A quick post about our quick trip to Calabria with views from the ferry boat going and returning across the Strait of Messina, that thin strip of water that separates the island from the mainland and the only way to get fom Sicily to the mainland by car. This was my first visit to Calabria and although it was quick, I really loved it. I liked the slow approach from the ferry boat, the shifting landscape of the island behind us shrinking away while the barely visible outline of the unknown ahead of us slowly came into focus. What awaited us on the mainland side was a 2 hour drive, and I finally experienced what I'd only heard about through other's stories - that is, the difficult driving conditions in this southernmost tip of Italy's boot. At first I didn't get it, but soon the deviations and one lane traffic resulted in slow going. The highway that passes through this part of Italy just isn't finished yet, and apparently has been in this perpetual state of half finished for years. So while we passed through breathtaking scenery, hugging the coast, and up on through the rugged hills of the curvy strada statale, we could see running along next to us the road work of the autostrada in mid completion - half finished bridges, tunnels just beginning to be formed, wider lanes emerging amidst the construction vehicles and dust -- and I understood what I'd only heard about and wondered what is taking so long. But after an hour or so of listening to the disheartened mutterings of the driver (that would be hubby) due to the headache of being stuck behind that one Sunday driver (and worries about arriving late to his squash tournament), we suddenly found ourselves on that part of the autostrada that is finished and settled into the easy rhythm of open roads and smooth going from there on out.
But more than a critique of the Calabrese road system, what I should talk about is the beauty of the one hill town we had time to visit, Cosenza. A tumble of ancient ruins amidst medieval churches right in the heart of the town, and radiating out from all around those mazes of narrow streets somehow leading to the castle hovering above, all calling out for discovery. We had no time for that kind of exploration, unfortunately, but did chance upon a free exhibit full of inspiring artwork by illustrators from Italy and beyond.
The other truly Calabrese experience we had in our flurry of driving were the several pit stops made in town and at various convenient points along the highway, for sampling some of the local culinary specialties. From the sweet cookies that were a bit like crunchy cinnamon rolls, to the jars of stuffed peppers and spicy spreads, to the Calabrese tarralli (and I thought that was a Pugliese speciality!), a hunk of sweet cheese, the rolls of spicy sausage, a crate of Calabrese clemintines and the requisite bunch of Calabrese red onions, our car was just bursting with flavours.
We took ourselves and our loaded car to Reggio Calabria, the capital of this region and the city that bekons to you when you see the mainland from Messina. In this city there is a wonderful archaeological museum that is currently closed, but you can still see the bronzes of Riace that are on display in a temporary space in town. We did just that and finally I had to the chance to see these wonderful works of ancient art in person, lifted out from oblivion after accidentally being discovered underwater by a scuba diver in 1972. The 4 year old is still talking about the 'bronzi' and pulls out the sweet kids book we took home with us from the museum shop regularly to see them again.