Our last day in Sorrento (and Italy) was spent visiting Mt. Vesuvius and I say visit because I don’t know what else to say.
We had considered hiking Vesuvius on a whim after we finished our Pompeii tour, since there were a few hours of daylight left and we were close, as evidenced by all of the Vesuvius Tours advertised at the train station in Pompeii. We hadn’t eaten lunch and so we snacked on candy bars to fuel our hike while Scott consulted Google for our route. It was only a 4.5 hour hike one way. The candy bars were a waste of calories; we would take one of the many shuttles up to the volcano. We went into a tour kiosk to purchase tickets only to learn that it was too late to see the volcano, entrance to the crater rim closed at 3:00. We would have to pick another day.
We had four full days in the area to explore. Capri was on the list as well as hiking the Path of Gods, which left one free day. How badly did we want to be on top of Mt. Vesuvius? The kids wanted to go to the top and so did I, even though I had a feeling it would be a letdown of some sort. It is hard not to come all the way to Pompeii, take a tour of the ruins, and not feel like you missed a piece of the story if you skip the crater.
Scott and I both spent some time on the computer trying to figure out the best way to visit the infamous and still active volcano. Lello, our guide from the ruins, told us he had the pleasure of taking a group of geologists, in Naples for a conference, on a tour of Pompeii a few years ago. Ever since that tour, he’s kept gas masks in his car for his family in the event of an eruption. Like the “big one” we Californians are waiting for, Naples is waiting for the next eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, only as Lello put it, Italians are more stupid than Californians because there is no plan of escape, no one knows or practices what to do when the volcano erupts. Supposedly it is only a matter of time.
Even after an hour or so of researching, we were still unclear about the most time efficient way to visit Mt. Vesuvius so we would just retrace our steps from our Pompeii visit, show up around lunchtime and get on one of the shuttles.
We were already familiar with the local Sorrento train station and easily arrived at the Mt. Vesuvius/ Pompeii stop. We would take the shuttle to Mt. Vesuvius and then hike twenty minutes to the crater’s rim. After having a very confusing conversation in one of the tour kiosks, we learned that the next available tour was in two hours. We decided to try our luck with a different tour operator. The conversation and the outcome was just as confusing as the first, but somehow we ended up sharing a van-type taxi with five other people leaving immediately.
There was a couple from Russia and another couple with one young child, maybe 5 or 6 years old. The Russian couple were young and funny and the other family was very quiet and we couldn’t figure out where they were from, maybe Italian. The cab driver spoke to us in English though and he was funny in a sarcastic sort of way. He was kind of a cab driver/tour guide?
The Russian couple sat in front with him and as soon as he realized where they were from he talked for a few minutes about how sorry he was for the recent tragedy of the plane crash and then with just as much feeling talked about how we were all on holiday and we should talk about light topics. The conversation moved on to weather. The cab driver was talking about how hot it had been in Italy this summer and the guy from Russia said, “We have those temperatures too…only with a minus in front!”
It was a forty minute ride up most of the mountain with the cab driver asking for our attention occasionally and then telling us something about Mt. Vesuvius. We stopped at the park office where we all trooped inside and purchased our tickets to see the crater. The taxi driver dropped us off and pointed us in the direction of the entrance to the hike (through a ramshackle gift shop/refreshment stand) and told us to meet back in the parking lot in 90 minutes. It was a twenty minute uphill hike to the crater’s rim where one could walk around one side of the crater.
How the top of Mt. Vesuvius? Certainly not what it was over a thousand years ago. The mountain was reduced by as much as half of its height in the eruption of 79 A.D. that covered Pompeii in 20 feet of ash and killed thousands of people. Now, there is a crater to ponder and the view of Naples and the bay to enjoy through a haze of pollution that the taxi driver called mist. We took a couple of pictures and hiked back down to meet our group and retrace our path back to the train station.
Was it a complete pain in the ass to visit Mt. Vesuvius? Yes. Was it a letdown? Yes. Am I glad I went? Yes. Even Ashley said, “It wasn’t that much fun or even very interesting but I would have been sad to have missed it.” I felt the same way.
Sometimes, after we experience a place, I like to go back to Google and Trip Advisor and see if the reviews are helpful and the instructions are clearer after I have the perspective of experience. I also think that it is interesting to compare my opinions to those of other reviewers and I especially like to read the comments in the “terrible” ratings section (and not because I am a negative person). As long as these reviews are not hateful, I think that there is more information in them than the glowing ones.
Regardless, I am still trying to understand the best way to visit Vesuvius. Although I completely agreed with many of the negative reviews on Trip Advisor (and there are many more positive than negative) and I thoroughly reviewed information on websites regarding how to plan one’s trip, it is still unclear to me the best way to tackle Mt. Vesuvius, but I did come away thinking a lot about Trip Advisor.
How is trip advisor shaping my reality (and everyone else who uses it) and it is helpful…or not? Does it takes away from one’s personal experience? Does it give you expectations? I am not saying that it isn’t a good tool or shouldn’t be used. I’m just wondering what it does to our psyches.
I have used Trip Advisor on many occasions. I use it to pick out hotels, activities and restaruants. Sometimes it makes me sad when the hotel that everyone loves is booked for the dates of my vacation. I feel like I didn’t plan well enough in advance which I never do anyway. I feel discouraged and maybe like I shouldn’t go if the place I want to stay (according to Trip Advisor) is booked. I have noticed recently that Trip Advisor has “Just for Me” picks now. This is ironic because sometimes I have stayed at a place that I picked on Trip Advisor because of the reviews and I didn’t like it all that much. Likewise, I have read countless reviews from people that complain about being disappointed in a place with great reviews, so it’s not just me who suffers TA (Trip Advisor) Remorse. I have stayed at some great places in New York City (picked from TA), one place I tried for a couple of years to book. When I finally got to put my head on a pillow in that establishment, it wasn’t magical. It was nice, don’t get me wrong, but was it the best place that I had ever stayed in? NO. Definitely not. I think the populace raved about it because it was small, owner managed and the other people staying there were really nice.
I have picked top rated hotels and not liked then. I have chosen top rated tours and loved them. It seems like it’s a crapshoot based on one’s mood of the day or personal preference (on both ends). Hey TA, what should I do today? According to other people, how should I spend my time? And when I really need advice, like how does one most efficiently visit Mt. Vesuvius? Where is Trip Advisor for me then? I have asked, tried, been there and still don’t know. I think it’s about faith, faith in yourself and faith in the unexpected, faith in the joy of learning as you go and forming your own opinion and the realization that everyone finds value differently and not many things are perfect but that can have a lot to do with yourself (and I am certainly counseling myself here).
I “Trip-Advisored” Mt. Vesuvius and got a plethora of opinions and then we still went ill prepared. The hike took fifteen minutes from the parking lot and while it was uphill, it wasn’t difficult, it was on a road and we hike a lot so it was nothing. I’ve read reviews to the contrary. “Wear good shoes!” “Difficult hike!” “You need at least 2 hours!” “Spectacular!” I wasn’t that impressed. I wanted to see it because we had taken an awesome tour with of the Pompeii ruins and how can you see the ruins and not want to see Mt. Vesuvius? It took us 5 hours to see the volcano and was a lot of transportation and a little hiking and it wasn’t even that amazing…TO US. And that is the whole point and I know it. It doesn’t matter what I think or you think. We are all going to have a different experience and a different opinion of Mt. Vesuvius and anything else that gets reviewed on Trip Advisor. It is amazing to some people and awe inspiring. My family drags me to the top of so many mountains that the Mt. Vesuvius Crater is only interesting because of Pompeii but I imagine that if you are not a hiker it is inspiring.
What if you could go on Trip Advisor and check reviews for your life or the type of life that you envision? Would you do it? What are the number one activities for your life according to other people? That might be interesting. Isn’t that a little bit what Trip Advisor does anyway? Just something to think about. My father-in-law told me over the years he has learned that he is more of the “Lonely Planet” traveler than the “Frommer’s” type. Maybe I should stick more to the fact based style of a guidebook than the millions of opinions floating around the internet. I wonder if all of those opinions cancel each other out. I know that I will continue to use Trip Advisor. It’s a little like reading the last few pages of a book and deciding whether the 300 pages I have left to read are worth the effort.
Mt. Vesuvius is an enigma but it made me think a lot about Trip Advisor. And the thing is (according to me) the trip up the volcano is not that interesting, save for the fact that it is a volcano that will erupt again. It is such a tourist trap and not even a well-managed one, but how does one visit Pompeii and not want to climb up the volcano that destroyed it? You’ll just have to decide for yourself.