Napoli in a nutshell
Napoli. Just getting there was fun. I boarded the Frecciarossa fast train from Rome — business class was an absolute luxury. I am tempted to travel exclusively in this manner every chance I get. Having my own seat, ample leg room and a window to the world around me is worth the additional cost alone. As the train departed and steadily picked up pace, it was barely noticeable that we were even moving. Settling into the journey ahead, I quickly became enamoured with the countryside on offer, the busy Roman vistas I had become accustomed to were soon replaced by lush, rolling hills and sheep-grazing farmland. At one point I noticed our speed at 289kph and marvelled at how effortless it seemed. We were in Napoli in a little over an hour. Australia, fast trains — seriously, why aren’t we doing this already?
Although Napoli was the second stop on this journey, it was actually my second-last destination confirmed. It was a toss up between Napoli or Genoa on which city would fulfil my desire to see the Italian coastline, but the ‘Scavi Di Pompei’ won out in the end. Having been educated through the Roman Catholic school system, the story of Pompei was one of those topics continually revisited throughout my studies. It is hard not to be captivated by the eruption of a volcano completely obliterating an entire township. The nature of how that disaster unfolded almost two thousand years ago means Pompei remained perfectly preserved until it was rediscovered centuries later — a genuine snapshot in time.
After the comfort of the Frecchiarossa I was quickly brought down to earth with the noise and relative discomfort of the inner-city trains. Their speed was a factor too — it took just as long to traverse the journey to Pompei from Napoli (25km) as it did to reach Napoli from Rome (280km). Pompei was abound in tourist activity upon my arrival early in the afternoon. Travel guides and operators virtually mug you the moment you disembark and it can be disorienting even finding the site if you’re not switched on from the outset. Once inside though, it was apparent that Pompei’s ruins are grand in scale. It’s somewhat startling that this site was only discovered a few hundred years ago, well over a millennium and a half after the eruption of Vesuvius destroyed it and surrounding villages. Furthermore, the coastline was a lot closer to the ancient site, another example of how much of an effect this volcano has had on the topographic landscape.
Everywhere you turn, Vesuvius presents an ominous backdrop and as vivid as your imagination may be, it is hard to conjure what it must have been like for these villagers when the eruption took place. If the heat of the initial blast didn’t kill them at first then the rain of tephra certainly would have. Imagine being buried alive by upwards of 25 metres of volcanic ash? It’s crazy to think that people lived here knowing the inherent danger, even crazier to think they still do.
So what of Napoli itself? It’s a pretty loud and boisterous city (shouting is a way of life) and difficult to navigate at the best of times — the undulating and winding streets largely paved with bluestone and narrow sidewalks. Indeed, the decision to walk the 3km to my apartment was in no way logical in hindsight, particularly with a backpack to negotiate (needless to say, I caught a taxi upon my departure today). My third-floor apartment was located in a quiet cul-de-sac and I awoke to a view of Vesuvius every morning. The weather was perfect throughout my stay too, although thick clouds enveloped the coastline with a sense of purpose on the day I chose to visit the island haven of Capri.
Barely 50km offshore, Capri is a different beast to Napoli, its sheer limestone cliffs lend itself to an interesting topology and houses are built ‘up’ accordingly. Once I embarked upon the walking route to the ‘Piazzetta’ I soon discovered this first hand. Those that live here have little requirement for gym memberships, they simply walk everywhere, because a trek through this labyrinth would be enough exercise for even the fittest individual. I was amazed at the way in which this path weaved through the landscape and the number of grand houses which graced the trail. People actually live here.
By the time I arrived at the Piazzetta the landscape had flattened out somewhat and Capri offered a shopping paradise for even the most ardent of lavish bargain hunters. Indeed, there was a sense of pretentiousness about the place, as if it was geared towards the elite. Sure, tourists grace this place in droves, but I would imagine the majority of shoppers here are the well-to-do movie-star locals or wealthier Neapolitans who venture to the island on weekends. I wandered aimlessly through the laneways in search of a meal and ultimately stumbled on the Terrazza dei Giardini d’Augusto, which provided an absorbing view of the Tyrrhenian Sea as I inhaled a pizza for lunch. As it is, my visit to Capri would mark the southern most point of Italy that I would reach upon my travels.
Back to Napoli the following day and a tour of the ‘Catacombe di San Gennaro’ was an eerie experience, what with all the underground tombs and such. San Gennaro is known as the ‘Protector of Naples’ and the catacomb houses the oldest known image of him, as well as a cathedral. The tour guide went to great pains to inform us that they actually staged their first wedding here last year. I wonder if tying the knot in a catacomb is good luck? I didn’t have the heart to ask if they were still married.
Last stop in Napoli was a visit to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli which was well the worth the wait, as evidenced by the queue of people which stretched for an entire block. It was here that I witnessed my first mugging, catching a glimpse of what I initially thought were the beginnings of a fight, but in actual fact was two youths struggling to rip the phone from an elderly Spanish gentleman (as I later discovered). It happened oh so quickly and the two culprits darted into a laneway before anyone knew what had happened. So simple in its execution that, you wonder how often it happens — too often I bet. The Spaniard was shaken, but he and his wife appeared philosophical about the event, I guess they were glad that neither of them were hurt.
The museum was nowhere near as exhilarating, but for the exhibition which showcased some of the erotic art uncovered from the Pompei and Herculaneum excavations. There were some truly revealing items on display, some which had the locals in raptures. Say what you want about Italians, they are somewhat prudish when it comes to witnessing the male form in all its splendour and glory. For those who want to learn a bit more about the pornography of its time, check out this Wikipedia entry — the exhibit which depicted ‘Pan copulating with Goat’ was the star of the show for mine.
After a regional flight from Napoli this afternoon, I find myself in the Piedmont region and the buzzing city of Turin, which tomorrow night hosts the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg between Juventus and Real Madrid. It’s a sell-out and I am without a ticket, but just being in town will be an amazing experience, particularly if the Bianconeri manage to get one over the Madrid giants. There will be plenty of sport flavoured activities to come over the next few days and Turin would appear to offer a distinct change of pace from the chaos which was Napoli.