As less experienced travelers we took advice as and when offered. The first good piece was buy your tickets to the ruins on line before traveling if you know when you want to visit as the queues to enter can be long and tedious also buy a multi-site ticket, its cheaper and allows 3 days to see all 5 sites. Both were right. It should be noted that the concessions to site for pensioners has been stopped, only students between 18-24 & teachers get half price and children under 14 are free.

Despite the many warnings by friends, websites, newspaper articles and guidebooks Naples, for us, was a wonderful experience and we were treated generously, kindly and helpfully by everyone we encountered. In fact we felt much safer there than the time we visited Milan some years ago. The drivers are crazy, reversing backwards around roundabout, driving over crossing while you stand on them, up pavements and in packs, never mind the speed they do all this at.

The train trip down was comfortable and uneventful. We arrived about 10.30 in a vast station (Garibaldi) but just across from the main entrance to the right we could see our hotel Cavour, covered in scaffolding. We followed the taxi rank around past Mc D’s and several other eateries, over a crossing, passed yet more pastry shops, ethnic restaurants and another Mc D and there it was. The manager offered his apologies for the building works but it turned out the top 3 floors had been completely refurbished and the main floor and first floor were to be competed before the end of the month. Our rooms were more than adequate with a large double bed, air conditioning, a large flat screen TV and a fully fitted shower room. If there was a downside it was that the lift only took 3 persons and breakfast was 6.90, so we had coffee and a croissant for 1 euro at the big M. Although check in wasn’t till 2pm our rooms were ready so we dropped our bags and headed back to the station to get the Circumvesuviana Railway train to Pompeii The train was as it had been described, over stuffed with people and poorly kept, (hence the new faster sleeker option at 4x the price with just 3 trains each way on offer in competition) but its cheap, it covered all the ruins on offer & all the way to Sorrentto, we got a good view of the volcano and it got us there.

Pompeii is vast.! Although we’d selected a route to take us from the forum to the house of Mysteries taking in lots of high lights and particular properties en-route many were not open so on the way around we just opted to look at everything that was open within our time allowance. We saw the poets place, the house of the faun, 3 sets of baths, the house of Mysteries, the necropoli, colonnade, the stores where the poor dog and man sit among all the pots and lamps found. Jupiter’s temple, basilica, memorial arches. Fortunately the town is dotted with fountains to top up water bottles and soak hankies to cool necks, brows and foreheads as the visit coincided with some of the hottest days yet, 2.5 hours slipped by and we had to move on to Herculanium or miss it.

The ruins lie at the bottom of a hill and we were approached by two restaurant/bar owners offering lunch or drinks, one gave us a train time table which also had his advertisement on “Caffetteria Vesuvio”, we said we’d call in on the way back. Herculanium is very small as most of the ancient place is still under the city that’s built on to if it and there were few visitors so getting around was easy. Two of the houses we’d picked out to see were locked but we did see an extraordinary plaque in one we hadn’t planned on viewing, most x-rated. We watched a re-enactment with children in togas and tunics, the old site of the docks where the poor unfortunates suffocated (this closes at 6pm so we’d seen the remains from the entrance slope and not up close which suited us well) and we made our way out up through the retaining walls. As promised we called into the café where we were greeted enthusiastically although all we required as some granitas and a glass of wine, everything was 2 euros each and very tasty. The place is efficient, Salvatore gregarious, and very good value, a plate of salad or gnocchi, pasta, pizza or a beer for just 5 euro’s and no table charge. We enjoyed watching the never-ending service, banter and humour so we stayed for a second round. Back on the cattle train as we’d nicknamed it to Naples and our hotel for a shower and a bit of relaxation before we ventured out for supper.

We asked the receptionist where he’d recommend and he pointed us to the opposite side of the square where the new metro entrance was being made to La Cantina dei Mille and two others near by. We opted for the former and found a real treat. The pizza chef “Carlo Sammarco” has just received an extraordinary accolade of winning the best pizza Margherita in the province and the restaurant proudly show off his trophy and certificates. They were wonderfully kind, seeing us wilting in the heat moved stock and a table to place by two open door so we could benefit from the breeze and it’s fantastical food, service and reasonable doesn’t begin to cover it. The table charge, 3 pizza’s, 1 pasta, 2 bottles of wine, 1 large beer, 1 can of fanta and a 14% service charge came to……….43.41 !!! We ate there both nights and on the 2nd when asked if it was possible to get a T-shirt like the one all the waiters were wearing he said if we returned the next evening he will have washed and ironed it as it was the only one he had for us, but we couldn’t take up his offer.

After a good nights sleep we went to the metro and asked how we got to the port to catch a ferry to Capri they said we needed to get to Mergellina railway station. We bought the tickets and ventured forth. It was a scramble and everyone was packed like sardines. The man we were hugged up alongside asked where we were headed and how long we were staying and when we told him he said to stay close to him as he worked right by the terminal and he would lead us there. The station was a palace, marble stairs, columns, and frontage. The Napoli Mergellina station was built in 1925. Its the third-largest rail station in Naples is the oldest, and housed in a beautiful art deco building. He walked at our pace and pointed out the highlights, saying not to worry about the drivers no one gets killed crossing the roads as the drivers dodge around or stop, and delivered us safely to the quay-side and bid us good luck. It was the wrong ferry! Although it went to Capri it wasn’t running and we were 5km south of Molo Beverello where we needed to be. So we walked across the road and asked a waiter if he could recommend a taxi and how much would it cost. He phoned and said between 8-10 euro’s so we said that was fine, he checked the number of the taxi and said for us only to get in the one he’d written down for us. In 2 minutes the correct taxi arrived and the driver was loading us into a smart new car and off we went.

He dropped us off at the correct ferry and asked for 7 euro’s that was showing on the meter. We rushed to buy tickets and made the ferry with just a few minutes to spare. The trip was fairly smooth but the price was a lot more than we’d anticipated. The 9am slow ferry is about 12 euros each but the high-speed hydrofoils are 21 each. We had been given another piece of sound advice, when you get off buy the return journey ticket, so on the way over we thought how long we’d visit and once landed we purchased the trip back for 13.55 giving us 2hours to explore. Looking we saw the buses with just standing room only and the twisty road they traveled we chose to use the vernacular to the top, that too is a rush to get a place but faster and there are good views on the way up as well. The island is a tourist trap in every sense of the word, cameo’s, jewelry (mostly imported) shops and tourist gift shops crowd the pavements and the people crowed the roads. After an hour we were fed up being pushed and trampled. We selected a couple of small items to bring home and headed for a cold drink on the seashore. Be warned it’s exorbitant. & euros for a granita that costs 2-3 on the main land, 9 euros for a ltr bottle of eater that costs 2 normally. A family of 4 next to us was charged 65 euros for 3 pizzas, 1 toasted sandwich, 3 cokes and 2 coffees. The ferry to Sorrento was almost empty, yet another family with tickets for around 5pm were turned away as they cannot be exchanged, and we imagine everyone will have had enough by that time and crowding would be an issue. Although this ferry is not as fast as the first it got us to land in good time.

Sorrento is nicer and again we took a vernacular up to street level away from the locals basking in swim-ware on the rocks or dining our on the manmade sea defenses where café’s have erected covered platforms, so they look like small piers, off planked walk ways.

Walking up through the town we called into a family run shop that made inlaid wooden boxes. Wonderful, beautiful and works of art cover all the intricate designs and the meticulous finished items. Mr Stinga was kind and even removed the musical workings that we didn’t want and reduced the price by the cost of the mechanism. Considering the hours of work our walnut box with fretwork inlay must have taken they are hardly covering their costs. He then directed us to a bar where we could get a choice of chilled drinks that the locals use. After refreshments they told us how to get to the Circumvesuviana back towards Naples with a stop at another site, Oplontis. The ruins are located at the bottom of a small road having turned left out of the station. While we paused at a crossroads (to ensure we weren’t going to be run over) a taxi man pointed south and yelled “ruins down there” and drove on. Here we were met by a policeman who again pointed us to our target. Poppea’s villa is a must see, large, frescoed, columns, porticos and a vast pool, the complex kept many busy just keeping up with the daily chores but this also produced wine and oil. Not large but exquisite and it helped us fit more of the puzzle together on how things might have been before the eruption.

On the way back to the rail station a rough looking man who was weaving and stumbling on the uneven paving approached us. As he passed he stopped us and loudly recommended the café at the station as having the best coffee in town and say Marcus sent us.

The last day and we asked if the hotel would watch over our bags until 1.30pm and how to get the National Archeological Museum. They rang a taxi and asked and for 8 euros we were taken at high speed through narrow back streets, up cobbled ways, under washing lines, past more churches per metre than dogs and near misses that had some of us gritting our teeth wondering if we’d survive the trip. We arrived just before opening so we avoided the huge queues and tour buss loads by a good hour so ambled through the recovered artifacts from the sites we’d visited, scale reconstruction’s of villa’s and shops, sketches and paintings of the ruins through the last 200 years, mosaics and the secret gallery where the rude bits are, and some are very rude indeed! It wasn’t possible to see everything but we did pass by the carved statues and tombs on our way out. From there we walked to the privately owned Cappella Sansevero church to see the veiled Christ, veiled modesty, netted disillusion and the other finely carved works that have to be seen to be believed. The ceiling is astonishing and rather than the church we expected we found a treasure box.

From there we walked to the Via San Gregorio Armeno where they specialize in selling nativity pieces and sets. Not your average nativity, there are sheds and caves but also 3 tiered edifices, rocks, houses, streets, roman columns, a whole host of animals from plastic, pottery and glazed wares, make your own trinity and angles using straw bodies and terracotta formed faces and limbs to add on. Make a shop or cart and there are all the goods to sell from tiny baskets of fruits and veg to pliers and barrels. Moving vendors powered by batteries, offering bread, taking pizza out of glowing ovens and a lady winching up her shopping in a bag before the goat got to it. Fortunately not a long street or we would never have emerged out the other end.

We ate a light salad lunch and collected our bags, thanking the hotel staff for looking after us so well and caught the train back to Chuisi, arriving only 15 minuets late. Tired, foot sore and hot we were glad to be back but very glad to have made the effort to see some of what Naples has on offer. The food is similar but different, the people are exuberant and gracious, the city is large, loud and all in all a lot of fun.

We returned home into a heat wave that had temperatures soaring 22c at 7am, peaking at 38c plus by 2pm and it was still 35c at 9pm for almost to the end of the month. Watering, wilting and catching up with indoor jobs and catching up with emails and friends.