As we left our bnb to take an Uber to Piazza de Poppolo, it was still raining, my hopes for a pretty sunrise doused. We wondered how the day would turn out, with a day-long tour of Pompeii and a hike of Mount Vesuvius, but still met with our group of about thirty with excitement.
We boarded a bus at the Piazza di Navonna, the buildings which surrounded it still lit up by their night lights. Our tour guide was Louise, an Irishwoman with a wry sense of humor, who married an Italian man seven years ago. He met her when he came over to visit Ireland on holiday with her then-boyfriend. “We don’t talk to that friend anymore,” she deadpanned.
By the time we arrived at Pompeii three hours later, the sun came out and off came our jackets. For the next two hours, we toured this ancient city which was tragically buried under volcanic ash and preserved when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. The area first came to light when a farmer discovered marble pieces as he tilled the soil.
The residents of Pompeii were ingenuous. Like other Italians of their time, they built highways now patterned after by the rest of the world, had a clean water system, and developed what was then considered an efficient (though disgusting by today’s standards) open sewer system that ran across the city.
We ended our tour at the Forum, an expansive gathering place with intact columns and statues of Gods against the backdrop of the still active Mount Vesuvius. Louise characterized it as an active volcano “ready to pop.” We saw the plaster cast forms of a slave, a baby and a dog trying to chew off its chain, a somber reminder of the volcano’s destructive power. Contrary to how Hollywood has depicted their demise, residents of Pompeii were buried under and killed not under lava but by 30 to 50 feet of ash.
For lunch, we ate Neapolitan-style pizza at a restaurant in Pompeii. Drew and I got the delicious Margherita, a medium-thick crust covered with cheese, marinara sauce and basil, and which was named after a visiting monarch who ate it to rapturous pleasure. Then we headed up for our hike at Mount Vesuvius, but by the time we got there it was closed to hikers. With the rolling mist, angry clouds and a drizzle, there was too much danger of lightning. We still ended our day in good spirits.
For dinner, we took the Metro from Piazza de Poppollo to Termini and met our Grantsville friends Laurie and her husband Brad for dinner at a hopping indoor market called Mercato Centrale, something we’ve seen in places like Philadelphia–a huge building with a variety of restaurants and vendors clustered around modernist furniture.
There was so much for us (me) to choose from. I had a small rack of pork with potatoes, and had a taste of Drew’s cacio de pepe (handmade thick spaghetti with a thick, creamy white sauce seasoned with black pepper). Brad ordered a fun mixed plate which we all shared: fried artichoke, chickory and spinach, meatballs in mushroom sauce. Afterwards, I bought macarons (my Achilles heel) and panna cotta (a custard with caramel topping) and accompanied the others to a gelato place.
Brad and Laurie dropped us off at our bnb around 11:30, concluding such a fun night with friends.