Today we visited Herculaneum, a much smaller site than Pompeii, about 10km nearer Vesuvius and, unfortunately for the inhabitants, similarly victim to the ash which fell from the sky that fateful morning. In the case of this small town it was buried almost instantaneously below 15 metres of ash and pumice, to all intents and purposes freeze-framing it. They’ve now been digging away at it for many years but have only uncovered about a quarter of the town lying 50 feet below its modern equivalent.

To reach this spot we decided to take the Circumvesuvius train which, as its name suggests, serves the area around the foot of the volcano. The main part is a line running from Naples to Sorrento which passes through Pompeii. The station for these trains was at the top of a slope literally right in front of the main entrance to the ruins so was particularly convenient for us on the campsite at the bottom of that slope. As usual the backpack was laden with sandwiches and bottles of water but this time I included my weatherproof as, quite surprisingly for us and I think the Italian weather forecasters, it was raining!

Now this wasn’t anything to rival the ridiculous downpours we experienced in Belgium or latterly on Lake Garda, but for the first time since our arrival here last Sunday, the sky wasn’t blue and it wasn’t all that warm. A t-shirt was still sufficient for wandering about (although something on the bottom half was required to avoid getting arrested) but a light fleece was probably the order of the day.

During my research on how to get to Herculaneum I had read that the train might not strike the uninitiated as the most luxurious of rail transport given the awful noise, wall-to-wall graffiti, bad smell and coach loads of pickpockets who used the system. Nonetheless we decided to give it a try, as long as we followed the recommendation not to use it after dark. Yes, that’s what trip advisor said, along with “don’t sit on the seats as they tend to be subject to unexpected body fluids!”

I’m sure you are expecting me to tell you that this advice is a total exaggeration of the facts. Well actually it’s more of an understatement! Both the trains and the stations are absolutely horrendous and in a total state of abject disrepair. We thought Sangerhausen, on our route to Berlin, was a hangover from the past but it was Grand Central compared to Ercolano, the Italian name for Herculaneum. Honestly, the ruins were tidier! It’s the modern bit that needs buried.

However, we managed to survive the journey unscathed, found the site of the ruins 500 metres downhill from the station, bluffed our way in for nothing with an expired entrance ticket and had a lovely afternoon checking out the various houses in this tragic time capsule. Where Pompeii is big and on a grand scale, Herculaneum is small and intimate but has lots of domestic detail still beautifully preserved, giving the visitor an excellent and informed insight into the lives of the people in the early years of the first century A.D.

We returned to the station at about 15.30 to ensure we would be home before dark, yet had to stand on the platform for a good 20 minutes before the train arrived. We spent that time observing life in the blocks of flats that flanked the rails on both sides. The noises and sights were, to say the least, “interesting” but it was the decrepit state of the surroundings which shocked us. The phrase “Third World” came to both our minds as we watched a wee boy, alone, letting off fireworks on the platform opposite. The man searching for dog-ends on the track below didn’t seem to mind at all!

Back at the caravan, we had tea then settled down to watch Hitchcock’s “Spellbound”, noting with interest that Gregory Peck’s dream sequences were created in consultation with Salvador Dali himself. No shortcuts there then! I then browsed Youtube, finding the goals from the Sweden – England game but mainly to see Ibrahimovic’s miracle fourth goal which even Steven Gerrard described as the best goal he has ever seen. You have to say, it is a bit special, isn’t it?

By midnight the bed was made up and we were in it. Mary went out like a light and I was about 5 seconds behind her. That’s why this post is being written this morning (Saturday) and not last night. Tonight we sleep in a hotel bed in Montecassino. Can’t wait!

A view over the site

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ercolano train station