I’ve written about my family history search in the past. You can read about it here. TL;DR: After decades of searching for my “real” last name, in July 2020, I finally confirmed that Sallurday was originally Sabato and that my great-grandfather came from the small village of San Cipriano Picentino, about 20-minutes east of Salerno.
Then, in August 2021, I found cousins that live in the area – some that still live in the same home that my Great Great Grandparents lived in! Once I discovered this piece of my heritage, I had to make a pilgrimage – and was encouraged to do so by my new-found cousins.
COVID put a damper on travel – until now.
Salerno is about a 30-minute train ride south of Naples and can be considered the gateway to the Amalfi coast – its train and ferry stations provide easy access from Rome and Napoli to the seaside villages that get swarmed with tourists during the summer months.
We opted to use Salerno as our home base to explore the area – and we could not imagine a better location. Salerno is the second largest city in the Campania region, next to Napoli. It’s relatively small, at about 140,000 people, and its main economic engine is tourism and service. The beauty is that you can immerse yourself in Italy and not be surrounded by tourists. You get a more authentic feel from the locals who struggle with English as much as you struggle with Italian – yet somehow, you communicate.
Getting to Salerno proved to be a bit of a challenge – but we got through it. Our train from the Rome Airport to Salerno required a change of trains in Rome. Not an issue by itself, but we were also met with a track closure on that first leg. We had a tight connection and were at risk of missing the train to Salerno, so we jumped in a “FreeNow”, Rome’s answer to Uber, and were treated to what would have made quite the scene in a Mission Impossible movie.
Once we told our driver we were running late, he drove through the streets of Rome like Ethan Hunt. Whizzing between cars, horn blowing, passing on the right and left. Abandoning streets and opting instead to drive on the street car lines. Our impromptu trip allowed us to get a Chevy Chase-style glimpse of the Colosseum as we drove past at record speed.
Another site we were able to see as we stopped at a rare red light was the tomb of Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces, a famous baker. It sits just in front of the Porta Maggiore, one of the ancient gates to the city of Rome. The tomb was built around 50-20 BC. It looks like you can put loaves of bread in the individual chambers. There’s also a relief of bread production that circles the monument. Maybe next time Marcus.
Literally, with less than a minute to spare, we made it to our train. Before we could even get to our seats, the train was moving, and we were on our way to Salerno. Whew.
Little did we know that our scheduled two-hour train would take almost four hours due to track issues.
Not to worry, before long, we were in Napoli with one more stop to go.
With the later-than-expected arrival, we checked into our B&B, Glam House & Boat, in Salerno’s Old Town. We met our hosts, and we stumbled through the check-in process due to language barriers – thankfully, we had translation help from Google.
This apartment was perfect for us. Great location tucked away from the madness of the main corridor but close enough to the train and ferry stations. The place was clean, modern, well-equipped, quiet, and comfortable. And yes, the apartment comes with access to their boat if you choose.
We took a stroll along the Lungomare – with what seemed like every other person in Salerno. Grab a drink or a gelato, and you’ll fit right in. The nightly walk is a tradition – especially on spring and summer evenings.
Salerno is not known for its beaches, but they are home to a fairly large commercial port. These beaches were made famous on September 9, 1943, with Operation Avalanche during WWII. That’s when the American, British, and Canadian forces battled the Germans in what became known as “Bloody Salerno.”
They also host cruise ships and other vessels – like tonight. This Italian battleship was in port, and they let the residents tour the ship while in town.
A staple in Italy is enjoying an aperitivo before dinner. Dinner is rarely enjoyed before 8pm, so a drink with some complimentary appetizers is standard practice. And the drink of choice is the Aperol Spritz. I’ll be honest. I tried to make these here in Arizona but was not impressed. In Italy, it just hits differently.
My new-found cousin Alessio met up with us for dinner. He knows how much I love pizza, so of course, he treated us to one of Salerno’s best. Sure, Pizzium is an Italian chain, but you’ll never find an American pizza chain like this. I always say that dinner is more than just the food. It’s as much about the setting and your dining mates. Combining all of that, this dinner was 5-star. Oh, and the pizza was definitely among the best I ever had. Traditional Margherita, Buffalo Margherita, and Sausage and Friarielli (Broccoli Rabe).
Vietri sul Mare
On Monday, we were met with some wet weather to start, but we made our way to Vietri sul Mare, a seaside village at the start of the Amalfi Coast that’s known for its ceramics and tile work.
After enjoying a cappuccino and an espresso just 10 minutes from our apartment, we were one short train stop away.
The village is filled with shops that sell everything from small trinkets to elaborate vases. The patterns are all hand-made. In some shops, you can see the craftsmen at work.
Like every Italian village, there’s a Catholic church (or three) – and in Vietri sul Mare, it’s St. John the Baptist. The location of the church dates back to 1036, with the current building a young 300-400 years old.
You can grab a drink or gelato and enjoy the views of the start of the Amalfi Coast at a small park.
Another great photo spot was at the Villa Comunale Vietri sul Mare. The city park was opened in 2007 and incorporates the tile work for which the city is known. You have sweeping views of the Gulf of Salerno, including the city of Salerno to the Amalfi Coast.
On the train back to town, you can see the activity at the port along the Salerno coastline
Back in Salerno, we stopped at the Cattedrale San Matteo e San Gregorio VII (The Cathedral of Saint Matthew and Saint Gregory VII). The church dates back to 1076, when construction began. It was ultimately consecrated in 1084 by then Pope Gregory VII (now Saint Gregory). Of course, renovations were completed along the way, and restoration was done after some damage occurred during WWII and the Allied’s Operation Avalanche in September 1943.
The Bell Tower dates back to the 1100s!
Inside, the cavernous church has a central nave along with two additional aisles.
The church is also the final resting place for Pope Gregory VII, the man who consecrated the church almost 1,000 years ago. His effigy is on display on the main floor.
The detail in the marble work is astounding. Throughout the floors and the walls, tiny pieces of marble were intricately laid to design patterns that pop.
Along the sides of the church, several chapels showed off more detail.
While the church itself is a masterpiece, the lower-level crypt takes things to new heights. It’s the final resting place for St. Matthew the Apostle. The entire building is covered in intricate marble inlays. This area was restored between 1606-1608.
It’s within this area that St. Matthew is buried.
And the ceiling frescos are depictions of scenes from the Gospel of Matthew.
Strolling along in Old Town, we noticed a guy with a Penn State shirt on. I just happened to be wearing one as well. Of course, I say “We Are,” and we’re greeted back with a friendly, smiling, “Penn State.” After a quick discussion of our hometowns, I find out that the guy worked with my oldest brother and knew my father! We had just been commenting that there seemed to be so few Americans. Then, the ones we see, we’re connected. Small world.
After another long day of touring, it was time for an aperitivo and then dinner. Another highly recommended pizza shop that was recommended by Alessio was Giagiu in Salerno. Giagiu’ ensures that all of their ingredients come from the south of Italy.
The name comes from the story that a farmer in the Vesuvius area found a yellow (giallo in Italian) cherry tomato among all of the red ones. He named the tomato after his daughter, Giulia. The combination became known as GiaGiu, and a yellow San Marzano tomato light hangs from the ceiling.
You can tell immediately that this wasn’t your ordinary pizzeria. We were seated inside and greeted almost immediately with an amuse-bouche.
The menu was a bit eclectic and included some unique pizza combinations. We started with the potato croque and opted for the sausage and potato pizza with the house-favorite yellow tomato puree as its base.
Here, they give you scissors to cut your pizza. I’ll be honest; I thought scissors were only used on Roman-style pizza. But this was just another over-the-top aspect of the show that is Giagiu’.
Of course, they finished their presentation with another complimentary treat – disappearing chocolate biscotti. You can see that we quickly washed these down with a limoncello.
On Tuesday, we continued our tour around Salerno in the morning. A couple of the sites we wanted to see were closed. We didn’t know if it was because it was Italy’s Liberation Day or if the attractions were closed for other purposes. Either way, we didn’t get to see the Castello di Arechi or the Minerva Gardens. It didn’t matter. We enjoyed taking our time and strolling throughout the newer and older parts of Salerno with the many Italians who had the day off from work.
Of course, we stopped for lunch at another spot that was recommended by Alessio, Zerottonove (089). It’s a quick-serve cafe (quick by Italian standards) that offers panini and pastries. I hear their pistachio cannoli are awesome!
San Cipriano Picentino
The highlight of the trip happened on Tuesday afternoon. Alessio and his daughter picked us up downtown and took us out to the village of San Cipriano Picentino. There, we met up with my brother, his wife, and their son. Alessio’s parents live in the same home that our Great great-grandparents lived in – as early as 1918.
We got to visit the town and walk in the footsteps of my great-grandfather, who left the village in 1881. Our Sabato cousins who live here today had no knowledge that they had cousins who lived in America. They were not aware of their grandfather’s (or great-grandfather’s) brother, who left Italy to settle in Pennsylvania. They were amazed by the records I shared with them showing them that Giuseppe Sabato (aka Joseph Sallurday) left the village and started a new life with a new family over 140 years ago!
After today, my trip was complete. Everything else was a bonus. Finally, visiting the village and meeting cousins after decades of research was an experience beyond my wildest dreams.
Path of the Gods
On Wednesday, my brother and his family left to head back north. We took a ferry to Amalfi, where we boarded the bus to Bomerano. The bus ride was an experience all by itself as you take turns passing other buses and cars on the narrow, virtually one-lane mountain road.
From Bomerano, we hiked Sentiero degli Dei, aka, the Path of the Gods. The trail runs along the Amalfi coast, starting at 2,000 feet above the sea. The hike took us about 2 hours (much quicker than we expected), and we ended up in the town of Nocelle, where we grabbed a limoncello slush before boarding a bus for the ride down to Positano (seen in the background of photo 10). Others descended the 1800-step stairway to the bottom and into town.
Unpopular opinion. We both agreed that Positano wasn’t for us. While it’s picture-postcard beautiful, the crowds were just too much – and it’s not even summer yet. We certainly loved being able to visit without having to stay there. Getting around the vertical village would be challenging, given the tiny streets and stairways that lead up and down – from the hotels high above to the beaches, restaurants, and shops down below. I couldn’t imagine enjoying a nice dinner down by the water with a couple glasses of wine, only to have to climb back hundreds of stairs to your hotel room each night. Sure, there are buses and the stairs are great exercise, but doing that every day for a week would grow old fast.
Most of these photos were taken from the bus. You can see how close the tables are to the street and how tight the roads are.
On Thursday, we made our way to Pompeii. Again, a quick 10-minute walk to the train station by the Duomo got us to the ancient village in about 35 minutes. You have to admit, the transportation in Italy is like a tourist attraction in and of itself. From the $3.00 bus ride from Amalfi to Bomerano to the $3.00 train from Duomo to Pompei, the sites along these routes are awe-inspiring.
We grabbed a “quick” lunch in Pompei before entering the ruins. Little did we know that nothing is quick in Italy. The 90-minute lunch seriously cut into our time in the village. Regardless, it was worth it!
I will say I was definitely surprised at the size of Pompei. I wasn’t sure what I was thinking, but I know I wasn’t thinking it could take 5-7 hours to really explore. We spent 2-1/2 hours walking through the streets of the town, and it wasn’t nearly enough time.
Each street had a collection of modest homes and palatial estates. Some had markers and plaques describing the contents, while most were just left to the imagination. We rented headsets by the train station, but I’d highly recommend you hire a guide for a private tour. Next time.
What I do know is that an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD covered the town in 13-20 feet of volcanic ash – suffocating everyone in the town. Some were found after excavation and preserved in their final state.
The town was allegedly a raucous and wealthy city where debauchery ran rampant. Some believe that God tried to send them a message with the earthquake that rocked the town in 62 AD, but the people didn’t heed the warning and continued their wanton ways.
What was unearthed over the years is remarkable. An entire city has emerged – untouched but aged by time. The frescos on the walls of the interior of the homes are still vibrant. The marble floors show off the craftsmanship of the time. All while Mount Vesuvius is omnipresent in the background.
Today, we saw several students still surveying the land and working on recovering the countless acres that are still buried beneath nearly 2000-year-old dirt, dust, and ash.
A little panic set in when trying to get back to the train station yet again. You enter the park through one entrance but exit in a totally different area. We needed to get our headsets back by 5:30 to avoid having to return another day to pick up my driver’s license that I had to leave for collateral. Luckily we found the place with just 15 minutes to spare. Crisis averted.
On the way back to Salerno, we stopped back at Vietri sul Mare to pick up some additional gifts and enjoy another aperitivo at Russo’s.
And for dinner, we stayed close to home and went to Trattoria Antonio la Trippa’s – just down the street from our apartment. We had a couple of local dishes – Spaghetti allo Scoglio and Pasta Genovese. Pasta Genovese is a specialty in the Campania region. It’s a brown sauce made with tons of onion and braised beef. The traditional preparation calls for the dish to be served in a pot that is wrapped with a towel – just like Grandma used to do, apparently. Spaghetti allo Scoglio is pasta with mixed seafood such as clams, mussels, and shrimp.
Friday brought a trip to Paestum – a little-known ancient Greek city in the former Magna Graecia area south of Salerno in the Cilento region. There are three temples that date back to 550-450 BC.
More recently, Paestum was where Americans landed on the beaches during Operation Avalanche in September 1943.
Just inland from those beaches sits the Ancient Temples of Paestum.
In addition to the fabulously preserved ruins, the Cilento region is also home to the famed Buffalo Mozzarella – so we planned to visit one of the more well-known farms. Italy has a few DOP-certified foods – meaning they must be grown and packaged according to strict specifications. The Campania region is home to two such foods – mozzarella di bufala campana and San Marzano tomatoes. These also happen to be two of the main ingredients in Neaopolitan-style pizza.
Before we could get there, though, our train adventures caused a bit of panic. We missed the train we planned on taking, so we decided to ride the bus – a longer route, but one that allowed us to see several of the small towns along the way. But that’s a whole other story.
With the added delay, we would get into Paestum much later than we had anticipated. During the ride, we decided to flip our itinerary to have lunch first, then, time permitting, visit Paestum. Considering we had seen Pompei yesterday, we felt like we had our share of ruins already.
Then the Greek Gods must have been watching over us. As you walk to the Barlotti Buffalo Farm, you pass directly by the ruins.
From the sidewalk, you’re able to get some great photos of the ruins.
At this point, we felt good about having a leisurely lunch and getting back to the train – without having to enter the grounds of Paestum.
As you approached the farm, you could see the emerald green waters of the Cilento coast off in the distance. It’s no wonder that many Italians spend their holidays at these pristine beaches. It’s hard to imagine the Americans who stormed these beaches in 1943 – only to be met by German forces.
At Barlotti, we experienced the best meal we had in Italy – and that’s saying a lot because there were so many great meals. The setting in their outdoor garden made the meal even better. The menu features cheese made on premises and includes the famed Buffalo Mozzarella, ricotta that was stuffed in Lisa’s pillowy-soft ravioli that were lightly coated in brown butter and sage, and the mozzarella that topped my cacio e pepe.
Of course, we had to enjoy it with a bottle of wine from the village of San Cipriano Picentino. In the end, we just had to have some of their gelato that was made from the milk of the cows. Spectacular!
It’s hard to imagine that these dirty, stinky, unkempt creatures can create such great-tasting foods – and we’re so thankful for it!
Back in Salerno, we met up with Alessio, his wife Pasqualina, and their two young daughters for dinner at Al Dente. Another stellar choice for dinner. In case you’re not aware, Al Dente was not only the name of this place, but it’s how every restaurant prepared its pasta – not the mushy texture that Americans prefer.
Again, I say dinner is made by your dining companions. Pasqualina spoke little English, but we were able to communicate and had a fun, laughter-filled dinner with family. Molto Bene!
Saturday, we had one more day trip before we had to leave for Rome. But not before a cappuccino and pastry.
Again, with our location being so close to the train station, we hopped on a train to Naples. Thirty-five minutes later, we entered Napoli Central and transferred to their Metro line. Thankfully, we met a family from Sicily on the train, and they helped us navigate along the way.
We hopped off at the super-modern Toledo subway station and emerged into a touristy village in the heart of Napoli. The entire area was buzzing, with the Napoli football team closing in on their first Series A title in 33 years. After beating Juventus in Turin earlier in the week – a game that my brother and his family attended, they needed two more things to happen on Sunday for them to clinch the title. They needed Lazio to lose, and they would have to beat Salernitana.
No trip to Napoli would be complete without a pizza. We tried the traditional Margherita and the Pizza Fritte, a fried, inside-out version of the Margherita. I have to say, if this fried version is any indication of what it’s supposed to taste like, I’ll stick with the traditional version.
With limited time to explore everything the city has to offer, we opted for the Napoli Sotterranea tour. The underground caves were used throughout millennia. In the early days, miners took the volcanic sandstone, known as tuff, from the ground for use in construction above ground. Then, 2,500 years ago, they used the caves as an aqueduct – moving water underground for use by the inhabitants. Then during WWII, the caverns were used as bomb shelters. Every time the air raid sirens would sound, tens of thousands of residents would make their way underground and into these caverns.
The second photo might look like a geometric piece of art, but if you look closely, you can see it’s a stairwell. The stairs wind down 130 feet below ground as you start the tour.
With an early flight out of Rome on Monday, we had a hotel near the airport for Sunday night. We planned to take the train to Rome, drop our bags, then take in a late afternoon of touring and dinner. The route would have us on a high-speed train from Salerno with only a couple of stops before we would have to change trains in Rome’s newer Tiburtina Station.
We stopped at Rome’s Termini Station, and our Tiburtina stop was only seven minutes away. Lisa used the restroom on the train while we were stopped in Termini. When she came back, it was my turn before we had to make a quick connection in Tiburtina to a regional train.
I felt the train jolt a little when I got into the bathroom but didn’t think anything of it. When I emerged, Lisa said, “Isn’t this where we’re supposed to get off?” The train was stopped. Oh no! We grabbed our bags and headed for the door in record time. I tried to push the button to open the door a couple of times, but it didn’t open. Then the train started to move. No problem, we’ll just get off at the next stop. Where was the next stop? Florence. Ninety minutes north of Rome. Take a look at the map above again and see where Florence is in relation to Rome!
We took the walk of shame back to our seats as a few of the Americans around us laughed with us.
Oh well. An accidental trip to Florence isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. We explained our predicament to the train conductor. He was very understanding and said that we should board the next train out of Florence.
We sort of took his advice and planned on taking a train that would give us about 3 hours in Florence. So we decided to quickly explore the city.
I hadn’t done much research on Florence, considering it wasn’t even close to being on our radar, but I knew I wanted to see the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, and maybe a wine window (shallow, I know). We dropped our bags at a luggage storage facility not far from the train station, and off we went.
After leaving Salerno at 11am, we arrived in Florence at about 3:30pm. Within 20 minutes, we were at the Duomo! I let Alessio know our predicament and send him this photo when we arrived at the Duomo.
Technically known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo began construction in 1296 and was completed a short one hundred and forty years later, in 1436. Sadly, it was Sunday, so the inside was not open to the public.
Our next stop was the famed Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge in Florence to survive WWII. It was rumored that Hitler, for whatever reason, did not want to bomb the bridge that crosses the Arno River. Florence suffered immensely during WWII. The buildings along the banks of the Arno were completely destroyed, and access to the Ponte Vecchio was cut off due to debris. That may have been the reason it was spared.
The current bridge dates back to the 1300s when butchers, tanners, and farmers occupied booths along the span. Today it houses many art stores, jewelers, and souvenir shops.
On our way back to the train station, we passed by a Wine Window. The concept dates back to the 1700s during the plague. Cafes wanted a way to continue to sell their wine to their customers but wanted to limit their exposure to any infected people. Sounds perfect during COVID!
After grabbing our final pizza dinner in Italy, it was back to the train for the ride to the hotel. While it was nowhere near the quality we experienced in Salerno (heck, even some places in Phoenix), it was a tasty pizza with gorgonzola cheese.
That wraps up what was a trip of a lifetime for me. Sure, Italy is on a lot of peoples’ bucket lists. But those sites pale in comparison to the experience we had in the tiny village of San Cipriano Picentino. While tourists flock to the places we visited, nothing meant more to us than to spend time in the village of my ancestors with our new-found cousins.
One thought on “Wandering in Italy!”
Really enjoyed this piece up until the “not really for us comment about Positano” which made me have to second guess everything you’ve ever written. I KID OF COURSE> But If I ever get to choose where I die, it would be Positano!
Good Stuff and as always love the Newspaper Clippings!