Nov 05 2007
The feat of getting from Greece to Italy was nothing short of a miracle for Ben and I, who have trouble navigating ourselves from place to place in the States. Our first mistake was accidentally purchasing and boarding the train with only one ticket from Athens to the port. I don’t know how this happened as I emphatically said “dhio! dhio!” to the teller, who insisted that my one ticket was two. Because we were running horrifically late (thanks to missing the metro twice), I didn’t have time to argue. Thanks to Ben’s incomprehensible ability to charm/become best friends with everyone he meets, we were not kicked off the train when the ticket-checker confirmed we had indeed only purchased one ticket.
The second challenge was the language switch. Whenever I bumped into anyone (which happens too much when I’m simply walking, let alone pulling a giant suitcase), I would bumble “signomi… er, sorry… er, mi scusi.” Needless to say, I got some funny looks. We also discovered that Italian public transportation signs do not have English translations, which was fun!
I won’t relive our two-day comedy of errors further. I will say that this ferry ride was a vast improvement thanks to actually springing for a cabin and the fact that there were only about three people on board. Sail with Endeavor Lines, because apparently no one else does!
We took our first sojourn into Central Naples yesterday. It is exactly as everyone described to us: dirty, dark and hectic. The traffic frenzy is even worse than in Greece, if possible, and if I wasn’t being nearly run over I was being asphyxiated by noxious fumes. The are definitely areas of the city you need to avoid, vestiges of a time when the city was known as the prostitution capital of Continental Europe. We spent most of the afternoon wandering around centro storico, the heart of the old city, where the main streets still follow the street plan of the ancient Roman city. The streets are paved with black cobblestones and giant gothic churches tower over alleys teaming with pedestrians and street vendors. Tall buildings flanking either side of the narrow alleys block most sunlight from reaching the street. Imagine a medieval Gotham City. This is the best description of Naples we could come up with.
I don’t mean to paint an unfavorable picture of the city. Somehow Naples manages to be quite picturesque and architecturally charming. The city as a whole exudes energy and sass. With with the exception of a few major four-lane thoroughfares and a handful of boring, cement-block high-rises, Naples is chock full of historical structures, ranging from ancient Roman obelisks to Renaissance churches (including an awesome 13th century castle). It’s so unlike any major city in the U.S., where the oldest building is 200 years old. Neapolitans would scoff at a building that was a mere 200 years old. Their apartments are older than that! 200 years? Please, that’s about as exciting as the neighborhood Burger King.
The highlight for Ben was that the centro storico is also the home of many well-known mob families in Naples. Yes, organized crime, known as the Camorra, is alive and well in Napoli. Although mafia violence has subsided in recent years thanks to the imprisonment of the godmother, little happens in Naples without a “nod” from one the families. Our guidebook points out a couple of Camorra family homes, which we obviously sought out and took pictures of. Ben became paranoid that I was saying the word “Camorra” too often and too loudly and insisted that I refer to the families as the “Keebler Elves.”
Ben has given me some sort of sinus thing, which obviously mutated in the passing because while he’s sitting pretty, my head is about to explode. A visit to the farmacia is in order.