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18 June 2020 - Day 68 – Salerno 1

My choice last night for this morning was whether to walk the shorter walk for the “Dinky”* between the Potenza stations Superiore and Centrale, or the longer walk direct to Centrale. Both were downhill, and departure at PS was 9:06 versus PC at 9:56. Weather was predicted for light clouds and not quite 70°F at 8 o’clock. I decided the long wait at the Centrale station wasn’t worth the extra half hour, so I opted for the 2km walk through parts of Potenza I hadn’t seen.

[*“Dinky”: this is a reference to where I went to high school: Princeton, New Jersey. The Penn Central main line had a station at Princeton Junction, some 5 miles by a spur from the station in the university neighborhood. Two old carriages, the Dinky, ran back and forth on the spur, which would easily allow walkers (and some commuters) to get into New York, Newark or Philadelphia by train.]

So up at 8:30, I was down checking out at 9 and on my way. Supposedly a 25-minute walk, it was a downhill slope almost all the way. A good portion was all on the same road named Via G. Marconi, which curved its way across the descending hill so that the slope was manageable and the roller didn’t try to get away. There was a small grocery, La Gastronomia, as I was closing in on the station, so I rolled in and got water and chocolate bars before continuing. Just near the bottom, the street split and looped, but walking was easy. I had 10-15 minutes to check on the departures board.

The train rolled in at 9:54, and I boarded near the rear. The journey was 100km in the direction of Napoli, but I’d be getting off at the sixth stop, #Salerno, at a quarter to noon. Nice new clean seats, enough room for my bag in the lower rack, and armed with chocolate. I was set. I planned to use my 100-plus minutes to begin researching my day tomorrow. I was off into the #Campania region!

Smooth uneventful ride, the Salerno Centrale station was modern, with a lift on the platform to the walkway below. If the weather had been inclement or my time short, I could have taken the public transportation, getting to the Palazzo Morese B&B in 6 minutes and 4 stops. However, no rush and nice weather, I chose to walk along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele/Via Mercanti, two blocks off the waterside roadway, a kilometer, passing through the retail quarter. At the corner where I’d have turned for the cathedral, I also turned for my lodgings, turning off in a short block to the entrance.

Entry into the B&B involved a set of about 20 steps, and my room was up yet another flight of stairs. I had a studio 1-bedroom, and it had a balcony looking out on the courtyard. Plenty of floor space, so I opened the roller. Out came the bags of dirty laundry that I’d organized last night. With 2 weeks to go, I knew one more laundromat visit was due, and I’d have time here. Three minutes’ walk away was Profumo di Pulito.

The attendant assisted (she spoke English!) and I put it all as one big load in a jumbo washer. She offered to move it to the dryer when the wash cycle was finished, so I could get lunch, and I agreed, giving her enough for 45 minutes of medium temperature drying.

Elisa from #ViaHero had given me a recommendation for a lunch place: La Smorfia, about a block north of my lodgings. I headed over there and liked the look. Not wanting a whole pizza, I went for something new: a pizze fritte – fried pizza: ricotta agerolese, salame, provola, pepe.

With a quarter liter of house red, I was content and actually couldn’t finish. I headed back to the laundromat, arriving as the load was about half way through the drying cycle. After checking, I began pulling the lighter weight items which were dry and began folding and stacking. By the end of the cycle, I’d emptied the tumbler and was stuffing my clean clothes into the sacks. Thanking the attendant, I returned to the flat and unbagged everything, sorting and stashing into the suitcase.

With my rucksack and camera, I headed up the street to the cathedral. An enclosed cloister encases the square in front of the western façade. The Cattedrale di Santa Maria degli Angeli, San Matteo e San Gregorio Magno does open to the west, with transepts and three half-domed apses at the east end.

A campanile sits outside the cloister at the south west corner of the building. A dual-level covered wall along the edges of the paved cloister have rounded arched piers on columns for both the tall lower walk and the traditional height upper balcony. Across the front of the cathedral is a porch supported by columns matching those of the cloister walk. Three statues embellish the porch railing.

The facing of the façade is stuccoed stone, with a rose window and three arched windows at the third stage and two bas-reliefs inset beside the central door. Two side doors are at the outer edges.

Entry to the property is made through the west wall of the cloister, after climbing a long series of shallow steps up from the street from the water. Carved lions guard the doorway. Around the walkway within the cloister are a number of Roman sarcophagi. Using the central door, I entered the nave, a tall white space. Piers and columns led to arches supporting the clerestory with windows then up to the plain white ribbed vault.

Double side aisles with the outside aisles used for chapels ran with the nave to the transept, passing two raised lectern platforms with geometric carvings. The transept has a wooden ladder vault, an unusual change from the many cathedrals I’d seen. The main altar is situated outside the central apse, with a navy and gold fresco of the Virgin and saints. To the left, up a series of long low steps and a red carpet is the cathedra, a gold armchair with red seating and back. The south (right) apse contains the remains of Pope Gregory VII, with large frescoes on the walls and a gold dome with an angel.

Descending to the crypt, rococo in extremis. The vault is covered with round and octagonal frescoes depicting scenes from the Gospel of St Mathew, surrounded by gold decorative work on white plaster. Fresco, tile and mosaic work adorn the columns and floors. A roped off stairway descends to the relics of the Apostle/Evangelist, while an elaborate altar with a bronze representation under a baldachin sits above at the end of the shrine. A bit overstated for me, this sixteenth- and eighteenth-century work, it was very popular with visitors.

Back outside in the cloister, I looked up at the bell tower. With five levels, only the top three were visible from within. Square, seemingly of brick, there are paired arched openings on each side of each level, with the top a lantern-style. The campanile houses eight bells, and is not open for exploration.

By now it was 3pm. My research, using particularly, had indicated that while the main tourist attraction in Salerno is the cathedral, I might want to see the Arechi castle, which closed at 5pm. At 300m above sea level and a 3km walk, I decided to get a taxi, as I could see it from near the Duomo, and it was less than a kilometer as the bird flies. The driver had to head down to the coastal road and drive west at first, before getting the twisty climbing road up even higher than the castle, but I was there in 10 minutes.

But with the weather cooperating, the view alone was worth the ride. Off to the west was the Amalfi Coast and the Tyrrhenian Sea. The city of Salerno spread along the waterside, its red tiled roofs and whitewashed walls interspersed with trees or parks. The castle is named for the Lombard duke who took the fortress from the Byzantines who had built it. Subsequently, Normans and Aragons (Spanish) conquered the city and its castle. To the east, the remains of the walls slowly descend into the port. I found out that the park is open until an hour before sunset, which would be about 7:30. I wandered about, checked out the museum, and decided to walk down. (There is a #19 bus which needs prepaid tickets from the train station, but it runs every 2 hours.) As I started, I learned that there are walking and hiking trails, which took me through the wooded park, rather than messing with vehicles. And it only took me half an hour to descend, enjoying more views with every turn.

Getting “back to civilization”, I headed to the Giardino della Minerva, the oldest botanical garden in Europe, dating to the 13th century as part of the medical school. It was peaceful and calming to be walking around looking at the herbs, botanicals and orchards.

I enjoyed trying to figure out the watering system, composed of fountains, ponds and canals. Good signage and handouts helped with the appreciation. Many levels, the terraces also afforded good views out over the bay. I had heard about an aqueduct, and was wondering if it reached here. The answer was no, but I could go visit, as it was a relatively easy kilometer walk along the Via Arce.

Built in the 9th century to bring water to a monastery, the Aqueduto medieval was split to an underground canal to also feed water to a nearby convent. After getting my pictures, I was ready for a drink, as it was 6pm, and I was in the “old town” part of Salerno. Checking with Maps, there was nothing close, but the name of one truly intrigued me.

Oro, Incenso e Birra (Gold, Frankincense and Beer) was more pub than bar, but with 5 beers on tap, it seemed a good as any for a watering hole. Pulling up a stool at the bar, I got a pint of their amber and an order of their variation on nachos – potato chips, prosciutto and cheese sauce. I pulled out the journal and between snippets of conversation with the barkeep, I recorded some of my day. And I didn’t get half way with my nibbles.

Heading back to the room for a jacket, it was 5 minutes walking. I spent another half hour and finished my journal, and then headed down to the express buses. Nine stops eastbound, I exited at Lungomare Colombo Fatima and had a 75m walk to Il Gusto della Notte. Another recommendation from Elisa, I’d booked a reservation while I was in Rome. In a building on the water, the prime tables were in back with the sunset view. I was further back from the windows in that room, but I chose to face the water and watch as the sun fell into the bay and turn the sky red.

Skipping a starter (those chips!) I asked for a bottle of white, as I knew this was a fish night as a fish restaurant. A verginiano from Il Verro, apparently a cult wine from northern Campagnia, it is made from a nearly lost native varietal, pallagrello bianco. Fresh with a long finish, it has a bit higher acid while the nose for me was melons. I was excited to be drinking it, as I’ll probably not see it in the States. To start, my pasta was the Bacalao: paccheri with codfish, tomatoes, olives, oil, parsley and onion. The pasta was new for me, a Campania specialty. I’d heard cod was popular in Italy, so I’d made it a point to try if I could. The course was superb, with tasty fish and pasta. And to follow, Caramella di Mare: frittura di calamari, gamberetti e seppie. (Squid, prawns, cuttlefish.) So lightly deep fried that the meat was all moist and tender, and only a light crunch, it made the wine shine with this pairing.

As I sat sipping my last glass of wine, I was approached for dessert. I was full. I really didn’t want more food. But I was convinced to try a taste of a special grappa. La Grappa Cavallina Bianca chinata is a darker variation of this “white lightning”, where cinchona (tree bark), sugar and other ingredients are added per a secret recipe. A different nose (less paint thinner, more raspberries and plums), it actually was something I might consider again. At 32°, it’s almost a fire breather.

Pleased with my meal, I settled my check and got out on the street. A nice offshore breeze was coming off the sea, and the horizon had this blue streak as dusk had descended. Trees occasionally lined the sea side of the sidewalk, as I decided to walk at least part of the 3½ kilometers. The long breaks looking out over the now deserted lido and game courts was pleasant, and helped the digestion. After I saw a pool, I walked a little further and boarded the express bus back from Marconi, enjoying the lights of the big marina and the smaller boats until I got off a Provincia. A block over, 4 blocks inland and I was at the B&B. My journal was caught up except for the ride home, so I fired up the netbook and started downloading photos from the phone and camera chip while I got another paragraph or two written. Then I got cracking on the blog and matching pictures.

My day tomorrow starts with a pickup at 9, so I’ll get some extra sleep tonight too.

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