Saturday, 21 November 2015

Paestum: And Then the Heavens Came Down Like a Pomegranate

Paestum, Italy (Paestum, Italia)
Hearing of extremely well-preserved Greek ruins on the way south to Sicily, we had to drop in to Paestum. 
Nowadays the area is popular among summer beach-goers, and we found to our surprise that our campsite was right next to the beach! We took a leisurely evening stroll and snapped some photos for my Instagram account. Those 'Grammerz' love sunsets!
As we had been consuming our fair share of pizza and felt no signs of abating our pizzalust, we headed to the nearby Agropoli for a pizzeria recommended by Lonely Planet. We really should have trusted our instincts, as when we arrived we felt it was a restaurant purely for unsuspecting tourists who don't know proper pizza from a flat bread with bad salad tipped over the top (which is what we received). Feeling very disheartened, we visited a supermarket to purchase fruit for breakfast and had a lovely discussion with the bored checkout clerk who recommended a restaurant near the Paestum ruins that served good wine. He elaborated that it was a romantic spot and he always brings first dates there - "It works almost every time". 
That night, a thunderstorm ravaged the area. Having forgotten to erect our guy ropes, the tent billowed alarmingly and at one point I physically held the tent poles in place for fear they would snap! We and our tent made it through the night unscathed, though we slept in to compensate for lost slumber. It took a while to clean our tent from splattered mud in the morning, but eventually we made it to the ruins of Paestum. 
Included in the entrance fee was the nearby museum, so we thought "screw it, let's have a look!" Inside were some great frescoes, and for some reason the majority of them contained large floating pomegranates. I've never seen that before, and never since! Perhaps it was a regional specialty - pomegranates bred for their hovering capabilities. The fresco above looked as though the two figures were about to smash into it like a ropeless piñata!
An interesting part of the museum was a station where materials that were used as pigmentation for painting were on display. You could see many forms of the colour spectrum, the origins being anything from rocks to clay to crushed insects to charcoal to flowers. 
And finally we made it to the ruins! As it looked like a storm was once again brewing, we took our trusty umbrella in case our 2013 Ostia fiasco decided to repeat (that day we fled from the ruins and Yannick's bejandalled feet slipped, causing him to cut open his foot - we had to hide in the car and try to dry off while sweating profusely in the summer heat, all while attempting to bandage the wound). 
It turned out that our trusty umbrella was not so trusty. And fair enough - we bought it for £8 from Boots in London. While battling to keep it the right way out, thunder from very nearby boomed constantly as though the storm was raging all around us. 
The whole area was wonderfully preserved, even showcasing a Roman road!
The site contains the ruins of three Greek temples. The Greeks settled here around 600 BC, but were overrun by the Romans in the second century BC. Then everyone was overrun by the malarial swamp that crept into the area due to poor drainage, causing residents to flee for safer land. The ruins were rediscovered in the 1700's, and to this day they are among the most intact Greek ruins in the world. 
For some reason, there were numerous shards of pottery (potsherds for those in the know) lying about the site. I like to think that they were remnants from Roman occupation, but it's more likely that a visitor bought a ceramic souvenir from one of the many vendors nearby and promptly dashed it to the ground in anguish over their realisation that it was shit and overpriced. 
Having seen many ruins in Greece itself, Paestum was undeniably more intact, and we struggled to believe it was actually Greek. Those malarial swamps really can do a number on ancient settlements. 
Just as we were finishing up, it began to rain. People sprinted past under umbrellas, while some strolled on without any protection at all. We dropped by the restaurant that Friendly-Bored Checkout Clerk had recommended, only to find it closed. Returning to the car, we just closed our doors when the hail started. Good timing I feel, and certainly a better outcome than Ostia!
The whole area south of Salerno was chock-a-block with mozzarella distributors. Seeing this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (as we do with gelaterias), we luncheoned upon fresh tomatoes and soft mozzarella. Now that's my kind of Caprese salad! Dessert was yoghurt made from buffalo milk - great, but not necessarily better than that from a cow. 
Leaving the beaches of Paestum, we drove inland to Aieta - a totally nontouristy town with pretty and cluttered streets. It seems that so few visitors make the journey there that the locals are unaccustomed to seeing people they don't know and the elderly stared at us as we walked around (once we were out of their sight, they turned their attention to a fruit vendor as that was the second most interesting thing taking place). It was a mission trying to reach the palace where a lookout over the surrounding hills was located, and once we found the palace we discovered that roadworks blocked the view. 
Needing nourishment and a place to rest our weary head for the night, we checked into an almost completely deserted campground at Praia A Mare. It felt like an abandoned carnival ground in that you could tell it would be thriving for much of the year, but in the off-season there was a dark and creepy vibe. To purge our palette of the last terrible pizza, we dined at Amici's Pizzeria in the centre of town. The owner was bubbly and a bit dishevelled as though he hadn't expected patrons outside of the regulars. After asking where we were from, he said that he had been to New Zealand. When we pressed him for details, he admitted that he hadn't actually been there, but worked with a few kiwis in Australia. Close enough I guess! We greatly enjoyed the pizza and wine, and I got a good giggle when the owner reappeared after a time with freshly combed hair to give us digestive liquors. When it began to drizzle, he exclaimed outraged to the heavens "This isn't New Zealand, this is Italy!"
That's what gave us the brilliant idea to check the weather forecast for Sicily. Thunderstorms for the next two weeks! How had we not thought to check earlier? And so the very next day we reversed our tracks and headed straight back to Rome. 

Today's post was almost called: The Floating Fruit Fresco Fiasco