"Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.” Pope Paul VI – Italian Pope (1897-1978)
Al writes: There is a considerable difference between Northern Italy and Southern Italy. The north is more affluent and the south is, well, just crazy. Once you get down to Naples, it is chaotic. Driving is interesting and is the only place on this trip I started seeing dented cars. The Italians like to drive on the line in the middle of the road to keep their options open. The air quality did not seem to be very good with the open-air burning, and there seemed to be much more trash. If you want to experience the gritty Italian culture, this is the place.
We skipped Rome because we spent a week there several years ago, and so we made our way to the Naples area to explore Pompeii and Herculaneum. On pulling into Pompeii, my first big decision was: do I stay at the Spartacus Campground or the Zeus Campground? Spartacus was crucified by the Romans, so I thought it might be cheaper than paying for a Roman-god-endorsed campground.
Then an incredible coincidence occurred which has a probability of almost zero. We ran into Mark and Vicki! Here is the story. Mark and Vicki are world travelers and have traveled Europe for 33 months out of the last five years in an almost identical RV as ours. In my research for this trip, I came across their blog and got countless pointers and cautions for preparing for this trip. Mark and Vicki shared their wisdom and experience via emails and a phone call, which was a tremendous help to us in our preparations. I knew they were in Europe but did not have any hope that we would meet in the same campground. There are thousands of campgrounds and thousands of free wild camping places, and we just happened to be in the same place at the same time. Amazing! We had a delightful evening together drinking Mark and Vicki's wine, telling stories, and sharing information. What a great evening. They have been our inspiration…
Mount Vesuvius dominates the skyline of Naples. It erupted August 24, 79 A.D and wiped out the ports of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Our first day in the ruins was spent in Pompeii, once a middle-class bustling town of about 20,000 inhabitants. Most of Pompeii's citizens were able to escape the dozens of feet of ash deposited on the town. What was a bad day for the Romans, created a treasure trove of artifacts and knowledge of what Roman life was like during this era. Many of the artifacts and frescoes have been moved to the Archaeological Museum of Naples, but the massive extent of the ruins make up the ultimate ghost town one can visit. We explored city block after city block, marveling at the remains of the forum,
plaster casts of some of the 2000 inhabitants that did not escape,
town streets with chariot ruts and stepping stones for pedestrians,
courtyards inside Roman houses,
and the town theater.
As we walked the miles of quiet, abandoned streets (most tourists had left for the day), we could not help but nervously look over our shoulder at the looming outline of Vesuvius, which is still an active volcano and is closely monitored. It last erupted in 1944.
Our next day was spent in Herculaneum, just a short train ride away from the campground. Herculaneum was also a port town, but smaller with about 4,000 inhabitants. This town was better preserved because it was covered by a super-hot pyroclastic flow of ash, pumice, and gas that flowed down the flanks of Vesuvius at nearly 100 miles per hour. Herculaneum was buried under about 60 feet of this material that later cooled to rock, freezing the town in time. So the evacuated area is much smaller than Pompeii but loaded with better preserved mosaic floors, frescoes and organic material. The organic material I am referring to is wood and, unfortunately, bodies. Archeologists were puzzled by the lack of human remains until they started uncovering the boat storage areas along what used to be the water's edge. Most of the inhabitants rushed to the water to try to escape, and the photos tell the story.
This area is treated with respect and is restricted to observing the area from a distance looking down on these alcoves. Very graphic and disturbing…
The rest of Herculaneum provided a wonderful view of life in the Roman Empire. One of my favorite parts of the ruins were Thermopoliums. They were on every street and block. It is the Roman version of McDonald's franchises. They were fast food joints and were almost identical in appearance, just as you would expect from a fast food franchise.
Here are some snapshots of time that was stopped in the ruins of Herculaneum.
In preparation for this trip, obviously, we had a wish list of many places that we wanted to visit. However, there has also been what we call the unplanned, unexpected jewels. Our last stop in southern Italy was one of those jewels called Paestum. The town was founded by the Greeks in the 6th century BC. It has some of the best, well-preserved Greek ruins found anywhere, and that includes Greece and Turkey. It has three marvelous temples still standing and the remains of Roman ruins interspersed between the temples. The Romans left the temples undisturbed because they respected all sacred sites.
The temples are the Temple of Hera,
the Temple of Neptune,
and the Temple of Ceres.
Paestum is on the waters of Salerno Bay. It was here that my Dad as a young gunner's mate on an LST was part of the invasion force that landed at Salerno and which eventually led to the fall of Rome and Italy surrendering to the Allies. So walking the beach at our campsite for the evening was meaningful when thinking about my Dad and what he experienced as a teenager off the coast of Paestum.
"Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else." Lawrence Block