A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about naples

Sweet Napoli

sunny 82 °F

The Port of Naples

The Port of Naples

It's now Sunday. We originally had ambitious plans for Napoli. I had worked out the timetables of the trains to figure out how we could visit the Naples Archaeological Museum for 2 hours, then hop over to the Capella Sansevero for a quick visit, then take the Circumvesuviana to either Herculaneum or Pompeii for a few hours.

When push comes to shove, as attractive as a trip to Pompeii or Ercolano may be, we've already seen two extensive sets of ruins at Ostia and Ephesus, and the idea of rushing through Pompeii just to say we've been there isn't really appealing to me.

Instead, we decide to pace ourselves and spend time at two places we REALLY want to see, and then see what happens. So, around 8am, we pack up our Pacsafe, make sure our money is secure, take off our jewelry, and stroll out into the Naples sunlight.

At first glance, Naples doesn't seem to be as scary or as threatening as it's made out to be. As we walk into the city, we're unaware of the mugging and death of a tourist that was recently in the news.

A Bank along Via San Giacomo

A Bank along Via San Giacomo

Honestly, perhaps it was because it was a Sunday, but Naples wasn't nearly as crowded, chaotic, or threatening as I was prepared for it to be. We exercised a normal amount of caution, but at no time did I feel any more uncomfortable than I would walking on a street in Manhattan. I will admit, however, that crossing streets is a little like playing Frogger, until you get the hang of it.

We stop for some pastries at a little shop on Via Toledo. Mrs. Z decides to indulge in a Nutella Cornetto, a pastry horn filled with Nutella...and "filled" is an understatement. When she bites into it, Nutella bursts out and runs down her arms. It's truly a 5-napkin cornetto!

We arrive at the National Archaeological Museum about 20 minutes before opening time, so we just hang out on the steps for a bit.

The National Archaelogical Museum

The National Archaelogical Museum

Promptly at 9am the doors swing open, and we step into this wonderful museum. Although it's empty at the moment, as the day progresses it fills with Italian and German tour groups.

Our first stop is the Farnese Collection, a set of statues amassed by the Farnese family; many of them were formerly on display at the Palazzo Farnese, not far from where we were staying in Rome. Here's the massive Farnese Hercules....there's an interesting story about his legs, but you've got to visit the museum to find out what it is! By the way, if you're offended by nude statues, grab yourself a fig leaf.

Hercules

Hercules

Of course, the big centerpiece of this collection is the Toro Farnese, "The Farnese Bull". It's a depiction of the myth of Dirce, who was tied to a bull to be trampled to death as punishment for irritating Antiope. It's an astounding work.

The Toro Farnese

The Toro Farnese

What's even more amazing, as you examine this intricate and immense sculpture, is that it is chiseled out of a single massive block of marble.

The Toro Farnese

The Toro Farnese

The other big draw of this museum is Pompeii....virtually all of the mosaics, statuary, and other accoutrements from Pompeii have been relocated here, and replaced with reproductions at the site. We get to see some of the most famous Pompeian artworks, including the original Alexander the Great mosaic:

The Alexander the Great Mosaic

The Alexander the Great Mosaic

Detail of the Mosaic

Detail of the Mosaic

....and the Dancing Faun

The Dancing Faun

The Dancing Faun

From the museum it's only a few short blocks to the Capella Sansevero. I heard about this place a while ago, and I've wanted to see it in person ever since. It's not especially well-known, yet it contains a lot of surprising sculptures, one of which, in my humble opinion, rivals Michelangelo's Pieta.

The Capella was the family chapel of the Sansevero clan, and it is wonderful and creepy all at the same time. No photos are allowed in the Capella at all, so you'll just need to click on this link to the museum's website to see what I'm talking about.

http://www.museosansevero.it/index_ing.html

The centerpiece here is Sammartino's "Veiled Christ". Sammartino learned the art of creating a "veiled statue" from his mentor Corradini, and in this case, the student exceeds the master for sure. It's an exquisitely beautiful piece, rivaled only by the incredible complexity of Queirolo's "Disillusion" with an intricate fisherman's net carved out of stone. Seriously, this is the most amazing little place you've never heard of.

After the Capella, we decide to definitely skip the trip to Pompeii, and stroll down Spaccanapoli instead. Most of the stores are closed, but the streets are still crowded.

Spaccanapoli

Spaccanapoli

We pull off onto a side street, and take a few photos of the real Naples. We found this "street of stairs":

A side street of stairs

A side street of stairs

...and here's the view from the top.

Streets of Naples

Streets of Naples

As we stroll around the city, we start to realize what makes it so different from Rome....there are NO green areas, no open parks, the few Piazzas we see are crowded and urban. The only open space is UP. Yet, there are still surprising and charming things if you take the time to look for them.

A small local shrine

A small local shrine

We wind up or visit to Naples with some Neapolitan pizza. The famous L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele is closed, so we sit down at Borgo Antico near the port and enjoy some Pizza Bufalina and a vastly overpriced bottle of regional wine. We overpay for it willingly, and the owner of the Pizzeria seems to know that we're in on the joke.

Pizza at Antico Borgo

Pizza at Antico Borgo

Satisfied and full of wine, we weave our way back to Molo Beverello and the Star Princess.

Molo Beverello

Molo Beverello

Tonight, we sail past the Island of Ischia, and head for our departure in Civitavecchia. The Celtic Tenors are giving a second, unique performance tonight, and this time we're there to enjoy it. In the morning, our adventure ends with a Princess transfer to the airport and an uneventful return flight to Philadelphia. Arrivederci, Italia!

Passing Ischia in the sunset

Passing Ischia in the sunset

Posted by Zukini 21:22 Archived in Italy Tagged naples Comments (0)

Riding the Rails to Sorrento

rain 69 °F

Thursday, May 16th starts with a rainy morning. Today's the day when we'll be vacating our apartment in Venice, and beginning the long trek south to our destination in Sorrento.

We check out early, wrap our luggage with plastic trash bags, and make our soggy way to the Vaporetto for the ride to the Ferriale stop, the rail terminal. The waters of the canal jostle us about, and the vaporetto is very crowded with commuters, tourists, and a large group of very young French students on an outing. We find a spot to stand where we're relatively dry and relatively stable, and wait out the crush.

This will be our first experience with the Italian train system. We've booked second class seats on the Frecciargento ("Silver Arrow") from Venice to Rome. This is a high speed train that should take about 5 hours to make the trip.

Finding our way through the train station to our platform ("binario") is simple. We're glad we're traveling light...there are no porters or baggage compartments on Italian trains...if it doesn't fit in the overhead or behind your seats, it gets stacked in a common luggage area at one end of the car. Having taken an Amtrak ride many years ago from Philadelphia to Florida, I'm very pleasantly surprised by the comfort of the 2nd class accommodation. Mrs. Zukini and I have facing seats, with a table between us.

Our carry on bags fit handily in the overhead rack above our seats, and train whizzes through the Italian countryside, affording brief views of the rolling hills of the Veneto, Tuscany, and Umrbria on our way south.

large_Italy_2013_1104.jpg

large_Italy_2013_1105.jpg

We're surprised at the discomfort we feel in our ears each time the train passes through one of the many lengthy tunnels. I surmise that the train passing through the tunnel at high velocity actually causes either a bit of a vacuum or a bit of a pressure wave, but our ears block and pop each time we dive into one.

large_Italy_2013_1110.jpg

large_Italy_2013_1118.jpg

The train, unlike a plane, is the perfect vehicle for lulling us into a stuporous slumber, and we doze frequently during the trip.

Some 5 hours later, we coast into Napoli Centrale, the hectic Naples train station, roughly a half hour late. Before the trip, we debated the choice of paying a pittance to take the Circumvesuviana commuter train from Naples to Sorrento, or to hire a private driver for a substantial fee. In retrospect, after seeing some of the crowded conditions on the Circumvesuviana we experienced later in our trip, we're glad we sprung for the big bucks to hire a private driver.

Emmanuele from Astarita Car Service is waiting for us at the end of the platform, and takes command of our luggage. We drag him around the terminal for a bit...we're looking for the Tourist Information Office, with the intention of purchasing the Campania Artcarde Tutto Regione, a combination ticket that will give us access to transportation and museums throughout Campania at a discounted rate. Unfortunately, the card is being revamped (with higher prices) and temporarily unavailable.

Emmanuele escorts us out into the chaos of Naples, seats us in a very nice Mercedes sedan, and skillfully navigates the insanity that Neapolitans call a daily commute. Once we're out of the crush of Naples traffic, he starts to chat with us, and inevitably, the subject turns to the state of the Italian economy.

It takes about an hour (with some truly breathtaking views) before we reach our destination in Sorrento. Our apartment rental is on a limited traffic street, so Emmanuele parks his car about a block away, and escorts us to our apartment. Our rental agent is no where to be found. I attempt to call her, but I get to practice my Pimsleur Italian almost verbatim. "Il numero non e il numero giusto."

In a coincidence that repeats itself many times during our trip, the owner of the apartment takes exactly that moment to call ME. He sends Anita, the agent, around immediately, and we bid Emmanuele a fond farewell.

The apartment itself is in a historic old palazzo. After passing through the massive front door, we make our way up the stairs to our rooms. The apartment is nice enough for what it is, pretty spacious. The kitchen is poorly equipped...there's no toaster or kettle (electric or otherwise), and the coffee maker, a small moka pot, is rusted and disgusting.

large_Italy_2013_1134.jpg

large_Italy_2013_1138.jpg

large_Italy_2013_1139.jpg

There's a small balcony over the noisy, shop filled street below, and a loft bedroom. The bathroom sink is cracked, and the shower is caked with mold and mildew.

large_Italy_2013_1147.jpg

large_Italy_2013_1148.jpg

Every drawer and cabinet in the place has a torn piece of notebook paper with a full, written inventory of every cup, knick knack, and button taped to it, and most have zip ties securing them closed. There's no TV, just an 80's era boom box. We both feel like we're invading someone's grandmother's house. Of all the vacation rentals we've used, this one is the most unwelcoming. We feel like intruders rather than guests.

large_Italy_2013_1155.jpg

I setup my laptop to check in with my job, and find that the WiFi we're supposed to have in this apartment doesn't exist. I call Piero for an explanation. He tells me they had trouble with the DSL line and had it disconnected, but if I stand on one foot with my left arm in the air in the corner by refrigerator, I should be able to get a signal from a neighboring apartment. Good thing I had the foresight to get that data plan for my phone, which will now act as my modem as well.

Sorrento doesn't really have the feel of a destination to me. It has more of the atmosphere of hub, a base of operations for other, more attractive locations. The shops selling lemon products and ceramics, the restaurants with eager touts rushing to explain their menu if you accidentally glance their way, all give the impression of a place that is trying too hard to impress, trying too hard to show you a good time.

We freshen up, explore the town, then head to Zi'Ntonios, a restaurant that had been recommended to us by Emmanuele (he's friends with the owner). We enjoy a delicious meal there, with stuffed zucchini flowers, ravioli, and a wonderful baked fish, and our waiter, Carmine, is a joy.

large_Italy_2013_1158.jpg

We meander the streets of Sorrento until it's time to return to our palazzo. Next installment, we'll be heading out on a day trip to Pompeii and Herculaneum.

.

Posted by Zukini 17:30 Archived in Italy Tagged venice naples sorrento trenitalia frecciargento Comments (0)

A Trip to the Past: Pompeii and Herculaneum

semi-overcast 69 °F

It's Friday, May 17th, and today we're going to be heading to Pompeii and Herculaneum (Ercolano) for some history. For those of you who don't already know, these two cities were buried during the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79, entombing them until they were rediscovered in 1599.

We're going to use public transportation for our trip today, and we've purchased a set of Unico Campania 3T tourist transportation tickets. These tickets allow us unlimited use of the bus and commuter train network throughout Campania for 3 days, and are priced at 20€ each. With the number of bus and train segments we're planning on using, we've worked out that it's about a break-even proposition, but it saves us the trouble of having to buy tickets at Tabacchi shops.

We walk up the hill to the Sorrento station for the Circumvesuviana commuter train, for the roughly 40 minute ride to Pompeii Scavi.

Riding the Circumvesuviana

Riding the Circumvesuviana

Pompeii is a sprawling site, covering the space of a small city. We pick up a map at the ticket booth, but they're out of the accompanying guidebooks. It's windy (we've been told that the area is experiencing the effects of sirocco winds out the Sahara, resulting in windy, unsettled conditions), and dust devils of dirt and grit sweep across the site.

The Forum

The Forum

We come across the storage areas, where pottery, amphorae, and architectural fragments are being kept. Here, we also find some of the plaster casts of the victims of the volcanic eruption. When the site was excavated, archaeologists would occasionally come across voids in the volcanic ash covering the site. They injected these voids with plaster, and when the ash was chipped away, they would find the plaster had taken the form of the unfortunate people who had suffocated in the ash fall.

These plaster casts are moving and tragic, but also so forlorn. Here they sit, some in glass cases, some not, almost as an afterthought in a cluttered storage room.

large_Italy_2013_Lumix_2_016.jpg

large_Italy_2013_Lumix_2_018.jpg

large_Italy_2013_Lumix_2_022.jpg

large_270_Italy_2013_Casio_1_122.jpg

large_270_Italy_2013_Casio_1_123.jpg

(Some of the casts are in context at an area called the Garden of the Fugitives. We missed that area entirely during our visit.)

As we work our way through Pompeii, we seek out some of the more famous buildings. Unfortunately, due to neglect and the elements, some of the buildings have experienced significant degradation (there was a collapse at the House of the Gladiators in 2010). For this reason, some of the major buildings are padlocked or chained.

large_Italy_2013_Casio_1_139.jpg

We do have the opportunity to see the House of the Faun. This is of particular interest to us...it contains two iconic artifacts of Pompeii, the elaborate "Alexander the Great" mosaic, and the "Dancing Faun". Both of these, visible in situ, are reproductions. We had the opportunity to see the originals back in 2011 in the Naples Archaeological Museum (see my blog entry "Sweet Napoli" )

Alexander the Great defeats Darius

Alexander the Great defeats Darius

large_Italy_2013_Lumix_2_054.jpg

The Stabian Baths

The Stabian Baths

large_Italy_2013_064.jpg

Teatro Grande

Teatro Grande

An Ancient Bakery

An Ancient Bakery

The afternoon wears on, and we'd like to get in a visit to Ercolano (Herculaneum). Ercolano, a seaside town, was also destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius, but the primary culprit there was a searingly hot pyroclastic flow, rather than the slow accumulation of ash that suffocated Pompeii. It is a much smaller set of excavations, as it is under the existing modern city of Ercolano, so only a few square blocks are available to visitors.

large_Italy_2013_100.jpg

large_Italy_2013_089.jpg

large_Italy_2013_099.jpg

The portions of the excavation that are open to visitors are in an astounding state of preservation. Frescoes that once adorned stately homes are still relatively intact, with vibrant colors.

large_Italy_2013_135.jpg

large_Italy_2013_133.jpg

large_Italy_2013_146.jpg

Ancient infrastructure is still in place. We pass a Thermopolium, where it looks like the food counter is waiting to be stocked. A cutaway in a nearby wall shows the sophistication of ancient Roman plumbing.

large_Italy_2013_111.jpg

large_Italy_2013_107.jpg

In some homes and shops, the intense heat of the pyroclastic flow carbonized all of the woodwork into charcoal.

large_Italy_2013_164.jpg

large_Italy_2013_166.jpg

In other homes, fragile mosaics and beautiful frescoes have been preserved.

large_Italy_2013_152.jpg

large_Italy_2013_155.jpg

.

A restoration project is ongoing, and we have the opportunity to watch a conservator at her painstaking work.

Exiting the site, we pass the old warehouses beneath the town, with openings facing the sea. Many sought refuge here from the relentless onslaught of Mt. Vesuvius. Centuries later, their cracked and scorched bones were found, huddled in groups in these warehouses.

large_Italy_2013_187.jpg

It's been a rewarding day. Pompeii is vast and iconic, while Ercolano is a small, intimate glimpse into the destruction of a community. Both are deeply affecting.

We head back to Sorrento on the Circumvesuviana. Tonight, we'll enjoy a dinner at Zi'Ntonio's again, feasting on their fine Neapolitan style pizza.

large_19700102_202942.jpg

Next installment, we'll be heading to the island of Capri.

.

Posted by Zukini 14:30 Archived in Italy Tagged ruins naples pompeii herculaneum vesuvius ercolano scavi circumvesuviana Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 3) Page [1]