Naples to Sorrento via Compania

This is a series about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.

The guidebooks and online travel guides all damned Naples.  “Noisy, crowded, filthy, smelly, and teeming with pickpockets and con artists,” was typical.  This was not alluring, so I intended to spend just enough time in Naples to transfer from one train to another.

The high-speed train to Naples was as advertised: fast, clean and comfortable, and punctual.  I was right on schedule!  I proceeded to wander around the Naples train station for almost an hour.  There had been a bathroom on the train but if you’ve ever used a toilet inside a fast-moving train, you’ll know why I held out for the train station.

There were no signs to indicate where the toilet was.  I walked what felt like a city block to one end of the station, then all the way to the opposite end.  Finally I spotted an information booth and asked the attendant.  The toilet was downstairs and, once I got there, I discovered it cost a Euro.  I didn’t have any coins so I walked back up to where the shops were.  When I waved my arms to make the toilet exit door open, half a dozen people pushed their way in without paying.  What a sucker I was!

I hiked back upstairs, grateful to be suitcase-free, and wandered to and fro trying to find the train to Sorrento.  It was called the Circumvesuviana—after Mount Vesuvius, I guess.  I found the train signage, such as it was, bewildering.  There seemed to be multiple names for the same train.  Or maybe it was like the Amtrak Acela, where Amtrak is the name of the company while Acela is a specific train?  Regardless, I saw no signs for the Circumvesuviana—which wouldn’t be hard to spot given how long its name was.

I approached the information booth attendant again, who informed me it was … downstairs.  It was at the end of a very long tunnel and I arrived to find throngs of people milling about the turnstiles.  Why?  There was nothing else there except a pastry shop, but they weren’t buying pastries or tickets for the Circumvesuviana.  I pushed my way through the crowd, bought my ticket, and slipped through the turnstile.

Here’s the station as we pulled away; other than this I didn’t see any graffiti or dodgy characters.

naples-train-station

After the high speed train from Rome, the Circumvesuviana felt kind of old-timey—like a kiddie train at a fun fair.  There was lurching, stopping with no explanation in the middle of nowhere, and the occasional alarming metal-on-metal screeching noise.

It slowly wound its way out of the city.  Finally!  I was on my way to Sorrento.  I begun to relax.  I had survived the Naples train station without being mugged, and I had gotten on the right train.  I could just sit back and enjoy the scenery.

Less than five minutes later, we stopped at a station.  Then another station, and another.  Little did I know, there were 33 stops between Naples and Sorrento.  Basically, the Circumvesuviana is the local bus.  All I knew was, this was taking forever, and I had planned to stop in Pompeii on the way to Sorrento.

A recorded voice came on to announce something in Italian, and thankfully it was repeated in English.   The announcement was so long that by the time it finished we had stopped at a few more stops.  There was the usually stuff about not sticking your head out the window, especially if the train was approaching a tunnel.

The British-accented voice finally reached the end “… and our final destination, Campania.”

Campania!  What?  I sat up and scanned the car, expecting other travelers to look alarmed, but they were all asleep or staring unconcernedly at their phones.  There was no official to ask; did the train even have a driver?   There were no route maps in the car.  There was no wifi so I couldn’t pull up Google map. (I had opted not to pay for international data.) 

Then I caught a glimpse of the sea on my right.  Use common sense, Anne.  If Mt. Vesuvius appeared on the left—which it did after a few minutes—we were heading south.  But to where?

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