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A Week in Italy -- Part III

Author: RichardNika
Email: Corona70@aol.com (More Trip Reviews by RichardNika)
Date of Trip: April 2006

Read the conclusion to A Week In Italy Part I and Part II.

After taking the funicular (aerial tramway) back down from the charming hilltop town of Orvieto, I boarded a through train to Naples - Napoli - via Rome. The train went through the eastern suburbs of Rome, into the city, stopped at both railroad stations and then came out through the southern suburbs and two hours along the coast down to Naples. There were clear views on both sides of Rome of ancient aqueducts, some going on for miles. Arriving at Napoli Centrale, I quickly found a reasonable 3 star hotel within blocks of the station.

The first of my two days in Napoli belonged to Pompeii, which is reached by the wonderfully-named Circumvesuviana railroad, which leaves from the main station. The trains topped first at Pompeii, a modern town where people live and work, and then at "Pompeii Scava" (as in exCAVAtions) where people used to live, where a few dogs live now, and where a staff of curators and maintenance workers work. I got off, walked from the station, past stands selling food, drinks and souvenirs - including beautiful crystalline chunks of black lava - and crossed the street to an entrance, where, once again, admission was free thanks to Culture Week. I began my self-guided tour at The Forum, a large place of public assembly which included many partial structures and large pieces of stone. Walking from there, I progressed from public areas into streets and past homes and shops. Pompeii was and still is a city of streets, sidewalks, curbs and intersections. With only a few exceptions, the homes and shops have all lost their roofs, but countless walls, floors, storage spaces and stone benches survive. There were many many bakeries and food shops, with ovens and storage cupboards and vessels still intact. There were also a number of brothels, particularly on the "street of the brothels," which was unfortunately closed off for maintenance. The homes were generally packed together, modest in size but not unduly small, with several rooms.

The ancient Romans designed their streets in such a way as to provide for public convenience, both then and now. There are sidewalks everywhere, although many are narrow - but people were smaller 2,000 years ago. The curbs are steep - too steep to easily use for crossing the street, even by today's larger people. But at every intersection and every 30 or 40 feet are, quite literally, carefully designed and uniformly sized stepping-stones. These are sized and placed in such a way as to make it easy to cross the street, even by today's big-footed folk as well as by the smaller former inhabitants, while at the same time providing spaces for the passage between the stones for the wheels of carts and carriages.

Contrary to popular belief, there are no preserved bodies on view at Pompeii, but there are CASTS of these bodies, or of the space that they occupied inside of the hardened ash and mud. These casts are extremely accurate, showing small and detailed features, including facial expressions that are hard to forget. These casts are in glass cases, scattered and mounted so that they can be easily viewed and photographed close up.

One cast I was especially anxious to see was that of a dog that had been chained and then abandoned by its master. Unfortunately, the case for the dog had been moved to a maintenance shelter, and bore a sign announcing that the cast had been taken to Canada for an exhibit there. However, there were several dogs in the area who were very much alive. Someone told me that they lived there. And there was one beautiful intact mosaic that highlighted a dog.

I moved on to some more public buildings and a few homes - villas - with gardens and entry halls, obviously owned by the wealthier class. There were also small public spaces, and I found several faded wall paintings, murals and some more mosaics. After passing by a huge athletic field, I made my way to one of the medium-sized theaters, a bowl-like space, where I rested on a bench by the stage and looked up at the several thousand seats, trying to imagine what plays, concerts and small-scale spectacles had been presented there.

After again passing through The Forum, I exited, bought a much-needed cold drink and a chunk of the crystalline lava, and boarded the Circumvesuviana, back to Napoli Centrale.

The next day belonged to Napoli itself. Napoli Centrale station is close to the market area, with its narrow steep streets that reminded me of Hong Kong. The streets are lined by stalls, tables and shops selling endless varieties and quantities of fresh fish, meats, cheeses, dairy products and baked goods as well as handicrafts, many with religious themes, and ready to eat foods. The surroundings as well as the people were fascinating in their diversity, and I took many photos. One oddity was a sign posted above a pizzeria displaying, of all things, a confederate flag. At another small pizzeria, there was a small photo posted of Bill Clinton. The reason, I was told, was that he had stopped to eat there!

The great cathedral, the Duomo, was closed and so was the entrance to underground Napoli. I went into another church nearby which was open, the Gesu Nuovo. It was an impressive place with wonderful paintings, sculptures and, of course, magnificent stained glass windows. And there were the usual intriguing relics. But it was off to the side where I found something extraordinary - the rooms and chapel to one side dedicated to a Neapolitan doctor, Giuseppe Moscati, who was recently made a saint. Hundreds and hundreds if testimonials to his curative powers adorned numerous walls. Each one was framed, and included a small basic sketch of the body part involved. It was clear that he had never turned anyone away because they couldn't pay him. One room held his coffin and a life sized statue of him, with one arm outstretched. As I watched, a woman walked over and took the hand in hers, obviously hoping for a cure. After she left, I also took the hand in mine and wished for good health for all of my family members, myself and our pets.

As I looked through the exhibits I discovered that the good doctor died young - in his 40s. Perhaps he was too busy helping others to take care of himself. I left that church greatly moved by what I had seen. One of those special episodes that just happen unexpectedly when you travel.

After this episode, I checked out a few more churches on the way to the Archeological Museum, an amazing facility and with free admission - but only during Culture Week! There's an incredible assortment of art from long gone eras, and in all forms. A particular interest of mine is numismatics - the study of coins and medals - and I browsed an amazing collection of rare and high quality Roman and Italian coins, as well as from other countries.

The pride of the Museum, however, is the Pompeii collection. Many visitors to Pompeii don't realize that the finest and best-preserved art works from Pompeii have been removed from the site and brought to this museum. The lifelike statuary, the mosaics and paintings are all extraordinary. Of course, everyone wants to see the erotica. It's kept in a section of its own. Museum visitors are asked to get a timed ticket to go in there, but you probably won't need it. I won't try to describe the pictures, objects and ceramics, but they are - um - very interesting. As I left those rooms, a group of what appeared to be 5th or 6th graders was being conducted through them. Things are indeed different there! Like every museum I visited other than the Uffizi, an against-the-rules taking of a flash picture will result, at worst, with - as Stephen Colbert would say - a wag of the finger.

I took a long walk down to the harbor, with its magnificent views of Vesuvius, the coastline and the ships and sailboats. Then by bus and on foot back to my hotel.

One has to take Napoli as it is. At one point, two men tried to grab me in broad daylight and rob me, but my money belt prevented that. There are gypsy beggars on many corners. The city has problems, but it is such a wonderful place. There are dozens of churches, all filled with great art, and world-class museums, including the Capidomonte art museum, which I didn't have time to visit. There is also easy close-by access to such places as Capri and Salerno, and the "other Pompeii," Herculaneum.

I spent my third and final night there and caught an early morning train back to Rome. I had a day there and then, the final morning, a 7:00 AM flight home. I knew that if I got a hotel room, I'd not only be out another 100 or so Euros, but I'd never make my flight. So I decided to check my luggage at the main Termini station and spend that night in the airport. On the way back to Rome, I saw additional miles of aqueducts.

Arriving at Termini, I headed for "left luggage." I had one suitcase and one briefcase. The line for left luggage was very long and very slow. Almost all those in line seemed to be young American backpackers. When I got to the head of the line, after waiting over an hour, I realized that all luggage had to go through the same type of large x-ray machine that is used on checked baggage in airports, and that does, in fact, damage film. There were 14 filled disposable cameras in my briefcase, so I checked the suitcase and carried the briefcase.

I took a bus down the Via Nazionale to visit my now-familiar internet café. After that, I took a bus back to Termini. Now, when you board a bus in Rome, you're supposed to put your bus ticket in the ticket-stamping machine, but in practice, it's often too crowded to get to. Back at Termini, I decided the one thing I wanted to see in Rome that I had so far missed was the Colloseum. I had no idea how to use the Metro to get there, so I got in line for a taxi with six or seven other people.

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