Mount VesuviusMarch 26, 2017 in Italy
Today we looked into the crater of the only active volcano on mainland Europe; Mount Vesuvius!
We bought tickets from the campsite reception that covered transport and entry to the National Park, before catching the dedicated bus from just outside. It was a real relief to relinquish responsibility for getting there to someone else. The vehicle hurtled along over the speed limit and beeping at anything in front that dared to go slower. On the cobbled hill road we could hardly hear what each other was saying due to the cacophony of squeaking and banging and the roaring engine of the bus. We sat on plastic seats with bare metal rails and no sign of seatbelts. The driver himself held on to a support rail with one hand as he slung us round bends with the other. The area we travelled through was urban but we were able to catch glimpses of Vesuvius's ominous dark grey slopes, its peak shrouded in white cloud.
We transferred to a 4x4 bus at the edge of the National Park with padded coach seats and seatbelts (albeit non functioning). The cab bounced about seemingly separately from the coach, so much so it had torn away from the rubber joiner between them, through which daylight now shone. It took us up into the pine forest, on dilapidated concrete, then rickety cobbles covered in grit, kicking up a plume of dust behind. We passed a ranger on a skewbald horse and several cyclists, runners and walkers.
We climbed and climbed round countless hairpin bends. Evidence of forest fires remained in the charred trunks of trees beside the road. Our ears popped and we attained an altitude where the height of the trees reduced and we could see the bay of Naples spread below, the sun reflecting back from the roofs of factories and shopping centres within the conurbation.
The 4x4 pulled up at the car park 1050m above sea level. From here we walked up a grit track with the vegetation getting gradually less as the stone and reddy brown rocks took over. Clouds blew over the path as the environment became increasingly inhospitable. We were glad we'd worn trainers and not our walking sandals because the ground was loose and we slipped frequently. 15 minutes later we reached the summit and were able to peer over into the base of the crater. There was the odd small tree, a little grass and a few small patches of ground flowers visible but the rest was rock. From certain places on the sides, smoke was wafting out.
The path led us half way round the crater, so we were able to see it from different perspectives. It was an incredible feeling to be in such an extreme place; leading down to Naples, you could see the rivers of shingle cutting through the forest and get an idea of the destructive power. The 40 minute drive from Pompeii, the settlement previously obliterated by Vesuvius, had added a sense of scale to the volcano's reach.
We didn't get to spend as much time up there as Vicky would have liked as the bus driver had showed us a sign indicating we needed to return to the car park within an hour. Being used to doing things at our own pace in the van we hadn't asked if we could get a later bus, so it was a brisk walk back down the slippery shingle slope. We arrived 2 minutes late, but had to wait another 8 minutes for the bus. Getting settled on the warm cushioned seats, it was only after 5 minutes that Vicky realised her seat was wet with goodness knows what. At least it made her appreciate the plastic seats of the bus that returned us to the campsite!
We don't often go on organised tours such as this because part of the joy of the motor home is being able to do things independently. In one sense it was great because it took all of the stress out of driving, we didn't need to organise where to park or worry about the van suspension taking a battering. On the downside, we felt pressured for time and worried about what would happen if we missed the bus. We'd definitely do something like this again, but learn from our experience and ask about possible alternatives that would suit us better.Read more