Home again after a fabulous three days in Naples. Great weather, great food and lots and lots to see and do.
After a late afternoon flight from Gatwick and an exciting journey to the town centre via the airport bus, we found our way relatively easily to the Correra 241 Hotel just off the Piazza Dante which was to be our home for the next three nights. It was fine although the TripAdvisor reviews suggested that some might find the area a bit “dodgy” and, if one were of a sensitive nature, I suppose that might be true. It was down a very narrow, dark side street, but really was of no consequence.
While the hotel was very comfortable, I do wish I had been able to identify the smell in our bathroom (and “No!” I do not mean the smell which emanated from within once I had spent a bit of time in there). This was a persistent “sour” smell which I might have put down to a dead mouse behind the skirting boards or something. As this was Naples, though, I guess it could have been a dead body hidden somewhere in the walls.
One other thing about Naples – it was surprisingly dirty and graffiti strewn. Surprising to us, at any rate, in the sense that there were numerous litter bins all over the various piazzas, most of which were relatively new with various compartments for recycling rubbish. I don’t know what it was about the Naplese but a significant number clearly felt discarding one’s rubbish on the ground was considerably preferable to walking a few paces to a rubbish bin. And the graffiti – oh my goodness. Virtually every public space was daubed with scrawls and “tags” most of which were not particularly artistic. It took the shine off the city, I suppose, but apart from that Naples was wonderful and there are many beautiful buildings and areas.
Our first full day we made our way to the main railway station and caught the train out to Herculaneum which nestles at the foot of Mt Vesuvius and which, like Pompeii, was destroyed in the eruption in 79 AD. Our friend Vicky, who has taken numerous school parties to Naples, recommended visiting Herculaneum rather than Pompeii as our time was so limited. We spent almost the full day there – it would have taken weeks for us to make our way around Pompeii which is easily ten times the size.
The remains at Herculaneum were absolutely fascinating. Apparently, unlike at Pompeii, the deep pyroclastic material which covered Herculaneum preserved the wooden and other organic-based objects such as roofs, beds, doors and even food. It also preserved the 300 or so skeletons which were surprisingly discovered in recent years along the seashore as it was thought until then that the inhabitants had been able to flee the eruption.
Our second day we took the train out to Sorrento which is a gorgeously beautiful town at the south end of the Bay of Naples. There are two types of trains from Naples to Sorrento – the “express” train which makes fifteen stops along the way and the “slow” train which makes thirty-two. When we saw the initials DIR on the noticeboard for the next train to Sorrento we were delighted as we naturally assumed this would be the “Direct” train with fewer stops. Of course, we were wrong. Although the DIR train is, indeed, the “Direct” train (Diretto), the fast train is the Direttissimo or “Express” train. In the end it made no difference as the next Direttissimo train wasn’t until considerably later in the day. So, we were on the slow train which seemed to stop every 20 metres or so and which eventually deposited us in Sorrento after about an hour and ten minutes.
We mooched around Sorrento a bit and then, after an “interesting” light lunch we made our way to the port to catch a ferry to Capri for the afternoon. After one false start where the young woman selling the tickets sold us some for a ferry which did not exist departing from a landing where a small, private vessel was moored, we were ultimately successful. How she imagined we wouldn’t come back to complain and demand our money back was beyond me but we eventually secured tickets to a ferry which did exist and we made the 20 minute crossing to Capri which was beautiful (both the ferry crossing and the town/island). We took the funicular railway from the port up to the town itself and again wandered around soaking up the atmosphere and bathing in the warm sunshine. Delightful. As dusk fell we boarded another ferry back to Naples and arrived just in time for a freshen-up and another excellent dinner at one of the many fine restaurants near our hotel.
Wednesday, our last full day, was spent in Naples itself. Penny and I were very keen to visit the Naples National Archaeological Museum which has an astonishing collection of artefacts from Herculaneum and Pompeii as well as much, much more. The museum was only about 250 metres from our hotel so we wandered up the road and spent a couple of happy hours wandering through the various displays. The mosaics, in particular, were astonishing – incredible detail constructed out of miniscule bits of coloured stone. The erotica from the “red light” district in Pompeii, discretely tucked away in a separate room, came complete with a warning that this part of the exhibition might be a bit much for the young and pure. Note to my mother – please close your eyes when you look at some of the following photos!
After the museum we wandered about some of the narrow streets and alleys in the oldest part of the city. In particular, the Via San Gregorio Armeno was absolutely fascinating. It’s one of the old city’s most picturesque streets lined with places specialising in the making of presepi or Christmas cribs, a Neapolitan tradition. The street was crammed with hundreds of cribs and thousands of miniature models of characters both historic and modern. Many of the cribs feature motorised components and water features and on some the detail was quite astonishing.
Of course, I couldn’t possibly comment on our trip to Naples without mentioning the food! Oh my gosh, it was good. And, how could it not be seeing as Naples specialises in two of my favourite food types – pasta and fresh shellfish. At one meal I had a mountain of fettuccine draped with shrimp the size of small ponies. Delicious and no need for el secondi.
We stumbled across some outstanding places mainly within about 250 metres of our hotel including one place, the Osteria da Carmela which was an absolute gem. It only had about eight tables in one smallish room – as the guide book describes it, “an intimate and friendly atmosphere.” A real find! Fortunately, Naples also specialises in one of Ms Playchute’s favourite food groups – gelato!
After three splendid days we were, regrettably, compelled to make our way home and that’s another story. When we got to the airport via the jam-packed airport bus, the flight was showing an hour delay. Oh well, that gives us plenty of time to sit down and have a bite to eat. We were finally shepherded onto the plane and were just settling in when the pilot came on the speaker to tell us the reason for our delay – there had been thick fog at Gatwick in the morning which had disrupted everything. He was very apologetic and then, at the end of his explanation, announced that there would be a further two hour delay! In doing so he explained that he wanted us on the plane so that if there were a take-off slot which became available before then we would all be loaded and ready to go. In fact, we did leave after only about an hour and a half on the tarmac and the flight home was fine.
There was a bit of excitement toward the end of the flight – one young Italian woman clearly found the five hours without a cigarette simply too much to bear so she tried to grab a sneaky puff in the restroom. She was vigorously reprimanded by the cabin crew after she returned to her seat but she protested her innocence claiming it had been a tall gentleman with a large head who had occupied the restroom before her. There seems little doubt that she was the culprit but the cabin crew had no concrete evidence and so she escaped with merely a stern ticking off.
While the flight was fine, the drive from Gatwick home to Moreton Pinkney was considerably less than fine! Our delayed arrival meant that we were driving home via the M25 and M40 during the late rush hour. The jams started as we exited Gatwick and continued virtually the whole way home. A journey which generally takes just under two hours ended up taking five and we were both pretty shattered by the time we stumbled through our front door. Never mind, a relatively small price to pay for such a wonderfully splendid break.
Much love to you all,