, and after hearing the stories, had remained off of it.

But after some friends said it wasn’t that bad, Ashley and I decided it wasn’t a big deal to stay there one night. It wasn’t. Everything was fine. Except for our hostel. I laugh just thinking about the alley we turned down and the dilapidated buildings that were at the end of it. Uh. What the heck is this? We were tired, hungry, and Ashley wasn’t feeling that well, so we checked-in to our unlovely room, ordered a pizza, and went to bed.

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The next morning we crammed on the Vesuviana line again to head to Pompei, which was actually closer to Sorrento (lesson 2), Getting up close and personal with your fellow passengers is always such fun, let me tell you. We got off in Pompeii to be greeted by heat. Rarely had we experienced heat on our trips in Italy. What a day to have it! We got into Pompeii without grabbing a map (lesson 3).

Big mistake. Why? Call me crazy, but I had done absolutely zero research on the size of Pompeii. It’s huge! I was expecting a few scattered little buildings resting somewhat near a volcano. On the contrary, Pompeii and many of its walls and buildings are still intact. Its an elegant ghost town without the wood and tumbleweeds, only bigger. Without a map or a guide, Pompeii is nearly impossible to decipher and difficult to maneuver. We didn’t know what we were looking at or where it was in the grand scheme of things. It was hot, very hot, and almost frustrating to walk around this city i had wanted to see so much.

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Don’t get me wrong. I marvel still at this city. The thrills and chills that you get even in mid to high 80 degree weather as your feet walk the very streets that were covered in volcanic ash hundreds and hundreds of years ago—you can’t ignore them. And some of the paintings on the wall are still visible. How cool is that! While I was walking around and taking it all in, I realized that I knew nearly nothing about Pompeii.

That’s the thing about Italy; she was forever revealing to me how little I really knew about anything, always inspiring me to become a more learned, well-rounded person.  (More on that to come.) It’s rare that you meet a person that inspires you to be better, and probably even more rare that you are able to travel the world and be inspired by historical countries and cities. I have had the opportunity of being inspired by both people and countries. I am beyond grateful.

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Ashley had caught a bug sometime over the last few days and wasn’t feeling up to hiking Vesuvius. I couldn’t blame her. Honestly, as much as I truly wanted to do it, it was too darn hot, and I didn’t have enough time to make the trek there and back and train it to Rome by nightfall. (Lesson 4) If I were to do the hike, I would have had to make it a whole day thing. So then and there, Ashley and I decided that we HAD to come back to Italy to hike Vesuvius. So we will, someday. I have to.

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We braved the Vesuviana line back to Naples where I had the most amazing pasta that I had ever tasted. Oh my gosh, I’m drooling— gnochhi in a simple basil tomato sauce with smoked mozzarella in the sauce. Hands down, the absolute best pasta ever. We had to grab an espresso (man, I miss those everywhere) and a canoli. I’m so fat. So I learned that Naples isn’t so bad during the day, though people certainly have fun tagging every inch of that city. I mean, it can’t be that bad if Dean Martin sings about it, right? I would go there for a day trip, especially for the food. (Lesson 5)

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From Naples, Ashley and I parted ways. She returned to Marche, and I made my way to Rome for two more days. I had an amazing dinner alone and wandered around Rome for the better part of the next day. Since I had been there before, I felt strangely at home and was able to walk around without having to be somewhere or see something specific. I had an epiphany then that Rome had weaseled its way into my heart as one of my favorite cities of the trip. It may be big with what seems like millions of people in the same general area that you decide to visit at that specific time, but it’s beautiful in its own way. I just had to take the time to breathe in the Roman air and ponder all I had done there previously.

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It’s hard for me to end this particular blog on my travels in Italy because, obviously, it’s not something that I want to end. I want to continue hopping on Italian trains, visiting old cities, drinking wine with every dinner, beholding beautiful Italian men, hearing the gorgeous language spoken with ease, and spending all the euro. Sadly, that all had to be put on hold for a while. My travels were something that I had always wanted to do. Always. And still long for. Italy, to me, in one word: priceless. I feel like a Mastercard commercial, but what other way is there to say it:

Plane ticket to Italy: $1,300.

Pasta, wine, and espresso: €17

Train ticket to name-your-city: €40

Living genuine Italian life, meeting amazing students and friends, seeing history still alive: PRICELESS

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