In my previous post, I mentioned how excited I was about the opportunity to visit a semi-active volcano – Mount Vesuvius – known for erupting every 30 years, and whose last eruption was 1944 – which means it’s definitely due an eruption and it’s going to be a big one!
So, on the morning of Friday May 4th, I just couldn’t wait, got up early, finished a quick breakfast and was off to Circumvesuviana railway station (it’s very close to the main railway station of Naples at Piazza Garibaldi). Luckily, the train towards Sorrento was in just 10 minutes (although, in Italy, just like India, if you ask “Oh, by the way, how long do I have to wait before the train departs?“, the answer is always “Just 5 minutes!”). By the way, I had been warned about pickpockets in trains multiple times, so I made sure my wallet was well-hidden away. Fortunately, the train was quiet empty and I didn’t face any trouble. Apart from the presence of two obnoxious American ladies who were very very loud, made a big fuss about how weird and funny it is to talk to Italian people and provided a full-length discourse of how they would name an apple as Mr Joe and keep it throughout the journey and take photos with it. Oh well.
My destination on this train journey was Ercolano, about 30-40 minutes away from Naples, which is not only the gateway to Mt Vesuvius, but also home to the archeological site of Herculaneum – which is just like Pompeii, much smaller, less famous but better preserved due to being engulfed in a different type of volcanic material at the time of eruption. I had intended to do a full-hike of Mount Vesuvius, but due to time constraints and a general warning by my hostel host that the hike path has been closed (although I don’t believe that to be true), I chose to go for the bus till the tree-line of the mountain followed by a steep 800m hike to the top to see the crater.
Despite all the negative stereotypes associated with such experience in Italy, ‘Vesuvius Express‘ mini-bus turned out to be a good choice considering it saved me a lot of time, it started and came back on the pre-decided times and the driver drove in a perfectly sane manner, something you stop expecting after having a look at the traffic in Naples.
The walk to the top was of medium difficulty, the only hindrance was the continuous stream of traffic jams caused by hordes of German pensioners walking up the volcano. On a more serious note though, I’d recommend wearing shoes with good grip (or even walking boots if you have them) as the path has a lot of gravel, dirt and small rocks and can get a bit slippery. Definitely no heels, although I did see a couple of ladies in spring dresses and well, I guess, that’s how they roll.
View of the surrounding ridges and hills, with the clouds moving in!
I had read in my guidebook that Vesuvius is infamous for being foggy at the top, thus robbing the tourists of a beautiful view of the Bay of Naples. When I started my trip in the morning, I didn’t see any clouds near the mountain, so thought – Bah! Guidebooks and their warnings! But it turned out, just when I started the hike, clouds moved in around the peak and this is the view I saw:
View of Bay of Naples from Vesuvius
A bit disappointing, you know.
But the crater didn’t disappoint. After encountering a few shops selling fake souvenirs apparently made of ‘black-lava-rock’, the crater suddenly came into view and took my breath away. It was quiet deep, and although the main vent was completely covered up during the last eruption, there’s still small plumes of smoke arising from a few tiny vents all around the crater.
First look at the crater of Mt Vesuvius!
Smoke coming out from one of the vents!
You can walk halfway around the top to see the crater from different angles. There’s also a small shop at the top selling really expensive water – so, it might be a good idea to get some water from Ercolano or Naples before you board the bus to the top.
It was also interesting to see the clearly-visible layers of earth around the crater, which I guess must have been deposited every time there’s a new eruption. I am sure it must be a treasure trove of information for actual geologists.
Another look at the crater – and the layers of volcanic material visible around the crater.
I don’t know about the safety aspects involved, but it might be fun to descend into the crater. Someone should take it up as a business idea to start hikes down into the crater – with the thrill of an eruption which could happen any time – without warning!
Train to Ercolano from Naples: € 2.5
Mini-bus from Ercolano railway station to Vesuvius (called Vesuvius Express) : € 10
(You can get a 1 Euro discount if you show the map provided at hostels which advertises this company)
Entry fee to Mount Vesuvius: € 8
(I’d recommend buying this along with your ticket at Vesuvius Express saving you queuing time)
What else can you do in Ercolano? Enjoy some tasty pizza, visit Herculaneum (just 200 yards from railway station) or visit Pompeii!
Offbeat tip: If you are flying out of Naples at the end of your trip, try to get a seat on the left hand side of the plane, you’ll get a great view of Mount Vesuvius as the plane flies right next to it in it’s take-off path. Keep your cameras ready too (sadly, I didn’t )