Contursi (Salerno), Italy October 2020

Moved 30 miles inland from Pontecagnano to Contursi. It’s Vanya’s birthday in a week’s time and we decided to book into a Spa Hotel for a couple of days as an early birthday present. We settled on the Hotel Terme Rosapepe which had been recommended by a young couple we got chatting to in a supermarket in Eboli. Yes, it does sound kind of random, doesn’t it, but it’s true.

The journey was perhaps the slowest 30 miles I have driven for some while, taking us back through Eboli where there is a half decent supermarket (more wine), a pet shop (decent dog food), a vape shop (I accidently broke one of Vanya’s vapes the other day) and, surprise, surprise, a retail outlet (Vanya has never been known to pass one).

The hotel is built in large nicely landscaped gardens and the adjoining thermal baths have no less than 5 large pools (both indoors and outdoors) and offers a wide range of massages.

That first evening we chilled. We put the dogs in the Van while we ate (they were happier there than in the hotel room) and we ate and we ate and we ate. It was a fixed menu, absolutely no choice, but they provided a reasonable range of well priced wines (including a fair Primitivo and a Prosecco which Vanya rated as very good). As for the food, canapes were followed by a pasta dish was followed by another pasta dish was followed by a well cooked roast and then fruit. Not at all bad.

The next morning was about the thermal baths and a massage. Thirty minutes of the baths was enough for me but I did enjoy the massage. So did Vanya; she went back for a second massage in the afternoon.

… but we did look pretty frightening

We’re back in the hotel room now. Vanya’s resting and I’m about to take the dogs out for some exercise. It’s not so much the dogs that need the exercise; it is me. We’re booked back in the restaurant tonight and I need to develop an appetite.

Amalfi (Salerno), Italy October 2020

We intended taking a 24 bus into Salerno today because it would take us all the way from Pontecagnano to the Piazza della Concordia where the boats leave for Amalfi but once again we were caught out by not having muzzles for the dogs. That happened in San Marino. Looks as if muzzles are a prerequisite for travel on public transport in both San Marino and Italy.

No problem, we made our way to Salerno in the Van instead. It meant parking on the Lungomare and walking a couple of kms to the jetty but, after a quick breakfast in Salerno, we were still in time to catch the 13.00 hrs boat to Amalfi. This was better in a way because the earlier boat went direct to Amalfi whilst this later one stopped off at Cetara, Maiori and Minori (which made for a much more interesting journey and still left us with all the time we needed for photo opportunities and to explore Amalfi before catching the 16.15 back to Salerno).

Breakfast at a cafe on the Piazza della Concordia was notable for two things. Firstly, in my best Italian, I asked for water for the dogs telling the waitress I had one large dog and one small dog. Something got lost in the translation because she then produced one a a half small cups of water. Just take a look at the photo below. Secondly, again in Italian, I asked the waitress for a coffee with milk. She looked nonplussed but then gave me an espresso with a shot of sambuca. I gave up. The dogs had their meagre drop of water and I had my espresso with sambuca.

Our first stop on the boat was Cetara. It was and still is a small fishing village, where the focus is on tuna and anchovies. Indeed the name Cetara is derived from the Latin word Cetaria which are tuna fishing nets.

A short way further up the coast to Amalfi is the smaller settlement of Erchie although our boat didn’t stop there. Another picturesque fishing village albeit much smaller with only 100 inhabitants), Erchie’s name is derived from an old temple built in honour of Hercules. The village’s original name was Ercla or Hercla.

The boat’s next stop was Maiori which is one of the larger towns on the Amalfi Coast and far more lively than Cetara or Erchie which two villages are probably the quietest on this particular coast. Maiori has the largest beach anywhere on the Amalfi and (so I have read) a more colourful nightlife but, we didn’t stay to find out.

And so to Minori, the boat’s last stop before Amalfi. Like Cetara and Erchie, Minori is a small, attractive fishing village not yet totally given over to tourism although it was a resort for rich Romans way back in the 1st century BC. There is a nice walk connecting Minori with Maiori. It’s known as the lemon walk which is perhaps not very surprising given the amount of lemons being grown around here and the fact that this area is home to the liqueur limoncello.

And then, within an hour of setting off from Salerno, we arrived at Amalfi.

In company with Venice, Genoa and Pisa, Amalfi had a long and glorious history as a maritime republic and for centuries was a trade bridge between the western and the Byzantine worlds. This is reflected to some extent in the Duomo di Sant’ Andrea which is built in the Byzantine structure and with Moorish style arches and decoration.

Nowadays, the focal point of the town (I should say “city” since Amalfi has a cathedral) is not the harbour area with its pretty promenade and marina area but the Piazza del Duomo right in front of the cathedral.

The Amalfi Coast is a tourist resort and packed between June and September. There are plenty of tourists in October too but, no matter. The place is beautiful and no amount of tourists can totally detract from that.

Pontecagnano Faiano (Salerno), Italy October 2020

Time to move further north and so we made for a beach site up at Pontecagnano Faiano. There were a number of advantages to this site. Firstly, it is only 45 minutes from Contursi, where we are booked into a nice spa hotel, the Hotel Terme Rosapepe, in two days time (Vanya wants pampering for her birthday and this particular hotel was highly recommended by a local whom we met in a supermarket the other day – yes, I know, that sounds awfully random but it is true). Secondly, we will be within striking distance of the Amalfi coast, which is always worth a visit. Thirdly, the route will take us through a fair sized town, Eboli, where there is a proper supermarket and a pet shop (both dogs have reacted badly to some rubbish food we bought and we need to make that right). Fourthly, the site is right on the sea and we want another swim.

Tomorrow we’ll make visit Salerno and the Amalfi Coast but meanwhile take a look at that sunset…

Paestum (Calabria), Italy October 2020

Paestum, also known by its original name of Poseidonia, was a Greek colony founded around BC 600 on the west coast of Italy, some 80 km south of modern Naples. It was conquered by the Romans in BC 273, renamed Paestum, and prospered for hundreds of years thereafter until some time in the 4th century when most of the inhabitants started to move inland to what is now Capaccio because of the spread of malaria in the area (following persistent deforestation and the land turning marshy). By the end of the 9th century, because of the malaria and ever increasing raids by Saracen pirates, the last inhabitants had left and the town was overgrown and lost until 1748 when during local road building the temples were rediscovered and excavated.

Today Paestum is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world due to its three relatively well preserved Greek temples. They are purportedly the best of their kind outside of Greece although, trying to determine to whom the temples were originally dedicated is no easy matter. Google it and you’ll find that the larger middle temple of the three was dedicated to one of either Apollo, Poseidon or Hera. As for the other two, don’t ask. The museum attached to the archaeological site claims that the two larger of the three temples were both dedicated to Hera while the smaller temple was dedicated to Athena and I’ll go with them.

We were heading north towards Salerno and the Amalfi Coast and halted for a night or two at a camp site by the sea near Capaccio (at a place called Licinella-Torre di Paestum). It was pure chance that whilst out exploring the area around the camp site (I was actually looking for a decent restaurant) I stumbled on the archaeological site of Paestum… and wasn’t I pleased?!? I spent the next three hours happily wandering the site and it’s associated museum (and for dinner that evening we had to settle for a pizza and a couple of beers at the camp site). Some things are just meant to be.

Scalea (Calabria), Italy October 2020

Camp site at Scalea was disappointing and we elected to move on after the one night.

The dogs liked the place (give them sea and sand and they are over the moon) and, parked right alongside the beach, we had a tremendous view but neither Vanya nor I have ever been keen on grubby lukewarm showers.

… ask them!

We headed off towards Paestum in Calabria. Time for a little culture.

Pompeii (Campania), Italy – Feb 2018

Personal issues require that I return to the UK and yesterday morning I decided that the planned tour of Calabria and Sicily must wait for another day (the summer?). I turned the Van northwards and made for Pompeii. Then it is to Rome for the Italy v England 6 Nations Rugby match on 4 February and thereafter I will plan my route / itinerary back to the UK. Having said that there’s a few more blogs to be posted before this particular tour is concluded.

The 400 km drive to Pompeii was easy, mostly motorway, and my only grumble was with the weather. I was leaving 25 degrees of warm sunny weather and heading towards the currently cold and wet west coast. Here’s hoping it improves, especially for the rugby match.

… nice hills on the way over to the Campania Region. They too will warrant a return visit

Upon arrival in Pompeii, I parked up in the Fortune Village Campsite directly opposite one of the main entrances to the archaeological site. I had the campsite to myself but the archaeological site, large as it is (170 acres have been unearthed to date), was packed with tourists and I elected to leave my visit until the next morning before the hordes arrive.

To set the scene ancient Pompeii was a Roman port with some 10,000+ residents when following the sudden and violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius on 24 August, 79 AD, it was buried under 7 metres of pumice and ash. The only good news from a historical perspective was that the city’s sudden burial served to protect it for more than 17 centuries from vandalism, looting and the destructive effects of climate and weather. Unfortunately, some of those who began the archaeological “dig” after Pompeii was rediscovered in 1748 were not sufficiently skilled in excavation techniques and caused not inconsiderable damage to what was left of the city (and there was a great deal of looting too) and then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, during the summer of 1943 the US Twelfth Air Force Bomber Command dropped no fewer than 150 bombs on the place.

The next morning, I was amongst the first to visit the site and I made straight for the Forum (which is fairly central to the site and it is around which most of the city’s focus would have been) with a view to seeing the site from the inside out. I allowed myself 3 hours to explore Pompeii and I should have allowed 5 to do the place justice. It is a fascinating place notwithstanding that most of the remaining treasures and frescoes have been removed to various museums, particularly the Archaeological Museum of Naples.

… in the south west corner of the Forum is the Basilica of Pompeii where business and legal matters were debated and where lawyers without clients, teachers without pupils and artists without commissions, etc would tout for business. This particular example was built between 130 and 120 BC

… the northern end of the forum contains what remains of the Temple of Jupiter and 3 of 4 honorific arches. Initially, the buildings were constructed of dark volcanic stone but in the 1st Century AD white limestone was introduced (see columns on extreme right) 

… Statue of a Centaur on the south side of the Forum. More limestone columns to the right of this photo.

     

… Pompeii streets. Not a tourist in sight. I timed it perfectly!!

It was not so much the civic buildings, but the private residences, bars, shops and bath houses that I found most interesting. Walking around Pompeii is so much more than a history lesson. This was a real tragedy with an estimated 2,000 people losing their lives as a result of the eruption and seeing the homes, pubs, shops  and personal effects of those that lived in Pompeii and died such a violent death there makes the visit so very more poignant. And if that is not enough seeing the plaster casts (in places like the Granary, Stabian Baths and Garden of the Fugitives) of victims caught at the precise moment of their death makes the whole Pompeii experience so more “proximate”.

… some details from Casa del Fauno. The House of the Faun (named after the bronze faun statue standing in the impluvium which was designed to catch rain water) is one of the largest and more impressive private dwellings and it is thought to have been owned by a Cassius Satria. The mosaic inside the House depicts Alexander the Great’s victory over Darius III of Persia at Issuss in 333 BC

… part of the garden of the house of Marcus Lucretius Fronto, said to be a cultured man with a great political career. This is one of the most richly appointed properties to have been unearthed with, tragically, the crushed skeletons of a group of 5 adults and 3 children inside. It is believed the roof collapsed during or after the initial eruption.

    

… Casa di Fontana Piccola – the House of the Little Fountain (House Number 18 on the Via di Mercurio). No one knows who lived in this property. 

… mural (from the House of the Vetti?)- 2 brothers, Aulus Vettius Conviva and Aulus Vettius Restitutus, believed to be wine merchants lived in the house of Vetti

     

… the granary with innumerable amphorae (storage jars). The second photo includes a cast of a dog frozen at the moment of it’s death

… the oven from one of 34 bakeries unearthed in Pompeii

… the Sun and the Fortunata Public Houses. I am told there were many more taverns than bakeries in Pompeii. Some things never change.

… the Stabian baths and the cast of yet another casualty found in the grounds of the baths.

I wasn’t too sure about going to Pompeii but it proved an unusual and moving day and I would certainly revisit the place (allowing 5 hours next time). Moreover, I’d combine the trip with a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Naples. Highly recommended (if you can beat the crowds).