Dec 012004

Wednesday, 1 December. Naples to DC. Security at Naples was about what the U.S. was pre-9/11.  The Air Dolomiti RJ may have had one empty seat…Interesting mix of vacationers, business types, and American military/contractors.

The drill at Munich, with only about an hour for connection, was interesting.  Checked back through the German immigration.  Then a TSA-style security check.  And then wait in line for a mini-interview:  “When did you pack your bags?  Where did you pack your bags? etc.”  And then another wait in line to have boarding passes re-issued and baggage numbers matched against the manifest.  And finally into the plane.

Halfway through the flight, the guy next to me folds up his blanket and sits on it.  These are the infamous United 777 coach seats that sag under your butt and dig into the backs of your thighs.  The solution is to sit on the little pillow the airline gives you, and bring your own inflatable pillow.

Conclusions and Observations:

  • Naples takes a little getting used to.  There are some pretty shady types out and about, as well as lots of people just going about their daily business.
  • Visitors are cautioned not to drive in the city.  I’m not sure it’s really that dangerous, unless you’re not positive exactly where you are going.  That’s the rub.
  • Next time I’ll probably stay down near Sorrento and take day trips to Naples and the islands.
  • Pedestrians. There is a bit of an art to getting across streets in Naples.  If you think about what you’re attempting to do, you’ll probably freeze.  And you’ll be left standing on the curb until the next time they close the street for repaving (which will be right before Vesuvius blows again).  But if you kinda sense your way across the traffic, you’ll probably make it.  Even the buses will stop for you; once they’re sure you’re going to continue across.  Watch the experts.  I made one crossing that had intimidated me the first time (I took a one-block detour) by following in the wake of three men.  If you’ve got three guys, fairly well dressed, well past middle age, having a conversation in Italian, you’ve probably found survivors.  Cross with them.
  • Guys Hanging Around. At some point in your career, you get to a position where you just hang around the shop, or cafe, or whatever.
  • Heavy Coats. Temps were in the 70s.  I was wearing a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt and a GoreTex shell — unzipped unless it was really raining.  Neopolitans were wearing heavy coats and parkas.  It’s just warmer down there.  (For you citrus growers, lemon trees are seen growing in backyards — that should tell you about the normal range of minimum temperatures.)

As I mentioned earlier, I think that the bottom line is that everything you’ve heard about Naples, good and bad, is probably true — or almost true.

Nov 302004

Tuesday, 30 November. Naples (shopping) and Herculaneum (Ercolano). A stroll up and down two of Naples’ famous streets — Via Tribunali and the Spaccanapoli (actually several streets connected in a straight line) — the Centro Storico.  These are busy, narrow streets lined with all kinds of shops and people.  Cars, scooters, pedestrians, and the occasional midi-bus all coming and going.  One destination for me was the Via San Gregorio Armeno, which is famous throughout Italy for its nativity figures — ranging from the basic Joseph/Mary/Jesus, to elaborate decorated miniature scenes with fountains, animated characters, etc.  Tuesday it wasn’t too bad, but the crowds on weekends can be intense.  Also, in the same neighborhood, the little shop “Limone” which makes Limoncello on the premises — as well as other flavored drinks and lemon-themed foods.

With time left in the day, and (once again) the weather forecasts being pretty much dead wrong, I took a trip to Herculaneum — just a handful of stops down the Circumvesuvio.  A pleasant afternoon, very few tourists, and a very impressive site.  I think that having seen Pompeii, with it’s immense scale, I was able to appreciate Herculaneum even more.  Much smaller, you can see the whole site easily in an afternoon.  But even better, the state of preservation is much better, due to the difference in how the city was covered.  The upper floors in many two-storey building survived, and you can get a better idea of how things were.  Another bonus is that; many, many frescoes remain.  And while damaged, much of the detail is still there, giving you a much better idea of the look and color of some Roman houses.

Nov 292004

Monday, 29th November. Naples and Procida. O.K.  I was a little bit slow getting out this morning.  I missed the boat by about 10 minutes.  Not that I actually knew when the boat was leaving — I just went down to the Stazione Marittima del Molo Beverello on faith.  There was a high speed ferry to Procida at 9:55 (the one I missed), and the next at 13:10.  So I walked around the Castel Nuovo and the Galleria Umberto.  The Galleria, with its cousin in Milano, is the grandfather of modern shopping malls.

I was undecided about whether or not to go out to Procida on the 13:10 and return 2 ½ hours later.  But with the weather looking a little dodgy for Tuesday, and weather forecasts being totally useless, I figured I had best go.  Once on Procida, I wandered around the waterfront a little, took a few pictures, and then with an hour to go before the ferry back to Naples, took a gamble and paid for a three-wheeled mini-taxi ride around the island.  Best idea all day.  Procida was the main setting for the movie “Il Postina”…Narrow little streets on a steep little island.



Nov 282004

Sunday, 28th November. Pompeii. First, don’t get too anxious to get on board the Circumvesuvio train if you’re at the Naples station.  What’s on the announcement boards when you buy the ticket vs. what track the train will actually depart from…

Once at Pompeii, you’ve got a pretty unique experience.  There is a lot of ground that can be covered, and about 30% of the city still awaits excavation.  It is a bit of a thrill to stand on a mosaic floor that was laid down 2,000 years ago.  On the other hand that’s a bit worrisome…Thousands of tourist feet tracking in grit, with no slaves, servants, or shopkeepers to sweep things clean.  Also, a good portion of the ruins are overgrown with ivy.  It looks kind of quaint, and might even help make things more pleasant on a hot day, but ivy has a nasty habit of tearing apart whatever it lives on.



You can easily spend 6 hours here and still miss a lot.  Some of the features identified in the guidebook (free and good) will be closed on any given day; which may make things a little easier.  And then there are always open doorways that you can just wander through, walk around, and draw your own conclusions.  (Hint:  Shops have a groove across the sill at the front, for the sliding doors.)

Nov 272004

Saturday, 27th November. Naples. What was going to be a walk-around day — ended up mostly indoors.  The drizzle turned into some serious rain.  I turned feet towards the Museo Archeologico Nazionale Napoli.  Got the required reservation for the “Secret Cabinet”, where the erotic objects from Pompeii and Herculaneum are kept (I don’t think I saw anyone under the age of 10 or 12 in there).

Next door was a very impressive exhibit of mosaics.  Many of them highly detailed with tiny (maybe 1.5mm) tiles in very subtle colors — very effective renderings of people and animals.  Also a nice selection of glass and metal work; and statuary.  And, somewhat incongruously, an installation of Damien Hirst (of sectioned cattle and live-flies-on-dead-cow-head fame).

Nov 262004

Friday, 26th November. Naples via Munich. A flawless landing at Munich in VERY thick fog.  Aircraft only 200 yards away were just dim shadows.  Munich’s Terminal 2 is a long, airy, modern building.  All the Star Alliance carriers are here and plenty of shops.  Even the downstairs waiting area, where you wait for buses to take you out to the regional jets, doesn’t have that basement/cheap seats/afterthought feeling common to most airports.

Passport stamped and that’s the only time for the EU.

Air Dolomiti was pleasant (Canadair Regional Jet) with nice pastries served.  Munich was clear by the time we took off.  The Alps were spectacular, but there was cloud cover once we were in Italy.

At first glance, Naples appears to be everything anyone has ever said, good or bad.  The cab ride is — well — interesting.  This appears to be one of those cases where you hope every one is reading the same playbook.

Once I get to the hotel and start settling in, BBC World is running a story on TV about the rise in Camorra (mob) murders in Naples…eight in the last six days.  About 325 extra Carabinieri are in town, giving Naples the highest per capita police presence in Europe.  Quite something to see eight or ten cars heading, in high speed convoy, off to the scene of — something.  The special touch is the guy in the passenger seat waving the little red paddle to stop oncoming traffic.

Nov 252004

Thursday, 25th November. Home and in the air.  A day around the house, trying to square a few things away.  Alternately drizzly then sunny, but as the afternoon wears on, becoming blustery.  As usual, the cats are enjoying the extra attention, although by mid-afternoon, they are locked inside for the duration.  Leave the house at about 3:00 pm heading for Dulles and the 6:00 pm flight…Dropped by the post office to mail some bills and the rent, and then by the ATM to deposit checks and get cash.

Spectacularly clear air on the drive to the airport with the landing aircraft in sharp detail.  Driving past the economy parking, the lots look packed.  I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll find a place in the Daily 1 garage, but the “secret” doesn’t fail me.  Once again the fourth level of Daily 1 comes through.  Out of almost 900 spaces, I’m about the 8th car in — on Thanksgiving afternoon!  I back in to a spot right next to the central elevators.

Check-in is fast, as is security.  Thanksgiving dinner is at TGI Friday’s in the D concourse, with the waiter serving up diet Coke instead of the real stuff, and me waiting almost 15 minutes for the check.  Then the hoof to Gate C8.

Coach on the 777 is only a little better than 50% occupied, and there are very few folks in biz.  The captain indicates we’re getting very favorable tail winds.  They’re getting ready to serve dinner on the plane, which is my cue to sleep instead…

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