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20 June 2020 - Day 70 – Policastro-Bussentino and Reggio Calabria

Today I moved south by train to the toe of Italy: #ReggioCalabria. As I was preparing last night, I reviewed my options that I’d included in my itinerary. Easiest, to leave at 10:30 and a 3½ hour direct ride (at a slight premium with my Eurail pass) with 6 stops, travelling along the coast. The other option was to leave 2 hours earlier, get off for about an hour and visit the co-cathedral in #PolicastroBussentino, a resort town, and continue on with a 45-minute change in Pacio and arrive at 3pm. The cathedral in Reggio Calabria is closed from noon until 4pm. Should I go for sleep and a direct train, or take a chance on adventure?

Before I went to sleep, I arranged my bag and gear so that if I was up early enough, I’d make it via three trains. Otherwise, on this, the summer solstice, I’d catch the direct train. This morning, I was awake at 7:15, so I cleaned up, zipped up, and headed to the train station. On the train bound for Sapri, I got comfortable for an hour 45-minute ride with 13 stops for 120km on a brilliantly beautiful Saturday morning. I had the light jacket on, but temperatures slowly climbed to 80°F.

Policastro-Bussentino would be what my mother would call a whistle-stop. The train had been 6 carriages, mine never more than half full, and maybe 20 folks got off, some looking like they would be heading to the Gulf of Policastro beaches for the day. The cathedral was 10 minutes away, but I hadn’t found anywhere to store the roller.

I decided to chance it, and brought it the mostly flat 800m to the triangle in front of the Cattedrale Santa Maria Assunata. From the piazza level, it was 10 stair steps up to the patio in front of a very plain west façade. Gray stucco covered most of the whole church, with a stone frame around the sole large door, with a square bas-relief above and an oval rose window.

From the exterior, it would appear that there are side aisles, as the second level has round windows in the clerestory. Barrel apses are in the rear. A four-story mid-twelfth century campanile is on the south side, about where the nave ends. There are single slit-arched openings on each face, and some external carved ornamentation survives.

Inside, the nave floor is tiled in a floral pattern of white, peach and gray. The vault is flat and solid, with an elaborate fresco extending from over the organ loft above the entry door to the stairs up to the presbytery. Shrines, rather than chapels, run down the nave walls below medallions and oval windows of the clerestory. The walls are a cream white color, with white plaster flourishes.

At the transept, 9 steps elevate to the main and high altars in an arched chancel. Below is a sixth century semi-circular crypt. Tradition says this site was a former temple to Castor and Pollux. Fortunately, the deacon preparing for the evening Mass allowed me to leave my bag in the rear for the 15 minutes I explored around the church, and said a prayer for my father, what with tomorrow being Father’s Day in the USA. As the cathedral is geographically above the railway and most of the town, and towards the west side, I just returned to the station to await the first of two trains to take me 335km south.

Things got a little hectic and confusing as I approached the station. Two trains were pulling in while I was still 50m from the station, presumably for the 11:01 departure. As it turns out, both made connections (different stations) and arrived in Reggio di Calabria over an hour apart. Knowing I couldn’t get to either platform before they took off, I resigned to wait for however long for the next train. Fifteen minutes. Two changes, but I would arrive before 3pm. Go figure, more adventure. A 9-minute non-stop to Sapri, where, after 20 minutes, I would board the train which would eventually travel by ferry to Sicily and on to Siracusa. (That was a train I’d considered taking tomorrow, but I had to travel back from Reggio di Calabria to the station where I’d make my next change, and wait hours.) Three stops over nearly 2 hours, I go off at Gioia Tauro and had 7-minutes to board the final train of the day. An hour and a dozen stops later, I was leaving the station in Reggio di Calabria.

The breaks in the ride with the train changes were actually very welcome. Minor height differences getting on and off the train, enough luggage space, no stairs to change platforms, decent stations. I’d updated my journal on the second, longer leg, and did some research on the places in Sicily I’ll be seeing next week. At Sapri, I’d picked up “fast food”, a panini of cold cuts and cheese and a big bottle of water in the station. A good adventure.

At the station in Reggio Calabria, I was a bit more than a kilometer to my lodgings. That part of the city must be newer, as all my turns were 90° and the streets were straight, albeit there was a slight climb up from the water’s edge. Lots of retail along the way, I figured there shouldn’t be much challenge finding dinner tonight.

My lodgings, the B&B Pellicano Guest House is a large building with three floors of rooms/suites with a hair salon and a scooter rental store on the ground floor. The reception was polite and efficient, and I was one level up in a single room with a balcony overlooking the back (west). I just rolled the bag into the closet behind the mirror door, hung my jacket and was ready to leave after a quick stop in the WC.

With almost an hour before the cathedral re-opened, and only half a kilometer away, I figured I’d check out the Castello Aragonese first. Besides, it was on the way. A stronghold since preRoman times, Normans, Angevin and Aragonese had enhanced this defensive fortification.

Under the Bourbons, it started on its decay, but restorations have been underway, and it is now a symbol for the city and an exhibition hall. There are some great views out to the Tyrrhenian Sea and off 2 miles towards Sicily.

Occupying the entire southwest end of the wide block (94m, by 22m wide and 21m tall), the Basilica Cattedrale di Maria Santissima Assunta in Cielo faces to the northwest to a wide Duomo square, separated by a multi-lane boulevard. The four-level western entry structure is 12-steps up stairs from the sidewalk to a patio.

This neo Romanesque-Gothic building is the most recent iteration of rebuildings, as St Paul established the Church here in Reggio Calabria in 61 CE, ordaining its first bishop. Conquerors, fires and earthquakes, remodeling and restorations, the building had seen many changes and a lot of history. Rather than repeat/summarize, I recommend this Italian travel agent blog.

This iteration of the building, following the 1908 earthquake, was completed in 1928. In addition to the wide and tall entry, there are two more transept-like crossings and a very long apse. The “transept” breaks in the side aisles allowed for a few interesting shrines. I particularly like the vault, in that it was a combination of a coffered and laddered format, all elaborately painted.

There are several modern organs, including one with “trumpets”, or peashooters, as I call them. The important Marian painting, which sits in the gilded frame over the high altar, was at the “normal” basilica where it resides from the end of November until September. I’ll admit I wasn’t too impressed, as there was just too much space, but I’ll give it another try when I go to Mass tomorrow morning at 9:30.

Leaving about 5pm, I was ready to chill. Just beyond the B&B was Malgeri Carmela, a gourmet grocery store. I went in and picked up some bread and cheese and cured sausage, and a bottle of chilled zibibbo and a bottle of sparkling water. I headed back to the B&B and got a glass, chopping board, knife, a couple of paper towels, and a cork puller and headed to the roof garden with my goodies and a makeshift ice bucket. The wine, an old grape varietal like a muscat of Alexandria, was sweet, but cut with the fizzy water, was not cloying and did okay with the nibbles.

I’d been updating my journal with my castle and cathedral visit, so when another couple showed up, I was able to take a break and socialize. Poles from Zgorzelec, they’d come up with beer and chips. We shared back and forth, using English and German, while I explained how close I’d been to their town. In 2017, while staying in Leipzig, I’d made a Sunday day trip to Gõrlitz (to visit a cathedral), but had not walked across the Lusatian Nesse into Poland. They were insistent that I come back next time and see Poland. A bit later, we were joined by two more couples bearing a bottle of prosecco, from Girona, who, like me, were crossing tomorrow to Sicily. It turned into a nice little party as the sun slowly dipped towards the west.

The Poles, Olga and Andrzej, asked me if I’d like to join them for dinner. I was game, and they said they wanted to try out a gastropub called Malto Gradimento. That sounded right up my alley, as I really didn’t want fish again tonight. After cleaning up the upstairs garden, I collected my jacket and met them on the street. Probably a 10-minute walk, we were seated at a table in the balcony which helped deal with the cacophony in the downstairs bar area. Five local draft beers, I was happy and my dinner buddies were too. I decided I might be trying a few, so got a 33cl of the Hop TNT to start, while we checked out the menu.

Probably a good thing we’d eaten at the B&B, as there was a fairly limited menu. It’s a burger place (in addition to beer), so appetizers were mainly fries, with or without toppings. The promoted item was the Calabrian Burger, which we all got with fries and I even remembered after 10 weeks away to ask for extra crispy! By the time our burgers arrived, we were ready for another round, so I tried the ciube, a double IPA, which turned out to be my favorite. The burger was on top of a double fried egg, topped with grilled caciocavallo (cheese) and beer-fried bacon on a brioche-type seeded roll. Fortunately for me, asking for crispy fried caused them to use the more well-done bacon for my burger, as I can’t handle the undercooked British style. And my fries were perfect. The burger was juicy, tasty, red-to-pink medium rare. And messy! The yolks were still a little soft, so they ran over the fries. A really great experience, and fun place to hang out with folks half your age (or a little younger?) Olga has a sweet tooth (not that I don’t,) so we go the “death by chocolate” torte: one for me and one for them to share; theirs came with an extra cookie. The waitress suggested we have it with the La Carretta, an alt bier, so Andrew and I each got 20cl of it to try.

We walked back together, and since I’d managed to be faster, I’d picked up the check. Olga had Andrzej pop into the take-away Spaccapanini next to the B&B and got a 6-pack of beer, and we headed up in the twilight to the roof and enjoyed a nightcap. Tomorrow they were going to start at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale della Magna Grecia di Reggio to see the Riace Bronzes before spending the day at the beach. They would be flying out Monday morning, and wanted to have enough color. I would be up to pack, then head to the cathedral. After Mass, I’d collect my roller and walk the promenade up to the ferry port and head to Messina.

Saying good night, I headed down to my room and finished my journal entry with the evening activities. Downloading photographs, charging phone and batteries and the toothbrush, I set to writing up a fairly mild day. I guess we’ll see how long this one is, and how many photos.

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