quarta-feira, maio 25, 2016

A trip to Naples and Pompeii

I loved my recent trip to Naples and Pompeii. Arriving in Rome, at the Termini train station, when one presses the button "English" on the ticket vending machines, there pops up a message: "beware of pickpockets!", which reminds me how my wife was mugged as soon as we arrived in Rome, the first time I've been there, many ears ago. Familiar territory, then. The train to Naples takes only about an hour.

The city centre in Naples is very different from most European cities, usually gentrified and made up for tourists. Not here - the city centre is dirty, chaotic, lived in, and it feels like a refreshing place, no "boutique" hotels or "gourmet" places, but crowds of local people going about their business, cars and motorbikes driving everywhere, tourist shops amid local shops, food stalls where local people queue to eat, etc. And then there are lots of churches, among them the beautiful Duomo and San Domenico, and the small museum of the Capella Sansevero with the veiled Christ. The old Scapanapoli is a feast for the eyes, and it's always nice to eat an icecream or a babá au rum.

On the second day I walked along the corniche, from the Castelnuovo until the Donanna palace, along the beautiful bay. It looks like a different world from the sleazy city centre, with the stately buildings and the gorgeous views over the sea and the Vesuvius. The funicolare takes us to the Vomero neighbourhood, to castel Sant'Elmo, from where we can enjoy superb views over the city and the bay. The affluent neighbourhoods of Mergellina and Posillipo seemed miles away from the hectic centre, a sign of the city's diversity.

The Archeological Museum has a stunning collection, even if it's somewhat haphazardly shown. Great statues, amazing paintings and mosaics from Pompeii, not much information and a sad cafeteria with vending machines - couldn't they have set up a café?

Then a visit to Pompeii - I always wanted to go there, ever since reading about Winckelman's diggings when I was a child. The city is just amazing, one can really feel how this was a real city, extremely modern in many ways - the speed bumps, the night reflectors, the baths, the food stalls - and the decorated villas are just stunning. I could spend whole days there, exploring the streets, the villas and their beautiful frescoes, the theatres, shops, etc. The setting is beautiful, with the hills and the volcano in the background. The casts of the people killed and buried by the eruption are impressive and moving. One wonders how a big city would look like in the heyday of Roman times, from this small sample...How would have been Rome, Athens, Ephesus, Alexandria?

Back to Naples, we decided not to go to the Amalfi coast, beautiful as it must be, but rather enjoy a last day in the city. We visited the Capodimonte Museum - amazing collection of Renaissance painting, and very well displayed for a change - and then walked down from the museum to the city centre - popular narrow streets, with corny altars in every corner, lines of drying clothes, busy small shops. Toured the busy narrow streets of the centre and the Spagnioli quarter again, ate more ice creams and babas. It felt really good relaxing around this lively city, watching the scenic vistas over the bay and the Vesuvius, drinking strong espressos and eating tasting pizzas. Naples is a wonderful town, and it really made me look forward to know more of Southern Italy, and Sicily... Another time.

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