The stop that we were most looking forward to was the very last stop of our European adventure. We’ve all been interested to visit Pompeii for as long as we can remember (well, except Belinda, who hadn’t ever really thought about it before, haha). It did not disappoint, and, in fact, was even more impressive than we thought it would be.
However, before we made it to Pompeii, we headed to Sorrento. We started our day with a Limoncello tasting (because who doesn’t want to drink limoncello at 9:00AM?). The stop was beautiful, and gave us beautiful views of the bay below.
After that quick stop, we went to a family farm that has produced olive oil, cheese, wine, limoncello, and cured meats for five generations. We got to try their food, and they treated us to a demonstration as to how they make mozzarella and other cheeses. It is amazing to think that they have cows, pigs, sheep, olive trees, lemon trees, grapevines, and other items on a farm that is only 4 acres in size!
After the stop at the farm, we headed into Sorrento to shop and grab some lunch. We didn’t have a lot of time there, which is unfortunate because we really liked it, but we had some pizza and wine with the birthday boy!
Finally, it was time to head to Pompeii! For those unfamiliar with the history of this site, Pompeii was a bustling town in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius. In 79 AD, there was a massive eruption of this volcano that lasted 3 days, killing everyone in Pompeii and completely burying the site, thus preserving it. The eruption of Vesuvius was so large, the crater of the volcano caved in, creating a second mountain next to the volcano. Pompeii sits 10 km from the volcano, so contrary to what some believe, the city wasn’t buried in lava, but in volcanic ash. The residents of Pompeii were killed by asphyxiation from toxic gasses and suffocation from the hot volcanic ash.
Archaeologists began excavating Pompeii in the mid-1700s, and in the nearly 300 years since, have been able to excavate about 75% of the site. They’ve discovered houses with the paintings still visible in vivid colors on the walls. One of the largest houses they discovered is open for the public to walk through, and they’ve since added a modern roof on the structure to help preserve it (it also provided some much appreciated shade on this HOT day)! The house had stairs leading to a second story, and an area where they would have had a shrine to their departed ancestors. The paintings on the walls in the various rooms are absolutely amazing, considering that they are 2000 years old! There was also a large courtyard.
For me, one of the most interesting and most sobering things about the Pompeii site is that, because people died of suffocation and were then buried under tons of volcanic ash, they were forever captured as they fell in their final moment. Because their flesh decayed slowly, the space that interred them remained hollow in their body’s shape, and scientists were able to inject plaster into the site to create a plaster cast. Seeing the plaster “body” truly made you feel the terror that must’ve been experienced that day, and brought home the fact that, unlike many other sites of ruins, this civilization disappeared in three days, with all of its citizens perishing.
Because Pompeii was a Roman settlement, they had a forum where the residents would have conducted most of their social activities. When we first walked up the stairs to enter the forum, it was just breathtaking. There are ruins of many temples…to Apollo, to Jupiter, to Venus…with Mt. Vesuvius looming in the background.
We could’ve spent a couple of days exploring the entire site, but we only had a few hours. Apparently, the northernmost part of the site was still was still another 2 km from where we’d walked. I don’t think any of us expected that it was as large as it is. As we were walking out, Kenneth tripped going down the stairs and skinned his knee pretty good on the rocks. He had blood dripping down his leg, causing an elderly gentleman to run up to me with napkins, speaking to me excitedly in Italian. A couple of other tourists that were near him when he fell ran over and were helping to pick him up off the ground and make sure he was ok. A medical professional that was on our tour asked if he needed attention, and the waiters at a cafe at the bottom of the hill ran out with alcohol to clean it, bandaids, and an ice pack. It was a perfect demonstration of how people really are inherently good and want to help, which is sometimes easy to forget with all of the bad news in the world today! Kenneth now says that he left a piece of himself and some of his blood at Pompeii along with the ruins, so he’ll have to go back someday!
The excitement of seeing Sorrento and Pompeii wasn’t the only special thing about the day — we were also celebrating Fern’s birthday! While he didn’t get to spend his birthday relaxing and being spoiled, we did make sure that there was a cake for him at dinner, and all of our waiters sang happy birthday to him along with us. Sorrento, Pompeii, and a birthday celebration — what better capstone to end our fabulous European adventure!