I ended my trip in Italy the same way it began: battling sickness. Luckily this time it was only a minor cold instead of food poisoning, but I still felt terrible. Spending all day exploring a new city isn’t as much fun when I constantly have to cough and blow my nose!
I checked into my hostel midday and spent the rest of the day getting settled. One thing that always makes me feel at home is meal prepping. If I have healthy food in the fridge, I can relax. There was another female traveler hanging out in the hostel lounge, so I chatted with her and asked where the best grocery store was. Google maps is basically useless when it comes to Italy.
She told me there were several “Mom and pop” stores that had the basics, but the closest real supermarket was in the next town over. I ventured out and saw the small shops she mentioned, but they didn’t have the specific ingredients I needed like butter lettuce, green onions, and avocados. Instead I kept walking. Ercolano wasn’t very pretty. None of southern Italy was pretty except Positano!
I ended up walking 3 miles round trip to the store, but it was worth it! Something about the fluorescent lights and ample choices makes me feel relieved. Maybe I’m getting a bit homesick so I’m looking for places that remind me of America. Luckily this place exists:
I returned to the hostel and began cooking in the kitchen. Most hostel kitchens are massive to accommodate the number of guests, but this kitchen could barely fit 3 people at once. As I was cooking, an American woman came in and said “I need to cook. Are you done??” I explained that I had just started and it likely would be awhile since I was meal prepping, but I could make room for her. She said, “I am hypoglycemic and I need to cook now.” I repeated, “There’s plenty of room for us to share.” She was not happy and stormed out. I had specifically picked a time when most people were gone from the hostel so I wouldn’t hog the kitchen. I guess you can’t please everyone!
That evening, I discovered that my dorm had two snorers, so I fished my ear plugs out of my bag and put them to use. I can’t believe I suffered so many years in vain. Ear plugs totally work! Sure, it’s not 100% silence, but it muffles the deafening snores to a quiet hum.
The next day, I woke up early to explore Pompeii. The Airbnb listing had said the hostel provided free breakfast, but the owner was charging everyone 3€ for it. I know that’s a cheap price, but a lot of travelers specifically pick hostels based on breakfast availability, so to lie about it seems shady! I skipped it anyway and had my meal prepped “Southwestern Hash” with steak, potatoes, peppers, and egg on top.
I took the train to Pompeii, paid the 15€ admission, and set off. They had several options available for tourists ranging from free maps to 8€ audio guides to 50€ tour guides. I picked the cheapest option, naturally. A map is all I need!
The map also had a few interesting facts that I had forgotten since high school history and Latin class. After Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79AD and covered Pompeii in ash, the city wasn’t discovered until 1748! I didn’t realize it was buried for so long!
Mt. Vesuvius is the only active volcano on the European mainland. There are a few more in Italy, but there all on islands. Throughout the recent centuries, it has regularly erupted every 20 years, but it hasn’t since 1944!
Pompeii has a large amphitheater and Pink Floyd once performed inside it!
The #1 aspect of Pompeii that surprised me is it’s vast size. I had expected it to feel like a museum and be shuffled down a few streets and see a couple ruins of houses. No. It is an entire CITY! Walking around the entire thing would take more than 5 hours, according to the map. There’s street after street of homes, businesses, parks, and temples – and once you get away from the major intersections where tourists loiter – it is eerily silent.
It’s sobering to have spent the last few months exploring major cities and then realize that any of them could face the same fate as Pompeii. Natural disasters happen all the time. Even if they aren’t destroyed by fire or flooding, they’ll be gone someday. Nothing lasts forever. Cities are conquered and bombed and rebuilt. Even Europe’s oldest cities are still only a blip on the timeline of Earth.
When I was staying in Soccavo outside of Naples, my Dutch roommates spent Easter at Pompeii. Our host laughed and said, “Why there?!” and they explained that it was relaxing. I completely agree. Once you get away from the tourist clusters, it is a wonderful place to relax and think about life.
I returned to Ercolano from Pompeii and was craving familiar comfort. You know how you feel after a long vacation when all you want is your own bed and surroundings? I’ve been feeling that lately. I think I’m just severely disappointed in Italy and want to leave ASAP! Life here is difficult – walking down the street is a constant barrage of harassment, ordering at restaurants is impossible due to the language barrier so I don’t do it, and even trying to relax at a cafe isn’t culturally accepted, so I am forced to spend all my downtime at home like a hermit! Luckily I’ll be seeing my mom soon, so that should cheer me up.
On my last day in Italy, my head cold was in full swing. I also had run out of things to do! What was the point of wandering around town like a zombie? Instead, I took a relaxation day and watched Netflix on my phone. Other travelers also seemed to have the same idea, since they didn’t leave the hostel either! Remember the Italian pastry called sfogliatelle I was disappointed in? I tried it from another bakery and it was MUCH better! I’ll definitely miss it when I’m back home.
As I write this, I’m in the Naples airport getting ready to head to Thessaloniki, Greece. I didn’t know much about it, but I spent some time reading up on it this morning and it sounds incredible! Basically it’s the cultural (aka hipster) capital of Greece!