TRIP TO THE BAY OF NAPLES
by Maureen Halsall
On Tuesday, March 30, 2004, Airways Transit picked me up at 12:15 p.m. for transfer to Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Approaching Departures at Terminal 1--where the much-touted reconstruction project
was still incomplete--resembled threading one's way through an almost impenetrable maze. Once inside the terminal, however, Alitalia's check-in proved to be quite swift, as did the subsequent Security check; and I soon reached station GG and was transferred by bus out to a field terminal by 1:50 p.m. There I waited at Gate 525 for a late boarding at 4:45 p.m., followed by a further unexplained wait until the plane doors finally were closed at 5:20 p.m.
AZ 653 departed almost an hour late; and, although the pilot made up a
little time crossing the Atlantic, the flight still took more than eight hours.
In fact, its duration seemed considerably longer than that on account of
the numerous wailing babies and the passengers who insisted on standing
in the gangways conversing with on another at the top of their lungs--
not to mention the child in the row behind, who kept kicking the back of
my seat. Fortunately, my seatmate by the window proved to be a quiet
girl, who actually managed to ignore the racket and fall asleep.
On Wednesday, March 31, at 8:25 a.m. we landed (40 minutes late) at Milan's Malpensa Airport, descended by stairs to the tarmac and were bused in to the terminal, where In Transit passengers faced long lines at
the Security check. Nonetheless, I managed to reach Gate A7 fifteen minutes before the posted boarding time of 9:25 a.m., only to discover
that this flight too was delayed.
Finally, AZ 1283 took off at 10:40 a.m., almost an hour late, reaching
Naples' Capodichino Airport at 11:50 a.m. Since my luggage proved
to be in the last batch placed on the carousel, it was not until 12:30 p.m.
that I emerged from Arrivals, to find a driver from the AVI Travel
Agency of Sorrento waiting impatiently to transfer me to the Nuovo Rebecchino Hotel on the Corso Garibaldi.
I chose this hotel because of its proximity to public transport.
At the nearby Stazione Centrale, there is ready access both to
the Metropolitana (two-line Naples subway system) as well as to
the suburban railways which stop at the major archaeological sites:
the Circumvesuviana (running south to Sorrento, with stops at Ercolano, Oplonti and Pompei) and the Circumflegrea and the Cumana (running
north through the Campi Flegrei, with stops at Baia, Pozzuoli and Cuma). What I had failed to realize was how sleazy (not to mention dangerous)
the district near the Central Station would be: haunted by thieves and
filled with hotels whose main business appears to be renting rooms by
the hour to the girls who stand in the street outside soliciting clients.
No communication from Italiatour awaited me at the hotel reception regarding either the the City Tour scheduled for the next afternoon
or the arrangements for my transfer to Capodichino airport at the
conclusion of my stay in Naples. Later that afternoon, I succeeded
in extracting from Italiatour's sub-contractor, AVI Travel Agency of Sorrento, a brief fax containing the 1:30 p.m. pick-up time for the City
Tour on April 1; but the difficulty experienced in the process of
extracting this information persuaded me that it might be a good idea
to make arrangements for any future tours through a Neapolitan travel agency, preferably one in the immediate neighbourhood of my hotel.
The room to which I was conducted (Room 204) turned out to be small,
dark and stuffy, with one little window in the corner. I rejected it, threatening to complain to Alitalia, and was assigned instead Room 210, which was was no palace either, but somewhat larger and much brighter
and airier--having french doors leading out onto a tiny balcony that overlooked a lively interior courtyard hung with laundry and strewn with litter. Even within Room 210 there were some obvious problems, such
as the toilet flush, which took a lot of skill (and force) to master; but I decided to tough it out there and proceeded to unpack.
In the late afternoon, as I prepared to go out to purchase stamps and
a couple of big bottles of spring water, the desk clerk delivered what
proved to be the first of many lectures on how "pericoloso" (dangerous)
life is in Naples and how important it would be for me to remember to
carry very little cash and to keep even that well concealed. So, I
secured a box in the hotel safe, where I left all my valuables (passport,
air tickets, the bulk of my funds, etc.) and then ventured out into the
noisy chaos of Naples, whose lawless traffic must be among the most terrifying in the world. At the Alimentaria (food shop) where I bought
my water, the kindly proprietor again used the word "pericoloso"
before proceeding to demonstrate how to hide my purse in a plastic
That evening, tired after a night without sleep, I went to bed early,
but was awakened frequently by my neighbours: two teenaged boys,
who finally settled down after midnight.
On Thursday, April 1, I was up at 7:30 a.m., breakfasted in the hotel--
which turned out not to supply lunch or dinner--and made my way to
Cima Viaggi, a travel agency around the corner in the Piazza Garibaldi
listed in my guidebook as offering day-trips. The Cima agent, Francesco, scribbled out on some scrap paper outlines of three twelve-hour day-trips
(at 150 Euros apiece) that would include all the sites in which I had expressed interest:
a) on April 2 - Pompeii, Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Ravello
b) on April 4 - Caserta, Cumae, Lake Avernus, Pozzuoli, Solfatara
c) on April 6 - Herculaneum and Paestum.
Since Cima would not accept credit-card payment, I trotted over to
the Cambio at the Central Station to exchange my back-up travellers cheques into cash. That left time for lunch at a Tavola Calda (one of
the many "hot tables"and pizzerias surrounding the Piazza Garibaldi).
At 1:30 p.m., a girl from di Sarno Tours turned up at the Nuovo
Rebecchino to escort me to a mini-bus parked in the Piazza Garibaldi.
In fact, what that vehicle was doing was returning a group of tourists to
their hotels after a morning tour to Pompeii. Following half an hour of
these drop-offs, the driver, guide and I returned to the Piazza Garibaldi, where we met six Italian tourists from Mantua, changed to a larger bus
with a new driver, and finally at 2 p.m. set out on our City Tour.
The tour started in the heart of Royal Naples, with the Palazzo Reale
(Royal Palace, begun in the early 1660's) and the circular basilica of
San Francesco di Paolo (1817, modelled after Rome's Pantheon) in
the huge Piazza del Plebiscito. From there, we walked to the famous
Teatro San Carlo (burnt and rebuilt in 1816) nearby in the Via San Carlo
and to the grandiose, glass-domed shopping arcade known as the
Galleria Umberto I (1887) directly across from the theatre, where I
tasted my first Neapolitan ice cream. Not far away, we made a second
stop to photograph the Maschio Angioino (Angevin Keep), built by
Charles I d'Anjou in 1279 and called Castel Nuovo to distinguish it from
the older fortresses: the Castel Capuano and the much-photographed
Castel dell'Ovo, which forms such a prominent landmark on the Isle of Megaris in the harbour. This was followed by a trip to the upper city
for a panoramic view of Naples and its harbour, with Vesuvius looming
in the background. After that, we returned to the lower city for a taste
of Spaccanapoli (Split-Naples) in the heart of the Old City, where we
stopped in the Piazza Gesu Nuovo to admire the Guglia dell'Immacolata
(a stone spire carved in 1737, honouring the Virgin Mary) and also the diamond-point facade of the former Sanseverino palace (1470), the remainder of which building was destroyed in 1584-61 to make way for
the present Jesuit church occupying the site, the Gesu Nouvo. We paid
a brief visit to the ornate Baroque interior of the Gesu Nuovo as well
as to the interior of the much simpler reconstructed Angevin Gothic
church of Santa Chiara (1340) directly across, which was almost totally destroyed as a result of Allied bombing on August 4, 1943. After this,
we were driven to the ferry-dock, where our guide left us with the driver
to wait for a passenger returning from Capri. Then all eight of us were
dropped off at our respective hotels, in my case at 6:15 p.m. just around
the corner from the Nuovo Rebecchino in the Piazza Garibaldi, where
I dined at the Iris Ristorante recommended to me earlier in the day by Francesco of Cima Viaggi.
If the preceding account of my introductory City Tour seems terse and
the following illustrations of it sparse, the reason is that my focus for
this trip was on Pompeii, Herculaneum and the other ancient sites of the Campanian plain, where I took many more photographs and hence plan
to enter upon a much more detailed account of the truly spectacular
Classical antiquities unearthed there over the past couple of centuries.