Busses and Sun and Pompeii, Oh My!

Well, it’s another glorious morning here in sunny Rome! The morning temperature is fabulous, I see no clouds, and we’re about to head down for a final, delicious breakfast at our hotel before we make our way to the train station to head to Venice. As such, today will likely end up being a pretty quiet day in terms of what we get up to, since we’ll be on a train for four hours (I have high hopes for the quality of that ride though, as we booked ourselves into first class). But regardless of what we’re up to today, I’ve got to tell you about yesterday!

Yesterday was, in a word, LONG. As I’ve mentioned, we had a day trip booked yesterday (booked through Viator, as usual) and, if you haven’t already figured it out from the title, it was a trip to Pompeii! Additionally, this trip included a stop in Positano and some nice views driving along the Amalfi Coast (note that there was no “stop” on the coast – that’s just the path we took to get to Positano, so it’s counted as part of the day trip). And we did alllll of that in one day. On a bus. That we had to get up by 630 AM for. I know, I know – it’s a VERY first-world problem to have (waking up early on vacation), but still. One bonus of waking up early is that we still got a nice breakfast from the hotel! They weren’t serving it yet, but I had already arranged to get ours to-go, so we took it with us and ate in the piazza before getting on the bus. Perfect way to start the day!

Anyway, we knew it was going to be a full day (the trip is advertised as being 13 hours long), but I don’t know that we had quite clocked just how much time we’d be spending on a bus with 50 other people. And we also hadn’t accounted for the traffic causing a lot of starting, stopping, and slowing down (usually abruptly, which is a bit annoying on a big bus) nor had we planned for the bus being so warm (it had AC, which was running fine at times, but other times, it seemed like it wasn’t – almost like the driver or guide had decided we’d had enough AC for awhile and just turned it off). And our guide, Fabrizio, was nice enough, but didn’t quite hit the right balance of sharing good/interesting/informative stories/history and silence. When you’re on a bus for that many hours, I don’t think most people want to listen to someone talk at them nearly the entire time, but that’s what he did. He certainly had a lot of information and, while some of it was interesting, some of it was…kind of boring. And to add insult to injury, the seats were VERY tight. Like, I don’t go into a day trip on a bus with the highest expectations, but these seats couldn’t even meet the low bar I’d set in my mind. As a contrast, I’m currently writing this from the train we’re taking from Rome to Venice and the leg room and space are great! I mean, we are in first class (hey, the tickets were only $50 each), but it doesn’t look like the “standard” seats are much different. Although we got some very nice views on the Amalfi Coast portion of the drive, the rest of the drive was on regular highways, so there wasn’t much to see there. BUT, as you’ll see below, the Pompeii and Positano stops were very nice indeed, plus the weather was pretty perfect, so I can’t complain too much. 🙂

Let’s start with a few photos of the start of our day and the bus journey, yes?

Our path to the tour’s starting point took us right by the Spanish Steps, so I had to take another photo with so few people on them. Thank you, Sunday morning!
Taking a photo of our meeting spot, Piazza del Popolo. This piazza has a sordid history, as it used to be a place for public executions (the last one was done in 1826).
On the bus!
We stopped for a bathroom and snack break about an hour in, so I snapped a photo of a lovely mountain when we got off the bus.

Slight, transportation-related grumbling aside, it’s important to focus on the positives of visiting Positano, which is beautiful, and Pompeii, which is beautiful in a different, awe-inspiring way. As advertised, we thought we would be going to Pompeii first and then Positano afterwards, but Fabrizio said that there may not be guides available at Pompeii at our planned arrival time, so we would have to go to Positano first and then circle back to Pompeii. The only reason I was a little worried about that was the fact that the clocks had just rolled back, so the days are now shorter, giving us less time with good light. But hey, there was nothing we could do about it, so we rolled with it! So we did go to Positano first, with the Amalfi Coast views preceding our stop there (including some views of Mt. Vesuvius, which you can see below). The path along the coast is VERY windy and the road goes right up to the edge of the mountain we were winding around, which is great for views, but perhaps not as great if you aren’t good with heights (not a problem for us, but wanted to call it out). The traffic was also very, very slow, especially once we got closer to Positano. The big bus couldn’t go more than ~60 MPH in the first place, so it’s not like we were zipping along at all, but things were very stop-and-go along most of the coast. At least the views were beautiful while we weren’t moving. 🙂 We actually couldn’t even take our bus into Positano because it was too big, so we had to pull off (as much as a large bus can pull off a tight mountain road) and transfer to three smaller busses to take us the rest of the way. Once we got into Positano, we understood why – there’s only one road into town and another one out (each road only runs one way), so there’s no way the bus could have made it.

But finally, we made it to Positano! From when we left the piazza to when we set foot in Positano, about five hours had passed, so we were ready to see and experience it. But we only had a little over an hour to do that. D’oh! And we spent a solid 20 minutes of that time walking down from where the bus dropped us to the beach, with Fabrizio constantly reminding us how to get back to the starting point by the appointed time so no one would get left behind (that did happen to someone on a day trip we took in Germany!). Obviously that makes sense because I’m certain no guide wants to lose any of their tourists, but it ultimately left us with about a half-hour of time to walk around on our own. And how did we use that time? By walking around, taking photos, and eating gelato, of course! Since this was my first time there, I can’t say if Positano is always super crowded, but I assume it is (probably far more so in the summer months), but the crowds and narrow walkways in the town made it harder to get around, so we focused mostly on finding a good gelato place. Priorities, right?? Of course, we had no way to know which one would be best, so we just kept walking up (we had moved steadily downhill from our arrival to the beach, so now we had to do that in reverse) until we found one that looked good and wasn’t hugely busy (the ones closer to the beach were totally slammed). Scott got some Oreo gelato in a cone, while I got a cup with Oreo and stracciatella. Very tasty! We didn’t have time for a meal (though I did spy some folks from our group at a couple of restaurants making it work, which is amazing given how little time we had), so we wandered back up to the top and enjoyed the seaside views while waiting for the rest of our group. Even without much time or anything specific to “do” while we were in Positano, it was certainly gorgeous to look at, so I’m glad it was part of this trip!

Check out some of what we saw below.

For pictures taken from a moving bus, these shots of Vesuvius are actually pretty good! We really did have a lot of nice views once we hit the Amalfi Coast and got close to Positano.

Look at that blue water!
A selfie overlooking Positano as we got off the big bus and waited to get on the smaller bus.
And one with Scott, too. This one will be framed, I feel sure!
On the small bus. It was actually slightly more comfortable than the big one!
The colorful buildings set into the hills reminded us of our trip to the Cinque Terre. Gorgeous!
Definitely no flowers blooming like this at home at the end of October.

The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, which is said to date back to the end of the 10th century.

Lots of people on the beach!

I mean, if this isn’t a postcard view, what is??
Okay, maybe this is the postcard shot. 🙂 That tower is part of the church you saw above.
Yummy gelato at La Zagara.

And that was it for Positano! Five hours of travel to spend about an hour at your destination before leaving may not be the most efficient way to day trip, but it was fun. And with our departure from Positano, we were heading towards what was, in my opinion, the best part of the excursion…Pompeii! Although I visited on a solo trip in 2012, I wasn’t writing this blog then, so I don’t really have anything documented. And I didn’t take as many photos in the “old days” of traveling (I was still using a digital camera then!) and I don’t feel like the ones I did take were as good, so I was very excited for the chance to make a return visit. As with Positano, our time there would be short (only about 90 minutes for the tour), but I was just happy to be making it back there! Thankfully, the traffic back through the Amalfi Coast was much better, so it didn’t take us too long (about an hour) to get to Pompeii. As I mentioned above, the sun is setting an hour earlier here now, but we still had a good amount of daylight when we started that thankfully stuck with us until almost the very end of the tour (we were surprised at how dark it was by the time we finished around 530 PM). I honestly can’t remember ANYTHING about the guide I had last time (it was a decade ago, after all), but this time, we had Elena and she was great! Full of good information, presented in an interesting way and kept us moving at a good pace, while still stopping long enough at relevant points to tell us more about the history of Pompeii and how it changed over the course of two days in late October, 79 AD.

Did you know that the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius lasted for TWO days, not just one? Or that it was actually more of an explosion, that took off a big portion of the summit of the mountain with it? Or how about the fact that Pompeii was buried in 22 feet of ash, rock, pumice, and pyroclastic flow? Imagine the depth of the deepest pool you’ve been swimming in and then think how much deeper it would be if it was 22 feet to the bottom (the pool I swam in as a kid was 13 feet deep, so thinking of it being another nine feet deeper is amazing). Because the people of Pompeii didn’t even know Vesuvius was a volcano, they weren’t prepared for anything like this to happen (and of course they had little notice when it erupted), which is why so many people died, trapped, burned, and suffocated until the flow. And then the city sat buried for 1,700 years before archaeologists started digging it up, layer by layer. And even though nearly 300 years have passed since that first dig started, they’re still digging it up today! It’s very time-consuming and quite expensive, so I imagine Pompeii will be an active archaeological site for a very long time to come. But how often do you get to actually walk through an ancient city that’s been dug up after being buried by a volcano?? Probably not very often. 🙂

Check out the pictures to see more of the story!

Elena showing us a map of the area. She pointed out that the three sections of the city at the top are still buried, so there’s lots of work left to do here.
This is an original city wall, which was built on hardened volcanic flows (though of course the people of Pompeii didn’t know that’s what they were building on).
Inside a courtyard that was used for gladiator training.

My favorite part of Pompeii is just looking at the buildings and marveling at the way they’ve survived, largely intact.

Did you know six bodies were uncovered when this amphitheater was excavated?
It’s hard to see, but this section of wall shows some graffiti from way back when. It also shows off how colorful the walls were!
Looking down one of the streets of Pompeii. Without sewers or running water, the streets were slanted so sewage could just roll downhill, away from homes and businesses. And see those large blocks? They allowed people to cross the street without having to walk in all that.
Amazing to think this was all buried for many hundreds of years before being uncovered, isn’t it??
Archways like this may have been design nods taken from the Romans (before being conquered by the Romans, the people in Pompeii were Greek).
I remembered this from my first Pompeii trip! This was a business, a fast-food restaurant, and those terracotta pots would have had food in them that people could quickly buy and eat. Archaeologists found carbonized food remnants in the pots, which speaks to just how quickly the eruption happened.
You don’t see roofs on these buildings because they were made of weaker materials (like wood) that couldn’t withstand the weight of the volcanic material. But brick, marble, and stone are much stronger, which is how they were able to survive.
I should have asked our guide what this was, but didn’t get a chance to. Looked like a church to me!
Elena showing our group another building.
Doesn’t that look like a pizza oven?? Based on the carbonized bits of bread archaeologists found, they’re pretty certain it was a bakery (they didn’t quite have pizza in 79 AD!).
The main crossroads of Pompeii. Note more of those large blocks that allowed folks to cross the street.
This was a spa, where the people of Pompeii came to relax and bathe.
These lead pipes carried water around the spa.

Be sure to click into both of these photos so you can see the cast of one of the victims of the eruption. I think some people assume Pompeii is filled with these casts, but this is the only one we saw. The others are in museums, I think.

Outside the brothel. Pompeii is close to the sea, so it was very normal for sailors to meet up with sex workers.

A bed inside the brotel, along with erotic wall art. I remember the guide I had ten years ago saying that the erotic art may have also served as a menu, so sailors (who often wouldn’t have spoken the same language as the sex workers) could just point to what they wanted to “order.”

This is just a little ways down from the brothel and points which direction to walk to reach it. I’ll let you figure out what the symbol is on your own though. 🙂
One of the many fountains where everyone in Pompeii, including slaves, could get free water.
The Civil Forum was the core of daily life in Pompeii. And, with Vesuvius behind it, is certainly the best place for photos! Sadly, the light was almost totally gone, so this was the best I could get.

It was basically dark right after this, which worked out well, since the forum is the last stop on the way out of the site. I’m so glad we visited though! I really enjoyed it ten years ago and know that it would be a lot of fun to revisit and I’m glad that proved to be the case. I can see why people say you really need two days to see all of Pompeii though as there really is a lot to see and a 90-minute tour barely scratches the surface. It does, however, give you a good sense of what’s there, how it happened, and a bit of the science behind the archaeology, so even a short tour like ours is totally worth it.

So what did we do after Pompeii? Got back on the bus for a few more hours, of course! Thankfully, the traffic was much more cooperative, so we were back at our drop-off point around 940 PM. And since the Trevi Fountain isn’t too far from either there or our hotel, we decided to swing by to see it lit up at night, so you get a bonus photo!

Still very crowded at night!

After being gone alllll day, we were ready to relax back at the hotel, so that’s just what we did, after we got our stuff mostly packed up for the trip to Venice today…which we’ve now made! I ended up writing most of this post on the train (once the train wifi improved – it was pretty bad at first), but we’re now ensconced in our Venice hotel, which is definitely smaller and more boutique-y than the Fifteen Keys. We’ll see if their breakfast is as delicious tomorrow morning! Until then, we’ve got dinner plans tonight and perhaps some wandering around. More on Venice to come!

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About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey!