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Campania & Amalfi Coast Naples (2019)

Georgia & Zig

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Wednesday, August 28th

Jenny, our daughter, picked us up at 9:15 am for our 11:30 flight. We go early to try to avoid problems. Georgia and I were sitting across the aisle from each other in a little puddle-jumper. We both had seatmates. LARGE seatmates. It meant I spent the 45 minute flight pushed out into the aisle. But he crossed himself as we took off and then again as we landed. Maybe that’s why it was such a smooth flight.

We ate a Varsity hot dog, hamburger and onion rings on the F-Concourse in Atlanta. Nothing like heartburn at 30,000 feet. But Georgia’s white wine paired surprisingly well with the tomato zestiness of the Varsity chili. Urp.

Thursday, August 29th

The first 24 hours are always the worst. Occasional dozing on the plane and zooming ahead 6 hours make for a very compressed “day.”

Naples: No problem navigating the airports and the taxi guard was very helpful at calling for our special taxicab. We had to wait maybe 15 minutes. He was more upset by the “delay” than we were. The drive from the airport to the “Sanita” neighborhood was breath-taking. As in Florence, a horn is used more often than brakes for navigating tiny streets that ebb and flow with traffic moving in one direction, then another.

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Vincenzo, our host at the Casa del Monacone B&B, showed us our (very large) bedroom and (very small) shower. I found that I could barely squeeze through the shower door, even when I turned sideways.

He showed us great places to eat on the local map. We tried to go to the 6 pm (everyday) Mass at the Basilica of Santa Maria della Sanita’, Saint Mary of Health, attached to the B&B but could never find a door open; so went to the Olivia Pizza Café across the street. The waiter said the church wasn’t having the 6 pm masses because it was August and everyone was on vacation.

We had a bottle of sparkling wine with our supper of two different kinds of pizza. One was “normal” and the other was stuffed with ricotta cheese. I liked the “normal” one better. The crust was to die for. Crashed after supper and slept all night, only waking up 2 or 3 times to wonder where I was and what time it was.

Friday, August 30th

Breakfasted on hard-boiled egg, yogurt, bologna, cheese, bread, sweet roll, coffee, juice, etc. normal European breakfast.

After breakfast went into the church to tour the Catacombs de San Gaudioso.

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They have been lost and found again several times over the centuries. Eruptions would fill them with mud and the outskirts of the city would change, and styles of burial as well. At one time the wealthy wanted their bodies “drained” of fluid and the remaining skeletons put in niches with only the skull visible in the wall with a portrait mural painted below. Creepy. The workers who “drained” the bodies didn’t live very long.

The silver votive offerings people left over the centuries have now been gathered together, mounted on panels, and repurposed as art works on the walls.

Out on the street again, we took the short-cut elevator up to the main street and walked to find a bank and the Museo Capa Diamonte, an art museum at the top of the mountain in a nice grassy park. The walk up was tiring and led through another park populated by the homeless.

There was some lovely artwork in the museum, mostly early Christian. And paintings up through the 1700’s and the French empire period. An especially lovely El Greco was there: “Boy blowing on embers.”

We had a snack at the museum and when I asked for the check too quickly the waitress scolded me, “To die and to dine, there is always plenty of time.”

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Had a beer at the Olivia again and supper at the Antonio Vittozzi Steak House (which is a meat market during the day). Congenial people and lots of meat. The owners little son, Vincenzo, was charming as our “waiter.” “I am learning some English.”

Finished our evening sitting on the park bench outside Oivia listening to the live music from the neighborhood pubs and people watching. And there were lots of people to watch, and even more vespas and cruisers than there were people!

Saturday, August 31st

After breakfast we walked to the “old town” and visited churches and got jostled by crowds.

Street scenes were very memorable. Naples is much more gritty than any of the other cities we have visited but the people are friendly. We walked toward the Duomo, San Genaro, through little alleys and byways where the common people live. Many “buon giornos” and dripping laundry. Took photographs of towering apartments that must have been built after WWII. They were full of life. Animated conversations and always groups of 3 old men sitting in straight back dining table chairs out on the sidewalk. People leaning over the balconies to see what’s going on, “neighborhood watch” at its finest.

The cathedral has quite simple stained glass but beautiful stone mosaic floors and lots of marble and gold ornamentation. I suspect the windows that were blown out in the war couldn’t be repaired. They lost the war after all.

Santa Chiara was different. It may have had money or the windows are more recent, but it had the only nice windows we saw.

Stopped at The Archeological Museum. The mosaics and artifacts from Pompeii are truly amazing and reminded me yet again how very brief and fragile our lives are. Saw the double portrait of the baker and his wife. So poignant. Walked our feet flat.

Back on our street, Via Sanita’, we watched a funeral procession from the church. People walked along behind the hearse as it drove away, then turned and came back 15 minutes later, as a mark of respect. It was the only time the traffic slowed down on Sanita’.

Had supper at the Pizzeria da Concettina ai tre Santi. We shared a deep-fried zucchini flower stuffed with ricotta cheese and had a pizza of salmon and butter. The salmon was raw and the butter sweet, and the crust was wonderful; charred on the outside but soft and moist inside.

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Sunday, September 1st

Went church hopping but no more stained glass. One church, Santa Maria dal Virgini, was full of statues to the saints, and had mounted a large mirror on the wall so that you could see yourself from the aisle. A sign said “I Santi di Domani,” the Saints of Tomorrow.

Saw other churches with Mass in progress. Found one where it was just about to begin. Large but not huge congregation with a rainbow of skin colors. Truly “catholic.” Aged priest with two middle aged assistants (Deacons) and a little boy and girl “shadowing.” The church in Naples is alive. Hope there are young clergy.

Stopped at Pasticceria Poppello for the famous “snowflake,” fioco dei neve, pastry, then walked back to people watch in front of the B & B. It was so tender and delicious.

Monday, September 2nd

We walked up a long flight of stairs to the Mater Dei metro stop, then took a quick ride to the Spanish quarter and walked through the clean pedestrian shopping district to the funicolare to the top of the mountain to visit Castel Sant’ Elmo and the Villa San Martino.

Clouds on the horizon obscured the volcanoes but it was still a beautiful view.

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The San Martino had some gorgeous paintings often in the style of Carravagio. It had once been an important Monastery and the memento morii around the cemetery enclosures were chilling. One skull with a laurel leaf crown for all the men chasing fame and glory, and a female skull wearing ruffles and a tiara.

There were beautiful carvings in the choir seats and garden statuary, plus cats, lots of cats!

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The castle overlooked the villa and was impressive in its uselessness. It didn’t seem to have ever been attacked, but maybe that’s the proof of a great fort!

We stopped at a cameo shop and bought earrings for our granddaughter, Sara.

Tuesday, September 3rd

We headed back down to the metro stop at Toledo. Walked over to the bank first to get some cash, then through the neighborhoods to find Mater Dei metro stop. Had to stop and ask directions several times. The neighborhoods, although gritty, felt perfectly safe. We haven’t had even an inkling of pick pockets (yet). The metro was crowded but comfortable. There were many slim pretty girls and young men eyeing the slim pretty girls.

We visited the Pallazzo Zevallos Stiglilano to see the Botticelli’s “Mourning at the death of Christ.” This palazzo works out an exchange of one exquisite painting at a time, then pairs it with other paintings and sculptures as foil. Imagine a spectacular Caravaggio as “foil.”

We went to the train station to check on tickets to Pompeii and Palermo, where we will catch the ferry to Ravello on the Amalfi Coast.

Then we took a long rambling walk (with frequent stops for coffee, ice cream, wine etc.) till we reached the Botanical Gardens. They were pretty and peaceful, which we needed after the chaotic noise of napolitano traffic, and it was clean, with an exceptional collection of palm trees. Nice, but not as nice as some other European gardens we have visited like Kew.

We had supper at Toto’s pizzeria and restaurant. I had the spaghetti with prawns and little mussels. Georgia ordered the pizza with anchovies and cheese. Both were terrific with Toto’s house wine and ice cream dessert wrapped in nuts and nutella. We met an interesting couple from Maastricht in the Netherlands. Their English was excellent and they were confirmed Trump haters. He is a laughing stock among educated Europeans. Don’t know about the “common folk” since they seem to be electing right wing neo-nazi type people. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 4th

We took the metro and train to Pompeii. The train was packed with both tourists and commuters. (and pick pockets, evidently)

Pompeii was so hot with no shade to speak of. There was a sad little exhibit just inside the park where they showed some of the plaster “castings” of vaporized people. A man holding a little boy on his lap was particularly poignant.

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We split up. It was just too hot for Georgia. I took lots of pictures to show her. Luckily she saw them at lunch. She ordered lasagna and I got gnocchi. We shared, of course. 25 euros, but then it IS sort of a tourist trap.

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The trip back on the train was just as crowded and there seemed to be lots of sketchy people. I thought I was being SO careful but my phone got snatched. What a pain. Luckily we got in touch with daughter Jenny quickly and she put me in touch with the bank and got T-Mobile to shut off the phone quickly. Wish I had some profound observation to make, but I don’t. The poor are not the only ones who treat others as “things to be used.” The rich have treated the poor like that for millennia. But a waitress at lunch in Pompeii, no wealthy girl herself, called my attention to a 5 euro note I dropped on the floor. (I left her a 1 euro tip.)

We had supper at Olivia’s again for their Special pizza and a bottle of spumante. We told our waiter goodbye. He said he didn’t drink. Muslim? I told him the Jewish proverb that on judgment day we will be held responsible not only for the bad things we have done, but for the innocent pleasures we have refused

Pictures I’ll miss from my stolen phone: catacomb photos, especially the one of the “lovers” standing side by side, the meat market/restaurant photos (with our little waiter), pastry shop, video of the musicians on the train, Pompeii, especially the one from the viewing spot looking toward Vesuvius. It seemed so far away. There had to be people who thought they were in no danger. I’ll miss my photo of the shell-man holding his little boy in his lap, the museum photos, especially the ones showing glass technique, photos of the Bay of Naples and the ancient eucalyptus, the oleanders and mimosas in the botanical garden; street scenes, especially the narrow lanes, multistoried apartments and balconies full of drying wash. The crackling energy of Naples!

To be continued - Part 2 - Amalfi Coast - Ravello, Amalfi, Capri (2019)
 
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