“Lemon trees, like Italians, seem to be happiest when they are touching each other” – D H Lawrence
Jonathan had a rather disturbed night and developed a fever and I had to keep him supplied with damp wet towels to cool him down. He was no better by morning of course so I had to go to breakfast alone and then attempt to get a refund on the planned visit to the Roman antiquities. The holiday representative wanted all sorts of paperwork filling in and a doctor’s certificate as evidence and so I concluded that it was just too much trouble and wrote the money off.
Jonathan was poorly most of the morning but by about eleven o’clock he was beginning to feel better and the fever disappeared and he declared himself fit enough to get up and walk into town. We walked along the rather untidy main road of Corso Italia and in the Piazza Tasso we stopped again for a drink at the Bar Ercolano and I had a beer and Jonathan had some more lemonade.
For a Sunday morning in October Sorrento seemed unexpectedly busy and was full of people coming and going to church, filling the squares and cafés with colour and noisy chatter and there was certainly no let up in the volume of traffic roaring through the narrow streets in the inappropriate way to which we had become accustomed. After only half an hour or so his health had improved so dramatically that we decided to go to Pompeii after all but with the coach trip long gone we agreed to alternatively use the Circumvesuviana.
The train station was back along the Corso Italia about a kilometre from the hotel and we arrived with about six minutes to spare before the next scheduled train and with only one man at the ticket window this seemed comfortable. But for some reason the man had obviously emptied his piggy bank and was buying a ticket with a pile of one cent coins and it was taking an age to count them all out.
“At every ticket window customers were gesticulating wildly. They didn’t seem to be so much buying tickets as pouring out their troubles to the… weary looking me seated behind each window. It is amazing how much emotion the Italians invest in even the simplest transaction” Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’
This was similar to the nightmare of getting behind a woman at the supermarket check out who insists on trying to find the right change in the hidden depths of her handbag and the six minutes, along with my tissue paper thin patience, started to evaporate. Eventually the ticket clerk could sense my building irritation and anxiety and fearful that I would burst asked the nuisance customer to move to one side while I purchased our tickets in the more conventional way of using a bank note and we caught the train with just a few seconds to spare.
The Circumvesuviana is an electrified narrow-gauge railway that runs throughout the Sorrentine peninsula and we enjoyed a very scenic journey as the line passed through many tunnels and over several bridges. After half an hour we arrived at the station of Pompeii Scavi, which was only a hundred metres from the entrance to the excavations. You have to hand it to the Romans, they thought of everything, even down to building this great city so close to a convenient railway line. Compare this to the French, for example, Calais station, if you have ever been there, is miles out away from the town!
The site of Pompeii is a buried and ruined Roman city near Naples and is part of the larger Vesuvius National Park that was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997 twenty years after my first visit. It is the most popular and easily the most visited tourist attraction in Italy with two and a half million visitors a year and I have now been lucky enough to visit the famous excavation twice.
But twenty years on it was different, everywhere seemed tidier and a little more sterile, there were more fences and it was smaller too because in 1976 visitors could visit three times as much of the excavations as they can today. Once through the entrance gates we avoided the attention of the official guides who were touting for business and relying on the free leaflet that was given away with the tickets we made our way into the ruins. It was hot but not unpleasant and we followed the indicated route in the little guide.