Malcolm & Tracy in Naples,
Italy. November 2006.

Saturday 28th October 2006

No one has ever said a good word to me about Naples so I could hardly be let down but it is grubby, tatty, smelly and noisy. Tracy had booked a hostel near the main railway station, which is never the nicest place in any city, but it was easy to get to on the bus from the airport and would facilitate an easy exit the next day. We has also been told that it is not safe to go out on the streets in the evening but that jus aroused my curiosity so out we went in the late afternoon into the crowded streets. Even the smaller streets were full of shoppers and mopeds weaving through the crowds. Maybe I am fussy but I could see nothing worth buying. We stopped off to see a couple of churches, which were an oasis of semi-quiet in the surrounding noise. As the darkness closed in, the shopping streets became bright, cheerful passages set against the dark, forbidding alleyways running off to each side. Backtracking, we stopped at a little café that Tracy had spotted earlier and sipped 'bire grande' (660ml bottles) and watched the evening life go by. It was so pleasant that we had another bottle of beer each instead of dinner and picked up slices of pizza from one of the many little counters on the way back to the hostel.


Sunday 29th October 2006

In the morning the noise from the market stated at about 7 a.m. but we dozed through it for an hour of two until breakfast was served, or at least, made available. The train station was just the other side of the Piazza Garibaldi but it was stuffed full of street traders selling second hand cloths and shoes, or other goods that would very soon become second hand. There is a train that goes directly to Sorrento via Meta so we buy a couple of tickets along with a 3 day train and entrance ticket to Pompeii, Herculaneum and museums in the area. All these are neatly on the same train line along with Vesuvius. How thoughtful of the Romans! Meta, in stark contrast to Naples, is clean, well kept and quiet. On the down side, we have a tough job finding somewhere open for lunch. It is not far to the cliffs overlooking the sea and a viewpoint with a seat where we settle down in the afternoon sun to watch the gulls, beach and sea activity. Just up the hill we have an apartment booked which has an amazing view out over the Bay of Naples but also of the cliffs behind the town of Meta, which start to glow in the evening sun. When the sun finally sets and the gulls go to bed, then the bats come out to play and all you can hear is the surf rushing quietly against the sand, punctuated by the town clock chiming the quarter hour. We took a nighttime stroll along the beach with the cliffs floodlit on one side and the beaded lights of Naples strung out along the other side of the bay.


Monday 30th October 2006

After a stroll around Meta to pick up provisions, we took a bus along the coast past Piano (another small town) to Sorrento. It is a nice enough town but I can find nothing special to say about it apart from the view of Vesuvius across the bay. A large cruise ship was anchored just off shore with little boats ferrying the passengers to the town. Consequently the town was full of tourists and we just wanted to go back to Meta. In the evening we strolled down to the seafront restaurants in Meta but they were both closed so we climbed back up the hill to Euro Pizza where Tracy had a really nice pizza and I had Canelloni del rosa. The building style in Meta seems to follow that of the Romans, which focuses on a central courtyard with a water feature and plants, surrounded by rooms and enclosed by a high, almost featureless outer wall. A large, imposing door provides an unlikely entrance to the house within.


Tuesday 31st October 2006

We just miss the 9:45 train to Pompeii and have to wait for half an hour amongst a rabble of school kids, apparently reluctant to go into the local school. It is only half an hour on the train so we are soon walking into the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii. There are no information boards and pitiful signs to tell you what you are looking at. The map we are given is just a street map so you are forced to pay extra for an audio guide, which is sparing in what it reveals. As we wander around it is difficult to discern where the ruins end and the rebuild begins. There are wooden lintels embedded in the walls that could be 100 years old but never 2000. The road plan is neatly laid out in rectangles with stone paved roads running between. To the sides of the roads are kerbstones and raised footpaths. At junctions are stepping stones to allow pedestrians to step across the roads, as if the roads were often muddy or covered in dung. Deep ruts in the granite pavement show where cart wheels regularly went. The blocks of land between the roads are large, allowing for shops along the sides of the road and large residences buried within. A large entranceway would lead to a courtyard behind the shops, often with a stone arch and mosaic floor. Inside the residence was probably shielded from the noise and smells of the roads outside. Some of the shops were said to be snack bars and still had marble covered food counters with embedded pots for the food. Other shops had millstones and ovens. On the edge of town were two theatres, a mini coliseum, a sports and parade ground and a collection of temples. One of the public baths was also in good nick with stucco plasterwork and many patches of colour remaining from the wall paintings. We rounded off the day with some nice nosh at the seafront restaurant in Meta that was closed on Monday. The place was hollowed out of the rocky cliff so that it was hard to realise that you were in a seafront restaurant except that a cruise liner did pass by the front door.

Wednesday 1st November 2006

The cloudy start to the day soon turned to rain as we headed to Herculaneum, the other Roman town that was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. Whereas Pompeii was covered in ash, Herculaneum was engulfed in a river of boiling mud. Rather unfortunate for the inhabitants but very fortunate for archaeologists as a lot of the buildings and decorations were well preserved. Even in the library, some 2000 scrolls were recovered. It was spooky to walk up and down the streets and into the houses that were last properly occupied almost 2000 years ago. Some buildings have new roof but most are open to the elements so I can imagine that some of the wall paintings have faded since they were exposed but the mosaics underfoot are still in good shape. Despite the incessant rain I spent quite a few hours peering at as much as I could. Cold and wet we made our way back to our little apartment in Meta.


Thursday 2nd November 2006

We had hoped to climb Vesuvius today but the foreboding clouds did not clear and we ended up just relaxing all day and going out in the evening to celebrate Tracy's birthday.


Friday 3rd November 2006

The sky was bright blue and clear today although the air was a little cool, ideal weather for climbing the 1200m mount Vesuvius. We got off the train at Ercolano and asked at a tourist office about a public bus to Vesuvius in case the numbers had changed since our guide was written. He told us bus 176 although the bus stop indicated that bus No. 5 also went there. The first to turn up was a 176 which went towards Vesuvius but turned back on the edge of a town. We asked the driver if we should get off but he indicated that we should stay on. At the next stop we asked again and he told us that we needed bus No. 5. Not wanting to chase the wild goose any more, we got off and walked back up the hill. After a while we were out of the town and climbing steadily up the tarmac road towards Vesuvius in the distance. After a while longer we came to the bus stop where bus No. 5 would have taken us. The road wound steadily up from there. About an hour further on we came to a hotel that was described as an observatory, now very much disused. We passed many derelict restaurants and others that seemed to be closed for the winter. Further up we encountered an old lava flow, perhaps from the 1944 eruption as there was little vegetation growing upon it. Occasionally we saw segments of rock tubes that lava flows are said to create as their outer surface cools and hardens then the molten inner lava flows out of the tube. Finally, after almost 3 hours of trekking we reached the car park to find that coach loads of people had made it there before us. Not to miss a trick, someone had set up a ticket office and loads of fencing to make sure you had to pay €7.50 to walk any further up. Another half hour trek up the steep volcanic ash slope and we were peering cautiously over the rim of the cinder cone into the fiery crater itself. Except that there was no fire, just puffs of steam emanating from the crater walls. In order to dispel any remaining doubts or fears about standing on top of an active volcano, there were a couple of snack bars and gift shops. If only to prove to ourselves that we could do it, we decided to walk back down. As well as the exercise we got to see the sun set over Napoli, Capri and disappear, sparkling into the sea. The sky turned to a glorious deep red as the moon came up over a dark and passive Vesuvius. I bet you don't get to see that from the bus. It was dark and cold by the time we caught the bus on the edge of town but we felt a great sense of achievement that we had made it all the way up and down again.


Saturday 4th November 2006

Sadly, this was the last day of our trip to Naples and we spent it all packing and getting to the airport. Still, we had a great time.