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Vesuvius Hike and Pompeii with Kids

Updated: Apr 1

Our day trip to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius from Rome with our three young kids was the most eagerly anticipated part of our 5 days in Rome. Our kids love volcanos and our eldest has had Pompeii and Roman conquest woven into every aspect of his curriculum this half term at school. We had read in advance that it was a difficult one, either 2x long trains at silly hours, with difficult accessing the volcano hiking points once arrived, or a long drive over 250km (2h 40m). Undaunted (we’ve done a lot worse!), we budgeted for a hire car for 24 hours and decided to go for it!

 

This blog however is unlike the vast majority I’ve ever written. The inspiration for the blog was always a keepsake for our family, and the hope to provide tangible advice and inspiration for others along the way. We try to keep it real, some days are just shit, but for the most part we look on the bright side, and solider on. However, in over 50 countries, we’ve never had so much go wrong in one day; this was the shittest of all. Truly one of the worst days of my life. Tragically, we received a call on the way up the mountain that our beloved Labrador of 13 years, Desmond, was dying, very unexpectedly. Despite the fact that I would rather forget it, I feel there are valuable titbits of information vital to pass on, but I can’t write any of it without the full context of what we were going through. I am also using this particular entry to decompress and digest in the hope that I can put the “what ifs” behind me at some point. Therefore, it’s a bit ranty – sorry!  



Car Hire:

 

I booked car hire online a few weeks before. The trickiest bit seemed to be where from and how long. This needed to be driven by the availability of tickets, so once we had Rome and the Vatican City planned out with entry times, it made sense to collect and drop the car off from the nearest place to the Vatican. This was 6:30pm collection on Monday 12th on our way home from Trastevere, and drop off at 8:30am Thursday 14th, with a short walk to St Peters from there. Sixt San Pietro was the ideal location, which drove me more than the price. Everywhere seemed to come out around €40 for the booking, but Sixt was a bit more costly at €58.

 

As detailed in previous trips, we took our Mifold car seats for the 8- and 5-year-olds, but decided to hire a toddler seat rather than bring our own for the 2-year-old. This was driven by the desire to avoid carrying it as we were keen to get public transport two and from everywhere, and at €53, this seemed worth it compared with getting an uber from the airport or trying to carry it on the 2x trains and buses. All in all, it was £95 - not too bad for a family of five on a day trip! Or at least, it was meant to be…

 

When we arrived for collection, they wouldn’t let me collect it without my passport - which I deliberately left half an hour away at the flat because I’d read about pick pockets etc. and I carry my driving licence as ID. They would not budge, and racing against the 7:30pm close, Daddy Mudie had to get an Uber to go and grab it – this cost an unbudgeted £40 and left me looking after the three kids on the floor for 45 minutes. Thankfully, we always have emergency colouring, puzzles and finger puppets in the bag!

 

45 minutes later he returned, and I was about the pay the security deposit, when phone battery ran out. I don’t know my credit card PIN number (because I never use it as I’m frightened of debt) and without looking it up on my phone I couldn’t use it. I couldn’t move any money around from any of our other accounts to pay the £400 deposit any other way without access to my internet banking. Sixt would not let Andrew pay for the car, they kept saying it had to be my card to guard against the possibility we might have stolen it, even though we now had all our IDs, passports, addresses! They said the only way we could have the car was if we cancelled the booking and then book a new one in Andrews name – at three times the price. There were still two further kicks in the teeth, even when we agreed “we’d come this far, let’s do this” and refused to give up (spoiler alert, we should have given up!).

 

The first was the excess insurance. I always buy this online in advance for any trip I expect to hire a car. It saved us in 2017 in Slovenia when an alloy wheel was damaged. One of the best money saving tips is to arrange it yourself, and it saves time too arguing at the hard-sell desk for 5 times the price. Given I’d already committed to getting the car and driving myself, this was then no longer valid. And my quick £10 of excess cover then became an additional £60. Andrew actually saw not one, but TWO car accidents in the Uber just half an hour before, so this was considered quite vital. Driving in Italy is the worst I’ve ever seen in Europe, and I’d say top 5 most terrifying in the world so far.  

 

The second was the toddler seat – after we’d begun loading the damn car, infuriated beyond belief and desperate to get the kids into bed, they told us they didn’t have a have the toddler car seat (group 2-3 high backed seat), only a zero backed booster seat. This was apparently legal, but we knew it wouldn’t go well with the cheeky escape artist, but at this point we’d jumped through 2 hours’ worth of hoops and overspent by hundreds just trying to get in the car before we even found out…

 

Getting to Vesuvius:

 

All our research suggested we book our summit climb in advance and we went for 10:30am, a good compromise between an earlier than 7am set off, and being too late to get to Pompeii after the hike in good time.

 

We packed our carrier, lunches, tonnes of snacks and a load of fruit and pastries for breakfast on the road. The road is motorway for all but the last 25 minutes - €17.20 on tolls between Rome and Vesuvius. We had a bloody nightmare with that car seat as feared. I spent about an hour facing the wrong way in the car trying to hold the two-year-old in position, without being able to swap one of the other kids into the front. We did see some cool snow-capped mountains, something I've only actually seen once in my life (Kilimanjaro). The last 30 minutes or so was the classic extremely winding climb up, but well paved road conditions and lots of space for two cars. 



We did begin to become anxious that we hadn’t seen any good signage, but this seems to be par for the course with Rome so didn’t think too much of it. We finally piled out of the car, desperate for the toilet and our worst fears were realised, the directions on the ticket were for the ticket office. An hours drive from the hike jumping off point. With a singular (actually blind) human manning the office and unable to see or point to a map, he informed us we had 100 minutes to get to the other side of the mountain before our tickets became invalid, with no phone signal (thankfully we always have offline maps pre-downloaded for moments like this!). Back down the winding path we go, this time at pace.

 

About half way to the other side of the volcano we started to receive phone signal, along with the messages, voicemails and missed calls about our beautiful dog. At this stage there was no information, just that he was ill, at the vets, but that we needed to call to provide permissions to investigate. We tried our best to return the calls, but signal was just too poor, and around this point we found the cable to our solar battery seemed to have broken, so phone battery started to become low. We finally arrived at the correct location, Parcheggio Vesuvio here more than a bit frazzled after the second gruelling drive, facing backwards to contain the child up the hairpin bends.

 

When we parked the car, we were told we had to pay €5 each for a shuttle bus up to the top – cash only. We had none, hadn’t read anything about this but now fighting back tears, we were told they would drive us to WiFi to be able to pay by card. Of course, when we arrived at signal, we were then informed we would of course have to buy an awfully tacky and expensive souvenir to use any services, and they had us over a barrel. Another grain a salt shoved in the wound, another £30 lost to nothing, but we finally made it. Or did we…?

 

Vesuvius Crater Hike:

 

We presented our tickets at the turnstile to begin to hike to the crater, and the member of staff informed us we actually only had 90 minutes before our tickets became invalid, not the 100 stated at the ticket office, and wouldn’t let us in. At this point I’m not ashamed to say I broke down. I cried, unreservedly about the dog, the stresses of the past 12 hours and pleaded our case informing that the ticket directions were wrong, the ticket office assured us we’d be fine, we stopped off to make emergency life-or-death calls, but they weren’t having any of it, we needed to pay again. Fine. You have us over a barrel, if we don’t carry on now none of it has any meaning.

 



So we paid for another 5x tickets and trekked up the mountain. The walk is short, but very steep. It was fine with the toddler carrier, kids did an amazing job of it. It wasn’t sandy/ashy so quite firm under foot. A beautiful 18 degree sunny day without a cloud in the sky. The view of Naples and coastline beneath was incredible. All along the mountain side and within the crater, smoky plumes bellowed out like another world.

 

Sadly we didn’t forget our woes for long, the children could see how utterly devastated we had become, and we felt we couldn’t lie or shrug off their questions about our phone calls and state of mind. We told them that the dog was very sick on the way back down the mountain, and that when we reached phone signal or Wifi we would need to make some calls.

 

Pompeii:

 

The drive from the hiking point to Pompeii is a simple 30-minute motorway trip. There are more tolls of €16.10. Again, there are limited directions, tourist signposting etc, and it’s a large area (it was a city after all). If you plan to park there, head for “Pompei Parking Zeus, Via Villa dei Misteri, 3, 80045 Pompei” and you’ll arrive at the parking area right out front, it’ll cost you €3 per hour.

 

We intended to arrive at around 12:00-13:00 to spend 3-4 hours in Pompeii. We planned the following a well researched DIY route, supplemented by Rick Steve’s amazing Pompeii guided audio tour on my phone (reading in advance that there are minimal information displays):


1. House of the Faun: Start at the House of the Faun, known for its impressive size and beautiful mosaics. It's a great introduction to the grandeur of Pompeian homes.


2. Forum: Explore the ancient Forum, the heart of Pompeii's civic and social life.


3. Temple of Apollo: Visit the Temple of Apollo, an iconic structure with its well-preserved columns – this is a good place to capture imaginations by talking about the ancient Roman gods.


4. Baths of the Forum: Discover the public baths, explaining their function and importance in Roman society.


5. Theatre District: Head to the theatres, including the Large Theatre and the Odeon. These spaces can be fascinating for children, showcasing the entertainment enjoyed by ancient Romans.


6. Villa of the Mysteries: Make your way to the Villa of the Mysteries, known for its captivating frescoes. The vibrant colours are just astounding for their age and trauma.


7. Street of Abundance: Stroll along the Street of Abundance, pointing out shops and everyday life scenes depicted in the ruins. You can tell the wares on offer by the entrance ways if you know what you’re looking for!


8. House of Caecilius: This is a random one, Andrews Latin study at school was based around a text book written about the life of Caecilius, a banker who lived in Pompeii. His house was just around the corner so worth a stop for us.


9. Garden of the Fugitives: Finish at the Garden of the Fugitives, an emotional spot displaying the moving plaster casts of Pompeii's unfortunate residents. Approach this with sensitivity given the age and temperament of your kids! Our 8-year-old was crazy up for it, but we prepped our 5-year-old by focusing on how the casts were discovered, created and displayed.



We also intended to engage the younger ones throughout by putting them to an animal treasure hunt, asking them to spot, count and describe any frescos, decoration and ornaments featuring animals. Remember to take breaks for snacks and playtime, and bringing a baby/toddler carrier for younger ones is a necessity.

 

In reality, we arrived with just an hour before closing time after our gruelling previous 18 hours, finally got some WiFi and battery as soon as we were through the turnstile, and were immediately told that our best-friend of 13 years wouldn’t make it. And so began 24 solid hours of desperate wailing, howling, snot-crying and being on constant hold to insurers and airlines, trying to move heaven and earth to get home so he could die peacefully in our arms instead of alone and scared without us, and we could stroke his soft fur, tell him what a good boy he was and say goodbye.

 

While we forgot about everything we had researched, planned, prepared and considered for Pompeii, and to be honest, I don’t even really remember any of it, we do realise now looking back over the photos that we were somehow completely alone, the only people in the ancient, ruined city, and that sunset was particularly poignant.

 


In Summary:

 

Today was set to be the highlight of our trip to Rome and the surround, but it wasn’t meant to be. Instead it was the start of the worst few days of our lives, full of awful luck, desperation and frustration, but hopefully there are a few gems worth sharing to improve the experiences of others that follow (particularly note the directions/pitfalls!), so at least a little good can come out of our difficulties. A trip from Rome to Vesuvius and Pompeii is totally doable self-drive, without an expensive tour, much cheaper than the £400-600 we had seen, at a grand total of £261.69 (removing the unique issues we had!).

Activity

Euros

GBP

Car hire (inc. 1x toddler car seat)

112.49

96.18

Excess insurance

11.70

10.00

Rome tolls to Vesuvius

17.20

14.7

Tolls Vesuvius to Pompeii

16.10

13.79

Pompeii parking

9.00

7.69

Fuel

60.93

51.86

Versuvius crater tickets

32.91

28.14

Pompeii tickets

46.00

39.33

Total

306.33

261.69

If your best friend, phone battery and charging cable don't die, you don't desperately need wifi, you don't get delayed with life-or-death phone calls, you don't go to the wrong office and you don't miss your hiking slot, I'm sure you'll find it easy, exciting and cheap. RIP our beloved Desmond, you were such a good boy :(



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