I don’t think I ever told you guys about Pompeii and how it was the scariest and best day of my life.
Okay, so we were living in Rome, which is less than 2 hours by train from Naples. Naples is on the coast, and you can get to Capri and Pompeii very easily from there.
Pompeii was one of my dream destinations, and when we were planning, all my friends agreed that sure, Pompeii was a good idea. But when it came down to actually booking the trip, no one wanted to go to Pompeii after all— they wanted to see Capri; no one was willing to adjust the schedule in a way that allowed us to do both.
I was upset, to say the least. (Furious if we want to be totally honest… hurt, too.) But I was also feeling particularly stubborn, and I felt that heat in my chest that’s always there when the switch inside me goes from “go with the flow, dude” to “I am not backing down; death first.”
So I get on the train to Naples with my group. I’ve done a little bit of research. I know I need to get on a particular bus and get off at the Pompeii stop (okay, not that much research). So my friends are heading off to Capri, and I feel my resolve weakening, and I decide I need to walk away before I end up not to go to Pompeii after all. My group kind of waves and they all shout something along the lines of “don’t get kidnapped” at my back. Awesome.
(Side note: after I finally make it back to the group about 10 hours later, they all say they were about to chase me down and not let me go; but none of them cared enough to actually stop me/ go with me, which is bogus in my book.)
If this story is just not matching the picture for you, hold on, I’m getting there. I’m still on the scary part.
So I’m in Naples— which is dirty and run down and reminded me of the places in St. Louis that I try to stay away from; not many people speak English, so I’m relying on my Spanish skills and the little bits of Italian that I’ve picked up in my 3 weeks there. After a lady literally takes me by the hand to the correct bus stop, I have to go find a place to buy a ticket. Approximately 8 bars later, I’m back to the bus stop, almost in tears. If I could have gone to Capri at this point, I would have. But that boat had (literally) sailed.
It’s 11:25 and I’m waiting for the 11:30 bus. And then it’s noon. And I’m standing on the street with all my things for the weekend shoved into my backpack. I’ve got makeup and sunscreen and my camera, but I realize I haven’t packed any food other than a bag of almonds. I’ve already finished most of my water. Where is the 11:30 bus? The man next to me says it’s not reliable on the weekends. I poke my head into every bus that stops, anxiously asking, “a Pompeii?” and get head shakes as the response every time. I keep trying to pick up a wifi signal to let my someone know I’m still alive, but I don’t dare wander too far away from the bus stop.
It’s 12:10, a bus is coming, and the man next to me says this is the 11:30 bus going to Pompeii. I feel instant relief, and I climb onto the coach bus. I sit by myself and jiggle my leg and check to make sure I still have all my money and eat my almonds. For half an hour, I watch the dirty streets of Naples turn into the mountainous countryside surrounding Pompeii.
Then my bus shrieks to a stop and hits the car in front of it. (I swear I’m not making this up.) Everyone in the bus slams into the seat in front of them, and I hear someone say “Ouch!”
I lean toward the seat I heard the voice come from and ask the couple, “Are you American?”
I laugh the most relieved laugh probably ever and introduce myself. The bus driver climbs back onto the bus (apparently having solved the issue of the damaged Mini Cooper) and drops us all off in Pompeii. I have now decided that this couple is my new set of friends.
They introduce themselves and Jahtania and Niko, from Vancouver, currently traveling through Europe. They’ve been to Amsterdam, Croatia, Greece, and are now making their way through Italy. (After we part ways and friend each other on Facebook, I watch them make their way to Portugal, Spain, France, and Germany.)
We spend the day hiking through Pompeii. We share stories and tell each other about our lives. We fill our water bottles with Pompeii fountain water. I tell them about Joey, and they say they wish he was here to have fun with us. We take our time, regret not grabbing maps, and tag along with other tour groups to hear the good stories.
We finally end up in the courtyard of an ancient vinyard. It’s been replanted, and a fruit tree grows in the center, creating a shady place to sit. We take our sweaty backpacks off and lean against the stone walls, lingering and enjoying the atmosphere of this ancient space.
I realize that it’s late in the afternoon, and I haven’t really eaten all day… nor did I think to bring lunch (but hey, if we find a swimming pool, I have my suit!)
Niko pulls out a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese, and a roll of salami. He and Jahtania offer to share with me. (At this point, I could swear I’m in a book. This is what every adventuring heroine eats for lunch, right?)
We eat our sandwiches together, and it’s one of the best meals I have in Italy. Something about the simplicity and contentment of the meal still lingers in my mouth when I think about that day. While we eat, we’re looking at the fruit tree, seeing if we can find any good fruit to pick. They’re all at the top; earlier visitors had stripped the lower branches.
Jahtania and Niko, cracking up laughing, try to get some fruit from the higher branches. That’s when I snapped this picture.
The rest of the day was a happy blur. We stayed until we were tired of wandering. I found 10 Euros on the ground in one of the houses and used it to buy my new friends lemon ices outside the gates while we cooled off in the shade of a nearby house. I saw lemons as big as watermelons. (That’s the specialty in that area- lemons!) We made our way to the train station and went in opposite directions— I headed toward Positano; they returned to Naples.
From there, I took the train and two buses to get to Minori, which is a tiny seaside town with two streets and a few restaurants and the kindest inn owner in the world.
I pulled into Minori on the 9 pm bus, and my friends were all waiting at the corner with worried looks on their faces. They had started to look for me— sending out Facebook messages to people they had heard were going to Pompeii that day, sending me dozens of frantic texts that I received in bulk when I got on wifi next. It was a full-on sorority girl search.
I greeted them with a big, sunburned smile. Alyssa, the solo traveler. Of course I was fine. I can do anything. It was the most empowering day of my life.