Category Archives: Urban Art

Naples, Walking The Back Streets

Naples Backstreets 03.jpg 

“I remember the back streets of Naples
Two children begging in rags
Both touched with a burning ambition
To shake off their lowly brown tags…”

Peter Sarstedt – ‘Where do you go to my lovely’

There is a famous phrase that claims ‘See Naples and die!’ which originated in the eighteenth century under the Bourbon regime when the city was added to the Grand Tour of Europe and meant that before you passed away you must experience the beauty and magnificence of Naples which at that time one of the most important cities in all of Europe.  This is where Horatio Nelson met and wooed Emma Hamilton.  Naples was capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies until Italian Unification in 1861 and was the wealthiest city in Italy, plundered then by Rome leading to economic decline and a hundred years of neglect.

Some, less charitable, now say that the city is so mad, dangerous and badly polluted that death might possibly be a consequence of a visit there.

But to be fair not everyone is so pessimistic and gloomy about Naples and in 1913 George Bradshaw wrote in his guide ‘Great Continental Railway Journeys”…

“Naples is a bit of heaven that has tumbled to earth.”

The dangerously psychotic cab driver with a personal death wish which included anyone else in his cab at the same time dropped us off at a taxi rank at the City Cathedral and gave us final walking instructions to our accommodation but when we got there we couldn’t find it and I immediately accused him of dropping us off in the wrong place.  Unfairly as it happened because as it turned out it was my fault that I didn’t spot the small plaque on the wall that identified the b&b which was inside a residential apartment block.

My heart sank, in pursuit of a bargain price had I made a massive mistake?  We were too early to book in but we left our bags and set off immediately into the back streets of Naples.

Not the sort of hotel front entrance that we normally expect…

Naples B&BNaples Backstreets 01

I liked it immediately.  I liked it a lot.  At the Centro Storico the warren of alleys with peeling sepia walls were vibrant, chaotic and gloriously dilapidated, the architecture was street stained, the locals loud and boisterous without any sort of volume control, the balconies were bannered with laundry and the driving was appalling.  This was a fabulous place, the beating heart of the city, raw, dirty, passionate, crumbling, secret, corrupt but above all welcoming.

But so dirty, so grubby, so full of street litter that I concluded that although Naples was notorious for crime that we were more likely to be endangered by grime especially as it is well known that refuse collection in Naples is run by Mafia gangs.

The cities of southern Italy are in complete contrast to those in the north, this is a completely different experience, there is no wonderful architecture, no magnificent art except mindless graffiti, here there is no Michelangelo or Leonardo de Vinci, no Raphael or Botticelli, it reminded me immediately of Palermo in Sicily and Bari in Puglia but like a warm mozzarella the city oozes history, charm and adventure.

Not nearly as gloriously grand as Rome, as fabulously splendid as Florence or as dreamily romantic or decadent as Venice but with its own unique character, gritty, grimy, raw and sweaty with a down to earth proletarian charm.

Naples Grafitti

Naples is a traditional South Italian living and working class city with shabby narrow streets, care worn but brightly colour-washed buildings that have ancient coats of paint which have blotched and blurred by successive harsh summers and the result is an artist’s palette, water colours leaking in the rain, everything running, flaking and fusing. The streets between the houses are deep grey gullies decorated by washing lines carelessly strung outside windows and across the pavements like tattered bunting as though in anticipation of an important carnival, dripping and swaying above little shops, street food vendors and small bars.

I was intrigued by the shops,  the greengrocers with outside tables weighed down with plump produce grown in the rich volcanic Vesuvian soil, the mini-markets with a cold cabinet display full of tempting hams and pungent cheeses, the cheap bottles of beer and the shop selling locally produced wine.  Especially the shop selling locally produced wine.  We bought some ludicrously cheap grape juice of course even though there was no way of determining its origin or its vintage or with any confidence whatsoever about its alcohol content or what damage it was likely to inflict on our livers!

Naples Balcony

We walked some more through the pedestrian zone, although the term pedestrian zone  I warn you should not be taken too literally in Naples.  There are generously spaced bollards at each end and if anything motorised can squeeze between them then this appears to be completely acceptable and a visitor certainly needs to have their wits about them when walking casually around these streets that’s for sure.  What makes it even more alarming is that the narrow, winding streets and high buildings make even the most clapped out moped sound like a Ferrari on a Grand Prix starting grid.

At three o’clock we thought our room must surely be ready but no, we had another thirty minutes or so to wait so we found a bar and ordered afternoon drinks and waited.  When I say waited I really mean I worried because as time passed by I was not so optimistic about the accommodation and how much trouble I might be in.

After a beer to muster courage we returned to our b&b, my heart beating fast enough to contribute to a marching band but I needn’t have worried because it was absolutely wonderful.  It turns out that this was once the house of a member of the Neapolitan nobility (a long time ago of course) and we were allocated a room on the front with a special balcony that had been installed two hundred years earlier to provide a grand view of the Cathedral Square outside.

I was so relieved that I immediately opened the bottle of wine and as we declared it completely acceptable considered our dining options for later.  After a short debate we agreed that as we were in Naples then it just had to be pizza.  It had to be pizza! Of course it had to be pizza!

Our room is balcony top right…

Catherdal B&B Balcony Naples

Portugal, A Walking Tour of Ovar

Ovar Portugal Azulejo

The plan for our three days at the seaside in Furadouro was to take a break from travelling and the trains, the drag-bags and the packing and unpacking and to spend some time relaxing on the beach.

Unfortunately our plan was scuppered by the weather because when we woke the next day there was a thick sea mist which would have challenged anything that the North Sea can throw at us back home.

Trying as best we could to be optimistic about the situation we hoped that it would be blown away by the time we had finished breakfast but it was still there like a damp shroud when we left the hotel and ventured onto the streets.  By mid morning it was getting even worse and our clothes were getting damp so we finally admitted defeat, took our swimming costumes and towels back to the hotel and tried to think of some alternative entertainment for the day.

Then I remembered that the nice lady in the Tourist Information Office next door had yesterday tried to persuade me to take a walking tour of the nearby city of Ovar on a trail of the ceramic tiles.  This didn’t seem too exciting to me at the time but it was now getting rapidly more appealing.  It was only €2 each which seemed rather a bargain so we quickly made a return visit to enquire if there were still places available and there were so we signed up.

We considered ourselves fortunate about that because there is only one official tour like this every month and this was the last of the season.

Portugal Tiles Postcard

Now we had to make our way to Ovar so being too mean to take a taxi we walked to the bus stop and when it arrived we were glad to be going inland away from the sea mist and we were encouraged to see some welcome brightness in the sky.

To be honest there isn’t a great deal to do in Ovar, at midday the street market was beginning to close down and we didn’t want to explore the streets in case this was the route of the tour and we might spoil it so instead we found a pavement café, ordered a drink and counted down the minutes to the start of the walk.

This seemed to take a long time, the pace of life in Ovar is rather slow, not nearly as fast as our consumption of beer and wine so we had a second drink and then made our way to the assembly point at the Tourist Information Office where we were separated into two groups, those that spoke Portuguese and those who didn’t.

Our guide was proud to begin the tour with an explanation that Ovar is considered to be the City Museum of the Azulejo since it has a rich collection of tiles on the facades of the buildings, more so than anywhere else in Portugal apparently and for this reason the Museu Nacional do Azulejo in Lisbon has declared Ovar to be a city of historic national importance.

Azulejo Ovar

Azulejos first came to Portugal in the fifteenth century, when parts of the Iberian Peninsula remained under Moorish rule.  Although many assume the word is a derivation of azul (Portuguese for blue) the word is Arabic in origin and comes from az-zulayj, which roughly translates as ‘polished stone’.

Nowhere in Europe has tiles like Portugal, not even next door Spain, they are everywhere and have become one of the iconic symbols of the country and are used to clad buildings both internally for decoration and externally as an essential component of construction for insulation in winter and for reflecting away the heat of the sun in summer.

It seemed to me that Ovar is a city desperately seeking a tourist identity, every town needs tourists after all and Ovar is exploiting the heritage of the Azulejo.  The walk began with a pleasant stroll through the streets of the city centre with frequent stops for information from our tour guide and took forty minutes or so.

I liked Ovar and I hope it succeeds.

Ovar Portugal Tile Painting

Overflowing with unexpected new knowledge we walked now to a ceramic factory on the edge of the city where we were invited to have a stab at painting our own ceramic tile.  We applied the paint, tried to remove the smudges (unsuccessfully as it happened) and then left them behind for the oven baking process and a promise that they would be delivered to us later in the day.  It was all rather like being back at school.

Now there was a bus trip to the nearby village of Válega and the church there which is a true masterpiece of tile painting art and surely one of the remarkable churches in all of Portugal.  A golden temple that sparkles with amazing tiles of many colours especially now that the sky had cleared and the sun was illuminating the towering facade.

Actually I found it to be overly showy and gaudy in its appearance but the tour guides seemed to like it and we spent a few minutes inside and out.

Válega Church Ovar Portugal

We were beginning to wonder what was happening next on the itinerary when we were driven to an artisan workshop and museum and I began to sense the commercial part of the tour was fast approaching. I was wrong to be sceptical however because this was where the €2 was going and some enthusiastic ladies in traditional costume baked for us and then served up the local specialty of orange loaf bread which was quite nice but to be honest I found a bit stodgy, a touch under baked and rather too much of it.

This was the end of the tour, the coach took us back to Ovar and we caught the bus to Furadouro where the sun was belatedly shining and we hoped for better weather tomorrow so that we could revert to our original beach plan.

Later we went to the Tourist Information Office to collect out painted tiles and were surprised to find that the baking process had seemed to surprisingly improve them.  We use them at home now as oversized coasters.

Ovar Portugal Orange Bread

Portugal, Lisbon Streets – Art or Vandalism?

Lisbon Tram Grafitti

In Lisbon and throughout Portugal no public place is safe from Spray Paint Vandals…

Lisbon Urban Art

I don’t dislike this…

Lisbon Wall Painting Urban Art

But I don’t like this…

IMG_7632

Where do you stand on the issue of Urban Art or Criminal Graffiti?

Portugal, Lisbon – On The Streets (1)

Lisbon ArtLisbon StreetsLisbon Poster
Lisbon Wanted PosterCurse of the Smart Phone

Portugal, Lisbon and Mountaineering Sightseeing

Lisbon Tram

It was hot in Lisbon, very hot indeed, everyone kept telling us that Portugal was in the grip of a heat wave and that it was too hot, but we didn’t mind, we were on holiday.  We settled into our studio apartment, cranked up the fan and then left and made for the nearby centre of Baixa.

By now it was late afternoon and the heat was beginning to drain away into the deep shadows cast by the tall buildings and the sun was melting into the deep pools of shade of doorways and courtyards so we enjoyed a walk to a shady park where we stopped for a beer and then took a stroll through the elegantly tiled but grotesquely graffiti scarred streets of the town.  I was shocked by the urban scrawl which some call art but I call vandalism.  I didn’t like it.

In contrast I liked the views from the top of the city even though there was a lot of construction work going on.  From a high vantage point we looked across to the castle and the cathedral and down to the river and the commercial centre.  We continued to walk down and down, I had no idea that Lisbon was going to be so steep and hilly and it was beginning to make Rome or Valletta seem like Florida in the USA or Lincolnshire in the UK.

Lisbon

Eventually we reached the ruins of a cathedral but it was getting late so we didn’t pay to go inside.  Ruined because it was destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake which was one of the World’s major catastrophic seismological events – ever!

It occurred before the introduction of the Richter Scale of course (1935) but today it is estimated that the Lisbon earthquake had a magnitude in the range 9.0  to 9.5 which, on a scale of 1 to 10,  is just about as big as it is possible to get and makes the event possibly the biggest ever in the history of the World.  The resulting Tsunami reached the Caribbean in the west and as far as Greenland to the North.  This was one hell of a bang let me tell you!

We were struggling to get our bearings but managed to grope our way back to the apartment passing on the way a restaurant that caught our eye for evening meal.  I found a shop for beer and wine and next day breakfast essentials and then we sat and relaxed, changed and wandered back to the restaurant.  It was full, really full and no slots left all evening so we booked for the following night and set off to find an alternative.

After a long walk I liked where we found but Kim was still sulking so we didn’t linger long after dining and returned and spent our first night in Portugal in our tiny studio.

Lisbon Doors and windows

The next morning the sky was blue, the sun was rapidly rising in the sky and by the time we had prepared and eaten breakfast, tidied up and left the apartment the mercury was already rising rapidly.

The plan was to make our way down to the River Tagus and then take in some of the sights along the way.  Some way along the planned route we took an unnecessary detour and we managed to get sucked into the labyrinth of back streets and got quite lost.  I confess that this was entirely my mistake but happily Kim didn’t seem to spot this, or, if she did, she generously chose to overlook it and not mention it.  I kept quiet about it.

lisbon streets

We eventually emerged from the streets down to the river and some way away we could see the famous 25 de Abril (previously António Salazar) Bridge and we started to walk towards it.  It turned out to be further than we estimated and the view wasn’t that special anyway so eventually we abandoned the walk and made our way back up a another steep hill to the city centre.

At the top of the hill we visited the Basilica but I have to agree with Kim on this point, it wasn’t memorable and it looked like any similar church or cathedral in Catholic Europe and as we walked out of the door I immediately forgot all about it.

Lisbon Commecial Centre

Back at the river we stopped for a drink and an hour in the sunshine and then we tackled the walk back to the apartment. We passed through the Commercial Centre with its magnificent buildings where it was possible with a bit of imagination to conjure up a vision of a major naval and commercial centre with ships and dockyards where now there are tourist river cruises and ice cream parlours.

Eventually we found our way back to the apartment where we sat and enjoyed the local environment before making our way to the chosen restaurant which turned out to be absolutely excellent.

Later we made plans to visit nearby Sintra the following day.

Lisbon Lisboa postcard Trms

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Ireland, Jellyfish Pizza

Wroclaw, Daily Dwarf (1)

The Official Travel Guide in Wrocław – visitWroclaw.eu

Greek Islands, Old Doors of Syros

Syros Mansion WindowsSyros delapedated windowsSyros Greece Old DoorSyros Greece Old Door

Greek Islands, Doors of Amorgos

Amorgos Door 01Amorgos Door 02Amorgos Door 03

Ireland – Signs of the Times

No Grave digging signTourist Office Sign SchullSchull Closed Staff Rest

You will probably have to open this one & enlarge it to see the sign content….

Funeral Samaritans StopIreland Shit Ice Cream