I have got a few gaps in the map, so I will have to get travelling…
Have Bag, Will Travel
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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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Upon my return from Naples I thought I might update my map of places that I have visited in Italy.
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We were rapidly running out of weekend now, the sands of an hour glass always run more rapidly towards the end, and there was so much more to see that it was decision time.
I still rather liked the idea of the underground ancient city tour but the sun was shining so we ruled that out and I would also have liked to visit the archaeological museum but the sun was shining so we ruled that out as well.
Instead we agreed to take a funicular ride to the highest point of the city and the Castel Saint’ Elmo which sits high above the city on a sort of volcanic ridge that rises quickly in the south from the bay and drops again just as dramatically to the north. The result of a previous eruption of Vesuvius I concluded without any real evidence whatsoever to support this random geological theory.
As we emerged from the railway station there was a surprise because it was as though we were no longer in Naples at all because there was suddenly an incredible transformation. There were parks and gardens, flower beds and trees, the air was clean, the streets were tidy and even the traffic seemed to have an almost surreal calmness. It was almost as though we were suddenly in Switzerland and I immediately assumed that we were now in an affluent part of the city and we walked the short distance to the castle.
There has been a castle here for several hundred years but it has only recently been restored. Not terribly sympathetically I have to say, there is a lot of concrete and cement but it does provide a pleasant walk around the old battlements and provides panoramic views across the whole of the City, Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples.
I especially liked this view of the historic centre…
Except for an art gallery full of really weird stuff there was nothing much else to do at the castle so after less than an hour we made our way out back to the funicular and a ride back down to the decrepit streets and the graffiti scarred walls of the old town centre.
To be honest we found ourselves in probably the most disagreeable spot of the city that we had come across so far, Vespa scooters buzzing like wasps, beggars cluttering up the streets and corners decorated with litter. We walked quicker than we normally do and were happy to shortly find ourselves back in familiar territory in the historical centre where we walked the few remaining streets that we hadn’t previously investigated.
We stopped now for some street food, first a portion of sea life, deep fried and served in a cardboard cone, tasty but ultimately disappointingly bulked up at the bottom with cheap dough balls and after that a deep fried risotto ball, the size of a grapefruit and as heavy as a cannonball so a good job we didn’t buy one each.
We had walked a long way today and we were getting tired as we made our way back to our favourite street bar where we rested for an hour before returning to our accommodation.
The pizzeria that in just two nights had become our Neapolitan favourite was closed tonight so we had to make alternative arrangements and we had earlier decided upon a restaurant in the heart of the historic centre.
To get there we walked first along Via San Gregorio Armeno which is famous in Naples as the street of the crib shops, the ‘presepe’, and is an entire street dedicated to making and selling nativity scene decorations, a centuries old tradition in the city. It seems that you first buy an empty village or a stable made of clay and cork and then chose and collect figures to add to it. It was an interesting street full of individual designs and figures ancient and modern ranging from the Madonna and Child to the footballer Diego Maradonna who played for Napoli from 1984 to 1991 and still seems curiously popular in the city. Not the sort of thing that I would want in my house I have to say!
Speaking of football the historic centre was noisy and busy tonight because Napoli were playing Juventus in an important game at the top of the Italian Seria A league; top (Juventus) v second (Napoli) and people were gathering in pizzerias and bars to watch the game.
The choice of restaurant proved to be satisfactory and we had an inevitable pizza and afterwards walked the streets looking for a gelataria for a final ice cream that we didn’t really need and whilst Kim chose hazlenut I had my all time favourite pistachio and we strolled back to the apartment.
As we walked I kept an eye on the football which seemed to be petering out to a disappointing goalless draw and back at the accommodation we had a final glass of wine and looked out over the street from our balcony. Suddenly a mighty roar exploded from the city as though Vesuvius had spontaneously erupted and the reason was that Napoli had scored in the very final minute of the game and won the match.
For no other reason than I was in Naples I was pleased about that. We had enjoyed our weekend in vivacious Naples which is a city that despite its various reputations gets my full recommendation.
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“Rome is stately and impressive; Florence is all beauty and enchantment; Genoa is picturesque; Venice is a dream city; but Naples is simply fascinating”.– Lilian Whiting
On the way back to Ercolano railway station we had a little bit of a misunderstanding about coffee and cake. Kim wanted coffee and cake and spotted a café and I rejected it because it was on the shady side of the street confidently predicting that there was sure there would be another one further along in the sun. As it turned out there wasn’t so we stopped instead at a bar with a pushy waitress and had an alternative beer. We should have been eating gooey cake but I was in a sticky situation!
The train ride back to Naples was less crowded and a little more comfortable than the outward journey and thirty minutes or so later we arrived at the railway terminus and our plan now was to walk directly to the harbour and the sea of the Bay of Naples.
The direct route was along the arterial Corso Umberto I (an unfortunate king who was assassinated in 1900) and brought us to a magnificent statue of King Victor Emanuel II, his father and the first King of United Italy in 1861. This was not a pleasant walk I have to say, too much growling traffic and a rather featureless route, I preferred the noisy and chaotic back streets.
We reached the sea at the Castel Nuevo and the Palazza Reale, once a royal palace but now a museum and an opera house. We originally planned to go further but we now agreed that after a long day this was rather ambitious so we turned our backs on the seafront and made our way back to the accommodation passing again through the crumbling architecture of the back streets.
I had a mind to visit an underground exhibition of a subterranean archaeological project called ‘Underground Naples’ but Kim wondered why we might go underground to look at Roman houses when only this morning we had seen them on the surface on in the sunshine. I had to agree with her logic so we went for a drink at a pavement bar instead before going back for a short rest and preparation for evening meal.
There was no debate to be had about this and we returned to the pizzeria that we had enjoyed last night but this time we had double helpings of the buffalo mozzarella starter and we shared a pizza with a house red in a cracked pot to compliment it.
The following morning our plan was to finish what we started yesterday and make the long walk to the seafront and we set off soon after breakfast and after only thirty minutes arrived at Piazza del Plebiscito (the header picture) an elegant square first commissioned in the memory of Napoleon Bonaparte but famous most of all because in a public vote in 1860 this is where the Kingdom of Naples agreed to become part of United Italy. a sort of reverse Brexit as it were!
As we walked north along the side of the Bay we knew that we were in an altogether different area of Naples, no grime here, just swanky yachts to our left and grand expensive hotels to our right. I recall reading once, some time ago, that the Bay of Naples was the most horribly polluted part of the Mediterranean Sea but someone has been clearing it up and not any more it isn’t. The water was crystal clear and people were swimming in the sea and fishermen and a procession of boats were making their way to the shell fish harvesting areas.
At the Castel dell’Ovo admission to the once mighty fortress was free (which is always a bonus) so we climbed to the top and enjoyed views of Vesuvius on one side and the waterfront of Naples on the other. Let me say, no one should miss visiting Naples, it was once part of the Grand Tour of Europe and surely it should be again. Just my opinion.
It was busy today so after the castle we strayed back inland back towards Piazza del Plebiscito where it was time for a drinks break and this is where we suffered the indignity of being thrown out of a restaurant.
It advertised bargain price beer and wine and as we examined the menu a waiter gathered us up like a shepherd and insisted that we go inside. He showed us to a table and provided us with menus. We told him that we only wanted a drink and this tipped him over the edge. His eyes began to swivel, his arms began to flay and he lost all sense of volume control. This is not a bar it is a restaurant, he yelled, withdrew the menus, dragged us out of our seats, pushed us towards the door and slammed it shut behind us with a resounding crash that almost took it off its hinges. I looked back, the staff were sniggering, they thought it was amusing so I gave them a sarcastic smile and a tossed them a dismissive wave to tell them that so did I.
I haven’t been thrown out of a restaurant since 2004 in the Old Town in Prague for exactly the same reason.
Opposite was a pavement bar which also suggested cheap drink prices so we stopped there instead but when I called for the bill it seems the drinks that we had ordered were not included in the offer. I wasn’t going to argue, I should have read the small print – another travel lesson learned!
“You could hear the wails of women, the cries of children, the shouts of men… many raised there arms to the gods, others declared that the gods were no longer and this was their last night on earth”, Pliny the Younger in a letter to Tacitus
These are some of the pictures that I captured when visiting Herculaneum. I have edited them a little and given them some colour because although I am no expert on these matters and I am mindful that I am doing an Arthur Evans here, my guess is that the walls and the mosaics were much more bright and vibrant two thousand years ago…