Salerno – Fire Lanterns in Salerno

Its our last morning in Sicily.

We’ve spent around a week and a half living with Anne & Doug and seeing everything that we can with them over the past week or so.

We’ve fallen in love with Sicily, and I have no doubt that we will be back.

I also have no doubt that we’ll end up buying some form of a property in Sicily at some point.

Our train to Salerno doesn’t leave till 10/10:30, so we are up and having brekky with Anne & Doug one last time before we head to the station. We’re chatting away, and I ask Doug, “So, do they use the term ‘Wog’ over here?”
My question is met with looks of shock and horror, very quickly dulled down to mild surprise as they both stare directly at me. I have no idea what I just said, but I stay my course.
“Ahhh. No.”, Doug confidently, but cautiously replies.
Anne, still looking at me with a bit of confusion, asks “What does Wog mean to you?”
Knowing that I have obviously trodden on uneven ground, I say, “Well, back home, its just a term to describe someone of mediterranean descent”, and with that a sign of relief and understanding spill across both their faces.
“Oh. Right”
“What does it mean in the UK?”, knowing that there was certainly more to the question than I thought.
“Its not as common any more, but do you know what a golliwog is?”
“No idea”
“Ok. A Golliwog is a figure with a black face, and people had shortened the term to ‘Wog’, and used it as a derogatory statement when I was younger”
“Ohhh… Ok. That makes more sense. As soon as I asked, you both stared at me, and I knew something was up. In Australia, as far as I’ve seen, it doesn’t mean any harm. Even some of the online youtube pranksters will use it in their title to describe themselves”
By now, the air had cleared and we all knew it was a misunderstanding. Its always surprising as to how many little things differ between cultures. Statements that don’t hold much weight in one culture have been used to cut down a people group in another culture.

We keep on eating for a few seconds, then I curiously ask Doug, “Do you personally find the term ‘Wog’ offensive?”. He had discussed the topic in a manner that was almost third person, so I wasn’t sure if he had actually taken a disgust to the term personally. Not like I was going to use the term in conversation with him, I just was curious to see where he stood with it now, as someone who had been on the receiving end of such.

He has his mouth wide open, about to savour another mouthful, but stops short, lifts his head slightly, and assertively replies “Very much so”.

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Right. I wasn’t sure if it was a term that may have lost it’s weight over the course of the years, but it’s evident that it is most certainly not the case in this instance. “Fair enough man”. Doug is a gentleman about it, though, and we shift topics seamlessly. I’m just really glad that I had found out this way and saved myself an accidental black eye.

We pack our bags and get on our way to the train station.

We say goodbye to Anne & Doug and thank them for the hospitality and for showing us around their beautifully adopted country. Our train is taking us to Salerno, which is the closest train station that you can find to the Amalfi coast. We haven’t allotted a heap of time there, but it was one of the places that we were most keen to go check out on our way up through Italy.

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Its funny, you would think that a good 3.5 months is enough time to see what you’d like to of Europe, but it is 100% not the case. We got to get a really good feel for Italian culture and lifestyle being in Sicily, and now we wanted to get a taste of the rest of the country. We’ve allowed about another 10 days to explore our way up to Venice, but this was all going to just be a taste tester, not really so much of a in depth experience of the rest of Italy, but more of a broad stroke of what Italy is like.

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We find our seats on the train, and find ourselves sitting across from these two mid-20’s Italian teachers, on their way to Rome. You can tell that they are both assertive, and the “rebel against the constructs of society” type. “How can you tell?”, you might ask. Well, statements like, “We only use these phones…”, waving a flip phone in reference to the afore mentioned “…because your brain is the only real app”, looking at us intently, looking for a kind of approval of their statement.

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I kinda don’t care, personally, if you wanna use the ‘big bad brain app’, then go for it. I would rather just be able to download something that is going to live translate a language in front of me. Not to say that I don’t like languages, because I do, but I have also visited 10 countries so far, and there are a few different languages between them all, so, with that in mind, I would rather just use an app.

We ask if they are keen to play some cards…
Which they are not.

Later, we ask if they wanna play dice with us.
They don’t.

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So, this is kinda when I give up. They’re really not the kinda people that I gel with, so we don’t really much the point, and resort to playing our cards and dice while they chat and laugh in Italian with each other.

The train mimics the twists and turns of the rocky shoreline. On one side, you’ve got the Mediterranean sea, and the other, mountain ranges. It’s a beautiful sight, either side of the train that you sit on. The landscape is rich with bridges and ravines, mountains and seas. It baffles me as to how diverse and varying, the landscape is, for such tiny little country.

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We reach the tip of Italy, and this where it gets epic. The tip of Sicily, and the tip of Italy are only about a 15-20 ferry ride apart, but instead of getting everyone off, onto the ferry, and then onto another train, the Italians came up with the brilliant idea of just putting the train directly into the ferry, and then rejoining it back together on the other side.

Not even having a laugh.

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The carriages disconnect, with us all still inside them, and are pushed onto the ferry. Its remarkable. Once on the other side, the carriages are rolled off just as easily, and the train joined back together. Not too bad at all, Italy, not too bad. We were expecting it to be a little more epic & climatic, but the truth is, they have done this so many times already, that its just another day at the office for them, and it all happens with out a hitch.

Still, trains on ferries…
Dapper.

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We continue our ride through the Italian countryside, until we finally reach our destination. Bec has booked an Airbnb for us. We’ve been trying to use Couch Surfing, as we’ve met some awesome people during our trip through the service, but we only really worked out where we are heading the other day, so none of the hosts have been able to host us on such short notice.

We rock up at the apartment, and this mid-twenties rugged looking Italian man answers the door for us. He is all smiles and it’s almost like he is mildly excited that we are here. He introduces himself as Gianluigi, and shows us around the place. We find out that he is a comic writer, and he has even had one of his books published. It’s pretty awesome. I can’t say I have ever met an actual comic writer before. I have met graphic designers who have dabbled in comics, but never an actual comic writer. he tells us, much as I suspected that it doesn’t really pay well. Regardless, he is still happy to have us stay at his house, and put us up while we explore the surrounds.

He, and His Mrs, Sarah tell us that we have to go and check out Salerno at night. We get some tips as to where to get Pizza and Ice-Cream from them, and make our way into the town. We opt for the ‘still pretty good, but cheap pizza’ option, and get ourselves a pizza each. What I didn’t know was that Naples was the birthplaces of pizza. What I did know was that Naples was only a few towns up the coast.

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We ask the waiter what he recommends in the way of pizzas and follow suit. Real Italian pizzas are so deliciously tasty. They’re usually on thin crusts, and have minimal, but incredibly flavoursome toppings. These were no different. We wait for our dinner to arrive and watch the happenings in the square by the front door. Its around 9pm, and there are more kids out, playing in the square than there are adults to keep an eye on them, by at least 2 to 1.

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Riding bikes, Skating and playing soccer, and it’s all totally normal. The culture certainly seems to be one that rises late, and retires late, even with the kids. Its totally normal for them to be up till midnight without a hitch. Such a foreign concept for me. I’ve always been home by 7pm as a kid, unless we were out with parents, or around at a friends place, but playing the middle of a park or square was only reserved for afternoon activities, and not much else.

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We collect our pizzas and make our way to the sea front. Gianluigi and Sarah had told us that it was one of the prettiest seafronts in Italy, and they weren’t wrong. I cant verbally do it any justice, and I am not sure if it was just the atmosphere of the place too, but it was calming, and the established trees which lined the shore cast a canopy over us as we ate, watching everything happening around us.

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We make our way up and down the shore, seeing what the markets and the small-time sales people have to sell. We are walking along, and most people are trying to sell the usual selfie sticks, or sunnies, but then we see this one bloke selling lanterns, and not the kind that would go out the front of someone’s medieval front door, but the kind that float away in the night sky. We could see a few of them hovering in the distance, and now we found the source.

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We decide if it costs less than 2 euro, we’ll do it.

It costs 1 euro.

Done.

Bec lights up the candle and swaps out with me to let it sail off. I’m not sure how long you’re meant to wait for it to load up with the hot air, but I test if a few times, until the bloke selling them sends one off around the same time as when ours was lit. I give it a crack, and it falls short. A few moments later, I wait a few more moments, and give it another go.

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I lift it up with one hand, and encourage it’s base to follow suit.

It does exactly that.

…Directly toward the trees.

The guy selling the lanterns comes running over, and collects the lantern before it collides with the trees and decides that he will send it off, himself.

Anti-climatic? Yeah. You could say that.

We watch it float away into the night sky, and make it home via the best gelato shop in Salerno, according to Gianluigi and Sarah. Bec jumps in bed, and I stay up to blog. Sarah and Gianluigi make a heap of soup and ask if I wanna join them for dinner.

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I’m not very hungry, but I am more interested in sharing life with these people we just met. We talk about the changes in our respective cultures and what we each have to make of it. One thing I didn’t know is that in Italy, all medical expenses are covered. At least all the minor expenses are covered. You can get an ambo for free, visit the doctor for free, and go get your free medication. Its absolutely crazy town.

Australia is heavily subsidised, but not free, and in the states, its the polar opposite. You have you pay an arm and a leg for everything medical.

We tuck in for sleep and enjoy a good night’s sleep.

Come back for the next story,

Billy

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