Welcome back to part 2 out of 4 of my Italy blog! Way back in September, my boyfriend and I interrailed around Italy and visited the most incredible places including Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice. So today, I’m going to tell you all about our stay in Gragnano and our day trips to Pompeii, Sorrento and Mount Vesuvius. In other words, I CLIMBED UP TO THE CRATER OF A VOLCANO!! As you can probably tell, I still think that’s one of the coolest things I’ve done.
After leaving Rome, we hopped on a train to Naples and (with a lot of confusion and difficulty) hopped on another train to Pompeii. The particular hotel we were staying in was in a place called Gragnano, and we had literally no idea where it was. I mean, being spontaneous is fun sometimes, but not when you’re stranded in the middle of Italy with no idea where you are and no idea how to communicate with anyone. That’s another thing about Gragnano that I should point out, nobody speaks English! Oh, and obviously my boyfriend and I, being the uncultured Brits we are, didn’t speak Italian. However, after a short struggle of overcoming the language barrier and hailing a cab, we reached our hotel.
Out of all the places we visited, Gragnano was definitely the most secluded. Our hotel was in the centre of a village, but it was absolutely gorgeous. It was essentially a wedding hotel, but we decided that as we would be out during the day anyway, it’d be worth it! It was also way cheaper than other hotels due to the fact it was a wedding hotel, AND, we also got upgraded upon arrival for free as there weren’t many guests there (as there was no wedding). SO, we pretty much had an entire balcony that was about 30 ft long to ourselves with scenery to die for, including a view of mt. Vesuvius (pun seriously not intended).
The hotel also had a pool with a built in jacuzzi surrounded by beautiful gardens which was a sight for sore eyes. Now that’s the good news. Wanna hear the bad news? We had to wear swimming caps. SWIMMING CAPS. See below for Insta vs. Reality.
So after getting settled in on our first day, we chilled at the hotel, took a dip in the pool (looking like a bald man), and decided to head out for dinner. After having a thorough search through trip advisor, we came to realise that there were only two places to eat in Gragnano, so our options were pretty limited. We settled on going to a pizza place because it had incredible reviews, and after a hike up a hill to get there, IT WAS CLOSED. We came to the conclusion that it must be a pretty good place to eat as the local village literally went into meltdown. Literally, there were cars driving up and down the hill beeping and everyone was stood outside ranting in confusion. Do not deprive an Italian of their pizza. Anyway, we headed to the only other place we found online and had the cheapest meal we had on our entire trip to Italy! I guess that’s the best part about staying outside of a tourist area, as the food prices aren’t extortionate. Just to lay it out for you, we got two massive bowls of pasta, side orders of chips, beers and a bottle of wine and it came to under 20 euros. You can expect to pay over 20 euros for one bowl of pasta in Rome (which we did) so we were pleasantly surprised, AND the pasta at the place was one of the nicest meals I’d had on the trip (four cheese ravioli with fresh cherry tomato sauce *droooools*).
The next day, we headed into Pompeii to visit the ruins. Our hotel was splat bang in the middle of Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast, so it was about a 15/20 minute drive into the centre. I can’t actually remember how much we paid to get into the ruins, but if you book them in advance online it seems you can get them for £15-£20 per person which is definitely worth it. If you do get the chance, I’d advise getting the audio tour! We didn’t get it as we came in the wrong entrance (lol) and found ourselves blankly staring at things trying to figure out what they were when other people were standing in awe. Anyhow, we were in the ruins for a few hours and it truly is such a surreal experience. I’d learnt about Pompeii in school and I’ve watched the Pompeii Doctor Who episode more times than I can count, but actually standing in the place where so many people’s lives were taken by a natural disaster was a feeling I can’t even describe. We got to walk through the villages and the stone houses where people used to live, we got to see how they went about their life and the work they did, and then we saw their bodies set in stone. It’s just bizarre to stare at a cast of a body and to try and imagine the fear they felt in that very moment. There were casts of people from all age ranges, including babies, and also dogs. If you visit Pompeii, you’ll experience a lot of emotion from uncomfort to excitement, but all in all, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so if you do have the chance to go, GO! Fun fact of the day: did you know that the eruption happened in the year 79?! The site wasn’t discovered until 1738. That’s almost 1500 years. A whole city wiped out, completely gone, and nobody knew for a whole 1500 years. Weird.
We wandered around the town of Pompeii for an hour or so, and drank a few cocktails, before heading back to try the pizza place in Gragnano that was closed. It was open this time, but we had no idea how the system worked and couldn’t ask anyone as we couldn’t communicate. After finding a girl willing to talk to us over google translate, we realised we had to queue, then order, then lay our own table and wait for our number to be called. The first thing we realised? This place was POPULAR. The queue pretty much wasn’t moving, but that left us a lot of the time to decide what pizza we wanted. The second hurdle? There were over 20 different pizzas and we didn’t know what they had on them. The third issue? I decided against going for the typical margarita and saw “nocci” as a flavour, so I was like “Omg, that one must be gnocchi! Let’s get that one” (what kind of idiot thinks that gnocchi would go on a pizza?). After ordering our gnocchi pizza, we sat down and waited for what seemed like an hour. The numbers were being called over the speaker (problem number 4: WE DON’T SPEAK ITALIAN OR KNOW ITALIAN NUMBERS) so we were pretty sure we’d missed our pizza. Finally, we’d collected our pizza, we were starving and we were about to demolish it, when… we realised it wasn’t gnocchi at all. Walnuts. We’d fought our way through language barriers and waited over an hour for a fucking walnut pizza. It wasn’t the kinda walnut you could pick off either, it was literally covered in it. SO GUTTED. After staring at this pizza in disbelief and holding back tears for a good 15 mins, we picked ourselves up and went back to the cheap place that sold nice pasta, and hit the sack. The worst part of this story? We’ll never get to try the pizza that was causing the locals to literally lose their shit.
Now, my favourite part, I CLIMBED A VOLCANO. Okay… I was dropped 1000 metres up. But I still hiked to the crater in sandals, and if that doesn’t make me a trooper, I don’t know what does. Anyone who knows me, will know that I do not fare well with any form of physical exercise. So, the hike up to the crater was pretty exhausting for me (there were pensioners also climbing who were a lot faster than me so don’t be put off), the view from the top was definitely worth the pain though. The atmosphere up at the top was pretty crazy, and at some points we could see literally nothing but cloud. Then, a few minutes later, the clouds separated and we had the most incredible view over the whole of Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. I guess it’s pretty scary to say that Mount Vesuvius will erupt again and I was just sat chilling on the side of the crater. There was also a man who was abseiling INTO the crater (badass) and left his dog on the path for tourists to stroke. Even up an active volcano, there are still doggo friends to keep you company. I feel like my words are not doing this experience any justice, so here are some pictures so show you how incredible it was:
After the early hike, we got the bus back to Pompeii and jumped on the bus to Sorrento. We arrived into Sorrento in the early afternoon and it was just as beautiful as I’d expected it to be! There were blue skies, beautiful coastlines, LEMON TREES, the lot. We hadn’t actually planned anything in Sorrento as we decided to just wander around and take in the sights, but as soon as we saw the beach and how incredible it was, we decided it was beach day. We stupidly didn’t pack swimming stuff or beach towels, so then had to go and buy them and pay 6 euros for a lemonade just to get changed in a restaurants toilets. BUT THEN WE WERE SET. We headed down to the beach, only to realise that pretty much the entire beach was private. There was only one section of the beach about 20 metres wide that was free to locals, which sucked. We ended up paying for sun beds at a private beach club, but it still seems strange that you have to PAY to go into their section of the sea. Since when could you buy the sea?! Anyway, we ended up having an amazing day just lounging around in the sun and swimming around. Out of all of the things we did in Italy, this was definitely the most relaxed. We could also see Mt. Vesuvius in the distance, and I decided that was the most productive day I’ve ever had in my life. After being lazy af and breathing in the Sorrento air, we dried off and had dinner overlooking the sea. It was bliss. The picture below was pretty much a dream come true: a massive plate of carbonara whilst overlooking the cliffs in Sorrento. Even just writing this is making me want to go back, and if I could change anything about the trip, it would be that we stayed in Sorrento and travelled to Pompeii for the day-trip. Sorrento was just beyond words and more time there would’ve been incredible.
Our day in Sorrento neared a close, and we headed back to our hotel to get a good nights sleep as we were off to Florence in the morning. We spent 3 days here, and I do feel like that time was enough, I just wish we’d planned a little better. If we were sensible and organised, which we are not, we would’ve done Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius in one day. HOWEVER, we woke up too late to do both and ended up having to fit in Mount Vesuvius and Sorrento in one day. So, if you’re wanting to do this trip, here’s my advice. Stay in either Pompeii or Sorrento, not in the middle of both. When booking this trip, I thought it was a great idea as we were equal distance between them. What I didn’t know is that we were staying in the middle of nowhere and the transport links were a pile of ass. The train between Pompeii and Sorrento literally takes 20 mins so it’s a hell of a lot easier! My second piece of advice: Go to Mount Vesuvius early, it opens at 9 and if you’re the first group in you’ll have peace and quiet and the views are incredible, then you can head to the ruins in the afternoon. There are loads of tours between the ruins and Mt. Vesuvius, but they’ll charge you a BOMB. The public bus from outside the ruins goes straight up Mt. Vesuvius (yes, up!! It takes you 1000 metres up) and costs a few euros. DON’T BE FOOLED INTO TOURISM TRICKS LADIES AND GENTS. After exploring the ruins and Mt. Vesuvius, leave yourself a whole day to explore Sorrento, and get public transport there too! There are also chances to visit the island of Capri and other incredible places on the Amalfi coast, so try to plan ahead and see what places you’d like to visit.
So if you’re planning this trip, follow my tips and you’ll have a ball! Oh, and use google translate before you order pizza.