I have been thinking about writing a Trip report for some time from our August 2013 trip but for various reasons never managed to that. But I now feel I must say Thanks properly to all the wonderful contributors to this forum and must give something back. I have not seen any post from Peter (A Brit in Ischia) for a while and hope he is fine. I rarely come across TR in these fora and hope more people would be motivated to do something similar.
I fully understand everything is subjective and relative and what is a "must" for me may not generate a single glance from someone else but even one traveller finds my experience helpful then I'd consider my effort worthwhile.
We are a family of four from UK, daughters were 13 & 8 at the time of trip. Me and my wife had been to Italy before but never south of Rome. Elder daughter told me in 2012 that her school was planning to take year 8 to a trip to Pompeii, Herculaneum etc in 2013. When I looked at how much her school was going to charge me, I told her to forget school trip.
Daddy would take her to Campania and show the ancient ruins in a much better way and she would get A+ in all her Classic essays. In addition to a week in Campania I also threw in 7 days in Rome and 4 days in Val D'Orcia, Tuscany.
So this trip was heavily geared towards history, local culture, local cuisine, scenery and was not going to be a sun & sea holiday. With kids one has to get the balance right. Thankfully I have managed to instill a little bit of my profound admiration of Hellenistic and Roman culture into my kids so they were prepared to endure the ruins and museums but the "museum fatigue" was inevitable. The plan was to delay it as much as possible.
So the first decision was where to stay in Campania ?
My "must see" were: Pompeii, Herculaneum, Archaeological Museum Naples, hiking Santiero Degli Dei , the Amalfi Coast from sea, Spaccanapoli and Christo Velato. I knew kids would protest if I tried to include Paestum, Oplontis or Capodimonte museum and dear wife would not come out with me on the Amalfi-Atrani hike.
I would have to just come back once again. Life is so short; so many things to do !!
I was not keen to hire a car for the Campania/Rome part so had to stay close to public transport hub. Sorrento was ideally placed but the more I read about Sorrento the more I felt it was going to be overcrowded with tourists in summer. As this was an active holiday so I was not going to waste my money on renting a villa/swimming pool, although I did see some very nice one near Sorrento through Summer in Italy web site.
Nowadays we prefer to stay in apartments which gives us flexibility and more space compared to hiring two hotel rooms. I really wanted to stay in a small town not overrun with tourists, but not too far from attractions. I felt Meta fitted my bill perfectly and after spending couple of afternoons in Sorrento I was glad that I stayed in Meta.
I honestly did not hear a single word of English being spoken in Meta and I loved the windy, narrow streets, family restaurants, bakeries and the church bell ringing. The other advantage was Meta had the only decent beach in this area if we wanted to spend some time, which we did. Apartment choice was limited and eventually I settled on Senor Luigi's house Villino Castalleno.
This is not luxurious in any stretch of imagination, no lift: so clearly not suitable for less able people or if you are not keen to carry your bags to 3rd floor, furnishings were a bit old. Senor Luigi turned out to be a really nice and helpful person. He had a very good deal with local restaurant Ninuccio and even had negotiated some discount for Lido Marinella. In Italy you often have to pay the full rent in cash on arrival and that was not a problem with me. The house was 5 minutes walk from the station. I felt very safe in Meta and tried my best to throw my Italian everywhere !! The locals were amused but mostly very helpful.
My review is here:
I had booked my ticket with BA planning to arrive at Naples around 16-30 but they kept on changing the schedule and the final schedule showed that I was due to arrive at 18-30. I had originally planned to catch the Curreri Viaggi Bus as the bus had a stop at Meta Church just a few yards from Luigi's house. In the previous years Curreri had a last bus at 9 PM but I found that the last bus would be leaving at 7 pm. Then I came to know the bus stop had been moved to 200 yards down the road and I started getting worried about missing the last bus.
Luigi assured me that 30 minutes was enough to get the bags, clear customs and catch the bus but after some discussion with DW, I decided to go for a private transfer. This was significantly more expensive, 90 Euros compared to 30 Euros but it turned out to be a very good decision.
True to their form BA was nearly an hour late from LGW and although they did make up some time but there was no way I would have managed to catch the bus in an unfamiliar place on the very first day.
I was sitting next to a "Nervous Flyer". I have restless legs and often rock them gently without realising. I didn't think I was shaking the whole seat but this guy told me I was making him more nervous so I had to keep still like the "Steadfast Tin Soldier" through the whole flight. But I fully understand this is a serious issue for some people and actually his wife was very apologetic to me and she herself was having a hard time. Naples airport is quite small, no aerobridge and we had to be ferried by bus, bags took some time to arrive.
I had come across several taxi companies mentioned in TA and also saw that Curreri also offered shuttle. I sent several test e-mails and I was very impressed with the response from Senor Giuseppe from Curreri and decided to go with them. Giuseppe emailed the driver's name, mobile number and their out of hours office number in advance and our friendly taxi driver Vincenzo was right there waiting for me with a big 7 seater with plenty of space to fit all the bags.
The drive to Sorrento was nice under the shadow of the Vesuvio and the sea to your right. We actually overtook the 7 PM Curreri bus near Pompeii !! An uneventful journey, settling down at Villino Castellano, getting used to the heat and humidity, a short stroll acquainting ourselves with local cats and dogs ( a fair number of strays) and then a relaxing evening at Luigi's rooftop getting ready to immerse ourselves in Herculaneum next day.
I had done a fair amount of research into transport options and eventually decided not to buy Artercard as I did not want to get tied up into seeing things in 3 consecutive days and I was also planning to use the ferry where Artecard was of no use.
Following day (Sunday) after a leisurely breakfast under the shadows of Lemon Trees we boarded the infamous Circumvesuviana for Ercolano around 09-30. Plenty of seats, a few people asking for money, one playing an accordion( I actually gave him a Euro, quite nice playing) and no sign of the Purse snatchers, pickpockets and the crowd. Perhaps it was Sunday that's why.
Make sure to see the impressive gorge from the train at Seaino station.
Herculaneum was fairly easy to find. Saw people waiting to board the shuttle van to Vesuvio from the front of the station and a couple of taxi drivers also approached us offering to take to Vesuvio. I was not interested so just kept walking.
Actually one can a have a decent view of the whole site without paying a single cent from just before the entrance, as it sits inside the bowl. There was hardly any queue and we bought the 5 site tickets. They had no guide-maps but I was prepared for that armed with my maps, podcasts and Eye Witness guidebook!!
I don't want to get into the details of Herculaneum but I must express my gratitude to Pat at SlowTravel Italy who had prepared a nice short guide to Herculaneum with links to photos and a handy map.
As a history buff and a classic type 1 personality I had done extensive research on historic ruins and still found the info quite helpful, even if slightly outdated.
I think 2-3 hours is enough but of course midday heat made our progress slow with regular breaks for drinks, Gelato etc to recharge the battery. Only a vending machine but I have come to see the relics, not to have a sumptuous meal, so that was fine with me and we had carried some sandwiches with us.
As you may know BBC had produced couple of good programmes on the eve of the Pompeii exhibition at the British museum and that really helped us to understand. I was really touched by the boat house skeletons. I also enjoyed the House of Augustals, Neptune and Mosaic atrium with caved in floor and the Terrace of Nonius Balbus.
Amazing to see how humans never learn from history and have packed them again within a stone's throw from the Vesuvio.
We thought our dear Mayor of London Boris should erect a statue of him next to Thames so that in case London gets buried under lava his handsome profile would be preserved and tourists from a distant future would marvel at that guy and wonder what he did for London !!
There were not many tourists, no jostling for photo shoots, a few guides and we took our time. Overall a very pleasant experience but if you want my honest opinion even if the relics are well preserved but it does not come anywhere near the sheer scale of Pompeii ruins. So this was a nice gentle introduction. I returned to the station by 3 Pm and decided we would make a stop at Oplontis. But sadly the next two trains were cancelled and after seating on the platform floor for 45 minutes in near 100% humidity kids rebelled and sadly I had to drop Oplontis !!
So the motto in Italy : Always expect the unexpected and you'd be fine.
So back to Luigi and a nice meal at Ninuccio. I'd be back later when I have some time to carry on with my rambling.
In the mean time have a look at some our Herculaneum photos :