Wednesday, 8 October 2008

a bit of brimstone

Vesuvius might be a sleeping beast nowadays, but the area around the Bay of Naples is still volcanic, the west side in particular, which sits on a lava plateau. After spending the night in a campsite on the outskirts of Sorrento we decided we couldn't leave the area before getting a taste of some live volcano action.

Not far from the fishing town of Pozzuoli is the Solfatara volcano. Muttering "serenity, serenity..." to himself, Theo threaded Sheena through the Neapolitan vehicular nightmare and one wrong turning later, we were at the so-called Fields Of Fire.

It's not exactly a boiling caldera of molton lava, but Solfatara has some excellently bubbling mud flats, a few busy fumeroles and a pervading smell of sulphur. We were suitably fascinated by it all, although not as much as one lone Italian visitor for whom it was clearly more akin to a religious experience. She stood with closed eyes and a rapt expression, breathing in the swirling warm mists of malodorous vapours coming from the crater.

It's supposed to be therapeutic, but I'm not entirely convinced a chemical soup of arsenic, alum, sulphur and various hydrocarbons is really such a great thing to inhale. Still, there have been plenty of people in the past who've gone in for such a thing, as one of the sights at Solfatara is a now-derelict sauna building for people who wanted the full effect of all the thermal activity. The steam room at the Budapest public baths was about as much as Theo and I could endure, I don't think we'd have been first in the queue for the Solfatara sauna.

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