Summary: In spring 2018 I visited Malta. While on Malta I decided to omit the return flight and add a journey to Italy to my adventure. In this chapter "ITALIAN JOURNEY 2018" I chornicle the second part of this journey.
30th of March, 2018. Still on Malta.
The past ten days I had spent exploring the maltese islands Gozo and Malta. A wonderful time.
My flight back home had been scheduled three days ago, but I never boarded the plane. The evening before my flight left I decided not to fly home. I was fascinated by the idea of finding my way home, using whatever sea and land transport was available. Traveling without a plan and schedule. The General direction was clear. First I had to get off Malta, a small island in the mediterrenean sea, somewhere South-West of Italy. Sicily, the largest of the Italian islands, was the nearest destination to continental Europe. From there I'd travel through Italy, from its southern tip to the Alps in the North and then back home to Frankfurt.
I had greatly enjoyed the three additional days on Malta.
I was excited. Carefree. I felt adventurous. With a spring in my step I walked to the bus station, to get the morning bus to Valetta. My plan was to stay the last night there and take a ferry to Scicily the next day.
Before noon I arrived in Valetta. Since the ferry terminal wasn't far away, I went there to inquire about tomorrows ferries to Scicily. It turned out a ferry was about to leave for Pozzallo within the next hour. It took me only a short moment to think about it. Then I bought a ticket for 60 €.
After Malta was such a wonderful experience, I was now looking forward to the Italian journey.
My Italian journey began with a little misadventure.
I was boarding the ferry from Valetta to Pozzallo, Sicily. Which meant I was about to cross national borders. So I wasn't alarmed when the boarding officer began studying my passport for a rather long time. He looked at me. I smiled. He looked at my ticket, then again at the passport. He turned to me and, with an apologetic voice, told me, my passport was not valid anymore. His finger pointed at the expiry date.
My smile fell out of my face and I gawked at the date. My passport had expired only four (4 !) days ago!
My panicked mind already saw me being transported in handcuffs to an internment camp...
Oh, hold on! Calm down...this is the EU. These are EU borders. Take a deep breath...
Fortunately I had my ID card with me. Within the EU my German ID card is valid proof of identification for border crossings. I don't need the passport.
I love the EU :-)
I arrived in Sicily at the harbour of Pozzallo. With a chance met couple from Germany I shared a taxi ride to Siracuse. For the 45-50 minutes ride we paid 90 € and split it between us.
Shuttle-Taxi Pozzallo to Syracus
Around 90.00 € (negotiable)
45-50 mins. ride
Never before was I so far South in Italy. As a child I spent many summer vacations with my parents at the lakes in Northern Italy. In my youth a friends family took me skiing in the Dolomites. Once I visited Florence with my mother and an Italian friend took me hiking the gorgeous Cinque Terre. That was 15 years ago.
Southern Italy is a complete new world for me.
It's the first time I am traveling alone in Italy and I have to drag out the little bit of Italian vocabulary I know. To my own surprise I am doing pretty good and manage to communicate fluently my humble requests for food, cappuccino, accomodation, entry fee and direction.
Siracuse. Syracusa. This city has a long and remarkable history. It was founded 734 B.C. as an ancient Greek colony by Corinthian settlers and rose to become the most powerful Greek city in the mediterranean world during Greek and Roman times. Notable historic events took place here. Syracus played a significant role in culture, art, literature and architectural developements of the ancient times. It is also the birthplace of Archimedes, the famouse Greek mathemtician and engineer.
The city was founded on the small island of Ortygia, which is seperated only by a very narrow, few meters wide, channel from mainland Sicily. Because of its rich cultural and architectonical artefacts of three millennia Syracus became UNESCO world heritage in 2005 .
Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour Syracuse
Ticket: 5.00 € (earphones included)
On my first day in Syracuse I did the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour. The ticket cost 5.00 € and was valid all day. Usually this is a good way to get an overview of a place and see where the main attractions and sights are. The tour went around Ortygia and then all the way out to the Parco Archeologico at the northwestern outskirts of the new town. A set of earphones was provided to listen to an audio guide. The information was rather concise.
There were always free seats on the bus when I was using it, but I heard sometimes there may be more passengers than seats available.
The streets in the oldest part of the town are narrow and never quite straight nor parallel. It's easy to lose orientation in this labyrinth. The buildings are usually 3 to 4 stories tall. High enough, to leave the streets below pleasantly shaded for most of the day.
The houses of every block form a continuous wall along the street. Sometimes, a story above street level, a floor or two connect one block with the other, like a bridge, leaving an arched tunnel for the street below. Within the blocks the facade of each building maintains a bit of individuality with small architechonical details and accents in colouring. Occasionally, vaulted passages lead into the blocks, with cavernous courts and narrow stairways. The ground floors are occupied by tiny shops and restaurants. Above are the living quaters, typically with balconies. Lots of balconies. Resting on intricate carved stone cantilevers and with beautiful, wrought iron fences. Balconies are either used to hang lines of laundry or are absolutly overflowing with plants.
(at Via Roma 123, Ortygia)
A basket of mixed seafood, for 8 €
Around noon I was wandering along the waterfront street Lungomare d'Ortigia, admiring again how crystal blue the sea around Sicily was. Then a smell of fried food sneaked up my nose. A mouth watering smell. I looked up, realizing how hungry I was.
Like a fish dancing on a line the irresistible smell drew me back into the narrow streets of Ortygia. At Via Roma I discovered the Sicily Fish & Chips shop.
I ordered a box full of frutti di mare - a mix of calamari, shrimp, anchovis, sardine, a ball of black rice. Everything freshly fried in a light batter. A super tasty snack for lunch.
Sicily Fish & Chips is a tiny corner shop with no seats inside, but a few tables outside. Not just tourists, but Italians too were eating here. The food is simple, but freshly made to order and very tasty.
Piazza Duomo in Ortygia, Syracuse. 1) cathedral Santa Maria delle Colonne 2) baroque church Santa Lucia alla Badia, 3) Piazza Duomo.
Ancient Theaters, Nekropole, Ear of Dyonisos, Latomie dell Paradiso
Via Paradiso 14
Entrance Fee: 10 €
Free entrance first Sunday of every month.
At Syracuses Northwestern outskirt - 15 minutes walking distance from the train station - is the Parco Archeologico. A large field with the ancient ruines of the Greek, Roman and early Christian period.
I was so lucky to visit the park on a day with free entrance. Every first Sunday of the month is free admission. It also means more visitors. Every other day there is a fee of 10.00 € to pay.
I only found out about the free entrance, after I had walked to the ticket office - which is on the other side of a busy road and hidden behind a large compound with souvenir stands, trying to sell ugly plunder, cheap trinkets and over-priced snacks.
Considering the large area a simple overview map would have been nice, but none was provided. Also there are no information signs at any of the sights. With a regulare 10.00 € entrance fee, this is very disappointing to many visitors. If you want any information material or a guide you have to pay extra for it. Also for the parking ticket, should you arrive by car.
The Sunday I visited I didn't have to pay any admission, so I had no reason to feel cheated. Only disappointed there weren't any information signs. I would have liked to know more about this interesting place, because I think the ruins may have some pretty cool stories to tell.
List of some of the Sights at the Parco Archeologico
2nd of April, 2018. With train from Syracus to Salerno.
For the first time in my life I sat in a train inside a ferry. The Strait of Messina, is a three kilometer wide stretch of sea, which separates Sicily from Italy. At Messina the trains roll onto large ferries, which cross the strait to Villa San Giovanni. Passengers conveniently remain seated on the train.
Coming from the South, I decided that Salerno was an ideal stop for visiting Pompei the following day.
Train Syracus to Salerno
Duration: 8 hrs
Fare: 55.50 €
Special: train crosses Strait of Messnina aboard a ferry
Salerno pleasantly surprised me. Like Syracuse it has an intact historic centre, that is a delight to explore. The maze of streets, squares, courts and houses is kept tidy and feels safe.
I had booked a B&B and got a room under the roof, with a balcony that offered a fine few over the rooftops of the oldest part of the city and the harbour. The city lies on the Gulf of Salerno, which is part of the Tyrrhenian sea. In northern direction, right behind Salerno, rises the Amalfi coastline.
Near my B&B were several street food shops around the corner of Largo Sedile del Campo/Via Pandolfino Fasanella/Via Donna Vecchia.
The tiny corner shop "O'cuopp E O'Vin" looked clean.
Un cuoppo calamari e gamberi = 6 €
Un biccherie vino rosso = 1 €
A paper cone full of fried calamari and shrimps, plus a glass of red wine. All for 6.00 Euro? Mmm... my expectations weren't too high. What sort of watered down libation will I get for 1.00 €? I was a bit doubtful, but...what could go wrong? I was craving a salty, tasty snack.
To my surprise this simple streetfood was petty good. The calamari were soft, the shrimps easy to peel and the red wine...after the salty fish it actually tasted like real red wine.
This is Southern Italian fast food. There is no seating inside. Only a few plastic tables and chairs on the narrow street. If a car passes by, you better tuck your toes in quick.
Within easy walking distance of the town centre, lies this small gem of a garden on Salernos hillside.
After entering the garden at ground level, several flight of steps lead up to the higher terraces. They are build one above the other.
The top most terrace offers a fine view across Salerno, the sea and surrounding hills.
Despite being such a small garden, I spent nearly two hours leisurely wandering around. Enjoying the calm ambience. Shade and light weave patterns between plants, pergolas and natural alcoves. Everywhere is the sound of trickling water. An interesting construction of tiny channels feeds water from the top terrace to all other parts of the garden, to basins and spouts.
Vicolo Ferrante Sanseverino
Entrance fee: 3.00 €
Framed by classic architectural elements, the flower beds display a large collection of medical plants.
There is a teashop, on the entrance level, which sells herbal infusion, cold drinks and biscuits. From its terrace visitors enjoy the view across the city. This small botanical garden is a place of quiet and calm above Salerno.
4th of April, 2018. It was my once-in-a-life-time wish to see the ruins of Pompei. The Roman town that was destroyed 79 A.D. during a catastophic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. The wealthy roman town was lost and perfectly preserved under layers of volcanic ash, until it was rediscovered in the 18th century. Pompei is a true treasure of mankind, culturally, historically, art...
I will not talk too much about the history of Pompei, its immense wealth of artefacts and archeological finds, because it would go far beyond the scope of this travel blog. It's sheer overwhelming. Historically and scientifically profound treatises have been written elsewhere. Pompei is still a site of ongoing scientific research and archeological excavations. It hasn't given up all its secrets yet.
I shall limit my description to the more practical information concerning a visit to this incredible place.
In my photos it may look quiet, with few people around. Truth is, I waited for a moment when less people were in the frame. Be prepared to share the main roads, big attractions and large places with crowds of tourists from all over the world. Still, there are relatively quiet backroads.
Before you go!
There are a few things I wish I had looked up before visiting Pompeji
At the Entrance
I arrived around 09:30 in the morning and there was already a line forming. While more tour buses were unloading their charge. Despite a fast lengthening cueue, only one of several ticket desks was open. I stood there 20 minutes, before getting a ticket. I can't image how unpleasant it must be waiting in line, during the busier and hotter summer months.
Once I was inside, I realize I wasn't even given a map or simple information brochure, despite a 15.00 € entrance fee.
I saw people on guided tours were holding maps. I don't know whether they got them for free or paid extra, or had printed them out from the internet.
A map is absolutely essential. Pompeii is a very large site. Don't go without one! I was looking around, but once behind the ticket desks I found no shop or kiosk to purchase such a map or brochure
Also, I found it immensely dissapointing there were too few commentary signs.
A Lupanar is a House of Pleasure. One of such establishment was uncovered in Pompei (see the last three images above). Above the doors are Frescos with erotic presentations. The pictures advertise a service in spacious rooms and on grand beds. The reality of the tiny, windowless chambers beneath is differnt though. The masonry beds probably had some sort of padding, but are too short to comfortably stretch out.
Fresco, a technique of painting on still wet lime plaster. For interior walls or ceilings. An artisanal rather demanding method, to produce brightly coloured, long-lasting images.
The first two images above show a freso inside a gymnasium. Not just public buildings were decorated with frescos, but also business rooms, shops and private homes. They were to testify the owners wealth, education and social standing.
The art of arranging small coloured pieces (tessera, usually of stone) to produce patterns or pictures.
Much of the finest artwork found in Pompei - sculptures, frescos, mosaics, ceramics - were brought to the Archeological Museum in Naples. The above mosaics of the leopard, the dog and of Alexander the Great can be seen there. They are among the finest examples of their kind.
The famous Alexander mosaic is over 3X5 meters large, depicting the battle of Alexander the Great against the persian king Darius III. This incredibly intricate masterpiece is made of over 1 million pieces, each so small, that 5-6 pieces fit into a cm². In Pompei, at the original location in the House of Faun, remains a copy.
5th of April, 2018. I take a boat from Salerno to Capri.
It's a two hours tour along the stunningly beautiful Amalfi Coast between Salerno and Neaple. Because of its beauty and natural diversity this landscape is protected as UNESCO World Heritage.
The very best view of this picturesque landscape can only be enjoyed from the deck of a boat. The villages cling dramatically between sea and rugged mountains. It is said, particulare Amalfi and Positano are worth visiting.
I regret not having planned in more time, to explore the Amalfi coast. I think, one day I may have to return here, to hike the Sentiere Degli Dei, the Path Of The Gods, which is up there in these mountains.
Ferry Salerno to Capri
Fare: 25.40 €
Duration: 2:10 hours
The boat arrives at Capri. I get off at the Marina Grande. For a while I am standing at the quai, in the middle of a swarming crowd of visitors and busy locals. Feeling a little lost. I see guides ushering their flocks of tourists into waiting buses. Elsewhere visitors are gushing out of opening bus doors. Taxi drivers are calling for customers and noisy mopeds with their twin-stroke engines adding to the cacophony.
In the late 19. century Capri became populare, first amongst artists, writers, russians exiles and then the international jetset. Today it is a very busy tourist destination. The locals are outnumbered by the tourists. I was told, on some days it can be a 1:3 ratio of locals to tourists. Most visitors are day trippers. Accomodation on Capri is very limited and overpriced.
An hour later I squeeze myself into a bus to Anacapri, where I am staying at a B&B.
The Grotta Azzurra
Next morning I took a bus from Anacapri to the Grotta Azzurra at the Northwestern side of Capri. Thousands of tourists come to Capri to visit this famous, half submerged grotto, which is only accessible through a small hole in the cliff, by tiny row boats. Inside an enchanting blue light from below the water level illuminates the cave.
I too was hoping to get onto one of the rowing boats, which take visitors into the cave, but, alas, no such luck. This morning a very slight swell in the sea made the passage impossible. The hole into the grotto rises less than 1.5 meters above sea level. A slight swell in the sea and no tours into the cave will be permitted.
On good days the crowd of visitors gets so large, causing hour long waiting times.
Sentiero Dei Fortini - The Trail of Forts
A hiking trail along the Anacapri coast leads from Azzurra Grotta to Punta Carena. It takes about 4 hours to hike the whole length, but it can be shortened at several points, where the trail connects to smaller roads back to Anacapri. This hike offers many fine views of the coastline, bays and the ruins of several small forts. The trail is narrow and partly exposed where the rocky cliffs drop into the sea. It is uneven - therefore good walking shoes are advised - but otherwise in a good condition and easy to navigate.
Along the trail are very pretty information signs, made to look like an open book, with drawings of local plants and animals and commentary in Italian and English language.
I hiked it mid morning. Most of the trail was pleasently shaded by overhanging vegetation and I saw few people. It isn't a very strenous hike, but in summer best avoided during the hottest part of the day. Bring plenty of water. The forts make wonderful picnic spots.
As beautiful as Capri is, would I go there again? Hoping, next time, I get a chance for a boat ride through the Grotta Azzura?
I honestly doubt it. Sadly, Capri is overrun with tourists from all over the world. It ruins the experience.
It was early April when I was there. The shoulder season of tourism. So I thought.
Moving the masses of tourists around the tiny island is a transportation nightmare. Only mini-buses can manoeuvre the narrow roads in and between villages. They clearly weren't built with modern transport needs in mind. The buses are notoriously over-crowded. Getting in or out was a nightmare. At the bus station in Capri long lines of tourists formed. No seats to sit while waiting. Those in the front at least enjoyed a bit of shade from a corrugated sheet roof. The scheduled bus never came. The next took forever to arrive. Drivers would close the doors, even though more passengers were desperate to get on board. Inside, most were standing and shuffling around, to find a place to hold on to, or a bit of space to breathe, while the bus was swaying up the long serpentine road to Anacapri.
It's not just the buses, but scores of taxis and vehicles, on the narrow road, which often allows only one vehicle at a time. Frequent holdups are inevitable. A claustrophobic experience. I can't imagine how unpleasant it must be in summer. Standing in this sweltering shoebox, pressed against foreigners, soaking up their perspiration and mixing it with your own. Drivers drove past bus stops, even though passengers were waiting to get on board. If the bus is full they'd only stop to let passengers off.
Such is the situation in Capri that the mayor is considering actions to regulate and limit the mass of tourists.
The boat ride along the Amalfi Coast was a gorgeous sight, to remember for a lifetime. Capri on the other hand...nowadays the island is probably best enjoyed from the deck of a passing boat.
The hike on the Sentiero dei Fortini was wonderful though.
6th of April, 2018. In the late afternoon I took the ferry from Capri to Naples.
The highspeed ferry was a rather bleak experience. The boats are built to load a maximum capacity of passengers and not for scenic views. The crowd gets driven inside the boat and sits in narrow rows of seats, with nothing to see but the backside of the seat in front.
Having visited Pompei, I didn't want to miss the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, where many of the finest artefacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum are collected.
Ferry Capri to Naples
Fare: 19.00 €
Duration: 45 minutes
Piazza Museu Nazional, 19
Entrance fee: 12.00 €
Audio guide: 5.00 €
Where there was a certain lightness to Syracus and even to Salerno, Neaple is louder, fuller and the backstreets emit a more...I don't know, a sinister feeling? Is it because all the buildings are at least a story or two higher? The urban canyons deeper? In Syracuse, the building blocks were only three or four stories high, there was more light, more air, the sky was closer. Here in Naples, when I look up at the sky, the view is blocked by countless rows of protruding balconies and clothing lines. Lots of clothing lines. Here in Neaple they hang their laundry across the street. Totally unabashed. From one building to the next, a multicoloured statement. In Syracus they were more discrete with their laundry and hung them along their balconies or parallel the window sill. Nothing discrete about the Neapolitans though. I feel...watched, as I wander along the streets. Young men standing idle at entrances. Elderly women, walking home with shopping bags, give me a passing glance. There is something in the air, that almost makes me want to check my back.
The building walls are covered with graffiti and layers of torn posters. Neaples is a little more dirty in its corners. A bit more disorganised. There are more people. The feel of a big city. Well, Neaples is a megacity. With close to one million people it has eight times the number of inhabitants of the more laid-back Syracus and Salerno.
Return trip via Bologna 8th of April, 2018
and Munich 9th of April, 2018
The rest of the journey is quickly told. I stopped over once more at Bologna and then again at Munich. These were mere stop-overs on my way back home. I didn't spent any time exploring.
Acknowledgment: Thanks for Y. for supportive advise and content ideas.
Thanks to J. for proofreading and corrections