Alone Like a Rolling Stone

On the road

When the first rays of sunlight touched the Sarno river, life in the city awakened and the noise of the countless small construction sites, which had been omnipresent since the earthquake 17 years ago, resounded through the narrow streets. It was a beautiful summer's day, 24 August 79 AD, and it promised to be hot again, just like the days before. The shops in Via Dell'Abbbondanza were just opening and it smelled of freshly baked bread. The people had already got used to taking detours, because there was always a new construction site blocking the direct way.

At the Casa della Nava Europa on Vicolo Dei Fuggiaschi the cries of children playing were heard and at the Teatro Piccolo Odeion on Via Stabiana the actors were getting ready for the last rehearsal of the play, which will have its premiere on Sunday. 

Since the beginning of August, the earth shook more often, but no one had any idea what would happen on this day in Pompeii. Around 13:00 o'clock the magma chambers under Vesuvius had filled and magma rose into the groundwater areas of the volcanic cone. The contact with the water triggered a steam explosion which blew the blocked vent of Vesuvius free. A 30km high ash gas cloud rose, in which violent thunderstorms were released. It hails pumice and ashes down to earth. So-called pyroclastic flows, or glowing ash clouds, race down the slopes of Vesuvius at high speed. At a temperature of 500°C and a speed of over 100 kilometres per hour, they leave the remaining people in Pompeii no chance. 2000 people died that day.

In the evening of August 25th everything was over. 15 km around Vesuvius everything was destroyed, Pompeii lay under a meter thick layer of ash and pumice stone and fell into oblivion. In 1594 Pompeii was then rediscovered, but it was not until 1748, under Charles of Bourbon, that excavations began, which continue to this day.

We didn't want to miss this historic city and rented a car for the weekend. From Fiumicino we drove along the coast towards Naples. If you have problems with the Italian driving style in general, you should not drive to Naples by car. If there are not always clearly understandable rules in Italy, even if for us remaining Europeans, in Naples all rules are overridden. One cannot even say that on a road that only tolerates three rows, five rows have formed; no, there are no rows in Naples. You drive where there is room. If you stop at a red light in Naples, you induce a rear-end collision. No Neapolitan stops at a red light. And if someone says you don't need an SUV in the city, they've never been to Naples. How we got through here without a scratch is still a mystery to me today, but we were fully insured and that relaxes a lot when only a piece of paper fits through between the outside mirror and the outside mirror of your neighbour.

We reached Pompeii in the late afternoon and started looking for a hotel. Since we are out of season, this was no problem with the numerous accommodations on offer. In a nice hotel with a quite presentable breakfast we got a double room for 65€ the night. The entrance of the historical city was 15 minutes walking distance from our hotel. We had a 10 minute walk to the city centre, so we could leave the car on the hotel parking lot. We strolled through the city, sat down in a bar and bridged the time until dinner. Before half past seven you don't get anything to eat here, from eight on it suddenly fills up and from half past eight you have to wait until the first ones have left the table again. We still have not got used to the very late food and therefore we are mostly among the first guests.

The next day, Pompeii was on the agenda. I felt really bad. There was something I couldn't take the night before and I hugged the toilet bowl several times overnight. In the morning I wanted to die and Gaby went alone for breakfast. However, I didn't want to miss the city and so I pulled myself together. The day began tough, but got better from hour to hour. 

We visited public and private buildings, squares and temples, even the cathouse - this was the first time I was together with Gaby in a cathouse. One can simply be enthusiastic about the frescos, the columns, the artefacts and their preservation. Surely everyone has heard or read about Pompeii, but to have been there once is something completely different. One feels how alive the city once was. We spent the whole day among the historical walls and were pretty exhausted in the early evening. 

Although I felt much better again I felt the strains of the day. Close to the hotel we found a restaurant where only few tourists find their way. The more interesting the evening became. We felt a little abandoned, as we were the only guests, but that changed suddenly at eight o'clock and the restaurant filled up to the last man or woman. We were the only foreign guests. In the background a piano player suddenly started to play and we enjoyed the excellent dinner. Relatively early we went to bed and the next morning I could convince myself of the great breakfast Gaby had raved about. It was a beautiful day, Vesuvius was in front of us and we set off for Sorrento.

Sorrento lies opposite Naples on the Gulf of Naples and the island of Capri is just off the headland. But Capri was not our destination that day. We rather wanted to drive along the Amalfi coast up to Salerno in order to explore one of our next stages. We drove on one of the most beautiful coastal sections of Italy.

In Maiori we crossed the coastal mountain range and once again got a magnificent view of Vesuvius. We were on the way to Casertra. Here the Bourbon King Charles III had a castle built in the Versailles style from 1752 to 1774, which was completed by his son Ferdinand IV. The Royal Palace Reggia di Casertra has 1200 rooms and a park of 100ha. 

The park is 3km long and simply gigantic. Charles III was King of Naples at the start of construction, but was then called back to Spain and left the completion to his son Ferdinand. The castle served as a backdrop for numerous films, including Starwars. We took a little break on the extensive grounds. 

In the evening we started our way back to Fiumicino and, how could it be otherwise, we got into the return traffic of the Romans. Nevertheless, we reached our destination at the agreed time to return the car and decided to spend the evening in the nearby pizzeria we already knew and were looking forward to our Katinka again, especially on her bunks. After we were taken out of the water again to do the necessary repairs, we were curious how they were done. But we will tell you about it next week. Until then we wish you, always fair winds and keep your ears stiff.