Garbage Town and Ancient Town

Trip Start Oct 17, 2007
Trip End Feb 04, 2008

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

So I will begin this entry by stating that we have reached the stage in our travels where we are constantly "huffing" it.  We huff it from one city to another, we huff it within cities, we huff it we huff it.  The benefit of always huffing it with backpacks is sore legs and abs, which equals a natural workout to counterbalance all the new food and pastries being eaten.

We began our huffing upon leaving Istanbul, and this is the short version of our mad, non-stop, three day journey: 
- We took the overnight train from Istanbul to Thessaloniki, wow was it nice, and we had a washbasin!  I know, I know, we're easily pleased now, but a personal washbasin is such a luxury.  Enough about that, you don't care        
- Having chosen to no longer visit Greece (better in summer with more funds!) we huffed it through Greece to Patras to catch the ferry to Bari, Italy        
- Wow, what a ferry!  Akin to a small cruise ship, we were shocked, we expected crap wood seats, but no, we got beds and restaurants and bars and a "disco" (it is Italy after all) and a reception and all that fluffy stuff.  Included in our Eurail pass, yessssssss!        
- Huffed it from Bari to Naples by train!

So, four trains, three days, and one ferry later we arrived in Naples, flabbergasted at the scenery that awaited us:  garbage.  Yes, garbage.  Naples, right now (or when we were there a few days ago) is a literal dumping ground; refuse flying around every street, trash dramatically piled a couple of meters high and wide, splashing the birthplace of pizza with unnecessary colour.  Disgusting!  We couldn't believe it, what had happened to Bella Italia??  As we found out, there has been a protest, highly profiled on European news.  In short, the local dump is overfilled, the government has promised to take the garbage elsewhere for disposal, the deadline for the change came and went, and the locals barricaded the dump, making the streets of Naples the official disposal ground.  Another story tells the mafia (yikes!) controls the dumps, and closed them to retaliate against the government that didn't keep its promise.  Oooo, the drama!  Garbage and mafia and strikes, oh my!  I'm drinking sangria in Spain right now so I'm writing a bit cynically.  In all seriousness though, it really is a shame, we don't know the full story, but it must be awful to have to live in that filth, as a tourist it was vile having to walk though it for a couple of days, imagine if that was your city?  It demonstrates how critical the reduction of waste is, don't you think?  Ahhh, my soapbox is calling to me, I'll move on!

Having said the above about Napoli, I shall not include many photos of said place, as all I could provide you with was garbage.  I did take some waterfront photos on our last bright, sunny morning there, I hope that's a better representation of what Naples should be.  We also stayed at a great hostel and had two great room-mates from Germany, taking a weekend university break before they got slammed with exams.  I also did mention Naples is the birthplace of pizza, and we must say, that it is the finest pizza ever!  What could it be, we don't know... the selection of ingredients, the mixing of the dough, the quality of the cheese and tomatoes, the specific wood-fired oven... it is phenomenal!  The dough is thin, thin, thin in the middle, and thicker towards the outside, so fabulous.  We went to one of the primo pizza places in the world (nothing fancy, but high quality, and word of mouth is the best form of advertising), and had a true backpacker's experience.  We jammed our way into the chock-a-block restaurant, assertively squeezed our way into a table with our backpacks, and ate Napoli's - maybe the world's - best Margherita pizza and downed it with an Italian beer before we huffed it to the train.  Simple moments like that in travelling are the ones you remember.  Real travelers, doing the real Italian thing!

On the outskirts of Naples, as many may know, is the not-so-subtle landmark that has a notorious name:  Mount Vesuvius, destroyer of the Roman city of Pompeii, or, if you look at it the other way, preserver of Pompeii.  We took the 30 minute train ride to the site, and were stunned by the absolute perfection and immensity of the place.  Mount Vesuvius is indeed right there, a beckoning invitation to disaster.  It is no different nowadays; we were surprised with how many buildings are built a fair way up the base of a still-active volcano.  I suppose you could say the same of many places prone to natural disasters.

The weather was odd, a mixture of freezing cold with dark clouds mingled with rain, thunder, lightning, sun, wind, and rainbows.  We saw Mount Vesuvius from Pompeii without snow cover, misted in cloud, gleaming in sun, or capped in white all within a few hours.

I'm not sure how to describe Pompeii except to state that it is exceptionally perfect.  It is difficult as a visitor to comprehend that what you are seeing dates back approximately two milleniums or more.  Graffiti still lines some walls (according to the audio guide we were listening to, the gladiator's barracks near the amphitheatre has graffiti written by a gladiator stating that NO woman could resist him; well, maybe only a few), mosaic tiled floors display complex, beautiful patterns, wood ovens could arguably still be used, ancient baths retain their perfect shape, the amphitheatre and forum are close to immaculate.  Unlike many archeological and ancient sites, Pompeii does not require the extent of imagination to visualize what it would have looked like.  The city was surprisingly large and complex, the city planning was extensive.  Areas for commerce, areas for relaxation, areas for politics, and areas for living... it was all there.  I was completely blown away.  Scott and I could not believe its size.  Pompeii is perfect, in spite of and because of its catastrophic end.

The ultimate in spine-chilling - admittedly I really wanted to see this - were the plaster casts of the preserved victims outlines, created by the archeologist in the late 1800's that discovered the bodies.  The ashes from the eruption preserved everything, including facial expressions, and it is horrific and fascinating to "see" a person from that long ago in their moment of appalling death.  The casts are randomly placed throughout Pompeii, and there was a house, immaculately preserved (you could almost live in it) that held a couple of these.  One cast was in a dark, small room and upon entering it I completely freaked out when I saw the "body" and ran out, I couldn't take it!  I know, chicken, but I'm the type that gets scared at haunted houses and this was like entering a real haunted city.  Somebody else, like Scott, could indulge in the small, dark rooms with plaster casts of dead people.  Not me, thank you.

And hence we reach the end of Italy, part one.  How fortunate are we to have seen two ancient civilizations, Troy and Pompeii within a week?  Even if you are not a history buff I dare anyone not to be excited by the thought, or reality, of visiting such places.  Ciao, until next time!

Canaussie rating:


Pizza at da Michele: 5

Patras to Bari ferry: 5

Pompeii: 5

Naples: 2 .... Sorry, I know it was bad timing with the garbage scandal, but such was our experience, and we felt like we really, really needed to watch our possessions, we have never felt like that before.
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canaussie on

Re: Pompeii
Wow, I must have been half asleep when I wrote that. I must have subtracted 500 from present time, forgetting the BC, just a bit important! You are right, and it's been fixed. Thank you for finding that.

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