(Tuesday, 30 June 2015). The train took us from Salerno to the next bucket list stop: Paestum. Cheryl had toured the site, but I had not, though I had wanted to since my teen years. The marvel of these ancient Greek temples and towns stunned me. I could not even picture them with their decorative façades and liturgical accoutrements in place. The sheer size of the pieces made me wonder how the ancient Greeks could build so many massive structures in so many places. Before the tour was over, I would learn how.
I began to appreciate why Cheryl insisted on taking the train here and on the way to Anzio: she really wanted to see the scenic and the amazing. Why waste all day on flat, boring roads, or poorly maintained highways with poorly maintained trucks and cars? In his Adventure Cycle Touring Handbook, Stephen Lord said as much, and added, “If your time is unlimited you might want to ride every inch of the way. Otherwise, you’ll have a lot more fun and get further if you press ‘fast-forward’ once in a while. This is the key: it’s your ride, not someone else’s.” (http://adventurecycle-touringhandbook.com/) Three months may be a long time, but it is still a limit.
Paestum lay only 16 km from the ancient Greek city of Agropoli, an easy ride through the farmland. We reached the town in plenty of time to enjoy the festive atmosphere. The parish festival had been the day before, but the decorations were still up, and happy crowds filled the streets. Agropoli features a massive Aragonese castle on the top of the hill and a small, but accessible medieval historic center.
Wednesday started out rather poorly, because I chose a route that took us over some terrible roads, and an extremely stiff climb over a very long ridge. I had tried to take a less traveled road, but we should have simply taken the State Highway 18 through the valley. We ended up on it anyway. The SS18 proved scenic and comfortable. We forgot our earlier struggle by the time we arrived in Ascea Marina, 65 km later. We discovered Elea-Velia, another Greek and Roman archaeological site, which the Paestum site controlled. At Paestum, you can buy a steeply discounted ticket to both sites. The shadows lay long by the time we got there. Nevertheless, we managed to enjoy the entire site before the gates closed. It has a Greek amphitheatre, a Roman city and a medieval watchtower.
Cheryl booked the Hotel Venere as we left Elea-Velia. It was easy to find, clean, and comfortable, and the staff showed us a room in the back, out of sight, where we could lock our bicycles.
We set out at a good clip on Thursday, taking the coast road (SS 447 and SS 562), because the SS18 went too far inland for our convenience. I have to admit that the Parco Nazionale del Cilento and the Valle del Diano comprise one of the most beautiful natural areas of Italy. We were only skirting the western edge, but the vistas of the mountains will stay fixed on the walls of my memory forever. My little smartphone just could not take it in.
Our good clip turned to a crawl in the hottest part of the afternoon, as the SS562 left Marina di Camerota and climbed the promontory, east of the Massetta Protected Marine Area (no roads in there). We were halfway up an endless series of tight switchbacks when large concrete barriers suddenly blocked the road. They stood just far enough apart to preclude trucks of any size. Small cars zipped through, so we figured that bicycles could, too. We were almost wrong. Two switchbacks later, the face of the mountain had shifted down about ten meters, either a rain-soaked landslide or an earthquake. The asphalt had been re-laid over the sunken mess at a scary angle, one lane wide. Clearly, that was considered an adequate repair for now. The back side of the switch back was at least a 20% grade, climbing out of the landslide. Cheryl hiked, and I walked her bike, then mine, to the top. We still faced more climbing to Lentiscola, but a reward awaited us: the view from San Giovanni a Piro took our figurative breath away, while we caught our physical breaths. With the Cilento now behind us to the left, the Lucanian Alps of Basilicata in the distance ahead, and the Tyrhennian Sea shining below us to the right, I thought that there could not be another panorama so fantastic anywhere. After pausing longer than we should have, we tore down the southern side of the Massetta Promotory at breakneck speed, and soon were setting up our tent in the campground north of Scario. Tired, but pleased with ourselves, we did not even mind the lack of hot water in the showers. Scario had some charming buildings, but mainly it featured a long, pleasant promenade by the sea.
We were now as far south as we could be in Campania. The SS18 would come into the coast on the other side of Scario, and we could see the lights of Acquafredda in Basilicata twinkling at the other end of the bay.
Next week, Calabria…
Smooth roads and tailwinds,