Tag Archives: Italy

A Postcard From Sorrento

Postcard From Sorrento.jpg

In the spring of 1976 I made arrangements for my very first trip to continental Europe and booked a Cosmos holiday to Sorrento in Italy with my girlfriend Linda.  We were due to go on the 12th June but at some point shortly before travel she fell for the charms of a reporter on the local newspaper and abruptly ended the relationship.

This created a problem because it was within the no refund period and so I was faced with the prospect of losing all my money.   I could have begged I suppose but that would have been undignified so instead we had a family crisis meeting and the solution was found when dad enthusiastically stepped in and agreed to take her place. That’s what dads are for, I would do exactly the same!

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Travels in Italy, A Walk Around Rimini

I was pleasantly surprised by Rimini, I was expecting a ghastly Mediterranean holiday resort but found history, charm, elegance and a busy fishing port.

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Travels in Italy, Looking Back

Travels in Italy

Not surprisingly Italy is the country with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites; it has fifty-three, seven more than Spain which has the second most sites in Europe.  I have visited half of the sites in Spain but when I reviewed the Italy list I was disappointed to find that I have been to less than a quarter.

This time in Italy I was planning to add a few more, Milan (The Last Supper), Modena and Ferrara.

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Travels in Italy, Emilia Romagna

Emilio Remagna Preview

After the success of the previous year’s holiday to Portugal where we used the train service to travel from Lisbon to Porto with various stops upon the way we decided that we would do something similar this year and when we were making plans we decided to travel to Italy persuaded most of all by the £40 return air flights to Milan.

Our plan was to use the trains to first visit the Italian Lakes and then to travel through the Region of Emilia-Romagna and stop off at the cities of Parma, Modena and Bologna and finish at the seaside at Rimini on the Adriatic Riviera.

Travels in Italy coming soon…

Naples, Mount Vesuvius

From  literally anywhere in Naples Vesuvius stands threateningly close by, like a loaded gun pointed at the heart of the city…

Naples and Vesuvius

Even eggheads find it difficult to be absolutely precise about this but scientists think that Vesuvius formed about twenty-five thousand years ago and today the volcano is rated as one of the most dangerous in the world – not because of its size but because of the proximity of millions of people living close by and if it was to go off again with a similar eruption to the one that destroyed Pompeii in 79 A.D. then it is estimated that it could displace up to three million people who live in and around the city of Naples.

The volcano has a major eruption cycle of about two thousand years so the next eruption is dangerously imminent.

I visited the top of the Volcano in 1976.

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Vesuvius still smoking and active

Naples, Postcards of Mount Vesuvius

Vesuvius Naples Italy

“…when the sun burst through the morning mists and fired this tinted magnificence, it topped imperial Vesuvius like a jeweled crown!” , Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad

In 1976 I visited Sorrento in Italy.  The currency was the Lira and  the notes were so worthless (I seem to remember that the smallest denomination was 1,000) that it was normal practice for shops to give change in the form of a postcard.

One day I went to Mount Vesuvius and came back with these to add to my collection.

Vesuvius the craterVesuvius Postcard73-vesuvius-old-postacrd

My personal favourite…

Vesuvius Postcard

Danger in Naples – Camorra, Vesuvius and Pollution

Naples Italy

“”See Naples and die.” Well, I do not know that one would necessarily die after merely seeing it, but to attempt to live there might turn out a little differently””, Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad

On Saturday it was time for another trip and after breakfast we joined the coach that was taking us to Naples.  Naples is the third largest city in Italy after Rome and Milan but in the Golden Age of the eighteenth century it was the third largest in Europe after London and Paris.  Until its annexation to the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was the wealthiest and most industrialised of the Italian states.

There is a famous phrase that says ‘See Naples and die!’ which originated under the Bourbon regime and means that before you die you must experience the beauty and magnificence of Naples.  Some, less charitable, now say that the city is so mad, dangerous and polluted that death might possibly be a consequence of a visit there.

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.”

Centro Storico Naples

I liked it immediately.  At the Centro Storico the warren of alleys with peeling sepia walls were vibrant, chaotic and gloriously dilapidated, the architecture was glorious, the locals loud and boisterous, the balconies bannered with laundry and the driving was appalling.   This was a glorious place, the beating heart of the city, raw, passionate, crumbling, secret, welcoming and corrupt

Naples, we learned, was dangerous for a number of reasons.  Most obvious of all is its perilously close proximity to Vesuvius that looms large over the city. Naples is the most densely populated volcanic region in the world and is regarded as potentially one of the most dangerous volcanoes on earth because there is a population of three million people living so close to it.  Vesuvius has a tendency towards unexpected explosive eruptions and as the last one was in 1946 the next one is most probably overdue.

52 Naples

The second reason is lawlessness because Naples has enormous problems with Mafia style organised crime.  The Naples equivalent of the Mafia is the Camorra, which is a loose confederation of criminal networks in control of organised crime, prostitution, arms dealing and drug-trafficking, and the gang wars result in a high number of deaths.

The network of clans has been described as Italy’s most murderous crime syndicate, preying on the communities around it by means of extortion and protection rackets. Rival factions wage feuds as they battle to control the drugs trade.

Although we were extremely unlikely to come across the Camorra on our short visit to the city the tour guide did give strong advice on taking care of wallets and valuables and a recommendation not to buy anything from illegal street vendors.  She told us that cheap cigarettes would most likely be made from sawdust substituted for tobacco, leather handbags would be plastic and whiskey would be cold tea instead of a single malt and wherever we went we pestered by children trying to tempt us into a purchase.

“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’

The Godfather

The third reason is the high levels of pollution which means that Naples is a very unhealthy city.  It was the most bombed Italian city of World-War-Two and today as we drove through it looked as though they were still tidying up.  The streets were full of litter and there was graffiti on almost every wall.  The historical tourist centre, which twenty years after our visit was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was better but we didn’t have to stray far away to find the unpleasant parts and the guide discouraged us from breaking away from the group.

There was a lot of air pollution as well and although the sun was shining above it we were trapped in a layer of smog and haze.  We drove to a viewing platform high up in the city overlooked by the bulk of Vesuvius and with a jaw-dropping view over the bay looking back towards the Sorrentine Peninsula where we could just about make out the ghostly apparition of Capri and although the sea looked inviting we knew that this was one of the most polluted parts of the whole of the Mediterranean Sea.

Vesuvius Naples Italy

The main reason for a trip to Naples was to visit the National Archaeological Museum which is considered one of the most important in the World for artifacts from the Roman Empire.  It was all very interesting and the best exhibits were the treasures unearthed at Pompeii and Herculaneum which filled many of the rooms.

I remember it as a curious museum without logical sequence or order and many of the valuable items on display seemed dangerously vulnerable.  In one room was a wooden bed that had been recovered from Pompeii and which one visitor decided to sit on to test it out.  This provoked a rebuke from an attendant but I have to say that it was their own fault for not giving it adequate protection.  I expect things might be different now.

But maybe not and I like this news report from August 2013:

“A tourist snapped the finger off a priceless fourteenth century statue in Florence. The incident took place in the Italian city’s world famous Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, with the six hundred year-old exhibit believed to be the work of eminent medieval sculptor Giovanni d’Ambrogio.

The tourist apologised for damaging the priceless artwork but the museum condemned the tourist’s behaviour, saying: “In a globalized world like ours, the fundamental rules for visiting a museum have been forgotten, that is, ‘Do not touch the works’”.

But there is  a twist to the tale – The museum  subsequently confessed that the broken finger was not original to the piece, and had been added at a later date.

In the late afternoon we left Naples and drove through the untidy outskirts of the city through whole neighbourhoods that were desperately in need of some attention.  After the War the Italian Government spent huge amounts of cash on rebuilding Naples and the south of the country but in some of these places it looked as if they were yet to make a start.  As we moved out of the haze of the city the sun came through and we drove back down the main road that returned us to Sant’ Agnello.

Naples Italy from viewing platform