Monday, July 11, 2011

Caves and Beaches

Santa Maria di Castellabate beach - A Blue Flag beach (=good)
Summer weekends are fast disappearing, and we've been very lazy this season in our exploration. For the weekend of July 4th, Nathan had four whole days. This is prime travel opportunity time, but we decided weeks ago to spend the time exploring our own region of Campania. The plan was one beach day, one day on the Amalfi Coast, one day in the Cilento National Forest, and one day at home. Good plan. We didn't follow it. After two entire days of lazing about, we finally decided to actually get off the sofa and see something. On the Fourth of July, we drove to the Cilento region to visit Grotte dell'Angelo. There are two main cave systems in that area, this one and Grotta di Castelcivita. While I want to visit Grotta di Castelcivita someday - who wouldn't with this description out of Lonely Planet: "There are longer, three hour tours between May and September when the water deep within the cave complex has dried up. Hard hats and a certain level of fitness and mobility are required." - we opted on this trip for Grotte dell'Angelo, mainly because the tour starts in a boat that you take into the cave system, and you "disembark just before the waterfall" (again with the LP guidebook).
Cave Entrance
On arrival, we found that the next English speaking tour was in three hours. And off we went on the Italian language tour departing in 20 minutes. Therefore, I can tell you next to nothing about the cave. But it was awesome. We rode the boat, then walked for about an hour through caves and halls and itty, bitty little grottoes chock full of stalactites and stalagmites, many that had met in the middle over the millenia of growth. This and the other cave I mentioned have shown signs of human habitation, and Grotta di Castelcivita (the one we didn't visit) takes it's place in the record book as the site of the oldest settlement in Europe, with evidence of habitation dating to 40,000 years or so, give or take a few millenia. This makes our local, Roman ruins seem pretty puny.

Okay, here's where I get on my soapbox. To all Americans traveling overseas: (1) If you decide to take a tour in which the guide is speaking the language of your host country, IT IS RUDE to talk to your partner loudly while your guide is talking. Just because you can't understand him doesn't mean the others in the group can't; (2) It is also rude to just walk off in the middle of his sentence - you picked going on a foreign language tour, so by golly, stand there and pretend you know what the heck your guide is saying; (3) In a cave, DO NOT touch the stalactites and stalagmites; (4) Even though you didn't understand your guide saying do not take pictures with a flash, I'm pretty sure you can read - and there's a huge sign IN ENGLISH at the entrance with instructions - like "Don't touch anything" and "Don't take flash pictures." There were even accompanying pictures to these instructions.

Soapbox over, and I won't go into even more detail how completely Nathan and I were embarrassed by our fellow countrymen (on the Fourth of July, no less), but I will say we had a serious sidebar discussion about pretending we were Canadian in order to distance ourselves from these folks. With the tour over, we'd planned to visit a nearby monastery, one of the biggest in southern Europe, but we were toured out and in need of some beach time. Around the mountains and to the sea we drove, landing in Santa Maria di Castellabate, mainly because the town sounded nice and has a two mile beach, key in this high traffic, beach season. Parking was a dream, and we were lying on the beach in no time - the sand a nice golden color, refreshing after the black sand beaches closer to home. It was already a bit late in the day with a brisk breeze blowing, so rather than a swim, we promptly fell asleep with our books turned face up on our bags. Upon waking and sitting up, staring groggily out at the sea, a man came up, asking if we spoke English. Upshot is that he is from Naples and used to have many American friends who have now moved away. He is looking for someone with whom he can practice his English. Hopefully, we can get together with him as we're hoping to make some connections with Italian families.

All in all, a pretty good Fourth of July - although I sure missed parades and picnics and flags flying everywhere. I didn't miss fireworks. We have fireworks here every night. That's not an exaggeration.


  1. Was this water "safe" for swimming?

  2. Yes - Blue Flag beaches meet high environmental standards. We have 12 in Campania - all on the Amalfi or Cilento coast. None right here in our immediate vicinity.