Pompeii (or, do not pitch your tent in a puddle) (day 359)

Let me tell you a funny story. Funny only because I did not get pneumonia, I guess.

After numerous, incredible difficult travelling traumas (just accept that there might be some exaggeration in this story of mine), I staggered, blind with fatigue, into a camping ground 50 metres from the entrance to the old city of Pompeii.

It was late, dark (it gets that way after the sun goes down, I have discovered), and starting to rain. The helpful man told me I could pitch my tent anywhere.

I scope out the tent sites. Under olive trees, one and all. A bit grassless, but still pleasant enough. Trying to figure out which way is south-east (early morning sun in the tent is nice, of course) is tricky on a cloudy night when your compass does not work anymore. But I do my best. The light rain is menacing, but doesn’t really impede my work. And my temporary house is quickly ready to rock.

I crawl inside, pleased to be out of the rain and smiling to myself at the prospect of snuggling in my warm sleeping bag prior to a tomorrow of seeing marvelous sights.

The rain intensifies. But I have been rained on before. And worse. No big deal.

I wake up just after dawn. The sun is not out. Just greyness and rain. I will never know if I have picked south-east correctly. But I have bigger problems. There is water all over the floor of my tent. The top side of my mattress (on which I am lying) is the only dry thing in the tent. The bottom half of my sleeping bag (it juts out over the end of my mattress) is sopping. My backpack (just outside in the awning) is sitting in a muddy puddle.

*sigh*

First things first. I put my backpack on the waterproof cover so it won’t get any wetter. Then I go back to sleep. No reason to be wet and tired. And my sleeping bag is still warm and snuggly. At least the top of it is.

An hour or so later I face the inevitable. Clambering out of the tent, I discern the source of the problem. My tent is lying in the middle of a puddle. At least a couple of centimetres deep in places. All credit to Mountain Equipment Coop (another shameless plug, but they deserve it) for making gear that will keep out as much water as it does.

My backpack is wet. My daypack is wet. Even the barest of glances at the contents of my wallet suggests that my international drivers’ licence will never be the same. The contents of my backpack vary from damp to sopping. My sleeping bag is a massive wet sponge. My tent is filthy with mud and entirely drenched. And it is still raining. By the time I tidy it all up, I am muddy and wet too. Everything is heavier. But at least my sleeping bag packs up smaller now (because wet down does not loft nearly as much as dry down, you see).

A critical appraisal of the camping site reveals that the whole place is covered in puddles. Not exactly the best place to have people pitching tents. There were a couple of spots that, with the benefit of hindsight, would have been better than where I chose. Still, sometimes these things happen, I reflect, as, laden with wet gear, in damp clothes, and heartily missing my polypro top (which I foolishly left in London), I head off to see Pompeii.

I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit here actually. Amazing stuff, even in the rain. It managed to hold my attention for six good hours. Despite the crowds of people wandering around who seem entirely unconscious of what they are doing with the tops of their umbrellas, and who appear completely oblivious of the danger the points of their rain protectors present to those who are taller than them.

But eventually the rain (sometimes torrential, other times gentle, but persistent) forced me to return my audio-guide (interesting but with a terrible voice – the best one I have ever experienced was Roger Moore at the Forbidden City in Beijing), and sidle off back to Naples, pausing only briefly to change into slightly less wet clothes in the underpass at the train station.

I was not the only one frustrated by the rain and the mud in Naples. The guy cleaning the floor just over there (I am in McDonald’s at the train station trying to dry out) keeps locking the doors to the street (there is another entrance through the station) to stop people traipsing their dirty boots over his newly cleaned floor. But he has to keep opening the doors because starving, wanna-be hamburger eaters rattle the doors so aggressively to see if they are open (they must be really hungry) that there is a serious risk of them coming off their hinges.

The look on his face dragging his mop as he comes up to open the door, knowing that these people will come in and traipse mud all over his newly cleaned floor, is resigned. What can you really do? I mean, people have to have hamburgers. Even people with dirty boots.

My very short exploration of Naples makes me think it is very much like I imagined southern Italy (and New Orleans, funnily enough) to be like. Kinda edgy, grimey, lots of men standing around smoking, their purpose unclear. As night comes on it looks a lot better of course, the darkness hiding the dirt, and the lights of the little shops brightening up the narrow alleys between improbably tall walls of apartment buildings.

The euro is handy. That is my official verdict. Even if Italians have difficulty pronouncing it (which really means that I did not understand the first Italian person who told me the price of the gelato I wanted). It sounds like ‘eh – u – ro’. I wonder how other Europeans pronounce it. How curious to have created a single currency designed to unify European economic affairs and have each country pronouncing the name of it differently.

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