I’m so glad I’m not in Southern Italy on my own because I’ve learned that I’m terrible at Italian! Anna has this amazing ability to just figure words out and string sentences together. Considering she knows English, Polish and French I think her brain is wired that way. Mine is wired for just one language unfortunately. Her skills are very handy here because Southern Italy is much less touristy than the Northern regions so English is much harder to come by. The other thing that’s difficult about this area is the public transport. All the bus services are done by regional companies and there’s no easy way of working out which buses will take you between towns. The train network is good but are geared to linking cities, not the scenic towns, so 4-5 transfers are required on 1 journey. Google maps also doesn’t contain any transit information so that’s no help either. Whilst not a big problem, it meant that we had to succumb to the idea of hiring a car for 2 weeks to allow us to easily make our way to Milan. It’s a shame because we were looking forward to public transport but it was taking us hours and hours to figure out how to get around. The plus side is that we now have total flexibility in where we go. That and the fact that we’re zipping around in a super quick Citroën C1 with a 1.2L motor. So much power!
The remainder of our stay in Taormina was very enjoyable and we got some great night shots of Mount Etna and the town. I say “we” because when we do night shots I carry the tripod and set it up. We’re a smooth operation now and I’m picking up different techniques from Anna along the way. One thing that was quite entertaining was watching a Policewoman accepting free food from a street vendor. You’d expect that this would be a somewhat discreet transaction but no, she was quite vocal in telling him that it wasn’t enough and that she wanted more. It was like she was trying to publicly shame him for being cheap. Considering the amount of bribery and corruption that is said to still exist in Sicily, free food is probably seen as a non-issue.
We haven’t really witnessed any corruption first hand, but we have heard some stories which show that the Mafia still have their involvement in government activities. When we were going from Sicily to the mainland we noticed that there was no bridge and that the only connection was by ferry. The gap to be spanned didn’t seem that large so we were very surprised that there was no permanent infrastructure. It turns out that a bridge was planned to be built and investments were made, but then the project was cancelled without much explanation. Who knows how much money disappeared in consultancy fees or other avenues. Understandably, the residents are very reluctant about any suggestion of recommencing the bridge project.
The Italians have created a very unique solution to the problem though. We were surprised to see that we could catch 2 trains to take us from Taormina to Tropea but we assumed that we must have to board a ferry to get across to the mainland and then continue from there. We were partly correct – they actually load the train carriages and the passengers onto the ferry for the journey across. It’s definitely the only time I’ve been on a train that’s on a boat at the same time. We were able to walk up to the deck of the ferry to look around and take pictures during the 25 minute journey. The only problem with the service is that it takes them a long time to split the train in 2 for loading and then getting the ferry perfectly lined up with the tracks on land. The 25 minute journey took over an hour to complete which makes you think it would be more efficient to have everyone leave the train to board a regular ferry and then have another train waiting on the other side. But still a very unique solution and an enjoyable experience.
Our arrival into Tropea couldn’t have been timed any better. We arrived late afternoon on Sunday and by the time we checked into our accommodation and walked down to the old part of town it was time for what the locals call “passeggiata”. This is a daily event where residents stroll around town catching up with friends or relaxing with a gelato or beer – all the while dressed in their Sunday best to impress. The piazza was alive with laughter, conversation and kids playing in the streets. It seems to be the equivalent of a backyard BBQ because no one has a backyard here so the entertainment spills out into the streets.
We spent our time in Tropea at the beach and walking around the various areas just soaking in the Italian lifestyle. The town felt much less touristy than Taormina but I think a part of that is that it’s more setup for Italian tourists than foreigners. Our host didn’t speak any English and at times relied upon the shopkeeper next door for basic translations. It wasn’t a problem though as we’re getting pretty good at reading Italian menus and you can’t really go wrong with Italian food. Even the free breakfast was a winner – a Nutella croissant and a cappuccino from the local café… perfect. The town centre is built on an almost flat plain surrounded by cliffs with several staircases that will take you down to the beaches. The towns here are so different to anything in Australia and I’m constantly surprised by the way they have the buildings right on the very edge of cliffs. In chasing some good night shots we had a picnic dinner at the marina comprising of the local bread, meats and cheese. Oh and there may have been a EUR2.50 bottle of “local red” that we drank from plastic cups. Life’s tough.
Of course you can’t go anywhere in Italy without visiting some churches, but the most noteworthy one is what I like to call the sandcastle church. It’s actually called the Santa Maria dell’lsola but what makes it so unique is that it was once on a little island of its own but then with the build up of silt the island connected with the mainland. It looks great perched up on the top of the hill and its light sandstone colour is something different.
After Tropea we caught the train to Lamezia Terme where we collected our rental car. The drive to Matera was an interesting one as the GPS instructed us to exit the motorway for a regional highway but that highway had been completely removed as they were rebuilding it. This meant Anna had to do some adhoc navigating which turned into a blessing in disguise as we took some very scenic backroads through country towns and past the farms. The countryside is very green and lush with rolling hills.
Our visit to Matera was suggested by our tour guide Greta (many thanks!) and I didn’t realise that we were visiting the 3rd oldest city in the world. The town has been inhabited consistently for over 7000 years which is mind boggling, but it also creates an experience where the historical sites are so diverse because it could be a cave dwelling (known as ‘sassi’ here) dated thousands of years old or a church that has been dug into the side of the mountain from 13th century AD. The town is a UNESCO world heritage site and it’s a maze of alleyways, staircases, housing and churches. We have spent 2 days here just roaming through the town and visiting the key sites. The amazing thing about this place is that people actually live in the sassi, so it kind of feels like a real life Pompeii. We did a tour of the underground water storage system which includes a huge cistern under the town piazza. Whilst an engineering feat of the time, apparently mortality rates weren’t great due to the water quality from the system.
Today we went for a hike down the valley and back up on the other side which provides a great perspective on just how steep the valley is and what an achievement it is to have a town so old in an area like this. It also helped us to rack up some steps because we want to make sure we get enough exercise in especially since we have another hire car. The town is so impressive and it’s enjoyable wandering through the maze to see what you find. It’s no surprise that it’s been appointed the 2019 European Capital of Culture.
Our journey towards Milan continues…
Fail of the Week
We went out for lunch at a cafe and my eye was instantly drawn to the panini page as it had a large photo of a panini with salami, ham, melted soft cheese, lettuce and tomato. Underneath it was a fairly brief description of the Americano panini, and when I ordered it I pointed at the picture and asked if that was an Americano. “Si” so I proceeded with the order. Well what turned up was pretty much a hotdog in a panini. It tasted pretty good, but wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Americano… I should’ve known.