A Hidden Treasure in Southern Italy


 

 

 

Anfiteatro, Santa Maria Capua Vetere, Campania...

Anfiteatro, Santa Maria Capua Vetere, Campania, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I originally published this post on my other blog, accidentally, since this is supposed to be my blog about travel meanderings. (Hey, I’m still new at this blogging stuff!)  So if it looks familiar perhaps you saw it there, earlier this week.  If there is a better way to do this (link to my other blog?) and you want to comment on how that could be done I welcome the tips.  Otherwise, if you’re considering a trip to Italy and are interested in history, read on …

 

If you’re ever on your way from Rome to the Amalfi coast, don’t miss a detour to Old Capua. Research and reading about ancient Rome as I prepared for my first trip to Italy I fell in love with Julius Caesar and Cicero and, in general, with ancient Rome. Many of the books written about that time mentioned Capua in one context or another, as it was home to gladiatorial combats and a famous gladiator school, and it was from this area that Spartacus came, back in 73 BC. The gate by which the Via Appia leaves Rome is even known as Porta Capena, as it leads to Capua.

 

When we told the Italian driver taking us from the Amalfi Coast to Rome that we wanted to detour to Capua, he thought we were crazy. “All my 17 years of driving people no one has ever asked me to take them to Capua,” he said. “Capua? Are you sure?” Assured that we did indeed want to pass by his suggested itinerary and go to Capua instead, he drove us up to the Santa Maria Capua Vetere amphitheatre, and it was one of the highlights of our trip. Santa Maria Capua Vetere amphiteatre

 

It cost a whole 2 euros to get in, and the old Italians in the ticket office were dismayed that there were two more of us visiting that day — they’d already sold tickets to at least 10 people, and couldn’t believe the crowd! While we were there we saw only two other visitors, and we were free to wander throughout the grounds to come and go as we wished. Which was great, but depressing as we thought about how this treasure was open to the elements and the whims of the visitors and lay unprotected. But the freedom to explore not only the upper seating levels but also to go underground in the passages where the gladiators waited their turn was fascinating and a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

 

I stood by myself underneath the amphitheater stage and imagined what it must have been like. As I closed my eyes to soak up the feeling birds started flying about and making mournful songs, as if the souls of the long-dead gladiators were speaking.

 

After exploring the subterranean passages and wandering the grounds, we visited the on-site Gladiator Museum, which had no English signs and was pretty hokey, but worth a quick visit. After wandering the grounds we returned to the ticket office and asked about the Mithraeum, which I thought was on the grounds, perhaps under the amphitheater. Our driver asked the man at the ticket office about it, and after an exchange in Italian none of which I could understand, the man closed the ticket office and headed to his car. We followed in our car, not sure what was going on. After a short drive into the town, the man parked the car near what seemed to be some old apartment buildings, opened a door in the wall and motioned for us to go inside.

 

We entered a small cave-like room with stairs. My husband and I started walking down, not sure where we were going or what we would see. After going down to the bottom level and turning the corner we saw a beautiful albeit faded fresco with faded but beautiful blue and red stars along the stuccoed side walls and a fresco in the center. The beautiful sanctuary dedicated to Mithras was discovered in 1922, and is believed to date from the 2nd century BC. It was small and there wasn’t much to see, but just the experience of being by ourselves in this ancient place of worship (it was used by followers of the mystery religion of Mithraism) was an amazing experience, and all for the price of 2 euros.
Mithraeum

 

It helps if you speak Italian or have someone who can translate for you as the people who work there don’t seem to speak English, and there are no signs in English, but even without that it’s definitely worth an off-the-beaten-path visit.

 

Meandering Through Santa Cruz


Image

After a relaxing morning at our beach house rental on 25th Street in Santa Cruz, my husband and I headed 2-1/2 miles away, to Capitola Village, a cute little beach area with your typical souvenir shops & restaurants along with hard-to-find parking.  After nabbing a great space due to my husband’s new-found parking karma, we grabbed a lunch reservation off OpenTable.com for Paradise Beach Grille, rated high for lunch spots on TripAdvisor.com.

Since I’m new to blogging I didn’t think to photograph our lunch for your viewing pleasure, but I did snap a shot from our table across a little inlet to a colorful beach hotel across the sand.

View from Paradise Beach Grille

After a refreshing glass of Chardonnay (I am on vacation, after all!) and a Turkey, Brie & Apple Panini we crossed the street for a delicious ice cream (caramel no sugar added is highly recommended as it was delicious AND felt virtuous) then walked down the beach and back up by the stores for a little shopping. At one store I found artistic items for the home but resisted all but a set of turquoise felt coasters and some handmade stone studs for my daughter.

Bierfilzl

The coasters are called Bierfilzl. Apparently, up until the late 19th century coasters made of wool felt were used in taverns across Bavaria to soak up not only any moisture but also to cover the beer glass while sitting in the beer garden on a beautiful summer day, to keep out unwanted flying guests. While the invention of less expensive paper coasters in 1880 marked the end of felt coasters, Bavarians to this day apparently call all coasters “Bierfilzl,” or beer felt. How could I live without them?

We loaded up the car and headed to Seacliff State Beach nearby. It’s a $10 day use charge but saving the $10 would have meant a long walk downhill to the beach so we handed over the money and headed down. There are plenty of bathrooms, a Beach Shack for lunch and snacks, lots of RV parking and a long beach with waves that looked good for boogie boarding but not surfing. It was filled with kids and dogs and folks enjoying the gorgeous day, as well as lots of folks making good use of the steep staircase up the cliff to run stairs, some even making use of the picnic tables for pushups afterwards. I got tired just watching them, and was more than happy to limit my exercise to a walk up and down the beach.

Seacliff State Beach is known for its fishing pier and concrete freighter which is not overly attractive except to the flocks of birds, apparently was good for fishing, but has since been closed to fishing but is in use as an underwater structure to support sealife.

It got hot, we were tired, and thus we headed back to our little house on the beach. Hubbie‘s on the couch & I’m in the shade on the ipad enjoying the sounds of the ocean and the nice cool breeze. It’s a tough life.

Tonight we’re dining at El Palomar — my favorite Mexican food restaurant in town — and then packing up to head home.

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