How a Visit to Pompeii Transformed My Travel Philosophy for Life
Every historical landmark I have ever visited has, without fail, contained two staples. The first is overpriced bottles of water. The second is at least a few tourists who, after snapping a handful of photographs, usually spend the rest of their time in the onsite café, sipping from overpriced bottles of water and acquainting themselves with the souvenirs offered in the gift shop. Less than an hour into my visit to Pompeii, I’m afraid to admit that I was on the path to becoming one of these tourists.
I was 23 years old and travelling around Europe alone for the first time before starting a year-long teaching position in Madrid. Pompeii marked the fourteenth day of my solo trek through France and Italy. After spending days wandering haphazardly in Paris en-route to the Eiffel Tower and Louvre and then again through Rome and the Italian islands of Capri and Ischia, getting lost in Pompeii marked the end of my patience.
Dripping in sweat from the blistering September heat, I made my way to the café, grabbed a water bottle, and ordered an espresso and some slices of watermelon. I then proceeded to sit in a defeated slump at the nearest table.
I was 23 years old and travelling around Europe alone for the first time before starting a year-long teaching position in Madrid. Pompeii marked the fourteenth day of my solo trek through France and Italy.
Pompeii is an ancient Roman city near Naples. This thriving city, which can be found in the beautiful Capania region, was buried under ash and pumice when Mount Versuvius erupted in 79 AD. Due to the lack of air and moisture, the city was near-perfectly preserved for fifteen centuries until it was rediscovered in the sixteenth century. This makes Pompeii one of the most well preserved archaeological sites in the world. However, this also means that a visit to Pompeii can be an overwhelming and confusing place, especially for those coming for the first-time.
I silently sat sipping my espresso, berating myself for not doing more research before attempting to tackle the expanse of Pompeii. I didn’t even have a guidebook. The detailed commentaries provided by the site’s audio guide only confused me further as I had little sense of the general area I found myself in.
You don’t travel to see it all. You travel to get a sense for what the world is like.
Desperate for help, I tuned my ears to the surrounding tables and sprang at the first sounds of English. Shy but distressed, I boldly went up to the British family, explained my situation and asked for their advice.
“Of course you feel lost,” the kind mother told me in her soft, rolling accent. “Everyone is lost on their first visit here.” She shared a newspaper article with me and helped me map a route that would lead me to all the main points of interest – The Forum (also known as the former center of the town), the Baths, the Villa of the Mysteries (a well-preserved mansion with surviving frescoes), the plaster casts of victims and the Brothel. Yes, even this esteemed and ancient Roman city had a brothel.
With my freshly-marked map in hand, I thanked the family and walked out the door. “Don’t try to see it all –just try to get a sense for what the city was like,” the mother called after me. The meaning of her words stretched far beyond the crumbling walls of Pompeii. You don’t travel to see it all. You travel to get a sense for what the world is like.
How a Visit to Pompeii Transformed My Travel Philosophy for Life photos by Pixabay and Lauren S.