The area around Naples is a bit of a shock to the system after Rome. While in Rome everyone in the tourism business speaks English, around Naples, my – very rusty – Italian is coming in very handy. Finding your way around when not on an organised trip is rather challenging at times (Trip Advisor is your friend in those circumstances), and the Circumvesuviana train (the train that brings you to all the wonderful Vesuvian sites) at rush hour with a young child is an experience I do not recommend.
We are staying in a very nice hotel (a last minute deal) in Ercolano/Herculaneum, which is a convenient location to visit the Vesuvian sites. My – antique – version of Lonely Planet Italy does not recommend Ercolano. I quote:
‘Ercolano is a dismal Neapolitan suburb 12km southeast of Naples which, ironically, is home to one of Italy’s most magnificent excavations – Herculaneum. Get off the train… and you’re in for a shock. Unlike Pompeii, there are no souvenir stands or cold-water kiosks here to greet you, just urban squalor and a scurrilous lack of signs directing you to the site.’
Actually, is not that bad at all; people are extremely friendly; and the pizza I had tonight was wonderful and cheap. But I must say I was not prepared for the graffiti. They are everywhere. This is just not something guidebooks mention. Interestingly, these graffiti made me appreciate some aspects of Pompeii in a different light.
Pompeii is overwhelming. There is just so much to see. It is also a great place to spot extreme touristic behaviour. Guided tours queue outside the famous bordello to admire the erotic scene (admittedly very interesting); and it is almost impossible to have a proper look at the famous Alexander mosaic in the House of the Faun without being hit in the flanks. But go slightly off the main streets and you will find some gems. The snake in I.11.11 (see picture) was a personal highlight.
Interestingly, nobody but Big Boy T (still 7 years and 1/3, although it might be 7 years and 2/5) and I seemed to be interested in the graffito in the House of the Ship Europa. This smart house (complete with orchard or vineyard) is named after a large graffito of a ship called – you will have guessed – Europa. Why did the owners, who could afford beautiful mural paintings, scratch this into their wall is anyone’s guess. It is a very detailed graffito but it is certainly not a proper, expensive, spectacular wall-painting.
Had Pompeii not been destroyed the way it was, this beautiful piece of art would not have survived. And I think it is correct to call it art. Now, not all graffiti in the stations of the Circumvesuviana line are Banksy-quality, but I just felt they deserved their own little homage.