Monday, July 13, 2009

From Rome to Pompeii - the adventure continues

We left Rome on the Eurostar for a short, pleasant trip to Naples. Naples is anything but pleasant and the train station is no exception. We were warned that it is a city of crime and the signs in the train station, when not covered by graffiti, reminded us of that. We needed to switch to a local train, Circumvensia, which involved a long walk to the other part of the train station. Everyone was smoking, ugh, and we walked behind a local who threw trash to either side as he walked. Not a good introduction to Naples.

We found the Circumvensia, and bought our tickets after studying the map and looking at our directions. There are two Pompeii stops and we needed the non-typical one. We schlepped our luggage up and down stairs and boarded what we thought was the right train. As the doors were preparing to close, people started shouting "Pompeii -no!" We decided they must be talking about the other Pompeii as the train pulled out of the station. However, a nice older gentleman, showing us the other side of Naples, came to me and said "wrong train" I showed him on the map where we were going and he showed me the train we were on. He was right! He told us we needed to get off the train before it veered off the route where we could switch. Then a conductor came over and gave us more detailed instructions telling us to get off at next stop to avoid going up and down stairs with our luggage to switch. He told us which train to get and Michael and I both promptly forget what he said, but he did say "five Zero minutes". So we exited the train at a deserted stop.

10 minutes passed without seeing a living soul or another train. The first sign of life came when a small dog appeared on the opposite platform. Then a few minutes later the station master appeared apparently shocked at the sight of American Tourists with luggage sitting in the middle of his station. He shouted across the tracks "why are you here?" We said "wrong train" and "Pompeii". He shouted "no" and went back inside. We decided to send Michael over with the instructions we had received from Stanford and he went up the stairs, over the tracks and down to join the little dog and the station master.

After much discussion and no mutual language, Michael and the station master determined which train we needed, and the time, which was in fact 50 minutes from when we'd been dropped off.

In due course the train arrived and we boarded with our baggage. I have never seen so much graffitti on a train line as this. Some the the station signs were so covered as to make them unreadable. The clientele on the train was interesting including a mother dog and a box of her puppies who proceeded to whimper for the next 40 minutes of the train ride. But we arrived in due course, carried our bags down, under and up stairs to emerge facing the hotel - yeah!

While the modern city has a somewhat larger population than the ancient city (~50,000), it is spread out over a much larger area. The modern city has two “claims to fame”. The first is the ancient city and the second is a large cathedral. The cathedral sits on the site where legend has it a young woman was cured of epilepsy in 1876 by the Virgin Mary. The cathedral was built in the early 20th century and is gaudy in the extreme. There does not appear to be a single square inch of the inside not covered with religious decoration, overwhelming in quantity and underwhelming in originality. Today, you bring your new car to the priests and they will bless it for a fee. The income from the pilgrims and other activities has resulted in a modern multi story administration building being stuck on the side.

In front of the cathedral is a nice square that is obliviously the center of city’s cultural life. Like most of southern Europe, the commercial areas shut promptly at 2 and do not open again until 5 or 6, aside from a tourist restaurant or two. After dinner, the square is full of people enjoying the cool of the evening after the hot afternoon, sitting and gossiping with friends and people watching.

On the road running between the cathedral and one of the entrances to the ancient city are a number of small stalls selling junk to the tourists and pilgrims. I have to say that the religiously oriented junk is the worst trash I have ever seen. What was really stunning though was to see nuns on a pilgrimage actually buying the stuff.

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