Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Italy - Herculaneum


Everything that went wrong during our trip, went wrong on this day, but it all turned out to be in good ways. The plan was to go to see the Herculaneum in the morning, hop on a tour bus to see the Phlegraean Fields in the afternoon, and take the ferry back to Sorrento in time to see the sunset.

We stopped having buffet breakfasts and opted to go to a "bar" for breakfast. Finally, a filling breakfast. One thing about staying at a resort - everything is so expensive - a tiny cup of coffee is three euros, which is about $4.50.

Herculaneum floor

We got to the train fine, and the train got us to Herculaneum fine as well. There were people standing at the train station asking us if we wanted a ride to Ercolano, which was momentarily confusing, because I thought it was the name of the town, but it is also what the Italians call Herculaneum. Why we don't also call it Ercolano, I don't know. It is a great site - it is much smaller than Pompeii, partly because it was a smaller town, and partly because less is excavated because a lot of it is underneath the current city. There is more shade, since some of the second floors survived the volcano. It isn't as crowded. You can rent headphones here as well, but we opted to use our book. And best of all, I had finally solved my foot problems. I think the trouble was that my feet were getting sweaty in the athletic shoes. Even though I switched to flat shoes with little cushioning, and cheap flip flops for the remainder of our vacation, my feet were much more comfortable from then on.


The first problem happened when we tried to buy train tickets to go to our next site.  The ticket booth was closed. When we had told the ticket booth lady in Sorrento our plans, she had told us to buy our next ticket at Ercolano.  We asked people what to do, and they just shrugged their shoulders and said closed.  We didn't want to wait until 6 o'clock, when it reopens, to get a ticket.  We went back to the shuttle driver to see what we could do, and somehow my daughter understood from "its ok" that we could get on the train without a ticket.  I guess it makes sense if the cost of the transport for a few people is less than the cost of the hiring a ticket taker, then you might as well let the people go free, but it was still scary anyway. We were happy to save a little bit of money on the train.

We sat at the platform to wait for the train, and there were two tourists who had visited the site, so we talked to them.  They were really winging their vacation, and were thinking of staying in Sorrento next, and were asking about hotel information.  The train came, and it was very crowded.  Unfortunately, the two men managed to wind up at different doors of the train, and they were confused about how to get the doors to open. (You have to push the green button.), and making sure that both of them got on.  By the time they figured it out, the doors closed, and my daughter and I were left outside.

The problem was solved very quickly, because the next train came just a few minutes later, and it was empty, so we had plenty of seats.  We got to Naples, and already knew how to get to Pozzouli where the guidebook said the tours started.  We got there fine, and got off the train.  The book said the tours start at a particular piazza - municipio I think, but didn't give us directions for that piazza.  The book also told us they were open that day.  We walked around a bit, and saw some ruins pictured above.  The tourist office was closed.  We found the ferry ticket office, and asked them about the tour bus.  They said the tour bus was closed today. The guidebook had said it was open on Sundays.  Then we asked about a ferry to Sorrento, and they said there wasn't a ferry to Sorrento, but they could take us to Naples.  Since we were early, we decided to walk back and take the train back to Naples.  I'm still not sure why we made that decision instead of taking the ferry to Naples, except that it was our original plan, and we were too early to see a sunset.

We got back to Naples just fine, and proceeded to walk to the ferry, and walk and walk.  It's a good thing my feet weren't giving me trouble.  It was longer than we anticipated, and there were several marinas, one for cruises, etc, so we were lost.  We went to one that looked like the wrong one, but we didn't know which way we needed to go to find the right one.  A police car pulled up, so we asked them.  They were very nice, and didn't know anything about ferries to Sorrento, but they told us the ferries were that way.  We were ready to walk that way, when they asked if we wanted a ride.  The nice policemen gave us a ride to the correct marina.  One of them was born in the states, so he enjoyed telling his story.  The ticket booth for Sorrento was closed, of course, considering our problems of the day.   We checked all of the ticket booths to be sure there wasn't another one going to Sorrento, but no. No ferries to Sorrento on Sundays, even though the guidebook said there were.

We decided to take a taxi to the train station instead of walking.  You know those roped lines, well there is one of those for the taxi.  You wind around and around the ropes, and when you get to the front, you catch the next taxi that pulls up.  People cheer when more than two people get on a taxi, and boo when only one person gets on.  Okay, only a couple of people did that, but it was funny to see.  We were probably the only ones without luggage.  The line took a long time, and we probably could have walked it in that time

We wait for the train to Sorrento. There are several trains on this line, so we have to make sure we go on the one going to Sorrento.  The announcer mentions something about Sorrento, but people stay sitting.  A train pulls up, and we ask a lady who doesn't speak English if this is the train to Sorrento.  She says no, and told me in sign language for another train.  The next train comes, and I hear a lady asking the conductor about Sorrento.  She gets on the train, so we follow suit.  We sat down, and there is an Italian who starts talking to us about Italy.  He says that the pizza is the best in Naples - which is true, because they use real cheese.  He tells us that the people in southern Italy are poor because the northerners have stolen all the riches.  He states that most employers require you to work under the table so they don't have to pay taxes, and that good jobs are hard to find. He tells us to be careful of pickpockets.  Some people who tell you to be careful are actually crooks trying to win your trust, so I hold my bag tighter.   And finally, after we tell him we are staying in Sorrento, he tells us that we are on the wrong train.  He says to stay on this train for eight stops after he gets off, and transfer to another train.  We speak to the conductor, and apparently, the train is going on the same route as Sorrento, but eventually makes a turn.  I'm not sure why we have to wait until the eighth stop, but we stand by the conductor for directions.

Graffiti on train to Naples

The lady who had asked the initial question talked to the conductor, and we ask her what she was told.  She also speaks English, and she told us we could get off with her, that the eighth stop isn't in a good area, that the seventh was better.  We got off with her and her son.  She told us that someone had set fire to a train, which was the reason for the delay of our train.  She is from Rome, and she tells us that the southerners are selfish, and can't or aren't willing to do things for the common good.  We get on the next train and head on our way.

The trip to Sorrento was fine, but just as we were about to get off the train, about a million people crowd to get on the train.  Most of them are young adults.  We almost didn't get off the train in time - we had to push and shove our way out. But we managed just fine, we were happy that we were able to talk to locals and get a real flavor of what living in Italy is like.


Allie said...

What an interesting trip - you write so well about it too, not just the highlights but the little tidbits that make you feel like you're there. I'm really in awe of you two - I'd still be wandering around a train yard somewhere!

Barb said...

more beautiful photos - even the graffiti is pretty, isn't it.
The mosaics are incredible!!

Tanya said...

Wow, it sounds like you had a lot of excitement in Italy! I always think that it is the things that go wrong, the jolt you out of the routine, that make for great memories later!