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Report 981: The Old Man and Me - In Italy!

By Podie from Florida, Spring 2006

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Page 4 of 10: Naples and Pompeii on Day Two

photo by Celeste Rubanick

Mt. Vesuvius Still Looms Over Pompei

I love to sleep, so when I heard Rich get up and turn on the TV at 1 a.m., I felt bad for him and went back to sleep.

Until 1:30 a.m. Then I was wide awake.

Not understanding why I was already rested, I drank coffee, read a book left in the apartment called "Running With Scissors," and Rich watched TV. Finally at 5:30 a.m. we went out walking. Another beautiful day was in store for us, but nothing was open yet. It's strange to be somewhere with no all-night convenience stores! We wandered around until it was time to meet Mary and Tom.

We'd scheduled a trip for seven people to Naples and Pompeii with Sorrento driver Renato Cuomo for March 31. Renato explained he would be using a Rome driver for the trip, and at 7 a.m. all of us were picked up in a very comfortable van at the Raphael Hotel by Guilio. He spoke excellent English, having lived in New York City for many years.

He did tell us he didn't know where the Archaeological Museum was in Naples, but I was sure I could find it since I'd passed it many times when stationed there. The seven of us talked non-stop and napped alternately, but when we made an Autogrill stop near Naples, everyone was wide awake and ready to go.

Guilio missed a turn to the museum and began asking directions. Then he backtracked and tried to get to where we had been. He stopped in a piazza in front of a church that I knew was pretty close to the museum, and when he asked just where it was, he was told it was a couple of blocks away. It was warm and sunny, and we agreed to walk it and meet him back at the piazza at 12:30. It was 10 a.m.

We walked two blocks (Tom pushing Mary's wheelchair) to Via Toledo, a crowded shopping street, and couldn't see the museum. We asked directions at a leather store and the owner told us it was in the direction we were walking, about one kilometer away. This six-tenths of a mile would be impossible for Mary and a man named Pat, who walked with a cane, if they were to walk Pompeii later.

Our hearts absolutely sank at the turn this trip had taken. Then I realized I was being overly dramatic and we weren't by any means in a situation we couldn't fix.

We didn't have Guilio's phone number (our big mistake), but we had Renato's. While the shop owner called a taxi for Mary, Tom, and Pat, I called Renato and explained what had happened. I emphasized that Guilio was a great driver but he didn't know Naples, and we would get to the museum ourselves but could he please make sure Guilio was there at 12:30? Renato said he would take care of it, of course apologizing over and over again.

By 10:20 a.m. we were all at the museum. The taxi had cost 10 euro and the walk had been effortless, one kilometer at most. We snagged an English speaking guide for E10 each, paid the admission fee of E9 each, and proceeded to see the treasures of Pompeii that had been removed to the museum.

I had been to Pompeii once before, but seeing the artifacts in the museum made an enormous difference to my understanding of what the town had been like in 79 AD. The mosaics were so amazing that it was hard to believe they were almost 2000 years old. Our two hour tour was excellent and I was glad we hadn't gone through the museum ourselves.

Also, by having a guide we didn't have to make an appointment to see the "secret room" as others did. This exhibit is quite small and I can see the need to limit the number of people. It was not shocking, but certainly amusing to see that some things never change. Except that whoever says things are always bigger in Texas has definitely not seen this exhibit!

We left the museum at exactly 12:30 and both Guilio and Renato were waiting for us! Renato had come to apologize again and to lead us to one of his favorite Naples restaurants. Renato Cuomo has a fantastic reputation on several travel boards and I see it is well earned. After my phone call he had driven from Sorrento to Naples to make sure the trip was going well.

This seems like a good time to explain how we'd booked this trip. When Mary heard I had tried to find an affordable driver to make this custom trip and failed, she contacted Anne, who would be in Rome with her cousins Pat and Susan. They were also interested in such a trip by vehicle rather than train, and I set out to see what kind of deal I could get for seven people.

All of the Rome agencies wanted more money than Renato, who is based in Sorrento. He quoted us E600 for a van for seven people from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., with our custom itinerary of the Naples museum, lunch in Naples, Pompeii with a private guide that Renato recommended (E20 per person), and then back to Rome. This worked out to 110 euro per person including the tour guide, a fantastic deal!

So we followed Renato in our van to Classico Margherita, a lovely restaurant across the street from the Bay of Naples. Our table was waiting and the service was excellent. Although most of us had pizza, Pat had enormous grilled shrimp - prawns, really - and I MUST return to this place! We also had desserts with delicious fragolini, the tiny spring strawberries just appearing in Rome.

We almost hated to leave. Our water, beer, pizza, desserts, and coffee cost E32 for two of us and we headed back to the van. I fell asleep and the next thing I knew, we were at the gate to Pompeii and our guide was waiting for us.

Stefano was most wonderful. His two hour tour included the highlights and was specially designed to be the easiest for our slower walkers. He was knowledgeable, friendly, helpful, and enthusiastic. Pompeii came alive for us and I saw many, many things I had missed in four hours of touring on my own a few years earlier.

At 5:15 p.m. we left the ruins, relaxed outside and did some shopping (I bought a beautiful cameo ring for my daughter for E120) and drank granita di limone. Then we headed home to Rome. Once again we stopped at an Autogrill on the Autostrada and arrived in Rome at 8:30 p.m.

This was such a relaxing way to do everything we wanted! Thanks to Mary being able to get a group available, we had a wonderful trip at a very reasonable price.

Of course we were hungry by then, so we all trooped to Orso 80 for antipasti. Mary and Tom were greeted warmly, we were seated at a large table and the food started coming before we were all seated!

The food was awesome and we were ravenous. Our robust eating was appreciated and the food kept coming. We were talking and eating and passing around the serving dishes and in general just having a great time! I was too full for dessert and then the limoncello came out! By the time we left, our share of E46 seemed way too little! I highly recommend this restaurant!

Since Anne, Pat and Susan were leaving for Prague the next day, we all said goodbye outside the restaurant. In just one day we had all become good friends, and I hated to see them go. Maybe we could make this an annual get together!

Rich, Mary, Tom and I walked back to our apartments and said good night, but it was so beautiful out that Rich and I went back out and walked to Castel Sant'Angelo and then St. Peter's. Much to my surprise, the square was barricaded so we couldn't enter. We walked along the river back towards our apartment, watching fireworks in the distance.

It was midnight when we reached Campo dei Fiori, and it was jammed with teens and 20-somethings. We heard a bottle break close by and suddenly felt very old, so we left the Campo, stopped at a store for cold drinks, and returned to our apartment. I knew I'd have no problem sleeping through the night!

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