Day Twelve: Mickey Mouse in the Ruins of Pompeii

Our hotel room in Naples really could have used a fan. Diane has trouble sleeping when it's too hot, and I got annoyed quickly from waking up in pools of sweat.

Down at the corner cafe, we stood like real Italians for a change; the chocolate croissant was fantastic. Then we took the metro to the train station (our metro train wasn't air-conditioned, so wind blew in furiously through open windows). We wandered around, trying to find which train went to Pompeii. We finally found it and waited outside the train.

The train was old and had no markings; indeed, there was no sign of life to be found anywhere near it — a ruined train to take us to the ruins. Eventually, we realized that this was a broken-down train and that ours was arriving in front of the dead one. We scrambled on. Then we waited for an hour as the cars filled up with people. A David Halberstam look-alike sat across from us, and a guy with four enormous plastic bags of stuff barged into the front. Eventually we moved out, but at each stop more people jammed in. It was very crowded.

Once we made it to Pompeii, we got out and began trying to figure out how to get to the ruins. The city of Pompeii is quite alive — cafes, people, cars. The path from the train station to the ruins entrance is pretty confusing.

Eventually, we made it, only to find that Pompeii was having a problem with its computer, and we had to please go to the other entrance. The guy pointed it out on the map, we we began our next phase of The Hunt. By this point in the holiday, I'd grown weary of hunting for things. In Naples we hunted for restaurants; in other places we hunted for post offices and metro stops. I admit to being a lazy American who likes having most things handed to him — or maybe the "Here It Is on a Platter" style of Venice spoiled me. But I was ready to go a few days without having to play hide 'n' seek.

Eventually we made it to Pompeii itself, which was indeed something to see. And yet (as I mentioned during the Forum), ruins often leave me a bit unfulfilled. I don't feel much connection to them (the way I do to art in a museum, say), and the fact that it's so authentic ("We're standing in the spot where all those people died!") simply doesn't mean much to me. I feel like a Philistine for saying so, but it's the truth.

We wandered the streets of the old town, seeing the flash-fried people and their sparsely-decorated rooms. The sad thing was seeing all the dogs suffering from heat stroke and starvation. There are many of them, all looking like they're at death's door. I felt bad for them.

I also took a picture of a lizard. (It was moving very quickly, so this was something of an accomplishment.)

The worst thing about Pompeii was the Adventures by Disney tour groups. We saw no less than five gangs of tourists (Americans, from the look and sound of it) with Mickey-Mouse stickers — and the leader of each pack hoisting a huge Mickey placard, waving it around so no one got lost. Sigh. (It may seem hypocritical for me to bemoan the existence of Adventures by Disney tour groups, right after I got done complaining about having to hunt for things, but being led around by the evil mouse is just ridiculous.)

However, our time in Pompeii ended on a high note. As we stumbled back to where we thought the train station was, we came upon a woman pulling out of a side street. Unsure if we were headed in the right direction, we asked: "Treno?" while pointing down the road. "Stazione is there?" She fired off a few sentences in Italian, the upshot of which seemed to be "Get in!" We refused politely, but she insisted, and chauffeured us the remaining four blocks.

"Stazione," she said, flourishing an arm. (We should have taken her picture.)

We rode in a nearly-empty train car back to Naples, with three guys smoking — against the rules! Gasp! The car was pretty hot (of course, we'd been out in the sun all day), and the wind from the open windows cool things down much. Imagine our frustration when, leaving the train, we found that the car behind ours was crisp and chilled by AC. D'oh!

We returned to the hotel and napped, then went hunting for dinner and found a nice place. They had a superb soda called Aranciata (very similar to Orangina), of which I drank two.

Back at the hotel, we read and slept. I began to feel homesick.

Next: The Creepiest Man in Italy