On this particular morning as we awoke, George said “I want to visit Agropoli, we haven’t been back there since we opened our bank account”. Now, that brought back memories of a very interesting day in the middle of the second week of our honeymoon . . .to keep a long story very short, we saw the inside of bank the first time we went to Agropoli. (See Planes, Cars, Ferries and Buying Villa Velina for the details of how that first visit went and our interesting Italian bank dealings.)
Agropoli is the largest town nearby, about 18 miles nord di Velina, with a population of about 20,000, so it was like going to the big city for the day. We headed out of town and hopped on the SP430 northbound to Agropoli for the 40 minute drive. Before the rainy season of the winter of 2013-14, this would have been a fairly quick trip on a very limited access road. However, just after we visited Villa Velina for the very first time over Thanksgiving after purchasing it on our honeymoon, the skies broke open that winter. It just poured and poured and the beautiful limited access highway that we drove once to view our home for the first time and again over Thanksgiving week, simply caved in and washed away at a spot between Agropoli and our home.
We were horrified as we learned of this unraveling weather event. It just would not stop raining! We found ourselves nervously pacing back in forth in our home in Pennsylvania; we felt so helpless. Our friend Maria kept us informed and we were connected to some local Italian sites on Facebook that would post articles and pictures. We kept trying to figure out exactly where in the road this break occured. To put it mildly, we were devastated! We had just barely learned how to get to our new home, which was rather isolated, however connected to civilization by a highway. Now the highway was broken (strada rotto)!! From our distance of 5,365 miles away, we could not begin to imagine the twisted route we would be forced to take as a detour. Believe me, we tried figuring it out via Apple Maps, but it sure wasn’t obvious. We were hopeful that they would just get it fixed. . . then we heard those words – Not. Possible. It seemed these two words were used to describe whatever someone in Italy did not want to do or could not do for you, from exchanging dollars to euros at a bank to opening up a bank account to fixing roads . . .just fill in the blank.
It appeared that the section of the road that gave way was elevated (as most of this highway was). It was on pilings and the ground under these pilings was, well, saturated to say the least. I spent hours translating news articles from Cilento Notizie, a great news site with a FaceBook page. To our horror, my detective work revealed that liquefaction was involved. This is a process by which water-saturated sediment loses its strength and acts as a fluid, like when you wiggle your toes in the sand at the edge of the water by the beach. This is also terminology found in earthquake glossaries, although it was not an earthquake that caused this damage.
On the way down from Roma, the detour began just after Agropoli at the Agropoli Sud Uscita (exit) and continued until just before the tunnel at Prignano Cilento. It seemed very long, the first time we took it. The detour on SP45, travels along the edge of the mountain that the SP430 was built to avoid. If you are afraid of heights, let’s just say you won’t enjoy a ride in the passenger seat for the southbound journey. The guardrails, when present, are interesting. If that is your seat, and you’re scared of heights AND you have trouble KEEPING.YOUR.MOUTH.SHUT. as cars pass on narrow winding roads with plenty of blind hairpin curves that don’t always have guardrails – I suggest using a blindfold. How do I know this?? Ask George. It’s not a great idea to scream and scare the driver on roads like this.
At any rate, traveling a new road always seems longer the first time. Have you ever noticed this? By the second time, you know what to expect and how long it will take and that knowledge seems to make it feel shorter.
In spite of the detour, before we knew it we were approaching Agropoli and following the signs to Centro Storico, normale for us. There were many one way streets that were getting narrower and narrower. This is a sign that you are very close or maybe already in the Centro Storico. At this point, the fear that you may get stuck or lost in the labyrinth of roads kicks in, as backing out a twisty road barely narrow enough for your Fiat, isn’t fun. We came to a “T” in the road and the signs told us the Centro was to the right, so we turned left to search for parking, not wanting a “narrow road encounter”. Luckily, as the road we were on descended down a hill, there was a nice, large parcheggio by the beach and marina! We parked the car and noticed everyone had parking receipts on their dashboards, but there was no sign of where to get them. After walking around and asking the workers at a restaurant, George finally located the central parking meter about a quarter mile away.
As we were figuring out how exactly to get into Centro, I spotted a Farmacia. We had been trying to find one that was actually open (when we were nearby) for a couple of days now. I had been trying to shake off a sinus infection, and felt I was losing the battle. So, I went inside and waited in a short line to talk to the pharmacist. Although I did not speak very much Italian at all at that time, and he did not speak very much English at all, we managed to communicate and he “prescribed” a medicine for me and then had it all wrapped up like a gift.
We continued walking up the hill and to the left and found a beautiful street lined with shops that swept up upwards and morphed into a very wide, gradual staircase.
Signs guided us along the way . . . although the historical center was our goal, this one sign presented a particular challenge (we love gelato)!
In spite of the temptation, we did not follow the sign to the gelateria, but continued our upward climb. As we reached the Portico to the Borgo Antico, we looked to our left and saw our car parked far below.
As we climbed higher, our journey was rewarded by more breathtaking views. We will never tire of viewing slices of scenic beauty cropped by edifice antichi (ancient buildings).
One of our first stops was the Church of Santa Maria di Costantinopoli.
Continuing on our upward climb, the Angevin-Aragonese castle, Castello Aragonese, was our ultimate goal. The castle standing today was built on 6th century Byzantine foundations. We couldn’t wait to see what was in store for us along the way, as the the promontory on which the Centro Storico stands has been inhabited since Neolithic times! There were so many wonderful buildings, views and doors along the way, it was such an interesting walk . . .
As we reached the castle, we were rewarded with gorgeous views along the sea, looking to the north of Agropoli.
We walked the castle, imaging how life was back in the day.
The view to the south from the top of the castle was amazing.
And upon leaving the castle, another surprise “historically cropped” view awaited us. I imagined an intruder who, after miraculously scaling the foreboding walls of this castle, was forced to “walk the plank” to his death . . . if you had to go, I thought, this was the way to do it. At least your last memory would be fabulous. Many have gone before us with lesser visions just prior to their final journey to their ascent or descent, whichever they had earned.
Not yet wishing to leave our newly discovered Borgo Antico, as we decended from the castle, we found the perfect bar to sit and relax while recapping yet another perfect day in our beloved Cilento.