24 June 2011

Day 20: Greek ruins, Italian driving

We were up and out the door this morning by 9:30 am. Today was our day to hop in the car and drive down to Parco Nazionale Del Cilento, which is a big National Park south of Salerno. S had read a lot about it in the guide books and online, and we were looking forward to seeing some of the beautiful southern Italian countryside.

First, we had to drive the crazy roads here on the Amalfi coast. The roads are tight, with lots of switchbacks, and the drivers are crazy. Seriously crazy. On a road that was perhaps 2.25 cars wide, we'd have two cars passing each other and a motorcycle in the middle. Cars barrel into hairpin turns without thinking. It was white-knuckle driving the whole way. Thank goodness we had Sheila the GPS to guide us and S to interpret Sheila.

Once we were past Salerno (which is a big port city - not very pretty at all), we hopped on the A3 highway and headed down to Paestum. Thousands of years ago, Paestum was a backwater Greek outpost. It then became a backwater Roman outpost, and now it's a backwater Italian outpost. Seriously podunk. BUT, there are ancient Greek ruins there, and that's what we wanted to see:

After Paestum, we grabbed lunch and headed into the park proper. Our goal was to see the Gole de Calore, a gorge deep within the mountains. We wanted to compare it to the gorge we hiked in Germany last week. Alas, it was not to be. Though the park has some signage for hiking, it's still not very clear. The trails weren't labeled, there were no maps to be found, and the trails themselves were often hard to identify. Plus, the hike down to the gorge started at the top of a mountain. Not very accessible, and super-tough for a hurty-legged S. So, we bailed. Still, there were some great photos:

This weird dude marked the trailhead down to the gorge (we think):

At that point, we were deep in the park, near Magliano Vetere. From there, we decided to head home a different way from the way we came, mostly because we thought it'd be quicker. Wrong. The drive took us about 90 minutes down this morning, but the drive home took us over 3 hours. However, we did get to see some beautiful countryside and drive some terrifically twisty roads through Felitto, Castel S. Lorenzo, Roccadespide, Controne, and Serra before getting on the A3 and heading back to Ravello.

The road in the evening was even tougher than the road this morning, because in addition to all the crazies, we were driving during sunset so every other switchback put the light in our eyes.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Ravello and head to Rome via Pompeii. While I've enjoyed our time here on the Amalfi coast, I can't say that I think I'll be back. The whole area is a little too crazy and unrelaxing for us. If I want unrelaxing, I'll go to a city. The seaside is for calm.

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