Monday, May 1, 2017

Top of Mt Vesuvius to the Naples Underground

Having spent all of our second day amidst the marvelous ruins of Pompeii, we decided to visit Mt. Vesuvius the very next day - after all how often does one get to climb to the crater of a volcano that erupted in 1944  and is long overdue for its next eruption?

Since the eruption in 79 AD, that led to the burying and destruction of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as several other settlements; Vesuvius has erupted many times since and is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years. Today, it is regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.

Just like to Pompeii, we took a commuter train to Ercolano Scavi from Naples Garibaldi station - it took us only 20 min to get there. As soon as we stepped out of the station, we saw a bus ready to leave for the base of the Mt Vesuvius. I immediately bought the last set of tickets and boarded the Vesuvioexpress bus - cost was 10 euros return fare and 10 euros for entry. 

The Crater
The bus ride was about 35 minutes and it felt unwieldy on the narrow wavy roads to the top. Once there, we were given 1 hour 45 minutes to hike to the top & back down and return to the bus. Honestly, that is enough time to get to the crater, click pictures and come back down. A fit person can climb in 20 minutes and a slow one would need about 40 minutes one way. 

View from  the top
So we started a slow ascent to the top - the path has loose dirt and the area is very windy - soon everything was covered in a fine layer of dust. I wished I had some scarf or bandana to cover my mouth. It also started to get colder as we ascended the mountain - at the top it was fairly windy.

We spent about 10-15 minutes clicking pictures and soaking in the views. The hike down was easy on lungs but tough on knees as it was difficult to get grip on the loose dust that was all over the place. 

We reached the parking with 10 minutes to spare but the bus wasn't around. I decided to enjoy some local wine while waiting - it was made from the grapes grown in the region and waited for the bus. The ride back to station was pretty uneventful and the train back to Naples pretty empty.

We had decided to have lunch in Naples...but since we were late for lunch (it was past 4 pm), Sorbillo wasn't an option. Hence, we decided to try another pizzeria called Di Matteo. It is famous for its fried pizza and for the fact that Bill Clinton ate there in 1994. We had a capricciosa pizza and really liked it. The 4 euro bottle of white wine that we ordered along with it also turned out to be nice. 

136 steps
After the pizza we decided to take a tour of Underground Naples (Napoli Sotterranea). Infact, we wanted to take the 4 pm tour but missed it by just 5 minutes and post our late lunch had to wait for an hour for the last tour of the day that starts at 6 pm. And the wait was really worth it! The history of this maze underneath the city, the exploration through narrow passages in candle light - everything was so new and different and amazing.
The underground felt like a different world (its 2400 years old), unexplored, isolated by time, but deeply connected with the world above.  Every historic epic, from the foundation of Neopolis, to the bombs of WWII, has left its mark on the stone walls forty meters below ground.
Hypogeum Gardens

The tour started with going down 136 steps - short and comfortable. We visited few of the cavities excavated in the Greek era; and walked around the cisterns responsible for the water supply of Naples for approximately 23 centuries. We then moved on to the air raid shelters from the Second World War, the War Museum and the Hypogeum Gardens (a vegetable garden that grows with help of artificial lights but without any watering as the humidity is very high)

The candle lit tour of cisterns
I would highly recommend this if one has about 90 minutes to spare and it costs only 10 euros. One can feel a bit cold due to high humidity and lack of sun, so its better to carry a light jacket. Some passageways are very narrow - should skip that portion if one is claustrophobic but that is the best part (with candle lights and all).

There is another company that runs similar activity just opposite this one (called Naples Underground) - not sure how good are they but since their English guide had taken the day off, Napoli Sotterranea was our default option and we had a good time.

We skipped the last 30 minutes of tour to Roman Theater and Summa Cavea and a little past 7 pm, decided to walk back to the hotel. And as luck would have it we walked past the famous Sorbillo that had just opened for dinner and there was no queue!!!! In the blink of an eye, I took hold of my partner's hand and literally dragged him across the street to the entrance of pizzeria. Before he could even figure out what was going on, we were in our seats.

To me it was fate - crossing the famous pizzeria, that has long queues all the time, at the precise moment when not a single person was waiting!!! Universe didn't want us to leave Naples without tasting another great pizza. Hence, we just went in, got seated within a minute and quickly ordered a marinara pizza.

And it indeed was the best pizza we had in town. We weren't really hungry as it was just 7:30 pm and we had a really late lunch around 4:30 pm. Despite that we polished off almost whole of the pizza between two of us. And the moment we stepped out, we were greeted by a long queue of people dying to get inside. Some of them even thanked us for leaving the restaurant!!!!

On this flavorful note, ended the day that took us to top of a dangerous volcano and 40 meters below the city to a 2400 years old world!

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