Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Walking from Stabia to Vico in 2000

In my previous post, I wrote an account of my visit to the Roman villas at Castellammare di Stabia in October 2000, an era before GPS on smartphones or even digital cameras. 

Up at 5.30 and out of our rented villa by 6am, I had packed in a full morning including a visit to some thermal springs, private tours of two Roman villas and breakfast with archaeologists, including wine... and it was not even 10.15! 

Waiting for a train back to Sorrento, I had a sudden thought. One of my reasons for coming to the Bay of Naples was to explore some of the places my book was set. When the volcano erupts at the end of The Secrets of Vesuvius, my young detectrix Flavia Gemina and her friends set off on foot to find refuge around the promontory. Here I am in Stabia. It's still early... Maybe I should try walking round the promontory from here, just to see if it's possible. The following are entries from my writer's notebook of Friday 20 October 2000, with just a few tweaks.

10.25 am - I decide to go for it. I walk away from the station and make a camera store my first stop. I ran out of film in the Villa San Marco and Villa Ariadne. How could I let that happen? I buy lots of film and tell the very nice proprietors that I intend to walk round the cape to Vico Equense. The man and his wife shake their heads slowly. After some discussion they admit that it CAN be done. They reckon it's about 7 kilometres from Stabia to Vico. 

10.45 am - I set off resolutely, passing the now familiar brown beach, the shipyards and the baths. At the marina I see there is another rank of pipes for mineral water. It's doing a lively if free business: Stabians are happily filling up their empty bottles with sulphur-scented or iron-tinged water. 

11.00 am - Now I am leaving town. In the cliff-face on my left are arches. They look Roman. Boat houses? Like the ones at Herculaneum? Suddenly the smell of sulphur gets me at the back of the nose. I hear running water and see water trickling down the cliff-face. 

11.15 am - I've reached the tip of a little promontory. The road is quite busy here and there isn't always a pavement. So at one point I'm walking along the top of a wall, like Clio in The Secrets of Vesuvius

11.20 am - I've discovered some complex. An old hotel or resort? Huge lumps of black volcanic stone and men fishing. There's a decrepit, partially inhabited building. Strange! 

11.30 am - A vast roadside fruit stall. The cliffs behind it rear up as golden and full of caves as honeycomb. It's impossible to convey their sheer size and scale. [Fourteen years later, I'm kicking myself that I didn't get a gelato or bunch of grapes...]

Towers Hotel under construction in 2000
11.35 am - What on earth is THIS!?! Are they building something? Restoring something? What is it? A lighthouse? A weird hotel? A prop in a Fellini film? [Fourteen years later I discover it is the Towers Hotel Stabiae, a Crowne Plaza four star hotel incorporating a disused cement factory. This is a fascinating complex and I'd love to visit it. However, you'd need a car here, whereas if you stay in Sorrento you can rely on buses and the wonderful Circumvesuviana railway.]

The cement factory in the 1950s
11.40 am - I often get my best ideas when I'm walking or jogging. I've just had the first line of The Pirates of Pompeii pop into my head: "The mountain had exploded and for three days there was darkness..." [Two years later, it ended up almost exactly the same; this is how the Muse works!] 

11.58 am - It has taken me just over an hour (with frequent photo stops) to go round the little promontory. I can't see Vesuvius any more. A sign before a tunnel tells me I'm entering Vico Equense and that it's 11.58 am. 

12.05 pm - Bikini Beach. The change from scruffy Stabia to Vico is extraordinary. Just by rounding the promontory I'm in paradise. The sun is warm, the sky is blue, the sea is the colour of turquoise deepening to sapphire and the pines are like emeralds. See the picture at the top of this blog post.

12.15 pm - Scraio Terme Hotel. According to my guide book, Scraio was famous for its sulphur baths. And here's a hotel which has baths. If only I had more time and money. I might have got my fearsome masseuse and mud wrap here. [Five years later, I get a nice masseuse and a FANGO mud wrap on the island of Ischia.]

12.50 pm - At last! I'm finally at Vico Equense train station. I will take the train back to Sorrento, because my feet are tired to say the least. At the station kiosk, I order a full sugar Coke, a drink I have only had half a dozen times in my entire life. I sit in the shade waiting for the next train, sipping my drink and marvelling at how much I packed in, and all before lunch. 

1.30 pm - Back at the Villa Magnolia on the Capo di Sorrento, it's wonderful to sit in the shade and make notes. After I've showered and washed my hair; I never did get to the baths on this particular adventure.

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