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In the Golfo di Napoli

Napoli, Italy

The first indication that we had arrived at the hostel was an Italian man calling my name and gesticulating wildly (as is the stereotype) from a third storey window in a back-alley in the old part of town. We followed his instructions and were welcomed into the hostel: his home and the top-rated hostel in Naples, a fact of which he is very proud. We understood that he would be feeding us and the smells from the kitchen hinted that this would be something spectacular, but before we could eat we were put through a brief Italian lesson, and were afterwards asked to sing along to a number of Italian songs. The food was beautiful and the wine, although coming from a 5 litre plastic container, was equally good.

The three of us decided to get up early so that we could make the most of what the Bay of Naples has to offer. We planned to climb Vesuvius before the heat of midday, which we managed, getting a taxi most of the way up as is the custom and then walking the final 270m or so. It is a tough walk, over sliding pebbles and up a steep slope, but the views from the top down into the volcano make it worth it, as do those on the other side out over the bay. Unfortunately, it was misty so we were unable to see as far as on a clear day and we were prevented from climbing to the very top by a man blocking the way who informed us that, for insurance reasons, he could not let us go to the top unless we gave him 100 euros between us. I think this may have been a con, but his friends were willing to back up his claims and there was no other way to the summit.

Next stop: Pompei. So many people written so beautifully about this haunting place that I hardly feel qualified to. Personally, it was the fulfillment of years of anticipation. I first discovered the city aged 11 through the Cambridge Latin Course, saw the pictures of the victims frozen in time and eagerly read and watched all the books, documentaries and dramatisations of the city´s tragic end. Pompei is different to all the other ancient sites I had ever been to, both because of the state of preservation (paint is still vividly visible on many walls) and the nature of what is actually preserved: normal homes, taverns, shops, baths, the places where ordinary citizens went about their daily lives nearly 2000 years ago. The site is so vast that we did not get the opportunity to see all of it, but I know it is somewhere to which I will return.

We explored some of Naples itself in the afternoon, looking at some impressive churches and soaking up the atmosphere, and in the evening the three of us went to a pizzeria that Giovanni, our host had recommended as the best in Naples. Included on the vast menu were pizzas named after each and every one of the owner´s 21 children. ("Great man," Giovanni had said, "... great woman. Their television was broken.") Finally, we got icecream, and sat to eat it on the steps of one of the city´s famous churches as the cars careened past us wildly.

The second day I was on my own. The weather had improved, but most of the city activities are indoor ones so I could not justify finding a park and lying in the sun. Giovanni, very proud of Naples and obviously still bitter that Rome had been chosen as Italy´s capital after unification, provides his guests with brightly annotated maps and insistent advice on where to go. Following this, I took a tour of what was beneath the city. The first part was a Roman threatre, found some years ago underneath someone´s house - interesting, but there are better examples of theatres across the Roman world and you don´t have to descend beneath a trap-door to see them. The second half, however, took us through a bigger system of ´caves´, originally the underground water system and more recently used as bomb shelters in WW2. These were fascinating, and carrying a candle for light through a 50cm wide passage was strangely atmospheric. The one downside, was the tour guide, a Neapolitan Manchester United fan who insisted on speaking in a bad Glaswegian accent. On a tour that included Brits, Americans, French, Italians and Germans, he also insisted on telling several uncomfortable and long jokes about the war, seemingly oblivious to his both audience and the passage of time. Finally emerging from under the ground, I headed for the archeological museum. It is well stocked and even includes a ´Secret Room´ - I´ll let your imagination do the work here - but after several hours it can get a little monotonous.

That evening I was again treated to a Giovanni home-cooked meal, and again had to sing afterwards. Some new and noisier people had moved into the room which made sleep difficult, so I took it easy the next morning, walking around town and then returning for my bag and making for the station.

permalink written by  BenWH on May 15, 2009 from Napoli, Italy
from the travel blog: Gap Year Odyssey
tagged Italy

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