Napoli & Paestum

Posted on / by Alex Berger

Greek Ruins at Paestum

We woke up early-ish, checked out of the hostel, then made our way to the train station where we located a train to Napoli (Naples). We hopped on board and were off…eager to explore a new city and looking forward to exploring a city with an infamous reputation for history, dirt, grime, adventure and theft.

After a long tiring train ride we eventually arrived in Naples. The station was a disgusting disaster and had an unfriendly, cold feeling to it that Lander and I both noticed immediately. Even the McDonalds in the station had an armed security guard. We walked out the front of the station looking for a bus and were greated by a large square with heavy traffic.

Despite the abundance of taxis and tour buses after a circuit of the square we still had not been able to find a bus. To make matters that much more interesting a random, somewhat grungy looking Italian guy walked up to us and stopped me by putting his hand on my front backpack. (While traveling I have my large backpack on, then in front, like a kangaroo with baby, I have my daypack strapped to me).

Not sure what he was doing, but not liking his proximity, grumpy after a long days travel and getting a decidedly unfriendly vibe from him, and DEFINITELY not liking being touched, I immediatly swatted his hand away with an angry “Don’t Touch Me”.  As he responded, seemingly refusing to take a hint I immediately pointed directly at him, staring him in the eye and repeating “Don’t Fucking Touch Me”. The guy, not overly putoff but obviously discouraged, raised his hand and mocked a slight backhand in my direction. He then took a halfassed kick at me before scuttling off.

While he might have been nothing more than an overly pushy recruiter for a local hotel, his actions and behavior seemed much more on par with those of a pickpocket or something worse. With our hackles up and thoroughly disgusted with Napoli Lander and I both decided we had already had our fill of the dirty, trashy slum and decided to head on toward Pompeii. After looking at our guide book briefly we selected Paestum as our next stop. A bit past Pompeii the guidebook had extreme praise for it and the Greek temples (some of the best preserved in the world) that it had to offer.

After another trying experience with the ticket people and general Napoli populace we eventually got our tickets, found our train and were off once more heading southward. The train ride took a bit longer than we expected after we missed our stop and had to backtrack from a tiny train stop in the middle of nowhere. We eventually arrived in Paestum around 9:00 tired, anxious to find a room and dreading the potential cost. What greeted us was something completely different than what we had expected. Instead of a small city located near the railroad station, we found ourselves at a small unattended station in the middle of a field. The road to it t-boned a slightly larger two lane road that had a moderate level of traffic and wrapped along in front of an ancient Roman wall. Wondering what the hell we had gotten ourselves into we tightened our shoelaces, crossed our fingers and set off to the left following the street and the well lit Roman wall.

Paestum Ruins at Night

The wall itself was beautiful, a large thing made of huge bricks seamlessly placed on top of each other. It stretched a ways before us before ending in a large well-preserved guard tower. At the tower the road arched gently around and continued along in front of another stretch of wall…this one however was not lit. Stumbling along with the occasional car passing us at 9:00 pm after dark, with no clue where we were going, but a bright starry sky above us and old Roman ruins to our right, we laughed at what we had gotten ourselves into, decided we were probably significantly scarier than anything we would come across and pushed on. Before long we found a set of signs that listed a number of hotels further down the way. Glad to have some confirmation that we were headed in the right direction but still anxious over the price and wondering if any would be open we pushed ahead. Another 5-10 minutes walk later we came to a 4 way intersection. The Roman wall and open field behind us…a small restaurant with cars parked in front of us ahead…and to the left and to the right beautifully lit Greek temples. Think of the Parthenon on the Acropolis, then detatch it, dump it in the middle of nowhere and throw some other ruins around it. Thrilled at our discovery and enjoying the adventure we pushed on a short ways before finding a small hotel. Labeled as a 4 star hotel, it was the same one we had read about in the generally worthless Fodors guide book.

We entered and were greeted after a few minutes by a friendly old lady who after negotiating with us a little decided to give us a discount on one of the rooms. The room itself was a little bungalow-like thing with a bathroom, bed, closet, TV and a heater that never quite warmed the room. For 25 Euro a piece – only slightly more than most hostels-it was a godsend. We booked one night with her, then headed down the street for some cheap pizza. We got the pizza to go and headed down the side street toward the fenced- off ruins. There we found a bench, sat down in the brisk evening air and set to devouring our pizzas while taking in the gold-hued marble ruins that had stood there for 2500 years.

Italian Architecture

The next morning we woke up prepared to check out and leave our bags (or carry them if we had to) and were set to check out the ruins. When we went for breakfast, which had been included, we were delighted to find that it was a huge meal. All different sorts of cheeses, dried figs, cereal, various breads, etc. we ate up and then went to settle up with the old lady. She collected our money then asked if we were going to see the ruins. We nodded eagerly as she told us not to worry about our bags and that she would help. Then offered to give us a ride into the town and show us where to go to get into the museum.

We eagerly accepted and piled into her 4X4. A warm hearted, delightful old lady she glowed as we praised the countryside and ruins…then proceeded to run the red light at the 4 way stop we had found the night before. With a white knuckled grip I held on, closed my eyes, and tried not to laugh as the other drivers at the light honked. She muttered that the light only worked some of the time and she usually forgot to make sure it was…or was not…working. Eventually, safe and sound we arrived at the town outside of her home where she pointed out where the museum was and then said goodbye. We made our way into the museum and immediately immersed ourselves in ancient Greek vases, sculptures and frescoes.

The museum’s collection was impressive, especially for a museum of it’s size and rural location. It had a fantastic assortment of red and black Greek pottery, many in exceptional condition showing intricate, detailed decorations. A number of the pieces were stunning not only as a result of their decoration, but also due to their thin, multi-tiered designs. The exhibits were well laid out and had several fascinating epiphanies to offer into the design and nature of how the temples must have originally looked. It’s so easy to picture the beautiful white skeletal ruins as a slightly deteriorated version of their former selves. The reality is that the temples were painted, decorated with very intricate stone carvings, had beautiful fired clay decorations and had been mostly enclosed. Some of the frescoes, painted decorations and clay sculptures were preserved and on display.

Greek Fresco in Paestum

The museum also had the usual assortment of old armor and tools as well as an amazing set of old Greek frescoes. These frescoes – mostly from tombs and a necropolis located near the temples – were in incredible condition and offered beautiful glimpses into Greek life, culture and skill. One especially interesting depiction showed an armored man wearing armor that was nearly identical to the style on display in the museum.

Greek Female Statue

After wandering through the museum we made our way upstairs into the Roman section which had a lot of Roman writing and statuary. The lifelike features and realistic nature of the sculptures is truly magnificent. The level of skill is mind boggling…many look as though they are frozen people turned to marble.

Greek Temple Ruins at Paestum Italy

From the museum we headed across the street to walk through the 3 temples, the small coliseum, various housing ruins and other buildings. While the three temples were the obvious highlight – the ruins in general had a lot to offer as well…from an ancient tiny one-room temple that had been buried out of respect by the Romans and others who had come afterwards…to what had been a large excavated pool. The size and beauty of the multi-pillared temples is a breathtaking thing, especially given their rural location. With beautiful mountains serving as a backdrop and rolling green fields stretching away on every side, it is a truly memorable place…one I highly recommend. From the temple we returned for our stuff, made our way back through the Roman wall and then found a train south. We decided to skip Pompeii and instead head towards Greece.

Time to catch a bus, Sparta calls!

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