Right now we are in Ireland, having a good time despite the very short days! I've got three questions. In 3 weeks, we'll be staying in a hotel in Vico Equense (which is just east of Sorrento) for 3 nights. We wanna visit the archaeological sites in either Pompeii and Ercolano. I'm still undecided between either, though I've read a bit about both. Have fellow travelers here visited both sites and could some feedback about each of them, comparatively? I suppose crowds won't be an issue in January... Apparently (Google Street View) the Amalfi Coast road is very narrow and doesn't have much spots to park the car. What is a good strategy to make this scenic drive? I read on some website a tip about departing early in the morning, but doing that in January = departing in the dark = no fun. Is the road still busy in the middle of the winter? Finally, we are driving from Vico Equense to Catania (where we'll stay 6 nights). There is just one big highway route with a ferry in Messina. How long should I expect the whole ferry crossing to take? We plan on arriving with some daylight in Catania, meaning departing before dawn from Vico Equense.
I've been to both Herculaneum and Pompeii and enjoy them both. They are very different with a different feel to them. Herculaneum is smaller and is surrounded by walls of earth giving you a more intimate feeling. It's better preserved than Pompeii with a lot of the original tile and woodwork still visible. Pompeii is huge with many buildings and areas to see. I think it's a personal choice as to which you see. You could try to see them both but that would be a long day. Donna
The ferry crossing itself doesn't take long, but loading the ferry with autos, buses, and perhaps train cars can take awhile. As for the Amalfi Coast drive, there are places you can pull over on the road. You can also stop off in some of the little towns along the way for views and photo ops. If you plan to drive to Catania, I suggest you stop in Paestum (great Greek temple ruins, a good museum) and perhaps also in Tropea, a town hanging onto a cliff with views of the sea from both ends of the town.
We did the ferry crossing in Jan last year. My experience was not too bad from mainland to Messina but very hectic in reverse. I'd suggest getting tickets (for both ways) from a store on the roadside before arriving. A majority of the backed up mess in Messina was from cars getting tickets. Think the crossing itself was only like 20 mins or so. Tropea would be a great stop. We stayed a couple of nights and enjoyed it. This time of year will be a little slow but enough going on to be enjoyable still.
Driving in Catania can be a bit hectic even with a GPS. After Palermo I think that was the worst place in Sicily that I drove.
If you are going by car, you could probably see both Ercolano and Pompeii in one day. Get to Ercolano when they open, and spend 2-3 hours, no more. The audio guide is pretty good. Then go to Pompeii for the rest of the day. Skip the amphitheatre - it's a long walk and not much to see. I found Rick's free audio guide to be very good for Pompeii. There were small (free) booklets at the entrance which had all the information that's in the audio guide; it was very useful, especially for the many bits that Rick doesn't cover.