Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Port of Napoli — Our tour of Pompei and our warnings about Naples

by Richard L. Weaver II

Everyday on this Mediterranean cruise (with the exception of sea days) included another excursion. After Florence and Rome, our next port-of-call was Napoli (Naples), and being docked, as opposed to having to be tendered in from the ship, I was able to leave the ship easily to walk directly into the city of Naples. I simply followed a main street away from the Castel dell’ Ovo (the Castle at the Port), beginning, of course, at Terminal Napoli. I walked by the Piazza Municipio, then along Via de Pretis to the Piazza Bovio, then I took the Corso to Piazze Nicola Amore and Umberto 1 to the Piazza Garibaldi — which seemed to be a grand transportation hub for all of Naples’ buses and taxis. Here, I chose to turn around and walk back the same way I had come.

At one point I saw a possible detour from the route I had previously taken, so I turned onto a side street to enjoy the small bakeries, eateries, coffee houses, and other fruit and vegetable shops. Heavily populated by locals, the air was full of smoke (most Europeans do), and merchandise and produce were still being arranged and stacked for a Saturday of potential sales.

To me, Naples was like every other very big city — and, as it turned out, I walked through the most expensive shopping area as well as the business center of the city. There was a great deal of activity; traffic was heavy; stores catered to almost any kind of interests citizens might have; vendors were just laying out their goods on tables and cloths along the sidewalks. Lady’s pocketbooks, children’s toys, and souvenirs seemed to be the predominant items for sale.

I had to hurry back to the ship in time to have a bite to eat before our planned afternoon excursion. I met Andrea in the hallway leading from our cabin, and together we had lunch.

Today’s afternoon excursion (1:30-5:15 p.m.) was to Pompei. It takes about one-half hour on a nice highway once away from the port area. On the excursion bus we passed through the entire port of Naples and along the portside of Naples on our way around Mount Vesuvius — six miles east of Naples, close to the shore, and always visible off to the left side of our coach. Mount Vesuvius is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted in the last hundred years. It is regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world because it has erupted many times --- there is a population of 3,000,000 people living close to it --- and of its tendency towards explosive eruptions.

Pompeii was one of the highlights of our trip thus far. Although there is much to see in the big cities, getting in and out and around them is difficult and chaotic. We have, once again, determined that big-city life is not for us. In many cases, the old cliche, “great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there,” doesn’t even apply. In some cases, they aren’t even great places to visit! That was not true about Pompeii — although all the evidence prior to getting up into the ruins themselves (the tourist buses, restaurants, canvas-covered souvenir stands, and individuals hawking their wares) might easily convince you otherwise.

The still-active volcano, Mt. Vesuvias, contributed to the sculpture of the Bay of Naples when, 1,900 years ago, on August 24, 79 A.D., it erupted and covered the town of Pompeii with 30 feet of ash and pumice stone. The city was lost for 1700 years before its accidental discovery in 1748. Its value today — besides being one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy — is the extraordinarily detailed insight the city provides into the life of a city at the height of the Roman Empire.

Pompeii was a thriving Roman city and standing in the Forum, the center of the old city, you are surrounded by the remains of lavish temples and porticoes. The forum was an open place where all people could gather and nearby were centers of government, places of worship, and markets. As one walks the narrow stone streets, at each intersection there are raised stepping stones that ensured pedestrians could cross without getting their togas wet. Embedded deeply in these stone streets one can still see the deep ruts of the chariots, always pulled by two donkeys.

Wealthy patricians moved to Pompeii to escape the turmoil of Rome, and evidence of its prosperity is everywhere. In addition to the extensive forum, an exercise court, and public swimming pools, there were lavish baths, a bordello, temples, villas richly decorated with frescoes, and a wonderful venue for theatrical performances (all by men, not women)

As we left Pompeii and were returning to the ship, I asked our tour guide about the pickpockets and why Naples doesn’t crack down — since their reputation is tainted and visitors must all be warned. She suggested that it's impossible. This was just after she pointed out a group of Romanian gypsies living in shacks under one of the raised highways near the port.

She said that seeing gypsies is a common phenomenon throughout Europe and not unique to Naples. Basically she was defending her city, saying, in fact, “Don’t point your finger at Naples!” She said that because of open borders between countries, if the problem of pickpockets was stopped on any given day, it would only reappear the next. It is too big a problem. Finally, she said, these are poor people whose only means of survival is begging and stealing. In a sense, our tour guide’s heart went out to these poor people.

For tourists, the only good thing about the pickpockets is 1) that the problem is not hidden, and 2) you are clearly warned. Onboard ship, we were told to take no jewelry or watches of any kind into the city because, “what goes into Naples, stays in Naples.”

On my walk through the downtown area, I was constantly on the lookout for vagrants or others who might choose to rob or steal. Of course, I saw no one of such ilk; however, I should make it clear that it was morning, I was in the center of the business district and the wealthy section of Naples, and I was moving quickly.

As in everything else, tourists should be aware and cautious. I talked to one cruiser onboard our ship whose fear was raised to such a state, he chose not to disembark to go into Naples at all. Based on my own personal experience in the city, this was both an extreme and unnecessary measure.

It’s not like Naples is a crime-ridden city, and everyone you meet is trying to rob you! Poor people, vagrants, and people with negative intentions are part of (and, in part, produced by) all large cities. The problem cannot be totally avoided, but tourists can be aware and wary. Avoiding a visit to a new, large, foreign city should never take place simply on the premise that one may fall victim to a crime. Just because I found no evidence, however, doesn’t mean evidence doesn’t exist.

At the portanapoli website, the website covers everything a tourist needs (or would seek) for information on Naples, Italy: 1) Portanapoli, 2) The City of Naples, 3) What so see, 4) Art, 5) Culture, 6) Amalfi Coast, 7) Sorrento Coast, 8) Travelling, 9) Apartments, 10) Bed & Breakfast, 11) Cheap Flights, 12) Farm holiday, 13) Groups & School, 14) Holiday villages, 15) Hotels, 16) Last Minute, 17) Religious Houses, 18) Special Offers, 19) Villas, 20) Photo gallery, 21) Webcams, 22) Wallpapers, 23) Italian cuisine, 24) Gastronomy.

At, there are a number of outstanding pictures of Naples that are worth a view.


Copyright July, 2009 - And Then Some Publishing L.L. C.

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