25 May – Set off on the metro into the centre of Rome – a relatively easy trip as we didn’t have to change lines. Popped out of the metro right in front of the Coliseum – in the past there used to be a hectic road circling this amazing monument, but now it is mainly pedestrian areas so you can walk right up to and around it. The area was bustling with tour groups all following their allotted flag bearer – we were content with viewing from the outside, having been spoilt over the last few years in seeing many splendid versions of these.
We then proceeded to walk around the many other highlights that Rome had to offer – quite amazing that so many great buildings remain and with so much new construction going on – the lengths that they have to go to to protect them. Covered most of the important places in the vicinity of the Coliseum, then got back on the metro to head over to St Peters Square and the Vatican. The queues waiting to get into the Sistine Chapel were snaked right around the square. Although the area was busy it was nothing like it can get when the Pope is doing his thing.
Fortunately we managed to miss Trump by a day – but the remnants of his visit were still visible – with roads still closed off, seating areas being dismantled and still quite a big police presence. All of the busy areas had visible security around – either police or army. Next stop it was Trevi Fountain – the mass of crowds here was just as bad, so it was a quick look and then off to find some more peaceful streets to wander around.
Found a little Sicilian restaurant for lunch, nice to get out of the head and away from the masses. Suitably refreshed, we made our way down to the Tiber, to promenade along the bank for a few kms. Not much of a river – dirty looking, a few boats running tourists up and down, some interesting old bridges crossing and what looked like a few permanent houseboats moored. A cool off with a refreshing ice-cream before heading back to the tube station and back out to our hotel in the burbs.
And here the drama began!! The first line we boarded was so busy, we were packed in so tight it was a real mission just to get inside the train doors and equally as hard to get out – having to physically push and shove to get off. We felt sure that this would be the place we could get done over but we managed to get off unscathed. We changed over to the line that would take us home and fortunately this had much more breathing space on it. In fact the carriage only had about 8 people in it – I got on and went straight to a seat but Bob got waylaid by two women who wouldn’t let him past. People were shouting at us but we couldn’t understand what was being said – turned out they were telling us that the two women were pickpockets and that Bob had just been robbed. They hopped off the train before the door closed and disappeared into the wild blue yonder. Quick stock take once we realized – quite lucky really – the pocket that they had raided also had Bob’s passport and our car papers but fortunately they left those behind – just filched his small card folder containing two credit cards and his drivers license – this from inside a pocket with a velcro flap on it. Grrr!!
Got back to our hotel and had to make the necessary phone calls to NZ to stop the cards, but can’t do anything about the license though fortunately he still has his International one. Quite lucky with the ANZ card as we could immediately put a temp hold on it via internet banking, and then make the necessary phone call. Quite a rigmarole when you phone with having to prove your identity but we finally got everything sorted. New cards will be sent to England and luckily we have enough backup options with us but it is still pretty galling when it happens. So our adventure in Rome did not go quite as planned but it could have been worse. The metro may be an easy way to get around, but boy is it dirty – the carriages are all covered in graffiti, the stations dark and dingy and not at all pleasant when busy – what a complete contrast to Shanghai. We were not at all in the mood to venture out in the evening so it was apples and nice NZ kiwifruit for dinner.
26 May – Destination Salerno today – no real option for us but to take the motorways as we had a reasonable distance to cover and the coastal route would have taken too long. Did pick up on the map that we were going to go past Cassino so that merited a stop off. They have a war museum there of which they are very proud. It can only be visited with their guide and the hour long tour goes every 20 mins. We were whisked around the various exhibits by a young woman who translated everything for us as we went – it was a bit difficult to understand her at times but she did have a good depth of knowledge about the battle and all the subsequent consequences. The main part of the museum was explained to us as a 3d spectacular which had been put together by top Italian Oscar winning producers. It wasn’t that flash but as we went from room to room there were various types of displays from original footage of the bombing of the monastery to dioramas of the region showing just where the Germans had their defensive lines and the how difficult a task the Allies had to break through. The whole story was told of course from the Italian perspective and the utter devastation that it had wreaked on Cassino town and all the surrounding towns. The town of Cassino was 95% destroyed as were a couple of others whilst the remaining villages had differing levels of loss. The devastation was such that when the war ended the townspeople just emigrated in their droves – mainly to the UK, Canada and USA, with smaller numbers to Australia and South America.
The monastery which was so needlessly devastated has now been rebuilt and is a massive structure that towers way above the town. We drove the steep windy road up to the top to get a feel for the enormity of the task that the Allied forces faced. When you look around from the height of Monte Cassino, you can see just how difficult the terrain was – huge mountain ranges looming up from the plains which Hitler had flooded to make it nearly impossible for the tanks to make any impression.
Back down the winding road and onto the motorway to take us to Salerno. Monique is pretty good at finding places which is just as well as our map would never have found our B&B Bellavista – very aptly named as we have great views down over Salerno, out to our right to the Amalfi coast and to our left the toe of Italy. Nice place, we have our own room and bathroom with a shared lounge, kitchen with one other room. The local restaurant was highly recommended by our hostess, so we trundled off for dinner. Hard to get used to the hours that the Italians keep – everything closes from 12-3, shops reopen from 3-7 then they don’t hit restaurants until 8pm onwards. We got there at 8 and were the first patrons, we left well after 10pm and people were still coming in to eat. We were singularly unimpressed with most of the meal especially our mains – my roast chicken was as dry as could be, and Bob’s weird cut of steak was tough.
27 May – This was a day for exploring the region around Salerno, in particular Pompeii and the Amalfi coast. Pompeii was only 30 mins drive away – surprisingly easy to find and also managed to get parking on the street just down from the entrance. Paid for 4 hours parking thinking that would be ample time to look around – 30 mins of that was wasted just waiting in the queue to get tickets. Once through the gates and armed with a map – we began our exploration of this once buried city. Set over 40 acres, it had a population of 15-20 thousand at the time of Vesuvius’s eruption in around 80AD. 17 years prior to the eruption a huge earthquake had caused quite a bit of devastation and the town was still being reconstructed when they were engulfed by the ash and gasses from the sudden eruption.
The town remained buried under the ashes until the 1700’s and over the next 300 odd years continuous archaeological excavations have unearthed it to what we were able to see today. What an incredible site – from the moment you enter the gates – a large arena one side and a colonnaded building on the other. These were the outskirts of the town and from then we wound our way through paved streets lined with houses of varying degrees of reconstruction and varying degrees of wealth. The streets had footpaths on both sides; the road had worn chariot ruts in places where the paving stones were obviously softer. At most intersections there were huge stones in the middle of the road, placed so that the chariot could pass over them, but they must have been something to do with water redirection or perhaps stepping stones to cross the road. Many houses seem to have survived pretty well including wonderful paintings on their walls, mosaic floors and water features. The more money you had, the larger your water features. We passed through streets lined with shops, the shop counters still visible including amphora set into the counters which would have held things like olives, fruit and vegetables.
The writing on the walls of some of the shops was still visible. There was a huge piazza in the middle of the town, the streets leading to it were colonnaded and these would have been covered porticos. Various temples and places of worship in the centre.
Other places of interest were very well preserved baths – the women’s especially so – complete with lockers, marble mosaic floors and a marble baths. Apparently the rooms were very hot, heated from hot air underneath and too hot to walk on in bare feet, the women had to wear sandals which did not grip too well in the steamy heat resulting in quite a few broken legs and ankles.
Brothels were also commonplace – the prostitutes were Greek and other foreign nationalities and could not communicate with their Roman clients therefore very graphic pictures were painted on the walls above the beds to enable their clients to choose their service, these pictures were still well preserved on the walls.
Gymnasiums were also common – men were the only ones allowed to exercise, and these gyms had indoor and outdoor swimming pools and various other rooms.
We used all of our 4 hours to get around the site and took in all that we could. There were quite a few guided tours going around, so from time to time we could listen in on the commentary.
Back to our car, it was then on for the next little excitement – a drive over to the Amalfi coast. By over – it meant that we had to climb over a small mountain range – “lovely” winding narrow road, up and over to the other coast and then we hit chaos. The coastal road – this coast is mainly high cliffs, coming at odd times down to little bays – was even narrower, with a lot of crazy drivers in both cars and on scooters/motorbikes. Parking was a nightmare near Amalfi, so we opted to turn back towards Salerno, stopping off at Minori where we lucked a decent parking spot and decided that we would stay put and have dinner before braving the elements back home.
Our choice of restaurant was rather a costly ordeal, our host insisting that we kept trying Mama’s homemade specialties – her spaghetti was homemade and dessert- “Mama’s surprise” was profiteroles filled with a chocolate cream. Ate way too much but the food was better than the previous night. The 22km that was left to go on our journey took a whole hour as we dodged and wove around bend after narrow bend. Finally made it back home without incident and were able to relax for the rest of the evening.
28 May – Bade a fond farewell to Isabella our hostess then it was off on the motorway again with about 350km to our next destination of Lamezia Terme – not chosen for any particular reason other than it was a decent way down towards Sicily. There were no tolls on the whole of this section of motorway, a lot of the road had just recently been finished, so the surface was excellent, the tunnels pristine and the engineering a marvel as per usual. With brief stops at the various service areas along the way, we arrived at Lamezia around 3pm, no-one home at the B&B we had booked, so had a little wander around the area – very grubby which seems to be the norm in Italy. By the time we had returned, our host there to greet us and settle us in. Again a spotlessly clean room – our “garden views” were out over the parking lot to the next buildings, but comfortable enough and the price was good. Ate out at “Mary’s Pub” – good food at a fraction of the previous night’s cost.
29 May – Decent breakfast to start off our day then wasted nearly an hour trying to get a document printed on our host’s printer – all to no avail. Quick stop at the supermarket then off on the trusty autostrade (motorway) to the “toe” of Italy to catch our ferry across to Sicily. A bit chaotic getting on the ferry then a short 30 min journey across the straight to Messina. If we thought that it was chaotic when we boarded the ferry it was nothing compared to the absolute mayhem in Messina. It was pure bliss to finally find the motorway and get away from the crazies. We only had about 60km to get to our destination, most of that was on the motorway with about 10km off on the state road. We couldn’t put the address into Monique’s brain for some reason so ended going about 6km beyond where we were meant to be. After some messing around with her maps and finding a place with similar co-ordinates as the booking conf. said, back-tracked and finally reached it. Well worth it, the B&B has only been open for 2 years, everything is still nice and new – with our own little private patio, a flash shower and a comfy bed with breakfast included all for 40Euro. Just on the edge of the town of Patti, it was a nice short stroll into the main part of the town and beach. Stony beach, but beautifully clear water. The town is lacking in any sort of maintenance which seems to be typical. Projects seem to start out nice here but soon turn to tack from complete neglect.
The little supermarket had a nice little treat in store for me – Limoncello cream for $10NZ a bottle, I don’t think it will last very long!
Returned home and managed to listen to the Americas Cup racing on NZ Sport Radio (we bet Artemis) before heading back into town for dinner. Nice little restaurant – or it would have been if it wasn’t for the birthday party that was in progress for a 10 yr old girl – a dozen little Italian children sure make an awful lot of noise.
30 May – Not too far to go today so we took the coastal road to Cefalu – certainly an improvement on the Amalfi coast road. Made a couple of stops along the way, morning coffee outside a nice little hotel on the waterfront; not far from the coast, there are a series of little volcanic islands, from our seat on the terrace we could see about five. Stromboli is one of the active ones, pictures showing it glowing at night are quite impressive.
Lunch was interesting in an abandoned coastal development. A lot of money had been invested in putting a lovely paved walkway along the length of the beach, every 50m or so, pillars which would have had showers on them all rusted and now missing most of their vital parts. I guess it was about 1km in length but all overgrown and completely neglected. Unfortunately Italians do not seem to have much pride in their environment – rubbish is strewn down both sides of the roads, every parking spot is even worse.
Quite a few seaside towns down this part of the coast – the sea is beautifully clear, some beaches are sandy, but most are small pebbles. Our stop for the night was just a few km before Cefalu, but with a very tricky drive up to it, had to go a few km beyond before we could turn around and come back and tackle the drive from a better angle. Another good choice, lovely views from the shared terrace and a nice clean room. Our hostess welcomed us with a hot drink and gave us the run-down on the town.
Had a little rest up before heading into the town, public parking was available on the beachfront just a short walk from the old town. Spectacular setting, with a steep rocky cliff looming over the old town.
Our first stop was the local Polizia to see if we could get an authenticated copy of Bob’s passport so he could apply for a replacement driving license. No luck with that – were told to come back the following morning as an English translator would be there. Set off to walk around the medieval town, and what a neat place. Tiny paved streets occasionally opening out into little piazza. Loads of very touristy shops but still interesting to wander around. The shopkeepers are not pushy and there were no touts or hawkers trying to get you to buy watches etc.
Its main attraction is a Norman Cathedral which was built in 1131. It must have been a very imposing feature when it was built.
The old port had a tiny beach with houses built right down to the sea, in many places it was obvious to see that they had just been built atop the original city wall. Our hostess also ran a restaurant with her husband in the old town so we decided to dine there – wow what a lovely meal (for me it was the best meal I have since leaving home). I had very thin fillets of swordfish which were wrapped around a filling of sultanas, breadcrumbs, pine nuts and lemon – lightly dusted with more crumbs and deep fried. It was just getting dark when we headed back home for the night – just in time again to listen to the Americas Cup racing.
31 May – Spoilt this morning – scrambled eggs on top of cereals, fruits, yoghurt and sweet things. Back down into Cefalu to try again for the authentication. Polizia sent us up to the Municipal Offices. They found someone to help us out and from there it was quite an excursion for Bob and him as they trailed back and forth from the Municipio and Polizia and back to the Municipio where they were finally directed to a Notary who spoke perfect English, knew exactly what Bob wanted, signed the form and all was rosy. It only took a couple of hours to get it sorted!! In the meantime, I had returned back to the car to extend our metered parking and had a nice time people watching.
Bob had managed to glean quite a lot of info from his escort who was a retired policeman. He was forced to retire as he had got shot in the leg. He explained that the mafia still exerts a very strong influence on the island while the police do not have much sway at all. Apparently the crime rate is very high on the island, but it is organised crime not crime directed at tourists.
Getting out of Cefalu and on the way over to Sciacca was not too difficult – had motorway for about 60km to Palermo, a hectic interlude getting from the motorway to the state road and then a wonderful road up and over the spine of the island and down into a very fertile valley – very sparsely populated, growing almonds, grapes and different ground crops. The roads are realy colourful in places as they lined with flowering oleanders in white and all shades of pink. By the way it is apricot season now – $1NZ per kg and cherries about $4NZ. Monique then decided to have a bit of fun with us and turned us off the lovely road onto a little road running through all the fields It was sealed but a little rough – it did come out right near out accommodation though so worked out fine. You do wonder as you are heading off in the middle of nowhere if you will ever make the destination, but just have to keep the faith!! We are stationed for the next three nights in Sanmarcomare, which is about 5km from Sciacca on the south coast. We have a little self contained apartment with a balcony looking out towards the sea in the distance, were welcomed with a Limoncello which was a nice start to our stay.
Apparently just a 10 min walk down to the beach so will explore that tomorrow. We needed to stock up on food for the next few days, so it was in towards Sciacca and a small but well stocked Lidl supermarket. It is interesting wandering around and seeing what delights you can pickup. Weather has been superb since leaving home – sunny days with temps constantly in the high 20’s with cooler mornings and evenings.