Andrea was smoking and chatting with his buddies in the parking area when we returned from the Prefettura. He was relieved to hear everything had gone well with the translation. We reboarded the van and were off again. Next stop: Pompeii.
It was almost noon. From Napoli, it didn’t take long to arrive at the entrance to Pompeii, and we spilled off the bus in anticipation. We promised to meet Andrea back at this exact spot at precisely 2:00. This time, he stressed, “GERMAN time!”
Since this spot was strictly a drop-off/pick-up area, he could not wait for us even five minutes. If we were late, he would have to drive around in a circle until we appeared.
We promised not to be a minute late, even though two hours would not begin to be enough time to see Pompeii, not even a cursory look. In 2002, Gino and I had spent several hours here, two of them with a guide.
But at least everyone could get a taste of this amazing place and hopefully someday return for a deeper experience.
The ticket line was not long, and we hurried up the sloping pathway that leads to the main site, our English-language maps in hand. Out of necessity, the cafeteria was the first stop. We were starving.
Then we set out to cover as much ground as possible. Without a guide, it was difficult to fully appreciate the sights, although we did the best we could by referring to the visitor’s guide and map.
After seeing the forum and surrounding temples and houses, we headed towards the Villa dei Misteri. This complex sits at a far end of the digs and is less visited than the more well-known sites. However, to miss this amazing house is a mistake.
It contains rooms filled with huge, extremely well-preserved frescoes depicting vivid scenes of “the mysteries,” sacred and ritualistic ceremonies that prepared young girls for adult life.
After the Villa dei Misteri, we were really going to have to hustle if we were to make it back by 2:00. As we walked back through the forum, we came upon several plaster casts of people who died during the fateful Vesuvius eruption in 79 C.E. We were captivated by their positions and expressions. But we were out of time.
With minutes to spare, I elected myself to dash back to the meeting place to ask Andrea if we could have another hour. I sprinted.
To save time, I catapulted down the path leading back to the entrance, against the flow of tourists streaming in. Besides, I knew I had to sweet talk my way out through the entrance, eliciting a promise to be allowed back in. In my sweetest voice and best Italian, I explained my situation to the ticket-taker, and he waved me through.
I spotted Andrea just as he pulled up. He agreed to another hour and the van lumbered away. Back at the entrance, I thanked the ticket-taker for letting me slip back through the turnstile, and raced to the place where I had left everyone.
In dismay, I realized not one of the group was to be seen. I walked all around the forum, back and forth, up and down, and around again, searching. I found no one familiar. I was just about to give up and leave when Allie appeared.
“The others went out,” she said. “They were tired.” So she and I took off alone, intent on making the most of our remaining time. Using the street markers and the map, we packed in as much as we could.
Allie was fascinated, as I have always been by Pompeii. Realizing she could never adequately see it in this abbreviated visit, she promised herself that she would return someday and give Pompeii the time it deserved.
The hour was up and we exited, practically running down the final ramp. We found our group well into alcoholic refreshments across the street.
Andrea pulled up a few minutes later, right on German time, and we hobbled on.