Chapter Thirteen: Deathtraps. Plural.

On the terrace I was bathed in warm morning sunshine. I filled up with a large breakfast of toast, cereal, croissants and jam having decided to go up Vesuvius 5 minutes earlier. I geared up slowly and set out, following the increasingly ridiculous GPS app on my phone. Having requested no tolls (it was a pleasant morning for a ride after all) I was dumped on a toll road straight out of Pompeii. To date they all gave you a ticket at the start and a bill at the exit ramps, but this one wanted prepayment of €2, I guessed for any distance between here and Naples.

From the Autostrade it was easy to identify Vesuvius, looming over the bay of Napoli – it’s the only mountain that looks like its been blown apart at the top, go figure. Despite the clear morning the mountain was trailing long wisps of cloud that obscured the summit. Not ideal – Nideal. My strong background in meteorology suggested to come back in the afternoon, giving the heat time to dissolve away the clouds. I like strong background in meteorology Tom, he’s pretty sharp, so I pulled off the smooth tarmac onto potholed, rutted country roads through fruit farms and got lost for an hour on my way back to Pompeii.

Lucky for me, you can’t miss the archeological site in Pompeii. Its both massive and only less than a couple of kilometres from the towns central piazza. I was guilt tripped into buying three euro orange juice (my neglected guidebook did tell me to ask for the price before agreeing to buy things…this proved it) from the stall next to where I parked my bike. The entrance reeked of tourist trap, with expensive ice cream vendors, expensive bottled water salespersons and market stalls, but what do you expect. Becoming eleven Euros less well off helped me through the gates and into the compound.
I don’t know what I expected, but I guess it should have been along the lines of…

RUINED old walls with RUINED old amphitheatres
RUINED Temples
RUINED whatever this was
RUINED columns in surprisingly UNRUINED gardens
RUINED chances of getting a date for the prom
RUINED Fancy waterfeatures
RUINED city defences

I must’ve wondered for four hours, but the conclusion never changed. Pompeii was pretty ruined. Although it has got an expensive service station food franchise shop in the middle, so it must be on the way up. Get your real estate now, while you still can!

With the old hamstrings tight from all the walking (get off the bike much?) I had time to be guilt tripped into a sandwich from the same vendor before paying another €2 to the Autostrade foundation. As I didn’t know which junction the Vesuvius road might be off I plugged in “old reliable” and followed the blurted orders from the GPS woman in my headphones. Maybe 5km down the road GPS lady tore me away from the nice smooth tarmac and put me on the bumpy, potholed road running adjacent for 10km. After I’d prepaid to go as far as Naples I was pissed off at GPS lady. What a total shit.

Regardless, the instructions eventually led skywards (always a positive sign when you’re trying to find a volcano) up 1st gear, really tight hairpins through the woods. Part way up the view of the coast and Naples opened up and sexy sculptures dotted the greenery.


Oh! Cheeky!

Rumbling into the coarse ash and gravel car part the summit crater was clear of clouds. Old German tourists and French school groups clogged the car park, loitering around any of the 20 something coaches. A few raised eyebrows suggested they don’t get many sports motorcycles up here…

Walking past a small hut, under a wooden shingled awning, I was stopped by a man in a small plastic chair and asked for a ticket. I scratched my head wondering why I would need a ticket to go up a mountain. Reality check, you’re not in England anymore Thomas. You would need a ticket so they can drain you of €10 to walk up their shoddy ash paths to look at something they had absolutely no part in creating… and I didn’t have any cash. It was an angry ride back down the mountain.

To fill the day I chose to head back to Naples, shunning the Autostrade in favour of what looked like improved road. Alas the improvements didn’t last long. Men, women and children thundered along the horrendous, potholed randomly aligned and jutting up stone roads without a care in the world or a helmet on their heads. The cars became gridlocked and I rode the clutch and first gear until my hand ached and my broken wrist stung in the bone. It was too hot, too polluted, too slow moving. The path would clear as the Napoli Autostrade junction forced the roads wider allowing speed to soak up some of the bone chattering vibrations before thunking eye wateringly into any of the enormous craters appearing out the blue. Then the road would narrow again, become gridlocked again and in an attempt to make even the meekest progress the scooters and I were driven to the slightly smoother tarmac in the central tram lanes, split by sunken metal rails.  Thankful though I was for leaving my panniers at the hostel it was still hellishly draining on mind, body and soul. Imagine crazy paving, gone CRAZY and lost a tooth because its been polished too much.. you’ll be about halfway to Naples streets. In the end my enfeebled quest to find Napoli Subterranea, an underground labyrinth that had come highly recommended, without map, address or time (it was four o’clock and the tourist information was either closed for the day or indefinitely) failed regardless of all the strangers in the street I chatted to with the hope of finding answers. The ardours of the earlier journey were repeated for the return trip and I sunk into the hostel, food, beer and a sleep.

The next day ten Euros were resentfully handed over in exchange for a tiny ticket and permission to climb. Because of my mountaineering pedigree I couldn’t allow myself to be overtaken on the way up, especially by elderly German women or lanky, awkward looking French children. Head down, right foot, left foot, plodding ever upwards. Past another similar tourist shop built onto the crater side. Into the clouds that had not been there on my last visit. Two tourist shops later and you’re greeted with your first view of the crater, in my case pretty sweaty but with pride at least intact…


As you follow the crater round the steam venting out of the rocks becomes more obvious, then again so does the attempts to sell you shit you don’t need…




Vesuvius. Done.

After a successful summit attempt albeit in the presence of every German over 45 or French child between 13 and 16 I thundered joint achingly back to Napoli in search of the lost subterranea…

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