Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Naples, Campania, Italy

This morning we find ourselves in the Port of Naples in southern Italy. See Naples and Die! Well, certainly if one were to look too closely, one might just do that. The place is filthy, congested and unappealing and, if pollution didn't do the job, the Camorra, Naples' version of mafia gangland, might. Fortunately, on this trip, Naples was not the objective.

A really early start - 1:00 am US time, 7:00 am local - was tough but we were sufficiently disoriented not to notice too much as the motor coach wended its way through the Naples traffic toward Pompeii, or at least what's left of it. Of course, there is a current Pompeii, built to the south of the one that got ruined almost two thousand years ago, but we didn’t go to that one.
In 79 CE there were about 20,000 inhabitants of Pompeii with numerous additional visitors, in what was then, a significant port. The majority of these folks left town when Mount Vesuvius, just to the north, began coughing up its contents, although about two thousand foolhardy souls remained in town and succumbed to the horrors of asphyxiation, burning and involuntary premature burial. So rapid were some of these events that, during excavation, voids in the volcanic covering were found in the shape of people huddling on the ground where they fell. Plaster casts of many of these gruesome finds were made and are now on display in various museums.
Pompeii is an impressive site to visit, if only for the sheer scale of the excavation. Numerous roads, houses, stores are reasonably recognizable, two theaters are quite unmistakable and the town center, known as The Forum, is pretty extensive.

We had lunch in Sorrento at a restaurant hidden away in a little alleyway off the main street. Not exactly fine dining and the food had a strange *kind of Italian flavor. Outside of lunch, a brisk wind and cool temperatures, there did not seem to be much to recommend Sorrento except the harbor which provided some attractive views. Downtown is built over a deep ravine, the bottom of which is close to sea level while the modern city is atop the cliffs. Moving from one level to the other was by way of a frightening series of stone staircases. From the harbor, we boarded a hydrofoil that took us on a bumpy ride to the Isle of Capri.

Isle of Capri
Like Sorrento, the Capri weather was sunny, windy and quite brisk. The crossing was rough with a number of passengers showing off their Technicolor yawns by the time we arrived. Capri is a tiny island with almost vertical cliffs along much of its shoreline causing most of the 12,000 inhabitants live on top of the mountain. The quickest way up to the town is the funicular railway which leaves from the harbor area. Once into the town at the top of the railway, there was some shelter from the wind and the tour around town was pleasant. Again, Capri is very small and to see the key sites does not require much time. Due to the steepness of the streets however, the couple of mile walkabout was quite strenuous.
Replete with a public transport bus system, a city hall, a school system and shopping facilities, life on Capri seems to be oddly disconnected from reality. There appears to be little or no industry and not too much in the way of career opportunities.
After an hour or so, we went back down on the funicular and took a ferry directly to the Naples port where we rejoined the floating hotel. Rack of Lamb, a glass of wine and an early night completed the day. Today, 70,000 dishes were washed in the ships kitchens.

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