17th May 2015
On a train to Messina from Napoli – 48 Euros each, 6 hour journey, comfortable 6 seater cabin.
Naples was a random choice for us, but what a fabulous city it turned out to be: Fabulous, that is, both historically and visually. The subterranean world of the old city, quite a few parts of which are open for tourists, is fascinating. A Neolithic village expanded by Visigoths then Romans then Spanish and built over and on top of as the city suffered floods, earthquakes and volcanic inundation, it is a far more significant city than we at first thought.
These subterranean ruined towns may go some way to explain the parlous state of the flag-stoned narrow roads too – the slabs often move and rock as we walk upon them and I would feel that at any moment the surface may give way under me, dropping me literally into some ill-lit and dank version of ‘the dark ages’.
We struck a gem of an ‘antique shop’ yesterday, absolutely filled to the gills with tantalising, unusual pieces – but it was closed. Walking around the corner down an alley we could see through mesh grills to lighted underground caverns which I figured (correctly as it turned out) belonged to the antiquities dealer as the rooms were lined and littered with . . . well, old junk, but I mean really old. Anyway, lucky we hung around as he opened at 6pm. I asked Agostino, the owner, if he had any Roman coins for sale and he brought out old tins in which he had gathered hundreds of mixed denominations – the Roman ones dug from under and around his caverns. While I went through them Rachel disappeared into the bowels of the shop. For my initial selection of about 18 assorted coins he wanted far too much and was not to be the ‘soft touch’ I had naively hoped he may be, so I eventually whittled it down to five coins – one of which was a small gold Roman one. I reckon I concluded a good deal but I’ll check it out with Jesus (family, and an expert collector) when we get to Seville later.
A strange thing – late at night, fireworks (big bangers) would go off near our hotel. On the first night, given all those warnings about the good citizenry of Napoli, we thought it was gunfire. Upon asking our intelligent and fluent English-speaking young student bartender, even he was at a loss as to explain it. Some, apparently, think it is a signal to say the drugs have safely landed (it is a big port city, after all), but apart from that there is no apparent reason festive or otherwise. There is a large Chinese community of shop owners in Naples, especially around where we were staying, but they are not known to have late-night celebrations that I know of. The making of fireworks, especially the big-banger sort, is quite a prosperous back-yard industry here, but the reasons for their setting them off in the middle of the night will remain just another mystery for now.
To be quite honest, much of Naples is pretty untidy: sprawling and often grubby, littered and grotty and you have to walk with care to avoid dog shit, but we are both reluctant to leave this very interesting city.