Monday, April 5, 2010

South Italy

The clock is ticking down on the European adventure. For our last big trip before returning to the USA, we spent Semana Santa in Italy. Depending on how you count the border crossings, this was either the fifth, sixth, or seventh time we’ve been to Italy. On all the other trips, we’ve explored the northern part of the country, which is where most of the tour guides will send you. This time, we decided that we needed to explore the south. It doesn’t have the blockbuster attractions of the north (Firenze, Venezia, Leonardo paintings, and so on), but it has a lot of beautiful views. We didn’t get down to the toe of the boot, but we did make it to the arch. We had a wonderful time. Pictures are at:

It was another driving vacation…we’re far past the point of being nervous about driving in Europe. On the first day, we bombed straight south on a wide freeway that could have been anywhere in the USA (except for the toll booths). The views got prettier after we bypassed Napoli on the far side of Mt. Vesuvius, and began to head down to the coast.

Our first destination was Scalea, a beach town on the Tyrrhenian Sea. This is definitely not the Italy that most American tourists see; I think this is where Italians go on their beach vacations. In the north, you can count on finding people who speak English. Not in the south! The second day, we continued down the coast as far as the town of San Lucido. We ate lunch at a small restaurant which was probably as far out of tourist-land as we’ve ever been. Communication was a real adventure, but Spanish is close enough to Italian that we were able to get along. Scalea is a rather nondescript beach town, comparable to Cannon Beach or Seaside, but probably not as scenic. The beaches were nice, but it was chilly enough that we didn’t consider going into the water. There are advantages to traveling outside of the high season (lower prices, less people), as well as disadvantages (colder weather). The more ancient part of town was old, but really not terribly pretty. Parts of it were falling into rather unromantic ruin. It takes a little bit longer for “old” to turn into “historical.”

We headed north from Scalea along the coast, and had to make a rather long backtrack when we found the road closed before Sapri. If we were locals, we might have known how to bypass it, but our Italian wasn’t sufficient for asking directions. We finally made it onto the road to Salerno, although the road numbers didn’t match those on our map. As we’ve learned, in Europe you have to navigate by destinations, and not get too hung up on being on a specific road. You’ll get where you’re going… eventually.

Before we got to Salerno, we stopped for a few hours to visit Paestum, an ancient site with some of the finest Greek temples outside of Greece. Before the Roman Empire, the Phoenicians and Greeks created far-flung trade colonies throughout the Mediterranean Sea. The most famous Greek colony was Syracuse on the island of Sicily. Paestum was built around 600 B.C. as an outpost to trade with the Lucanian barbarians (at this time, Rome was still a small town under the rule of the Etruscans). It had a strong surrounding wall, and several beautiful temples. We can only speculate what the relations were with the Lucanians, but I have a picture of the elegant, cultured Greeks dealing with the fur-clad barbarians. The Lucanians conquered the city around 500 B.C., and tried to emulate the Greek style of living. This lasted until around 300 B.C., when the Lucanians were conquered by the Romans. The Romans kept the temples, but built one of their characteristically well-laid-out cities alongside. With the fall of the Empire, the site was abandoned due to encroaching swamps, and left to itself for the next thousand years. Today, the site is nearly as well preserved as Pompeii. For me, Paestum was the high point of the trip.

For the next few days, we were on the Amalfi coast for some of the most hair-raising driving I’ve done in Europe. And trust me, we’ve done some hair-raising drives over here. Thin, twisty roads with no center divider, hanging on the edge of the bluffs down to the ocean, with insane local drivers barreling around the hairpin turns. To drive this area right, you’d need to be James Bond driving a red Ferrari convertible, with the henchmen of Dr. No chasing you. The views are beautiful, but you can’t enjoy the view after you’ve had a heart attack.

Tonya timed things out so that we had an afternoon in Rome before flying out the next morning. Of all the cities we’ve visited in the last year and a half, I have to say that Rome is the most pleasant for random wandering. Every time you turn a corner, you see some new wonder. And we made it back to C√≥rdoba in time for the last few processions of Semana Santa. All in all, a perfectly delightful week.

1 comment:

Dimple said...

Winding down, huh? When is your planned return?
We have a little trip planned, so we can attend John's graduation. Might we see you there?
Now to look at the pictures!