Naples, Vesuvius, Herculaneum, Amalfi

Three days of serious sight-seeing in the Bay of Naples! We stayed at the Sosta di Camper we’d finally found near Ercolano (modern day Herculaneum) and used public transport to get about for the first two days.

22nd May

A full day in Naples. Walked to the railway station (the Circumvesuviana line, that’s for you, Nigel T!) and took the train into central Naples. From there we walked, walked and walked some more. It is always the best way to get a flavour of a city but of course is very tiring. We headed through the old town, to the Duomo, where they keep the blood of St Gennaro. Apparently it liquefies during ceremonies held a few times each year. If it doesn’t liquefy, that means disaster will occur. This happened before the 1944 eruption of Vesuvius, before a major earthquake, and before Naples lost to Milan in the footie. And it happened last December… yikes!

We looked at several other churches too. In San Lorenzo Maggiore church you can pay to visit the underground excavations beneath the church, and walk along an underground Roman street, itself built on top of Greek remains. Fascinating to see the layers of the old city, beneath the existing city!

Pizza in Naples

We ate a slice of pizza – you have to, in Naples. It’s the law. They invented it here. We found what’s apparently ‘the’ most famous pizza in Naples – same place Bill Clinton once ate. And later sat in a very pleasant square for a lunch of lovely tomato bruschetta (me) and horrible sandwich (Ignatius).

In the afternoon we headed over to the archaeological museum. This houses  many of the the best finds from Pompeii and Herculaneum and was well worth a visit. The mosaics especially are beautiful.

Back to the train station, called in at a supermarket to stock up, then back on the train to our campsite for a much-needed shower. This campsite has the best shower of any so far -only one, in a little bathroom, but there were only two other vans so sharing it was no problem.

23rd May

Took the train again, this time just two stops in the other direction to Ercolano from where we took a bus up Vesuvius. It’s possible to drive part of the way up but there is not much parking and you can’t drive all the way, so a bus is a better option than taking Gertie (unlike on Etna). We then walked the final part of the journey to the rim of the crater, and then about half way round the crater, where the trail ends.

Of course we were comparing it with Etna the whole time. It’s not as dramatic a volcano, perhaps because it has not erupted as recently (last time was 1944). And it seems more touristy. But well worth visiting, for the views over the Bay of Naples if nothing else!

Vesuvius crater. We were not planning to climb over.

After the bus dropped us back at the Ercolano train station we walked down through the town to the Herculaneum archaeological site. This is like a mini-Pompeii – the town was destroyed in the same eruption, but is much smaller. Some buildings retain their upper floor. There are also less crowds so it’s easier to get around. It’s an amazing site but Pompeii wowed me more, mainly because of the sheer scale of it, and the grandeur of the larger buildings there. The most moving sight was the skeletons of people huddled under arches on what was once the town’s waterfront. Heartbreaking.

Trying to flee Herculaneum

A long, hot day. How I love that campsite shower!

May 24th

A day ear-marked for the Amalfi coast. If you’ve been following the blog you might remember we tried to drive it back in April but got turned back at Positano by police (“No Camper! No! You turn back!”). So we decided to park at Salerno and take a bus. We could have taken the train to Salerno but it’s quite a long way and those Circumvesuviana trains are crowded, standing room only.

The bus along the Amalfi coast is v-e-r-y slow, and was as packed as a Victoria line tube train in rush hour. Thankfully we had seats as we’d got on at the bus station in Salerno. It is a very scenic drive, although I couldn’t see much as there were so many people on board. Saw enough to know that there’s no way I’d advise anyone to drive it themselves in anything bigger than a scooter. Being a bus driver on the Amalfi coast must be the world’s number one most stressy job.

Finally we reached Amalfi (1 hour 40 mins from Salerno). It is a gorgeous little town – like those on the Cinque Terre but bigger and yet more touristy. We had a good wander up and down the lanes, ate lunch in the central square, then had a beer overlooking the beach. Definitely need to come back for a week’s hotel holiday some time.

We could not face the bus journey back so decided to return to Salerno by ferry which was far more civilised and a lot quicker. The ferry port in Salerno turned out to be very near where we’d parked Gertie. Perfect.

Amalfi from the ferry

There’d been a vague plan to park overnight in Salerno but it was a bit pricey so we decided to move on. Next part of the trip involves heading northwards, through the mountainous middle of Italy, away from the coastal tourist traps. So we spent a couple of hours driving and ended up in the middle of nowhere (‘out in the boonies’ as Ignatius puts it) somewhere near a small town called Monteroduni. Free-camped.