Naples was an incredible experience, rich in the exploration of Southern Italian culture, cuisine, and old buildings and things. But, as we near wearing out our welcome at our guest’s incredible home, it’s time to move further south. The only place we did not visit in the Naples area that was on my bucket list was Sorento. Still, perhaps a visit to Positano on the southern side of the coast would satisfy the itch. To that aim, our next stop is about 60 km south of Naples and at the base of the Amalfi Coast, the city of Salerno. Regrettably, as the ferry’s stopped running on 1 Nov and with limited time available in the area, we never made it to Positano or any of the other charming villages nestled in the hillsides overlooking the Amalfi coast. But, Salerno was worth the visit.
Salerno – We arrived without issue from Afragola train station, which has to be the most modern train station ever built. The walk from the Salerno Station was an easy 5-minute walk up the busy shopping promenade and into our little flat for the next few days. The apartment was a small comfy spot with a great view of the buildings next store….with a bit of slit between structures that lead to a view of the blue sky and ocean beyond. The room had a very modern, clean style, but the quality of construction work and materials was so cheap that it almost gave it a slumming look and feel. But, the bed mattress was to die for, so comfortable and easy to sleep in. The bed alone made the room worth paying for.
Eating is sometimes a chore because it takes effort to go out and find a new place that won’t disappoint your expectations. We’ve been fortunate so far, and few meals surprised us in a wrong way. But, after a while, what does one do when you are tired of Italian pasta? Eat Italian styled hamburgers, of course! After the late lunch and an excellent German beer, we headed back to that bed for a nap before dinner.
Salerno is a modern, old town. It presents the image of a well to do Northern Italian small city. The vibe is undoubtedly northern, as is the cosmopolitan look of the people. Everyone is dressed up stylishly as they stroll up and down the shopping promenade. It kind of reminds me of the evening activities of young adults in small towns where they drive up and down the main streets socializing with friends. The promenade is lined with moderately stylish stores, bars, cafes, and a few restaurants. The walking zone soon morphs into an older cobblestone street that bisects the ancient structures of the Old Town. Here too, one finds contemporary, upscale boutique shops mixed with a few tourist-like traps, a few Christmas decoration shops, bars, cafes, and the smattering of churches.
Behind this Main Street lies the city’s largest church with the lofty name of ‘The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Angels, Saint Mathew and Saint Gregory the Great.’ I guess the locals just refer to it as the Duomo. The foundation was laid back during the Norman conquest of this part of Italy, and the style of construction is a bit different than most of the Duomos we’ve visited. This one gives me the impression of middle eastern influences in that its main entrance is an open-air, inner courtyard, and the interior decorations are of geometric designs and colors reminiscent of Moorish Spain. The more significant iconography of Christ and other figures is brightly colorful, gilded, and unusually bright. I can’t help but think that its designers may have served time in the Crusades and brought back some of the more beautiful aspects of Islamic decorations and details. But that may just be me projecting today’s events back a few hundred years ago. The crypt was astonishingly beautiful, with intricately carved marble designs, inlaid mosaics, and colorful paintings. The vaulted barrel ceilings offered a richly decorated grotto feel to the whole place. The overall effect of the size and decoration was uniquely impressive. I have to say this is one of my more favored experiences of churches that I’ve visited since arriving in Italy.
While browsing around, Ursula found an advertisement for a guitar concert in one of the Duomo’s side rooms, the following evening, which we attended. The classy lady who performed the solo concert was a professor of some acclaim, at the local music Conservatorium and recipient of many awards and recognitions. She mesmerized her audience with seven or eight classic songs in front of a screen displaying impressionist works of arts, all synced in time, with her music. Much of her selection centered around Debussy or others’ compositions in his praise. Most had a Spanish flair and beat. One of the encores featured an exquisite lady dressed in dark, Spanish styled clothing. As she arranged the settings to join the guitarist, we all wondered what this was about. Together they presented an Argentinian song about a lady who killed herself in agony over a lost relationship, or something or other. We didn’t understand the words, but her voice was phenomenal, rich in expression, broad in octaves, and both soft and strong when needed. The crowd almost gave a standing ovation. Fortunately, as the concert ended, the monsoon-like rains subsided enough to scurry home without drowning. A good night.
While walking our seven miles daily constitutional during our ‘Salerno visit’ day, we climbed the hillside to visit the famed Minerva Garden. This garden’s renown, beyond its beauty and placid surroundings, is that it was a medieval experimentation garden for medicinal herbs and plants. Signage describes how each plant influences the four humors and offsets, each with varying degrees of strength and shades of robustness. Because it’s on a hillside, there are four terraced levels, each highlighting different kinds of types of plants. Again, as with the garden we visited on Ischia, this one gives plenty of material for consideration for our hillside home back in Alaska. If only we had the temperate climes, perhaps we could replicate some of these beauties.
Paestum is a testament to the effectiveness of the greek migration to Italy in its early colonial days during and after their horrid Peloponnesian Wars. The archeological site at Paestum features three large temples to various ancient Greek and then Roman gods. The larger of the three is said to rival the Acropolis in Athens in size and condition. To see three of them in one location, in relatively similar condition, all with a full set of columns, one with three levels, was terrific. The old city of Poseidon, later renamed Paestum by the Romans, features public areas in the center of town with homes and businesses on either side. The public sector included the three temples, an amphitheater (that’s now bisected by a modern road), a forum, school, and many other nondescript buildings. On the western side of the temple area are the standing foundations of traditional homes. Beyond that, there are presumably more, just buried under the existing farm fields. Surrounding the town are the 12 foot wide by 20 foot high walls that still exist. I thought we had seen enough archeological sites but was very happy to have visited just one more.
We’ve become pretty blasé about riding public transportation because it’s so easy. Perhaps too easy. On the way out to Paestum, we were a bit surprised that our train arrived 5 minutes early, but we quickly boarded and found seats in a very comfy second class car. Something just didn’t seem right. A few minutes after departing the station, the public announcements helped us figure out just what was bothering us, we were on the wrong train. Apparently, ours was pulling into the station at the same platform, just as this one was departing. Oh shit. Thankfully the technological advances of the smart-phone helped us investigate alternative actions to take to get to where we wanted to go. It turned out to be easy. The train was scheduled to stop at one of the same stops our train was to stop. So, we just got off the wrong train and hopped on the correct one as it pulled into the same station and platform ten minutes later. No worries.
Returning home from Paestum was like deja vu, all over again. This time the cute train conductor, decked out in her tight-fitting, designer train conductor uniform, let us know we were on the wrong train. She made sure we understood that we’d have to get off at the next stop to avoid any fees and new ticket purchase. I guess the morning’s run was just a dress rehearsal for the afternoon run. Just like that morning, the correct train (the cheaper one) arrived at the station where we were unceremoniously dumped, another 10 minutes later. When ignorance dominates, its good to be lucky!
Three days was enough to visit Salerno and Paestum, so onward to Italy’s East Coast and the port town of Bari.