8th May 2015
But first, a word from our sponsor . . . I wish . . .
I should mention, before moving on, that we were attending a bar in Parma (in order to gather intelligence about a suitable place to sample the city’s fine fare, you understand) and while we refreshed ourselves (me with a couple of fine local beers and Rachel with a couple of glasses of fine white wine from Lombardy) the friendly and busy barman plied us with a series of (free) bar snacks: melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto on small bread, some salami (also on the small and excellent bread roll slices) and strawberries (they are in season here at the moment) drizzled with a balsamic salsa. Sensational! And shortly thereafter, while making up something for other customers (he worked with tremendous, but artistic urgency) he passed us a couple of big chunks of delicious, nutty and sweet Parmigiana Regiano Cheese (the one we can’t afford at home in Perth). Now, suitably prepared to face a lunch of Parma’s excellent produce, we cheerfully followed his directions – translated with the help of another customer – and found the Gallo D’Oro. His advice was spot on – an excellent choice.
And – having passengers travelling with their dogs, large and small, on board trains and buses adds a frisson of interest to travel here; there is always the possibility of a full-on dog fight. Saw a man wiping his little poodle’s behind with a tissue on the street the other day – Goodness me!
Naples! Where to begin?
Mount Vesuvius dominates the far shores of the Bay. Though supposedly extinct since it erupted and destroyed nearby Pompey in year 78(?) there are those who believe that it could blow again – any day now – and that the govt should have in hand an emergency programme. Well, if it blew again I would predict utter chaos and panic and I wouldn’t like to be the one trying to call the people to order .
On checking into our pre-booked hotel (that wasn’t quite true to the internet photos but is clean, tidy and has secure rooms) the heavily tattooed, pierced and bung-eyed hotelier warned us unequivocally about not trusting the people on the crowded streets below (we’re only a couple of hundred metres from the sprawling Napoli Central Rail Station). It turns out the city has one serious reputation for pick-pockets, thieves and con-artists: Don’t buy any mobile phones (while the one you check out might work they will do a last minute magic switch with the help of an accomplice). Don’t fall for the old pea-under-the-3-shells trick (they use little brass bells here). We’ve seen quite a few plying this trick and getting good crowds of passing tourists too. Always carry your valuables in front. Always be vigilant (here he points to his good eye) and take care. It’s not the numerous black African traders you need to watch out for either – but the local Neapolitans, he insists.
Well, it doesn’t hurt to be advised of local conditions even though we are pretty careful of each other and our valuables at all times, but when we venture out and go into a bar across the street to buy a couple of drinks and break a 50 Euro note, the grizzled old barman warns us emphatically to watch our money, with much pointing to his eye and tapping the back of his ear. An old silver-haired sot with two heavy gold chains around his neck sits at a table nearby with an ebony-black man, nodding. He grins at us and with plain gestures affirms emphatically what the barman has said. OK, we’re well warned.
The next day, in the same vicinity when we eat in a Turkish eatery, we are warned again by its owner to watch out for local pick-pockets. Well, we like to tempt fate and we subsequently spend quite a bit of time in this area, extending our stay at our hotel for a total of seven days. Seedy as the area indeed is, it has an exciting buzz to it and there are many interesting cafes, restaurants, eateries and bars, plus street markets stretching for blocks selling live seafood, meats, fruit and vegetables, clothing and-and-and . . . It is gritty, often odorous, busy, noisy, bustling and hustling and you also have to watch your step on the streets’ worn old flagstones and cobblestones.
The small shops (those types that have totally disappeared from our Aust/NZ streets), restaurants, bars and cafes in the old town and the Spanish quarter are amazing and no matter where we go we never feel threatened anyway (we are, however, alert). The city also has modern shops along its broad Corsos and Avenidas with interesting sculptures at the piazza junctions.
The place bustles and pulses. I wouldn’t want to live here, but it’s a great place to visit. The ancient town and the Spanish Quarter are principally on the slopes of a mountain entwined with narrow cobblestoned streets and steps reminiscent of parts of Gibraltar.
On two days we wander upwards through its close-walled streets, absorbing this ancient city’s heartbeat, being nosey (well, I was), peering into people’s living rooms that front right onto the narrow pavements. What has changed, of course, is the popular mode of transport. The sounds of scooters now echo off its walls and we often had to back up to let them pass. Often (just like in Asian countries) the scooter has a family aboard (frequently all helmetless) and, as I imagine they have for centuries, they ride their beasts with carefree, wild abandon.
We’re taking day trips out of Napoli and have booked another 3 days here at our Hotel Ginevra (7 days should do it 😉 ).