After touring the ruins in Paestum, Lander and I made our way to the train station and started working our way south. Because of the small town nature of Paestum the number of trains passing through were fairly limited. As we slowly figured out a path across southern Italy towards Brindisi and Bari (we had not decided which port to sail from) we passed through beautiful countryside full of small hilltop towns and wonderful beaches. As the sun slowly sank toward the horizon we started to realize that there was no way we were going to make the 7:00PM ferry. Instead, we re-adjusted our expectations and aimed for Taranto (sole of the boot) instead. From there, we figured it would be a quick trip up toward Brindisi with a brief stop at an interesting looking medieval town along the way.
Taranto was quite the experience. A run down, grungy port town in the poorer part of Italy, it’s almost beautiful in a desolte, warzone, dusty sort of frightening way. The train station, which is moderatly sized, is located at the base of the peninsula (divided by several large waterways). As you move inland the city slowly improves. That said, arriving at the train station in the dark of night with only a vague description of the town and it’s layout from our guide book was quite the experience.
As we exited the train station and began down the main road toward the rest of the city we quickly passed beyond our comfort zone. The buildings along the road were dilapidated, some were abandoned, others should have been. Their paint was peeling, there were dark alleyways everywhere, nasty smells and what I can only describe as what you would see in a movie depiction of an abandoned former soviet city. Putting on our fiercest badass faces we slugged on, debating turning back several times and trying to continue on to Brindisi.
Eventually, as we wandered through the desolate waste, we found the first major bridge out onto the peninsula…or islands…whatever they are. The other side was slightly better. While still looking like a hell ravaged warzone there were people around. As we walked down toward the water and in the direction we figured showed the most promise for a hotel, we walked by the ocasional abandoned building, between others with peeling paint and chipped plaster, which had metal doors pulled down on the first floor and clothing hanging from the balconies. The people were rough and matched their city, many having the look of heavily worked fisherman or dock workers. On either side of the peninsula the coast stretched away draped in a beutiful reignment of brightly lit boats, cranes and warehouses.
Eventually, about ready to give up and wondering how much longer we’d survive before getting mugged we crossed a second major bridge which dumped us into downtown. While still nothing special, the downtown area was at least cleanish, modernish and most importantly of all, dotted with hotels. Before long we found a 2 star hotel with a room within our price range and settled in. After recovering briefly, we set out to satiate our ravenous hunger. The entire day we’d been on trains and only managed to eat several dried figs each which we had gotten as part of breakfast. Before long we found a chicken and a few slices of cheap pizza then turned in for the evening.
The walk back to the train station the next day revealed an only slightly improved version of the city. We got back to the station, found out the fun city we had hoped to explore was inaccessible given our time frame and caught a train to Brindisi. In Brindisi our train arrived mid-afternoon, leaving us with several hours to explore the city, eat, then sit around and wait for shops to open back up (they close mid-afternoon for a few hours to nap). We ate by the water, walked around the city (there wasn’t much to see), then picked up a few more figs (we’ve decided they are a wonder food), some wine, a few apples, some salami and two cigars for the boat ride. Eventually it was time to ship out… literally…and we settled into our airplane-like seats in the heart of the ferry resigned to the long boatride. Our ferry left at 7:00PM and arrived in Patras at 10:30AM the following day. I was stiff, sore, tired, hungry and a bit grumpy but…that said the ride was not nearly as bad as I had expected. I’d even managed a decent amount of sleep.
Patras was in general fairly unremkarble. It has a beautiful church which was unlike anything I had seen before. Beyond that, it’s sole appeal was that it was clean, very greek, a great place to pick up a replacement book and then catch a bus south. After debating a few different options, Nafplio beat out Corinth (wise decision on our part) and we set off.
We rolled into Nafplio around 3:30 in the afternoon. The town itself is incredible. Broken into two parts – the older touristy section by the port and the more modern urban sprawl that makes up the bulk of the city. The town is sandwiched along the coast between the water and a two large hills. One of which has a magnificant castle perched upon the top. The other, the smaller of the two also sports a crown of ancient fortifications. In addition to the two, fairly well preserved sets of fortification there is a third small castle on a tiny island a little ways outside of the port which stands as a vigilant guardian.
In the old town section the city’s streets were fairly standard. Beautiful, picturesque, buildings with white fronts, colored shutters, cats running freely and plants growing everywhere. As we walked into the old town we quickly found a hotel with an affordable rate and headed toward our room. As it turned out the room was something else. The place had been an old house at one point with the first floor serving as a store. The top stories housed the hotel rooms and were accessible via the back of the building (which was also ground level due to the hill it was built into). Our rooms were located in an odd nullspace which had been cleaned up and turned into little hobbit rooms sandwiched between the shop and the first proper story of the building. To the right of the stairs a small hallway snaked into the building. The hallway was about 5 foot 5 inches in height and about 4 feet across. As we hunched over and made our way down the short hallway to our room we quickly realized that the room was similarly designed.
As was the case with the hallway the room had a ceiling that varied between about 5’5″ and 5’8″. At several points if you stuck your head up between the painted floor supports for the floor above us you could almost stand up straight. The window out onto the street was a fun little thing which was oddly shaped and added extra character to the room. Luckily, the beds and chairs were normal size. The whole place was incredible. We were already sold on Nafplio and we had barely even gotten started. We found some gyros and settled in for the evening after walking around the city a bit and enjoying a gorgeous sunset over the harbor castle.
The next day we got up moderately early, found some food and set to the task of climbing the thousand + steps up to the winding staircase that clung to the cliff face and made its way up to the main castle. As we trudged up the side of the mountain we were constantly greeted with new sights. The weather was beautiful, perfect t-shirt weather, a crystal clear blue sky, a slight breeze and the brilliant clear water of the aegean stretching out before us. When we reached the castle we were thrilled to find that most of it was in pristine shape and or had been reconstructed. After exploring the sprawling castle ruins we found the highest point, sat down and took a bit to eat some crackers, enjoy the vista and read our books. As we absorbed our surroundings we bumped into a group of 3 American girls – seemingly the only other tourists our age in the city. As we exchanged basic hello’s and asked how long they had been in town we discovered much to our surprise that the night before had been Thanksgiving. For some reason we had thought it was on the 25th and completely missed it. Laughing at having missed it we returned to our books and the view before eventually making our way back down the stairs.
From the castle we got more food, then headed over to the beach we had seen from the castle. It was a beautiful stone beach that sat at the base of the two castle mounted hills. We kicked off our shoes and socks, found a stone area that overhung the water and sat reading a bit more as the sea water lapped at our feet. Eventually, as the sun drifted away behind the horizon we made our way back into town and explored the town a bit more before turning in fairly early.
I’m finally getting close to caught up – still need to cover Sparta and Mystras then whatever else we encounter before I get another update written but currently we are in Gythio and tomorrow will catch a 7 hour ferry to Kissamous, Crete!