We’ve left it until the last day to visit Pompeii. We leave Positano by about 1pm and travel via private transfer to the ruins. We have precisely 2 hours to do a speedy tour on our way to Rome and the airport. It doesn’t seem right, but we’ve decided we can’t miss it. By the time we’ve paid .50 euro to wait in a loo queue and get tickets and a map, our time is down to an hour and a half. We have to meet our driver at 4pm.
I am overawed by the size and scale of the place and the continuing excavation. As we walk, Jen reads from a guidebook and we weave in and out of other tourists and head towards the amphitheatre. Along the way, we’re struck by the labyrinth of cobble stoned streets, filled with the remains of houses and shop fronts. As we make our way, there are detours and barriers, which make a mockery of our map and SJ, Evie and I, lose Jen and Soph, along with the map and guidebook! Instead we ask other tourists for directions and we eventually find the impressive amphitheatre and I wonder how something of this scale could actually end up buried. I glance up to Vesuvius and its hulking mass, and my question is answered.
The amphiteathre is a series of glorious, perfectly executed archways and once inside, we view the remains of rows of seats from a now grassy arena. I film a 360 degree view of it on my camera for my daughter, Georgie – who’s always shown the same fascination with history as her mother.
From the amphitheatre, we head back towards the baths and the forum. We peer into the Palestra Grande, which I later read, was an impressive athletics track with the remains of a swimming pool at its centre. We check our watches – we have just under an hour left. We criss-cross more streets and stop at a villa, which has new plantings inside its inner courtyard, and there are exquisite remains of frescoed walls and marble detailing on the floors. As we drag ourselves on, it’s difficult not to be drawn into each space we spy and we resolve to read a lot more on Pompeii’s history when we return to Australia.
When we reach the forum, again – we are struck by the scale, particularly since the entire area is thrumming with tourists and groups of school children, whose honey coloured skin and glossy dark hair, can’t be much different from their ancient predecessors. They run laughing, chatting and darting between the slabs of stone on the cobbled street. We don’t take long to work out, these are ancient pedestrian crossings; where one can cross the street, without dropping down onto the road and the stone slabs are spaced far enough apart to allow carriage wheels to drive through.
The remains here, including the Temple of Apollo and the Basilica are extraordinary. There are still sections of marble paving with a faint pink hue, which would have covered the entire forum floor. There are bitten and chewed, yet still elegant columns in clusters. Alongside the temple remains, are rows of shops, each equally sized and laid out in small streets leading off the forum. In fact, even down to the barest of its bones, Pompeii exhibits the pure genius of the grid-like town planning, for which the ancient Romans became renowned. We wander here for precious minutes, taking it all in.
As we make our way down to the Porta Marina, we are still minus Sophie and Jen. We spy our driver and after a bite to eat we are still waiting for the girls as the clock ticks near 4pm. I feel as though we’ve been in an episode of The Amazing Race. Marking each check point and racing through spectacular parts of the world, with no time to appreciate it. I feel as though there should be a mat, and when they arrive, the driver will say to Jen and Soph, who will be the last to arrive – I’m sorry. I regret to inform you, you’ve been eliminated from the race.
They round the corner, not a minute late, munching on baguettes. We’re where we’re supposed to be at the right time, aren’t we? They say.
I feel my heart wrench. I don’t really want to leave. There was still so much more to see. But we have a plane to catch, back to our husbands and families in Australia.
By the time I drag my luggage into the entrance hall of our home, 3 hours west of Melbourne, we will have covered over 20,000kms, by land and air and been travelling for around 40 hours straight.
Not far short of the time it took to annihilate an ancient city in 79AD.