The next morning we set off to Salerno by ferry, stopping briefly at Amalfi again. It was a chance to say our long good-bye to the Amalfi Coast. Leaving Amalfi we traveled another forty minutes until arriving at the bustling city of Salerno. We were three hours early so we decided to stop for lunch. At this point we were craving something besides Italian and lucky for us, we saw a sign announcing Chinese food. We walked over the rough streets, luggage in tow, and saw the restaurant was closed. We decided to walk another few blocks off the main street and saw a beautiful sight: KEBAB. Brilliant! We hustled over, our luggage rumbling on the sidewalk and were utterly deflated to see it was out of business. Of course, you run the only kebab store in downtown Salerno and nobody ever eats there. Why would you eat there when there are 50 pizzerias within a ten-block radius? Discouraged, we ate at a pizzeria, but this time we shared the pie instead of going it alone. We were glad, because this thing was a monster. We were quite impressed walking around Salerno; it looked like a clean town with a busy hub. Because of this, I’m adding a new feature to Vacation Facts—to go along with Paul’s Welt Watch and Paul’s Belly Watch—called Paul’s Objective and Obscure Travel Tips, or POOTT for short. I hope to POOTT a lot more during this trip.
If you want to visit the Amalfi Coast why not stay at Salerno or Sorrento? Sorrento has better access to Pompeii than Naples and easy access to the Amalfi Coast. Salerno is also easily accessible by train, bus, boat or car and it also has easy access to the Amalfi Coast or other regions in the South. Positano and Amalfi are both expensive, have limited accommodations and can be easily experienced on a day trip. The souvenirs are all the same, especially if you have a fetish for lemon.
After lunch we took a taxi to Parco Pinocchio. Ha, I thought, I was going to make a joke about the wooden boy whose nose grew long when he told a lie but I figured nobody had heard of Pinocchio or it was one of those jokes that every tourist tells, but everyone thinks is unique. The taxi driver dropped us off at a small triangular park with a statue of a puppet boy with a long nose. There was no sign of a bus stop anywhere, but the taxi driver assured us we had to wait on the side of the road. We were 90 minutes early and it was a lovely afternoon of 18 degrees, warm enough for us to wear t-shirts but cold enough for the locals to still wear puffy winter jackets. We decided to throw a Frisbee around and were soon joined by the park’s resident pizza-maker. He was giddy as a schoolboy, probably because he could finally throw a disc forward instead of just up and down.
With thirty minutes to spare, we headed back to the sidewalk to wait with a few other people. Two other buses came and went, one to Rome and one to Naples, but our bus was nowhere to be seen. It eventually showed up 45 minutes late and as we started to walk on, the driver said “uno” and projected one finger towards me.
“No, no.” I said. “Duo.”
I showed him the note written in Italian and he went to his phone, tapped in some numbers and showed me the screen. It said “Panchyshyn” followed by the number 1.
“Uno.” he said sternly.
Julia showed him the our credit statement and I pointed and said “Eighteen Euro and Eighteen Euro is 36 Euro. We pay $55 Canadian which is 36 Euro.”
He stared blankly at the papers then with a grunt motioned for us to get on.
What part of the letter–written in Italian–did he not understand?
The ride to Matera took us through lovely rolling countryside with farmhouses and large rock structures jutting from green, closely shaved pastures. Many hilltops were dotted with ancient towns that looked like mountain snow-crests, all with their prominent church bell-tower. I wondered what it would be like to stay in one of these towns, totally cut off from the outside world, hearing nothing but Italian spoken and eating only cake for breakfast. Wait a second, that’s virtually all we had experienced so far.
Finally we arrived at a small train and bus depot at the base of a valley. There was little around except a restaurant, bar and toilet for 1 Euro. The bus driver called out “Matera.” As everyone piled out to desperately scramble for cigarettes, I grabbed the bags and Julia was again in an argument with the bus driver. He had told the transfer driver we had only one ticket so Julia went to grab our paperwork and the bus driver would not hand it over. Our new driver spoke no English but I was able to find a guy to translate.
“The bus driver says you have only one ticket.” A well-dressed and curiously not smoking young man told me.
“I know.” I pleaded, “Tell the driver we paid for two but could only print one.”
He spoke to the driver and eventually the driver pointed to a minibus, shook his head and said “fine.”
In the meantime, I looked into our previous bus where that driver had our documents in his hand and was waving them at Julia, yelling and cursing, while Julia was pointing at the bundle of papers and making threatening gestures. Even a nun was involved, launching Hail Marys and angrily pointing at both. Finally Julia was able to grab the papers and left the bus, red with rage and breathing like a wounded wolverine.
I said, “It’s okay, the driver said he’ll take us.”
“I don’t care, I was not leaving my credit card information with him, it’s not a ticket so I wanted him to give it back. Then that stupid nun came in to translate and she took HIS side.” (By HIS, I mean the bus driver, not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
“I just want to get the fuck out of here.”
We arrived in Matera just as the sun was setting. The town was very modern looking at first but as we kept driving I saw signs for “Sassi.” This was our destination. We turned left then it opened up and we literally felt as though we’d driven through a time-warp of 2000 years. For millennia, the residents of the Sassi converted caves to homes, shops and churches. We turned in, drove through narrow stone corridors and stopped at Locanda di San Martino, our hotel for two days. After all that hassle, I was thrilled to finally see Matera. I already loved the place.