We were up with the sun and the view stopped us in our tracks. The cities here hang precipitously on the sides of the mountain, seemingly defying gravity, and the dawn lit them up in shades of yellow and orange, the shadows dappled with purples, pinks, and blues.
The plan for today was to drive down the coast. Neither D nor I wants to wander through the tourist-oriented shops in the region, and we know there are better things to see to the south, so after breakfast we collect the car and head out. The corners in town defy navigation, the steering shrieking out in protest. But we make it to the Amalfi road, and begin to move. Rules of the road here quickly become apparent. First – always pass on blind corners. Second – if no blind corner is readily available, you may pass at a red light or in a construction zone. Third – if looking for a place to park, always choose the narrowest section of road just beyond a blind corner. Fourth – turn signals are a sign of weakness – they’re only giving away your plan.
The Amalfi road is marked by crazy switchbacks and precipitous drops, but there are substantial walls, and it is probably overrated in terms of anxiety. Of course this is the opinion of the semi-professional driver at the wheel. You sure as heck wouldn’t get me to drive this route! I’m crazy but I’m not stupid.
We pass off of the Sorrentine peninsula and through Salerno, directing the car further south. We are headed to Paestum, a former Greek colony previously known as Poseidonia.
Leaving the relative comfort of the Autostrada we start to see signs for “caesifici” – or cheese shops. This is where buffalo mozzarella comes from, so we must stop. The first shop is a dud – they have cheese but we need bread. And the woman there is aloof. The second shop we try is Caesificio Lanzara. There we buy some tarallini to use as crackers for the buffalo ricotta. This is amazing stuff. It is as light as a cloud, creamy, and sweet. It is just astounding, and nothing like any ricotta I have ever had at home. We devour this and buy a piece of scamorza to go (I don’t tell D this, but am suspecting this may be all we get to eat for lunch).
The scamorza is equally wonderful. Creamy and salty with a depth of flavor that hits you at the end. These are experiences we would have missed had we stayed in Positano.
Almost 2 hours into the drive we stop at a market and buy some various breads as well as some sweets filled with chestnuts and chocolate. They sate us for the midday.
After eating our fill we are in the homestretch of the drive. We pull into Paestum but parking is opaque. We see no place to pay for parking at the one lot that is labelled, so leave town and circle to the other side of the site. There we find parking, but the entrance is closed. This is discouraging and we worry that the site is inexplicably closed. Certainly this has been a pattern of my trips in the past.
We return to the main drag and notice the previously overlooked obvious option: numerous parallel parking spots. And we are on our way.
In Paestum we have gone even further back – to the 6th century BC.
First we see the Temple of Ceres at the north end of the central city. We are at a loss for words. This is a mammoth temple, and puts the Roman ruins we have seen previously to shame.
Then we turn to the opposite end where two other temples await. There is the temple of Hera, which is also incredible in its scale. But the most overwhelming temple is the Temple of Apollo (they call it Temple of Neptune, but then state that they actually believe it was dedicated to Apollo).
This is a glorious humbling structure, the likes of which I haven’t seen before. The scale is colossal, the details are incredible, and the workmanship is eternal. Its amazing to thing that we are a mere 125-150 generations removed from its construction.
We stare at it. We circle it.
We sadly can’t enter it.
Oh look! There I am, waving. Dwarfed by it.
There are other things to see here like the town (and tile floors!), the remains of the amphitheater, and the museum, all of which we visited and enjoyed, but I am still awed by the temples. They are simply astonishing. And I confess that the trip here was a last-minute decision. Boy am I glad we made it.
Returning to the hotel, we stop in Salerno in search of sustenance. D doesn’t like seafood, so we are hoping for better options in a larger city. We circle town twice in search of parking (again) and then take to foot. The guidebooks have few recommendations, and we are out early (6 pm) so little is open. That’s OK because the town is beautiful. The pedestrian malls are decorated like nothing else we have seen, with opulent lights and trees everywhere. The few restaurants open are clearly more oriented toward shoppers than tradition, but we are ready to eat. We sit down and eat. I have pappardelle with sausage and squash. This is followed by grilled sausage and scamorza. This isn’t outstanding, but it satisfies and the servers are enthusiastic.
With that we embark on the night drive back up the Amalfi coast. The drive going this direction is more difficult than the drive down. It would initally seem more frightening to be driving down, with the precipice just beyond the door of the car, but now we are right next to rocks that jut into the roadway and block the view to an extreme degree.
Yet somehow we make it, and the day is finally done.