I loved Syracuse so much, friends – or at least, I loved Ortigia so much – I loved its decaying fancy buildings, I loved its smiley buskers, I loved its waterfront promenade, and I especially loved its magnificent cathedral and the square it stood on. Definitely a stand-out discovery for me.
Anyway, in the morning we lug all the stuff to the car park where the car is still intact and non-robbed (yay!), and depart for Messina to catch the ferry to mainland Italy. It was so hot yesterday that lots of the snow has melted off Etna! It’s a straight up motorway journey to Messina where we catch an almost instantaneous ferry across the strait. Landing right in the toe of the Italian boot, we decide to cover as much distance as Eliza will allow us… that’s not a lot, it turns out, and we end up exiting the motorway VERY quickly, and following a (lovely) coastal road in increasing desperation until we reach the town of Scilla.
Scilla is the fabled location of a sea monster of Greek mythology (its counterpart Charybdis living on the other side of the strait of Messina in Sicily, so that if you strayed there in a boat you’d be caught by either one or the other), and it sounds like Zaza is trying to channel the energy of all the sea monsters on Earth, in the form of piercing screams. We park and go for a stroll – Scilla is actually really pretty, and quite a pleasant stop! Thanks, sea monster baby! I even have traditional swordfish in tomato sauce with green olives, while the waitresses (two sisters, one of whom is called Elisa) pass Eliza around the whole family staff, kitchen and all. Zaza goes to sleep as we stroll back along the seafront, so we jump at the chance and rejoin the motorway.
I have to say this has to be one of the most beautiful motorways I’ve ever taken – we’re passing through lush valleys in between gorgeous mountains the whole time, and the gathering clouds add to the atmosphere. We’ve decided to stop in Cosenza, which is about halfway between the tip of Calabria (the toe of the “boot”) and Naples. As we arrive in the city, it starts to rain buckets, which is unfortunate as we’re navigating yet more narrow steep streets, and our B&B host is nowhere to be found… He does eventually turn up, and the place is very swish; he even phones around to find us a restaurant that’s open (it’s Easter…) and book us a table. Having driven to the restaurant, we sit down to a nice meal with a lovely bottle of wine, only to swiftly vacate the premises after a full on evening of dancing around with Zaza, bouncing her, feeding her, swaying her, marching her up and down the restaurant (thankfully it was pretty empty), as she is just having none of it. Packing up our nice bottle of wine, we return to our room.
The next morning, under an uncertain sun, we set off to explore Cosenza, a town with a very complicated history, passing from Roman rule to Visigoths, to Byzantine, to Lombard, to Norman, to Angevin, to the Spanish, to the Kingdom of Naples then the Bourbons, before finally joining up in the new Kingdom of Italy. That’s a LOT of fighting. It looks peaceful enough now, with its two rivers joining up and its rustic-looking buildings huddling up the hill under the castle. Apparently there’s a Visigoth king buried under one of them rivers – his lieutenants got an army of slaves to divert the river, dig a grave big enough for the king, his horse and all the treasure he plundered from Rome, then they closed it up and let the river flow back over it; oh, and then they killed all the slaves so they couldn’t tell anyone where the tomb was.
As we visit one of the churches, a priest in a long black robe comes out to greet Eliza, touching his heart over and over in ecstasy when she rewards his cooing with a smile, then he tickles her face with the tassels at the end of his rope belt – it’s amazing how many more people interact with us now that we have a baby; there’s no way Padre Massimiliano would have talked to us if Zaza hadn’t been there. We also visit the town’s cathedral (or duomo in Italian), an imposing 12th century building (although reading up on it, the front of it has been modified constantly over the centuries, from the original 11th century church coming down in an earthquake, to being rebuilt by the Normans, to getting a Baroque facade, then that coming down to make a neo-Gothic one in the 19th century, then finally being rebuilt to resemble the original – just like the town, complicated history!). It’s a nice atmospheric little town, but we only have time to brush the surface before the rain returns, and we have to get going to reach Naples!
We’re not actually going to Naples itself, but to a town in the mountains above the famous Amalfi coast, which has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in the world. Presently we’re on the motorway nearby when there is a double crisis in the form of very low petrol and very cross baby. We exit the motorway at a town called Angri (I kid you not), which is a very apt name, as none of the petrol stations will take our bank card, nor will any of the places selling food, and Zaza is miffed for a long time. Going round and round Angri, we finally locate an ATM, get petrol, and start towards what we think is a picturesque mountain village, but is in fact kind of embedded in the very extensive urban sprawl that is Naples. We start climbing this super squiggly steep mountain road, which I would normally love – the views are fabulous, by the way, but I cannot enjoy them because Neapolitan drivers are straight up CRAZY, and people are overtaking me in the bends across the double solid central line that very very clearly says not to do that; there are stray dogs jumping out from the verges, and pedestrians keep running in the road. People park their car mid slope in the road and get out for a chat, the whole thing is batshit crazy. We arrive in Agerola, the mountain village, to find that it’s in fact a fairly chunky town, with a very busy road and no pavements (what is with the absence of pavements, Southern Italy?).
We check in to our accommodation (the lady adores Eliza, she cannot even, she keeps wringing her hands and wailing “Mamma mia!” at how cute the baby is) and wander a few metres up the road to a family-run pizzeria where there is more Zaza worshiping and she visits another restaurant kitchen. We have a selection of appetizers from the region, ranging from nice (a layered aubergine and tomato dish) to frankly gross (cold fried bread which runs with oil when you bite it) and a pizza which I’ve totally selected by mistake as it’s covered in mozzarella and has no tomato sauce (this is not ok). But they are super nice, so we have a great time nonetheless. It’s back to our flat for a well-deserved sleep, before we head to Naples to pick up Jo and Alex!