I gazed through the envelope of viewing space in the messy gauze covering, and felt my heart give a double thump. There he was….Cave Canem!
The mosaic dog that had astonished my brain and made me fall in love with Ancient Rome when I was not even a teenager. ‘Beware of the dog’ – a Roman with a sense of humour. And unexpectedly the dog is far more beautiful than any picture had ever conveyed to me. There’s always a risk when you wait so long for something that it simply won’t live up to your hopes, that you’re left disappointed and flat. But when something you’ve loved for so long from afar is as magical and amazing as you imagined it would be? That’s a pretty special feeling.
And then the guide led us inwards – and we walked inside dog’s house…
Having looked at the map with a less exhausted and tetchy head, we realised we were only an hour from Pompeii, and having become rather attached to the peace of Camping Dei Pini we decided that rather than move on to a busy city site, we’d simply drive up for the day.
So another early start ensued, and on Sunday we headed north to find Pompeii.
We parked at Camping Zeus, which is literally a 2 minute walk from the gates of Pompeii and offers day parking with easy access for large motorhomes like us; excellent.
In the unexpectedly short line for tickets (we LOVED the out-of-season lack of tourists!) we decided to pay for a guide to ensure we didn’t miss the important parts, as Pompeii is so vast. Following the excellent suggestions on TripAdvisor we spoke to the guide to ensure they spoke good English, and that we could hear her.
It cost us €45 (€15 each for three of us, the youngest three of our super six being free), and it was totally worth it for the way the history and the way of life in the town came alive for us. We all learned so much, from the different methods of building between Etruscan, Greek and Roman to the modern ‘cat’s eyes’ the Romans placed in the roads, and the sliding doors used for shops; who knew!
The plaster casts of the dead Romans were sobering, and the frescos still on the walls made the house interiors feel as though we were actually walking in someone’s home.
My beautiful mosiac dog (yes, he’s all mine) lived in a cool, peaceful house owned by ‘The Tragic poet’, and it had an airy atrium and a pretty little garden. Walking through we all had the feeling that we were literally stepping backwards, walking through another time and place.
We spent over three hours in Pompeii – by which time the younger ones had had enough. Stopping for a slice of pizza from the cafe at the heart of Pompeii (which was surprisingly great value, and hugely tasty too), we knew we had to leave if we were to make it to the top of Vesuvius this afternoon…
There was an urgent tug on my dress, and two big serious eyes peered up at me with a worried expression
“Mummy, the rocks over there, look! There, look! They’re smoking! It IS going to be okay, isn’t it?”
I smiled inside, but realised that being ‘on a volcano’ is a Very Dangerous Thing Indeed to a seven year old brain, so I took hold of her hand and promised her that at the very first rumble we’d leg it together…
I’d done some research the day before, and knew which bus company we wanted to get us to the top of the volcano.
I just hadn’t figured out exactly where to buy the tickets.
Luckily, right outside the gates of Pompeii there’s a train station, tourist information… And a small ticket hut for the Busvia Vesuvius tours. Hurrah!
We managed to get on the last bus of the day – and took off at a bottom-squeaking pace through the busy streets of modern Pompei to the busvia depot in the Vesuvias National Park, where we transferred to a huge 4×4 bus to take us to the top. The ride through the steep forest was bouncing, sometimes bone-jolting and occasionally highly alarming. I steadfastly refused to look down, prefering to keep my eyes fixed on the upward slope rather than the way in which the ground fell away from within a few inches of the tyres on the downards side of the gravel track.
Reaching the stop we still had a 15 minute walk to the summit, where a guide met us and gave a quick talk about the volcano ( the peak we call Vesuvius is actually more recent, and the summit that exploded and buried Pompeii and Herculaneum is the second, wider crater it sits in. And over 700,000 people now live in the ‘red zone’, which would once again be buried if (or rather, when, apparently) Vesuvius blows again).
We then had just 30 minutes to explore the path around the edge of the crater, taking in the amazing view to the sea as well as the madness that is a live volcano before racing back down to ensure we caught the last bus back. We did NOT fancy walking down!
Our journey back down the coast to the campsite at Paestum was a mystery – straightforward enough, but as we left the city environs behind, the traffic coming the other way grew heavier and heavier. By the time we were approaching the nearest town to Paestum the opposite carriageway was nose-to-tail and almost at a standstill. By comparison, our side was as empty as we expected for 8p.m. on a Sunday night in rural Italy. It was spooky – like everyone knew something we didn’t.
Then we realised – it was SUNDAY. The traffic was simply all the weekenders heading back home for Monday morning and their jobs and schools. Phew – we hadn’t missed an end-of-the-world announcement after all.
Margot is an Approach Autograph 765 and was provided by Bailey of Bristol for the trip.
We were staying at Campeggio Villaggio Dei Pini all campsites on our road trip were arranged by the magnificent AlanRogers.com