How to see the Pope and Pompeii all in one day!
Day six was a fantastic day! We got up super early to meet in the lobby by 0700. We had a scheduled entrance at the Vatican City for 0800 to beat the crowds, but believe me…it was still crowded. We met up with Linda again, our guide from yesterday.
Fun fact: There are, at present, two popes residing within the Vatican walls: Pope Francis, the current pope, and Pope Benedict XVI, his predecessor. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see either. 🙁
We made our way out to a terrace (there is a Nasone fountain just like in Rome . . . holy water?! I had to try it! ). We then passed through the museum and stepped briefly into Cortile della Pigna (Courtyard of the Pinecone). In the courtyard, Linda told us about the history behind the artwork in the Sistine Chapel because you are not allowed to talk loudly or take pictures inside the Chapel.
We made our way through the rest of the museum and finally entered into the Sistine Chapel. It is most famous for the frescos that decorate the walls and ceilings including The Last Judgement which was painted by Michelangelo. Because we were part of a tour group, we were able to exit the Sistine Chapel through a shortcut and enter St. Peter’s Basilica by skipping the line. We exited along the same route the pope takes when entering and exiting the chapel! The inside of the Basilica was incredibly beautiful and was partially built from the stone recycled from the Coliseum.
St. Peter’s Basilica
Inside, we admired Michelangelo’s Pieta and the incredible design of the church. After exiting St. Peter’s, we made our way to one of the gift shops and the post office. If you’re interested, you can send a postcard with the Vatican postmark on it. You can also have gifts bought within the walls blessed, sometimes by the pope himself, depending on the day (not this day apparently).
Our tour ended around 1130, and we had free time for the rest of the day. Amanda and I had decided when we were planning the trip that if we had enough free time while in Rome we wanted to go to Pompeii. Against the advice from our tour director, we decided this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. We even managed to convince one of our new friends to come with us (she’s a brave soul. She had only known us for six days).
We made our way out to the exit from Vatican City and hailed a taxi to take us to the Roma Termini train station. I initially thought he was driving slowly to get more money out of us, but then we almost died as he ran a red light to pass a slow-moving truck.
How to get to Pompeii
We made our way into the train station, bought our tickets, and waited for the next train. We ended up purchasing tickets on a Frecce train, by Italo, which has trains designed by Ferrari. They go 300km/hr (about 180 mi/hr). It only took us an hour and 37 minutes to make it to Naples. While researching for the trip, I read over and over that you MUST validate train tickets before getting on; however, we were unable to find any of the green validation stations ANYWHERE. There are large fees that must be paid on the spot in cash if you don’t have validated tickets. We knew they existed since we had already used them to get to Venice and back. Because of this, we panicked the whole ride waiting for the conductor to come around. She didn’t even blink when we showed her our tickets (thanks for the heart attack). It turns out they were e-validated when we bought them.
Once we made it to Naples, we hopped off the train. While we were pulling into the station, there was a train that we thought was too old and rusty to run. Amanda said, “Holy! Look at that train over there. I’m glad we’re not on that one!” As we exited, we purchased return trip tickets to Rome since we didn’t want to miss the last train and made our way downstairs to the Circumvesuviana trains (more like a metro, definitely not Ferrari). I found this really great site that helped navigate our way, but there are really great signs as well. We picked up round trip tickets for around 5 euros and ran downstairs to find the train had been delayed and was getting ready to leave. Imagine our surprise when we realized it was the exact, rusty train from before! **facepalm** This train was more run down and a little more sketchy, but surprisingly not anymore sketchy than the NYC subway. It was not nearly as nice as the other trains we had previously encountered in Europe, however.
We had planned on there being about 35 minutes between Naples and Pompeii Scavi. A lot of the signs were covered in graffiti and were difficult to read, so we had our eyes peeled. Imagine our surprise when we hopped off the train at a squeaky clean new station that wasn’t on the map and discovered it wasn’t our stop. The next train got delayed and wouldn’t arrive for 45 minutes, so we spent the time soaking up the sun, taking in Mt. Vesuvius, and chatting until the next train arrived. After the delay, we hopped back on the train and took it to the next stop, finally arriving outside the Pompeii archeological site.
Pompeii, once a thriving Roman city, was buried under meters of ash after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The city is still under excavation. Plaster casts have been created from voids found within the ash and pumice during excavation which held human and animal remains. These casts show details of what the people were doing in their last moments. They recently (less than a week after we were there!!) found another set of remains. The man managed to escape Pompeii but was then crushed by a massive stone as he ran away.
Below are a bunch of videos I found on Youtube which are a full walking tour of the ruins of Pompeii. Be prepared, there’s a lot to see!
We walked around Pompeii for about three hours and headed back to the train as the sun was beginning to set. On the way back to Naples, a group of young boys got on the train and were swinging from the luggage racks and metal bars. At the next stop, one of them mooned the passengers who had just gotten off. Before we even made it to the next stop, one of the conductors came out of nowhere: he hunted them down, scolded them, and then kicked them off the train!
We ended up taking a slower train back to Rome, which took about two hours. We arrived around 2240 and waited for the bus. They were conveniently set up right outside the station and this time we even managed to hit the button at the right stop!
We walked back to the hotel, packed our bags for the millionth time, and headed to bed. We had to be in the lobby, checked out, and ready to go at 0545 for our flight to Athens!