A city in the shadow of a volcano
One Thursday morning a couple of weeks ago, I arrived early for work and sat down for coffee. A colleague rushed over and pulled up a chair when she spotted me, a huge grin across her face.
"Do you want to come to Naples this afternoon?"
She went on to explain that one of the three other ladies from work who had arranged to go on a short holiday had pulled out of the trip at 5:30am, the same morning of their flight.
"If you can get permission to leave work at midday, I could pick you up when we head to the airport an hour later," - was all the convincing I needed.
Within 12 minutes of getting home I had fully packed my bag for a 2 night stay and after a quick shower I bundled into my workmates car and was headed to Gatwick airport.
We landed in Naples that night and headed out of the city to our accommodation in Castellammare di Stabia, a gorgeous village in the Bay of Naples with dramatic views of Mount Vesuivus.
We stayed at the Vesuvian Inn, which was opened by the Restoring Ancient Stabiae Foundation not just as a hotel - but also as a conference center and facility for visiting archaeology and history researchers and students.
Wandering through the warm and winding streets that hummed with local life made it easy to forget this quaint Italian town was stretched out in the shadow of a dangerous volcano.
I was aware the main purpose of this trip was to visit the famous Pompeii ruins nearby, as my colleagues had been discussing it at length in the workplace for months. I had been desperately waiting for payday when they booked the trip so I initially couldn't come along, but sitting nearby them in the office meant I was fully briefed on the itinerary well in advance of my spontaneous arrival.
Staying in Castellammare was a brilliant choice, with cheaper accommodation on offer than that in Naples, excellent transport links and plenty to see and do in the town itself.
We found time to squeeze in a cable car ride up the densely wooded Mount Faito - a steep 1,131 meter summit above the bay.
With 15 or more people squeezed into the tiny cable car I was impressed to see that one gentleman had managed to cram in a bicycle - he joyfully told us he often cycled from the top of Mount Faito all the way to Sorrento, 26.8 km away. In the baking 28+ degree heat that morning I didn't quite fancy that journey myself.
One four-legged passenger even joined us on board with a family of walkers, who (unlike me) didn't seem at all bothered by the frequent rocking and lurching of the carriage as it swayed above the mountains - clearly they regular visitors.
Once we reached the quiet mountain top, I was delighted to find we were above the clouds with breathtaking views along the bay and of the ominous Mount Vesuvius. With unspoiled forest for miles and abundant bird-life, Mount Faito is a must see for nature lovers visiting the area.
While visiting Pompeii had been the main purpose of this trip, staying in Castellammare had turned out to be an unexpected bonus to the adventure...