You’d think that walking around the edge of a volcano crater, even a dormant one, would be a ‘pinch me is this really real’ moment but visiting Vesuvius definitely wins my worst tourism award, to date.
Firstly, I was using local transport and was not on a package bus tour – the timetable is here, leaving from near the Anfiteatro entrance to the Pompeii ruins it takes an hour and costs about €9 return. It is recommended to allow 1.5-2 hours to visit the volcano and yet my choice of return buses were either 50 minutes after I had arrived or 2 hours 50 minutes. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of hanging around at the end of my visit.
After queuing for 10 minutes at the one ticket booth (just the one booth but two members of staff, which wasn’t a good start) and parting with my €10 it’s then 5 minute walk to the entrance to the site. Which is where I began to get an end of the world feeling – the barren landscape, the dusty and dirty cabins and people – there was even a gentleman who resembled ‘Uncle’ from The Doctor’s Wife, an episode of Doctor Who written by Neil Gaimain. He was in charge of the filthy and expensive portaloos which to be honest I was a bit unsure of using in case I was taken and used for spare parts but as it was the only place to relieve yourself in the 5 hour excursion then there was really no choice.
There are no leaflets or information boards anywhere, just a lot of tourist tat shops and overzealous sellers. There was a promise of a free tour guide when you reach the crater but after waiting for the designated 20 minutes and trying to speak to anyone who looked, even remotely, like a guide (and either being ignored or having to profusely apologise to someone who had merely just dressed sensibly for the occasion) I accepted that I was on my own.
Most people who visit Vesuvius also visit the ruins in Pompeii but there is nothing to tell you about the historical or geographical link between the two. Nothing. I was stood looking at the vista below me with my free pocket map trying to work out which area was the ruins. Imagining the tons of lava hurtling down the mountain side and smothering this huge city. Which I couldn’t see. Because there was no information or anyone wanting to give me any information. I was left with a ‘best guess’ of where Pompeii was (with the help of a retired couple from Yorkshire who were intrigued about what I was trying to do) but it was all a bit unsatisfactory.
In fact, the whole experience was unsatisfactory which was probably not helped by the fact for some days leading up to the trip I had been singing Ver-Ver-Versuvious’ to the tune of Phil Collin’s ‘Su-Su-Sussudio’ and which I obviously continued to do on the day of my visit. And as it turned out, not always silently in my head.