Tag Archives: Italy

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

Travelling – The Grand Tour of Europe

Tourists The Grand Tour of Europe

“…nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.”  –  Mark Twain

People have always travelled to other parts of the world to see great buildings and works of art, to learn new languages, to experience new cultures and to enjoy different food and drink…

…In 2008 I flew to Athens and in the departure lounge queue behind us was a couple of girls and one announced to the other that ‘I only go on holiday for three things, to get drunk, get stoned and get laid’, I had to see who this person was and when I turned round she turned out to be so unattractive that I was tempted to say ‘Don’t build your hopes up, if I were you I would concentrate on the first two!’ but she was bigger than me so I said nothing of course!

In 1936 the League of Nations defined a foreign tourist as someone travelling abroad for at least twenty-four hours and its successor, the United Nations amended this definition in 1945 by including a maximum stay of six months.  In early 2010 the European Commissioner, Antonio Tajani, unveiled a plan declaring tourism a human right and introduced it with the statement that “travelling for tourism today is a right. The way we spend our holidays is a formidable indicator of our quality of life.”

Young English elites of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (early Rahs really) often spent two to four years travelling around Europe in an effort to broaden their horizons and learn about language, architecture, geography and culture in an experience known as the Grand Tour.

In fact the word tourist has its origins in what used to be more correctly called the Grand Tour of Europe, which was a term first used by Richard Lassels in his 1670 book ‘Voyage or a Complete Journey through Italy’ and after that it came into general usage to describe the travels in Europe of wealthy young men and women in the years of the Enlightenment where it was quite normal to take a gap year (or four) in the quest for a broader education.

Lassels was a Roman Catholic priest and a tutor to several of the English nobility and travelled through Italy five times. In his book, he claims that any truly serious student of architecture, antiquity, and the arts must travel through France and Italy, and suggested that all “young lords” make the Grand Tour in order to understand the political, social, and economic realities of the world.

The Traveller Oviedo Spain

The primary purpose of the Grand Tour lay in the exposure both to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance and an an introduction to the aristocratic and fashionably polite society of the European continent.  In addition, before museum collections went on tour themselves,  it provided the only opportunity to view specific works of art, and possibly the only chance to hear certain music and it was commonly undertaken in the company of a Cicerone, a knowledgeable guide or tutor.

The Grand Tour had more than superficial cultural importance as the historian E.P. Thompson observed, “ruling-class control in the 18th century was located primarily in a cultural hegemony, and only secondarily in an expression of economic or physical (military) power.”

While the general objective of the Grand Tour was essentially educational (and this probably what mum and dad thought that they were forking out for) they were also notorious for more frivolous pursuits such as getting hammered, partying heavily and sleeping with as many continental lovelies as possible and so began a tradition that thousands of holiday Brits continue to this day in the party hot-spots of Europe.

When young men on the Grand Tour weren’t misbehaving like people on a stag weekend to Amsterdam they were mostly interested in visiting those cities that were considered the major centres of culture at the time, primarily Paris, Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples.

90 Rome

The Grand Tourist would travel from city to city and usually spend some time in smaller towns and up to several months in the three main cities on the itinerary.  Paris was considered the grandest and most cultured city and was usually first en-route and tourists would rent apartments for several weeks at a time and would make occasional visits to the countryside and adjacent towns.

From Paris, they travelled south either across the Alps or by a ship on the Mediterranean Sea to Italy and then they would pass on to Rome or Venice.  To begin with Rome was initially the southernmost point they would travel to but when excavations began at Herculaneum and Pompeii in 1738 the two sites also became additional major stop-off points.

Other locations sometimes included as part of some Grand Tour included Spain and Portugal, Germany, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Baltic States. However, these other spots lacked the cultural and historical appeal of Paris and Italy and the substandard roads made travel much more difficult so they were not always the most popular.

Some of them didn’t have vineyards either so I suppose that might have reduced their appeal somewhat.

The British it seems have always been rather keen on travelling abroad and we have left our mark all over Europe (and not just through football violence either) in Nice one of the first and most established holiday resorts on the French Riviera, the long esplanade along the seafront is known to this day as the Promenade des Anglais and in many other historic resorts in continental Europe, old well-established palace hotels have names like the Hotel Bristol, the Hotel Carlton or the Hotel Majestic, reflecting the predominance of English customers.

In fact there are nearly three hundred hotels around the world called Bristol. They take their name from Frederick Augustus Hervey (1730-1803), the 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, who spent most of his life travelling around Europe enjoying the best hospitality money could buy.  What a good life that would have been, to be sure!

This sort of thing really appeals to me; both the exploration and knowledge and having a really good knees up at the same time and I have become determined to travel as much in Europe as I possibly can. There are forty-six countries in Europe and I have only so far been to twenty-nine so I am just over half way towards my objective of visiting them all.

Ryanair was Europe’s original low fares airline and is my favourite which is lucky for me because the airline has over eleven hundred low fare routes to one hundred and sixty-one destinations in Europe and North Africa.  In the last three years I have flown thirty times at a very reasonable average cost of £40 return all inclusive.

Not all of these flights were with Ryanair of course and I have been forced to use others but I generally find that these work out more expensive.  A return flight to Athens with Easyjet for example costs £120 and my biggest bargain so far was with Ryanair to Santander in Cantabria, Spain at just £10.02 return.  To put things into some sort of perspective it costs over £80 to go to London on the train from Peterborough with National Express and for that you are not even guaranteed a seat.  That is about .90p a mile and on that basis it would cost approximately £1,800 to go to Santander and back by train!

Ryanair over the Alps

In 2015 the most visited country in Europe was France, followed by Spain, Italy, United Kingdom and Germany.  Spain made the most money out or tourist revenues and on average the Germans spent most while away from home.  The most visited city was London (although as usual France disputes the official figures) and the most visited place was Trafalgar Square, followed by the Eiffel Tower and then the Vatican.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation, which has its headquarters in Madrid, produces the World Tourism Rankings and is a United Nations agency dealing with questions relating to tourism.

For the record I visited Trafalgar Square in 2008, the Eiffel Tower in 2005 and the Vatican in 2003.

What A Difference Thirty Years Can Make (1)

14 Amalfi Coast  Vallone di Furore 2004

… the village of Vallone di Furore, a narrow fjord where steep rock walls sheltered an enclave of fishermen’s houses and a tiny harbour with a beach littered with small hard working fishing boats all resting for the day.  I had seen this place before and thirty years later it was completely transformed.  In 1976 it was a shambles with dilapidated buildings but now it was renovated and restored but had kept its charm intact.

Have you ever returned somewhere years later and found it greatly changed?

Read the Full Story…

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Mount Vesuvius – Living on the edge of Disaster

Mount Vesuvius…

“…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

Planet Earth is just like a human being – when it becomes angry it gets to shout its mouth off!

On the next day we were back on the road with a half day trip to nearby Mount Vesuvius which is an active stratovolcano situated to the east of Naples.  I am being deliberately specific here because what that means technically and geologically is that it is a tall, conical shaped volcano composed of many layers of hardened lava and volcanic ash laid down over the centuries by all of the many previous eruptions.

Read the Full Story…

Or, if you don’t like Vesuvius here are some other Volcano Visits:

Yellowstone Super Volcano

Fire Mountain, Timanfaya on Lanzarote

Travel Memories – First European Holiday

00 Monarch Airlines

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!

54 Look Capri

And so, on the appointed Saturday, we travelled to Luton airport for the Monarch Airlines flight to Naples.  Apart from the Isle of Wight this was the first time that dad had been overseas as well and to be honest he was slightly overdressed for the occasion in his rather formal sports jacket and tie.

There again this was still a time when passengers still wore their best clothes to travel, it was something special, airport departure was far more civilized without the dehumanising process of security checks and where officers at passport control called you Sir.

Airline travel was so different in 1976, the flight had proper seat allocations and the plane had comfortable reclining chairs with adequate leg room and stewardesses who wore smart yellow uniforms seemed genuinely pleased to see you and served a complimentary hot meal and free drinks.  These days they are called Flight Attendants in the same way that actresses are called actors.  I really don’t understand why women/ladies/girls don’t want to be treated as feminine any more.  I guess I am getting old.

Monarch stewardess

The plane landed at a rather Spartan military airport base near to the city of Naples and after I had already taken a picture of the plane on my Kodak Pocket Instamatic we were firmly warned against taking photographs.  It wasn’t an especially welcoming sort of place as we passed through a rather austere passport control and baggage reclaim hall both decorated in varying tones of slate grey and in dire need of a welcoming makeover and then made our way through to the coach that was waiting for us.

The twenty-mile drive to Sorrento took about forty-five minutes along a busy road running alongside the Circumvesuviana railway and on the way we got our first look at Mount Vesuvius which towers up dangerously close to the city, and then as we swooped down through cypresses, citrus groves and vineyards around the Bay of Naples we could see the Mediterranean Sea and the Island of Capri.

I think I remember being speechless.  The sea and the sky were so intensely blue that at times it was difficult to be sure where one finished and the other started.

06 Hotel Mediterraneo

This was breathlessly exciting stuff because previously we had never been further than Cornwall or Norfolk and the blue, almost luminous,  water looked a lot more inviting than the grey North Sea that’s for sure.

When the coach arrived in Sorrento it started dropping off the passengers at their various hotels and finally drove to Sant’ Agnello and a position directly on the coast on the top of the cliff and guests stopping at the Hotel Mediterraneo were invited to leave the coach.  This was our stop and we were immediately impressed with where we would be staying and I smugly congratulated myself on a good selection.

The hotel was six stories high and painted a dazzling white, so bright it hurt your eyes to look at it, with smart green shutters on the windows.  At the front it was surrounded by trees with attractive pink blossom and at the back there was a secluded garden full of citrus trees with oranges and lemons hanging invitingly low in the branches.

At the reception we checked in and the clerk handed over a room key attached to a bell-shaped key ring which would make it difficult to misplace and he had a surprise for me and handed over a letter from the pigeon-hole behind him.  It was my birthday (22)  in three days time and this was an envelope, which obviously contained a card, with an English stamp commemorating the bicentennial of American Independence.

This is one of the reasons that I am proud to be British – we can even celebrate our defeats without any bad feeling.  In 1966 we had a Royal Mail stamp collection commemorating the ninth hundred anniversary of the Norman Conquest.

The handwriting on the envelope I  instantly recognised as Linda’s and that made me feel rather sad.

07 Hotel Mediterraneo Garden & Pool

Our room was on the fourth floor and the hotel had one of those old-fashioned lifts that were little more than a metal cage that went up and down the shaft and you could see the walls flashing by through the grill.  This was the sort of lift that you don’t see any more because if you put your fingers through the frame it would rip them off and sensibly they have been consigned to history by European health and safety legislation.

The room was on the back of the hotel overlooking the garden and although it was basic it was clean and comfortable and we agreed that it would do very nicely indeed.  There was a tiled floor and real wooden furniture, beds with crisp white linen sheets and a bathroom with an old-fashioned bath suite.  Being 1976 there was no mini-bar of course and no television and certainly no Internet access.  We allocated the drawer space, emptied our suitcases and made ourselves feel at home.

I was in Italy, my mind was racing, my heart was soaring and my senses were filled with a whole gazetteer of new experiences….

Sorrento Postcard

Weekly Photo Challenge: Gathering

Venice Gondoler depot

“The Venetian gondola is as free and graceful, in its gliding movement, as a serpent. It is twenty or thirty feet long and is narrow and deep like a canoe; its sharp bow and stern sweep upward from the water like the horns of a crescent…. The bow is ornamented with a battle axe attachment that threatens to cut passing boats in two.”  –  Mark Twain – ‘The Innocents Abroad’

Read the Full Story…

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Orange, The Italian Town of Marino

Marino Italy

Marino is clearly not a tourist place but instead a traditional Italian living and working town with shabby narrow streets, care worn but brightly colour-washed buildings with ancient coats of paint which have blotched and blurred by successive harsh summers and the result is a glorious wash like water colours leaking in the rain, everything running, flaking and fusing.

Read the full story…

Entrance Tickets – Venice Museums

003

Next door in the Piazzetta is the Doge’s Palace with Gothic arcades at ground level and an elaborate loggia on the floor above and a long queue of people waiting for their turn at the ticket office.

We joined this and enjoyed the sun as the queue moved slowly past and around the street vendors and the ladies selling bags of grain for feeding the birds.  The Palace is a museum now and we took the route through the rooms where great works of art were displayed and then crossed the Bridge of Sighs to reach the old Palace prisons on the other side of a canal.

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Venice Museum

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray

Marino Italy

Marino was clearly not a tourist place but instead a traditional Italian living and working town with shabby narrow streets, care worn but brightly colour-washed buildings with ancient coats of paint which have blotched and blurred by successive harsh summers and the result is a glorious wash like water colours in the rain, everything running, leaking and fusing.

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: ZigZag

14 Amalfi Coast

On the way to Amalfi the coach stopped to admire the view of the town of Positano that clings improbably to a vertical cliff with buildings tumbling chaotically from the top right down to the beach at the bottom.

Best of all, in my opinion, was the village of Vallone di Furore, where steep rock walls sheltered an enclave of abandoned and partially collapsed  fishermen’s houses and a tiny harbour with a beach littered with small hard working fishing boats all resting up for the day.

Read the full story…