ItalianSide stories: Salerno

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July 11, 2012
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Salerno by D. Hirsch

Nothing compares to the art in Florence, the history of Rome, the natural beauty of Lake Como or the sheer uniqueness of Venice, and the guidebooks are filled with information about their treasures.
But sometimes you need to get off the beaten track and take a different kind of trip, one where you take chances and explore and get a real taste of Italian life.

Sometimes you are disappointed and sometimes you are lucky.
On our trip to Italy last summer, my husband and I took a chance on Salerno, a place barely mentioned in the guidebooks. We allotted three full days to the town, one of which we would spend at nearby Paestum. We weren’t expecting much, but as it turned out, we were pleasantly surprised.
Salerno is located in the province of Campania. It stands in the shadow of the stunning Amalfi Coast and is therefore often overlooked. Much of the city Salerno was destroyed in World War II and has been rebuilt, but it has a long history and retains many of its treasures—palaces and churches, museums and galleries and a beautiful promenade along the Gulf called “Lungomare Trieste”.
We arrived late afternoon and wheeled our luggage down an attractive, modern shop-lined street. We found our hotel, which was more like a home than a hotel. After the owner showed us our room and went over important details like Internet access and things to do in the area, we left our luggage at the hotel, ready to start exploring. The afternoon respite had just ended and the shops were coming alive for the evening hours. Just across from the hotel was the centro storico.
Just like with all of Italy’s old sections, it was like stepping back in time. Unlike the broad shop-lined street from the train station to the hotel, these streets are narrow and the sun cast long shadows between the buildings.

It’s easy to spot a tourist, I guess, because no sooner had we stepped onto the Via dei Mercanti that one of the merchants came out of his shop to speak with us—not to get us into his store to sell us something.
Just to say hello, to find out where we were from. Just to talk.

On the train to Paestum, we struck up a conversation with a woman traveling with her mother. She was a bit surprised to find that we found her town so beautiful. When you live all your life in one place, she said, you do not see it as a visitor sees it. You forget what it has to offer.

We went to the Duomo and listened to a group playing chamber music while we took pictures outside, a passion my husband and I share. Nearby, we came across a photographer’s studio and we went in to see his work of candid wedding photography. We talked shop a bit and he recommended a couple of restaurants. We specifically asked him for local places with traditional food and the trattoria we went to was just that.
Good food. No frills. Dining with the locals.
Around the corner from our hotel was a piazza and at night people enjoyed the cool breeze and children played soccer.
Dining al fresco on our last night, we soaked up the sights and sounds, glad that we had chosen to visit Salerno.

Salerno was just what we wanted to experience on our trip—a place not packed with hurried tourists, and another jewel of Italy hiding in plain sight.