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vesuvius and i
my unexpected adventure

by Joan Schmelzle
(return to Campania)

This adventure in Campania happened during my eighth trip to Italy, the first I had been able to take other than in the summer because I was finally retired from teaching.

I was spending extra money on this trip to do some things I had long wanted to do while I was still able to travel on my own - this meant slinging my luggage on and off trains on my own as well! With that last vision in mind, I will admit , that I hired a driver to take me several places and do the slinging for me.

One of my day trips was to Vesuvius, Pompeii and possibly Herculaneum. It was a cloudy day and the only other day trip on my agenda was a drive along the Amalfi coast - the next day might be sunny, I thought.

Gennaro, my driver, took me up the volcano to a small hut from where visitors had to walk the rest of the way if they were going to reach the top. Once I looked beyond the hut toward the top, I knew that my out-of-shape-some-ways-past-middle-age-asthmatic body was never going to agree to take me there.

The road's edge on the way up to the top

Approaching the cone's edge

Peeking inside Vesuvius

The Author at the top of Mt. Etna, 20 years earlier

Pompeii Ruins, A bakery with wood-burning oven

Pompeii Ruins, A bar to hold vessels of wine or porrige

�Hey, I'm here; I should aim for the first bend in the path, rest on the bench and see how I feel�, I told myself.

This line of thinking left me with options that my body would not argue with: I could either go a little further or head back to the van.

Above me, I could hear giggling. A sound that followed me many times during my visits to Italy -- a school field trip.

After I had been walking about 10 minutes it began to rain. The clouds warned me about this earlier, so I was prepared with my umbrella and I decided to keep aiming for that bench. The giggling turned into squealing from the unprepared schoolchildren getting wet.

I heard a car crunching down the path behind me, and turned to find a small, rattle trap of a car. It stopped and the man inside asked, "Want a lift?"

�Sure!� I gleefully replied.

Luckily, he was a good English speaker. He told me he was on his way up to tell the school group that they had to head back down the volcano. Officials were closing the top due to the weather.

The message was delivered and instead of turning around and going back to the bottom, we kept going up. He told me I should see the top. I was both glad and nervous and tried not to show my new driver the latter.

No guardrail protected the car from tumbling down the side of the volcano - thankfully the clouds and fog obscured the view down the mountain so I couldn�t see just how high-up we were. The car, skidded and bounced its way up the volcano. The video I took through the cracked windshield dutifully recorded--the wiper going back and forth, the edge of the path and the fog at the edge.

The car lurched to a stop. We had reached the top. He said I could get out to take a picture of the inside of the cone. I got out of the car, and the wind turned my umbrella inside out - this umbrella had replaced its previous incarnation which was destroyed by the mountainous winds around Lourdes in France in 2001.

Note to self: umbrellas do not like mountains!

The driver reeled me back into the car and repositioned it so that it shielded me bit from the wind. Turning was a precarious affair. A bit forward, then a bit back, forward and back, forward and back - all very close to the edge. I quietly preformed several nervous gulps!

We were in position, so the driver let me out so I was by the guard rail near the edge of the cone. I took video and lots of still pictures inside the cone of the Volcano-- a rocky hole filled with more fog and clouds. The photos are more interesting than what I would have captured on a beautiful day. And, let�s face it, on a beautiful day, I never would have gotten very far past the bench at the end of the first bend!

I had now made it to the top of two volcanoes in Italy. I climbed Etna 20 years ago on a tour of Sicily where I managed to walk the last 1500 meters on that trip; that's 1500 meters straight up. Our route was a circuitous walking path of switchbacks so I have no idea how far I actually walked! I do remember starting out right behind the guide and when we got to the top I was bringing up the rear. I took a picture of Etna�s cone sputtering smoke.

I generously tipped the driver and also thanked him extravagantly as he delivered me to a worried Gennaro pacing in front of the van.
* Campania Region
* Campania Guide
* Mt. Vesuvius and I
* Campania Cooking School
* Shap out if it!
* Capri Cafes
* Miracle in Naples
* Pompeii
* Neopolitan Cuisine
* What do you know about Campania?
* More Italian regions...

We were off to Pompeii.

When Gennaro saw the remains of my umbrella, he lent me his nice big golf umbrella. Which shielded me from the rain as I spent over 4 hours wandering the ruins - I am a ruin runner from way back.

We never did get to Herculaneum, no time left, but I had visited on a tour in 1996 so I didn�t feel at all cheated!

I�m already planning my next trip to Italy and I hope you are too!

About the author
Joan Schmelzle is retired after a 40 plus year career as a high school teacher although she still helps with the cheerleading squads, a program she headed for over 25 years. She lives in Rockford, Illinois, but is seriously considering a move to the Naples, Florida, area where many family members live. She is not at all Italian but fell in love with Italy on a group tour in 1961. She has returned eight times since then, seven of these trips in the last 20 years and most often as a solo traveler. She enjoys the art, the people, the food, the ruins, the churches, in other words just about everything. She is presently beginning to plan her tenth trip which she hopes to make in the fall of 2006.


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