Sun 2 Aug 2015 - Sun 2 Aug 2015
The day began with an early morning train out of Roma Termini. I settled into my section alone and pulled out my computer, thrilled to have two hours to work on blog entries and peaceful writing time while the Italian countryside slid past my window. That blissful thought lasted until I’d written one paragraph; then three young ladies slid into the remaining three seats in my section, each with a coffee and wrapped sandwich in hand, and began to chat over their breakfasts. I sighed, put my computer away, and plugged into my audiobook. An hour later, it was quiet. The two girls across from me were lost in their own headphones and the young woman next to me had gone to the restroom when a little girl came down the aisle. Just as she reached my section, she leaned over and vomited all over the aisle, splashing my shoes and lower legs—had my neighbor not chosen that moment to go to the restroom, I probably would have been spared. I sighed, cleaned myself up with the wipes that I carry when I travel, and hoped that I had used up all of my bad luck for the day.
For a while, I thought that I had.
I made it to Naples and dragged my stuff to the hotel I’d booked, thankful that I’d had the foresight to choose one right across from the Centrale train station. I’d anticipated being tired, and I was. I’m sure I made quite a picture, in my lacy white dress, with my purple day bag slung crosswise over my body in one direction and laptop slung crosswise in the other direction, dragging my somewhat uncooperative not-quite-carry-on-sized roller luggage behind me while trying not to limp on sorely abused and vomited-on feet.
As expected, it was too early to check in, so I had “second breakfast” at a sidewalk café then headed to the Archeological Museum of Napoli. I decided to take a taxi to the museum. I thought the taxi ride in Rome had been video game-esque, but that was 8-bit compared to this. In Naples, it’s the pedestrians who are the problem. No one—whether driving or scooting or walking or rolling—pays any attention to crosswalks, crossing lights, lane demarcations, or speed limits. Cars, scooters, motorcycles and walkers whiz around at crazy speeds, paying attention to other people only enough to not hit them. It’s like a live version of Mario Kart. (Later, across from the Centrale train station, I saw someone wheel a person in a wheelchair into the street against the light, right into oncoming traffic—and this is one of the few intersections that actually has a crossing light for pedestrians!)
Anyway, my good-looking cab driver with the bald head didn’t speak English, but after I started chatting with him, managed to communicate some information to me. He pointed out the main thoroughfares, where the shopping district was (laughing when I made a face, surprised to find an American tourist that doesn’t like to shop), and the three castles in Naples. All while managing not to hit anyone before depositing me to the door of the famous museum.
All Italian museums offer free entrance on the first Sunday of each month, so I was waved right in. This museum’s claim to fame is its housing of the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which I intend to visit tomorrow. While I did enjoy myself, there was no air conditioning to provide respite from the 90+ degrees and high humidity, so right now, at the end of the day, that’s mostly what I think of. They tried to provide better ventilation, but when even the locals are wiped out, you know it’s bad. (I can’t imagine what damage the humidity does to the artifacts!!) Here are a few highlights of the Archeological Museum of Napoli:
"Hercules at Rest." This is a Roman 4th-century copy of a Greek 2nd-century B.C. original.
A tile mosaic from Pompeii.
Home decor from Pompeii. Yes, these are what you're thinking they are... intended as symbols of fertility and prosperity.
After the museum, I continued with my original plan: to walk around the city until I didn’t feel like walking anymore. The intention was for today to be a built-in half-day, to rest a bit before my final hectic day and the trek home. So, I walked. Some discoveries:
Piazza Bellini. A small, non-touristy piazza, surrounded by old buildings. I found it haunting: the lonely piazza and the graffiti'd statue, surrounded by humans going about their lives, much as they have here for 2,500 years.
In the piazza, the city wall built when “Neapolis” was a Greek city, about the 4th century BC.
A few other sights:
Statue of Dante.
After a while, I needed a break. Even in a lacy dress, I was simply too hot to continue. It took a while because most things are closed on Sundays, but I finally found a place to go for something to eat. I ordered a pizza and Gatorade and gulped it down. They even turned on the air conditioning for me. When I felt better, I headed back out to discover that I didn’t care to go on. I was tired, and nothing else in my guidebook interested me enough to continue, so I found a cab and went back to the hotel.
I felt so decadent… two cab rides in one day! This cabbie spoke a few more words of English than the other (and had more hair, but was equally good-looking). He talked and conducted business—even filling out paperwork—while managing to avoid the other cars, scooters, and pedestrians that kept popping up like whack-a-moles in front of us. I swear, Italian cab rides are worth the fare just for the thrill.
I checked in, indulging in more decadence—a bellhop! When I got to the room, I was thrilled. There’s a balcony with a view of Mount Vesuvius!
My back was killing me and my feet have been screaming for a soak for weeks, but alas, there is no bathtub. (I’d asked—not available.) Interestingly, though, there is a bidet. Hmmm.
After a rest, I decided to head out for a pizza and some postcards. Naples is, after all, the birthplace of pizza. I wanted to go to the very famous L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, but they are closed on Sunday, so I went to the little place I could see from my window: Ristorante Franco. The manager (Franco?) was about my age; I smiled when he walked by and winked with a “Ciao, bella,” while I waited for my pizza cooking in the woodfire stove:
After I collected my pizza, I wandered off in search of a place to purchase some postcards and stamps, maybe a magnet (I get magnets everywhere I go) and something to drink. Limoncello, I was thinking, if it was available--something I'd been looking forward to sampling. I went off in search of a tabacchi shop (yes, they sell tobacco, but also touristy things like postcards, stamps, and magnets). Just as I was about to give up and go back to the hotel empty-handed, I saw a good prospect and headed inside.
I was greeted by a slightly built, average-looking man in his early to mid-fifties. As I stood there looking around, he gestured at me to put down my pizza box. He did it with such a genial smile that I thought he was suggesting that I set it down and eat it right there; so I smiled, and wandered further into the store, because I wasn’t seeing postcards anywhere. The man came out from behind the counter looking a little frustrated, and gently took the pizza box from my hands and set it onto the counter and smiled. I was confused… was he afraid that I might shoplift something by stashing it in my pizza box? Whatever. I smiled and tried to make conversation—and apologize for whatever transgression I’d committed—by asking him what kind of limoncello he recommended. A lively, smiley, very gesticulated conversation ensued; then the man took a bottle off of the shelf, picked up my pizza box and gestured me to follow as he headed toward the back of the store.
I immediately began looking around—was there a separate room, where are the exits, is there a door to an upstairs apartment? Is this safe? I saw that it was only an open partition separating a small office from the rest of the store, and asked myself, “Well, isn’t this just the kind of ‘cultural experience’ you’ve been hoping for?” Besides, I could totally take this guy if I really had to. So I allowed him—Pasquale was his name—to lay out a picnic for me atop the somewhat messy desk. He brought me utensils to cut the pizza, napkins, and cups for the limoncello, which he poured. All very gentlemanly. He was interrupted once by a customer’s entrance, and when he came back, he sat down next to me… then put his arm around me and kissed my cheek. Repeatedly.
This went beyond my comfort zone, and thankfully, another customer arrived just at the point where I was sure this was way more than the usual number of kisses for any Italian greeting. I hastily packed everything up and went to the front of the store before that customer left. I thanked Pasquale, told him I had to go, accepted the “free” candies he gave me but paid for the limoncello (he overcharged me, but I wasn’t about to squabble), declined his request to return at 8pm, and got the hell outta there.
Maybe I was being overly cautious by Italian standards, but by American standards… well, there’s no way in the world I would have left sight of the front of the store, had we been in the States. So much for my “cultural experience.”
I happily spent the evening in air-conditioning, with my pizza and my limoncello—alone.
I did sit out on the balcony for a bit, observing the less-chaotic-than-earlier traffic below me, with the moon over Vesuvius in the distance.