Tag Archives: Italy

Salerno and Pastum

We arrived in Salerno midday and took a taxi from the train station to our B&B. We had a slight problem contacting the owner, who wasn’t there when we arrived, but once we got in touch he had another guest come down and let us in. The room we had was large and airy and had a balcony facing the ocean. It was a beautiful view and Mom spent much time out there doing her readings while I messed about or played with my camera. The sunsets were beautiful there.

Our View

Mom on the balcony

Into town

That afternoon we headed to the beach (avoiding the nearest beach on the recommendation of our wayward host) and found a beach full of locals (large woman sunbathing, old men smoking, young girls giggling with their friends and young men showing off their prowess at sports). They seemed quite surprised to see tourists there (and I, with my blindingly white skin was obviously not a local) so we got gawked at a bit, but everyone was friendly. Because it was Sunday we were worried a lot of the shops and restaurants would be closed and at six, after we’d gone back to the B&B to get changed and find dinner, seemed to be the case. But we wandered through the little side streets to the main thoroughfare of our neighbourhood and found a few bars and restaurants that were open. We ate at a pizzeria which was pretty average, but everything tastes better when you’re hungry! When we left we hit a local gelateria which seemed to have a very loyal customer base, all around the shop were little kids playing and people chatting with their friends and neighbours. As we walked back to the B&B around eight we saw more and more shops opening and realized that in the very non-touristy parts of Italy, shops have very specific opening hours and restaurants do open (even on Sundays!)

Beach day

The next day our host’s wife showed up to make us breakfast which consisted of pastries, strong Italian coffee, tea and orange juice. She was an artist and her art was displayed all around the B&B (mostly ceramics) and she was just a lovely woman. She and Mom really seemed to hit it off, although we had to use the translator on her phone to communicate sometimes! Mom bought a couple of pieces from her that were reminiscent of the bright local style and she showed us pictures of her kids and family. That day we were heading out-of-town to Paestum, the ruins of an old Greek settlement. On the way we ran into our hostess again and she helped us buy umbrellas because of the pouring rain. Of course, once we bought the umbrellas it promptly cleared up and we didn’t need them again. She put us on the right bus to get to the train station and even set a gentleman getting on the same bus to make sure we got off at the right stop.
The train didn’t leave for a few hours so we wandered around central Salerno for that time. We spent a bunch of time in a bookstore where I searched the shelves for an Italian cookbook I could both carry and understand (my search was in vain unfortunately) but we found a fruit market and bought some cherries to eat on the boulevard after finding a little art gallery and wandering through the main religious complex of Salerno. Despite not being a touristy city, Salerno is very pretty with very friendly residents! We had some more pastries and coffee in a very glitzy café before grabbing the train out the Paestum.

Aquaduct

Salerno town

Salerno Cathedral

Mom with the lion

The boulevard

The train to Paestum wasn’t long but the journey was very pretty, taking us through poppy fields and farmland with the mountains in the background. Once we got off the train (with about half a dozen other tourists) there was a distinct lack of signs or directions so our plan was to follow the other tourists who we hoped would know where they were going. Our plan backfired, however, when we accidentally ended up leading the little pack of tourists down this unmarked road away from the train station. Luckily it was the right direction and we happily stumbled upon the large and very impressive ruined city.


Paestum is exactly what you imagine when you think of Greek ruins (which wasn’t what I expected to find in Italy!) The city was founded in 600BC by Greek settlers from Sybaris. It’s funny to think of Italy as a place to be colonized like the Americas… but that’s exactly what we found! The city was named in honour of Poseidon but the name was converted to a more Latin form after the area was conquered by Rome. The Romans made some major changes to the city and its political structure, but the major religious temples were preserved. The three major temples at Paestum in the Doric style are supposed to be among the best remaining examples of Greek temples in the world. I’m very glad we had a chance to see temples that were still so intact. It’s hard to imagine how large the temples are without seeing them in person. I’m always surprised by how much larger things appear to me in person than they look in photos!

And I found the stray!

That evening we headed back to Salerno and had dinner at a seaside restaurant (spaghetti vongole for me) and a bottle of homemade wine before heading back to the B&B to prepare for an early morning meeting Nick and heading to the Amalfi coast.

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Naples and Caserta

Mom and I arrived in Italy on Thursday after leaving very early from Nottingham for our flight and found our hotel without too much difficulty. After getting food recommendations from our lovely host we headed out and stumbled across one of the few sites I knew I wanted to see before we had arrived – the religious complex of Santa Chiara, particularly the incredible cloisters decorated with majolica tile work and with gardens full of lemon trees. We happened upon a wedding in the church and then stopped for pizza and had our first gelato before crashing early!

Santa Chiara

At the cloisters

Majolica tile work

Pizza time!

Friday was our first full day in Naples and the temperatures were supposed to hit thirty degrees Celsius. We bravely donned our lightest clothes plus plenty of sunscreen and headed down the via Toledo to explore. The via Toledo is one of the busiest streets in Naples and one of the oldest – in existed since in the ancient city as well. It’s a main shopping thoroughfare with the higher-end shops concentrating towards the bay. The street ends at the Piazza del Plebiscito – the main square of the city. Its bounded by the Galleria Umberto (a huge beautiful shopping centre), the Opera-teatro di San Carlo (the oldest continually running opera house in Europe), the Palazzo Reale (one of four seats of the Bourbon kings in the area) and the San Francesco di Paola Church. They’re all incredibly beautiful buildings, but the gallery has one of the most beautiful interiors I’ve ever seen.

Galleria

San Francesco di Paola Church

By the harbour front

We arranged a tour of the opera house for later that afternoon and then we continued down to the harbour front and walked the promenade until we came to the Castel dell’Ovo. The castle was once on an island, but time and building projects have turned it into a peninsula. The name translates to Castle of the Egg because of a local legend about Virgil. During the Medieval Ages Virgil was thought to have been a great magician and it was thought that he placed a magical egg in a cage in the castle to keep it safe and stabilize the foundations. The legend was so persistent that during a storm when a rival prince escaped from the castle a rumour spread that the egg had been broken and panic spread throughout the city. This continued until the rulers issued a statement saying they had undertaken repairs to the egg and all was well!

Castel dell’Ovo

The harbour

Sunny day!

After a well-deserved stop for gelato we headed to a second major castle in Naples – Castel Nuovo – the architectural symbol of the city. It was built during the 13th and 14th century by Charles I of Anjou and his successors and has always been an important part of the city’s political life. It served as the seat of the city council until 2006! Then we headed to a café to wait for the start of the Opera tour. The building is incredible and very opulent. We were also able to witness last minute presentations for La Boheme which was opening the following week.

Opera house

The Royal Box

Later the evening – to top off our busy day – we headed to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale and the Secret Museum to see the impressive collection of marbles as well as many of the artifacts found during the excavation of Pompeii – the glassware was particularly incredible. Then, starved and tired we stumbled into a tiny restaurant and had one of the most memorable experiences of our trip!

The museum

We walked in and sat down. The owner came over and asked if we wanted appetisers and we said yes. First he brought us bread and a bottle of his homemade red wine. We chatted for a bit and watched as he fussed about in the kitchen and then suddenly brought us plates of food filled with different preparations of eggplant, salami and mozzarella, marinated peppers, bruschetta and two types of greens. It was incredible and then followed by pasta with eggplant, tomato and mozzarella. Finally be brought out a platter of seafood – fried squid and octopus, shrimps (heads and all) and deep-fried minnows , all served with green beans and potatoes. Despite being stuffed, our lovely host then brought out berries and melons marinated in sugar and basil. Once we finished our wine he poured us each a shot of limoncello – a lemon liqueur produced around the Gulf of Naples that’s bright yellow, tart and strong. One of the older men who worked there kept petting my hair as he went by and encouraging us to eat. We got hugs and kisses goodbye when we left and it very much made our day!


Saturday we slept in – not late really, but it wasn’t the early start to the day like we’d hoped and was partially due to the 32 Swiss youth staying down the hall from us who were particularly rowdy. I slept through it all as usual, but mom didn’t. After we got going we stopped for a croissant and headed for the train station in order to get to Caserta. It’s a lovely little town about thirty kilometres out of Naples and the home of the former Bourbon kings of Naples. In fact the palace that was constructed there was built to rival the grandeur of Versailles and although I’ve never been, Mom said it definitely kept up! The main complex is beautifully maintained and the royal apartments were spectacular – the king’s private chambers were renovated in the 19th century to include electricity! The entire palace is gilded to the hilt and they had maintained some very special artifacts from the monarch’s lives in the palace before the last king went into exile in 1861.

Entrance to the Royal Apartments

Curtseys!

In the apartments

In the throne room

The rear gardens had a very different feel to them from Versaille – much cleaner, simpler lines as we exited the palace. However, as we progressed through the gardens they became much more ornate. It was quite the walk in another day of extremely hot weather and we stuck to the shade as much as possible, only coming out to see the increasingly intricate fountains. The gardens ended in a waterfall cascading off a mountain; and just off to the right was a spectacular twenty-one acre park and English garden with plants and trees from all over the former British empire. Overall the site was absolutely beautiful but certain elements (like the front gardens and two flanking buildings had been left to decay and were in a sorry state. I always find old buildings nostalgic and wistful – I wish I could have seen them how they were. After six odd hours wandering around the palace complex we caught the train back to Naples and hunted for a place to eat.

Looking back towards the palace

Walking in the gardens

At the largest fountain!

Full stretch of gardens

The english gardens

Mom in the rose gardens


We were thrown off track by our first and only pickpocket who unsuccessfully grabbed at the necklace I was wearing and got an elbow for his trouble. I was slightly shaky after that but settled once we found a pizzeria and had enormous pizzas (breakfast the next day too!) which were delicious with fresh tomato sauce and thin crispy crusts. We spent most of our time there watching the organized team churn out pizzas every five minutes! After we’d boxed up our leftovers we wandered around the cute streets and shopping district and then made our way over to our hostel owner’s favourite gelateria where we had our last gelato in Naples. Next we’re off to Salerno!

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