Relief. It packs such a big feeling for such a little word. Relief is what we felt the moment we stepped from the airplane into Italy. There is something about being in a third world country and arriving in a first world country that brings a sense of relief. The familiarity with how the world you know works. It is the little things. The presence of street signs. Street signs that you can read. A language that with a dictionary you can work your way through. Recognizing the written alphabet and phonetics as words are spoken. Understanding the pleasantries passed between strangers. Looking at a train schedule and knowing when the train will arrive, leave and from which platform it will all occur. The flicking of the train schedule board indicating movement, energy and people going places. People like us, moving about the world. What a pleasant and exciting relief.
Separately, both of us have visited Italy. We have seen the energy, religion, history and art that Rome, Florence and Venice have to offer. This time, together, we wanted to visit the paths less traveled in southern Italy and Sicily.
Salerno, our first stop, welcomed us with flavor bursting gnocchi. Ahhh the food of Italy! Salerno is the gateway to Pompei, the Amalfi Coast and the little known ruins of Paestum. The 6th century ruins at Paestum are among the best preserved from the Greek colony (Magna Graecia) that once covered much of southern Italy. The ruins were so extraordinary that while my head was turned one direction looking at the beauty, I continued walking in another direction and managed to do a triple sow cow in my hiking boots off the curb injuring my ankle. The blessing was that this made us move even more slowly through southern Italy. Ryan also got a jump start on dusting off his Italian while obtaining ice, extra pillows to elevate my ankle and an ace bandage from the farmacia.
We stayed at the Ostello Ave Gratia Plena a former 16th century convent in the heart of the centro storico. With the tall double doors open to our little balcony and the world, we enjoyed the beautiful red tiled roofs, the flowering trees of spring and the bubbling water fountain in the courtyard while lying in bed resting my ankle. After a couple days of rest and armed with my hiking poles (they nearly double as crutches) we set out to explore Pompei. Walking through the streets of Pompei was amazing. It was hard to believe that being buried in ash from erupting Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D had preserved the city so well. It was not until 1748 that exploration and excavation of the town began.
Knowing that Sicily was near on our horizon and that it is notorious for a lack of English speaking folk, we planned a week of language classes in Tropea. We found a language school on Google that looked nice, they had availability and the nice man Francesco said to call him when we arrived at the train station. Armed with our piece of paper containing the phone number and name, we ensured that we had coins to feed into the pay phone when we arrived in Tropea. We realized how ridiculously relaxed we have become in our travels when we arrived at the train station, there was no payphone in sight, the train station office was closed and we did not even know the name or address of the school. While we sat on a bench deciding what to do a taxi driver approached us speaking rapid Italian. After numerous hand signals and a little Spanish he used his own cell phone to call Francesco and we were delivered to our apartment in no time. The beauty of traveling is that it always seems to work out. Sometimes you just have to wait a little longer than others.
Tropea, famous for its sweet red onions and the vacation spot of the Italians, sits on the west coast of Italy on the bump near the toes of the boot. The language school set us up with a great little apartment where we cooked fantastic meals from the fresh produce at the local markets. We met a new friend, Julia, from England who made us laugh and filled our thumb drive full of music (bless her)! We had a great time exploring nearby towns, eating new foods and acquired enough Italian to navigate our way through Sicily.
With its smells of bread, cigarettes, coffee, exhaust, salami, hints of sewer and more, southern Italy welcomed, relieved, revived and prepared us for Sicily!