Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Do not buy electronics from dodgy street men"

My time spent on the southeast coast of Italy had concluded, and the journey north towards Napoli began. Well actually, the journey began by heading south with the backwards-roundabout half-priced ticket that was purchased for the journey consisting of two train rides, two layovers, and one very long bus ride through the mountains. Despite what one might think from my recent adventures with the train stations, traveling by train is relatively easy. I’ve reconciled with this form of transportation because really no matter where you are it all looks relatively the same. There are ticket kiosks, train tracks, platform numbers, enough people around that at least one other person is going the same place as you are, and with only two directions the train could possibly be going it’s easy to figure out which one to get on. Buses on the other hand are a whole new ball game. The stop could be anywhere, and it’s typically in the most random and unsuspecting place. Making a transfer in Taranto, I stepped off the train and went searching for the bus terminal for the third leg of my journey. Reading the signs carefully I knew it had to be close, but when I walked outside there were three bus stops in front of me, one looked like it was strictly for the local buses dropping residents off at the station but the other two were completely unclear. I began asking anyone that looked like they could point me in the right direction, doing my typical routine of “scusa?” and showing them my ticket with questioning eyes, hoping they might possibly be able to explain to me where to go in English. The first man I stopped worked for the station in one way or another as he sported his official badge, and he responded quickly in Italian pointing in the direction of an isolated light pole, on the opposite side of the other bus stops. I tried to clarify in English about whether I should wait there and he responded by asking where I was from, and then walked away chuckling about Obama to himself. Shortly after this encounter I approached two Italian businessmen with my one Italian phrase and gestures, and they also directed me to the light pole where still no one else was standing. So I settled under the light pole, and finally a few others began to gather there. Still not satisfied and refusing to be stranded in Taranto for the night, I approached an Italian man standing near me at the light pole and gestured once again to my ticket and looked at him confused. “Do you speak English?” he responded. Hallelujah. He confirmed that I was in the right place and said he was heading to Napoli as well. When the bus arrived, he looked around for me before boarding the bus to make sure I got on and off we went.  The drive to Naples was so lovely, climbing through the mountains it was full of green hillsides, and it even began to rain for a while and reminded me so much of the last fifteen minute stretch of I-5 between Mt. Vernon and Bellingham.

As the bus drove into Naples, we immediately hit traffic and I looked out the window, awe struck by the massive city I had just arrived in. My knowledge of Naples before arriving was limited to the warnings from several people about the high volume of theft and to be careful with my belongings. I honestly had always pictured Naples as a small village type town, full of tiny houses and street markets, I was not at all picturing a giant city full of sky scrappers with bumper to bumper traffic from the moment you arrive. When the bus stopped and we pushed against the crowd just to get off the bus, the man from the bus stop found me once again in the mess of people to ask what my final destination was. I quickly told him the name of the hostel and showed him the address I had scribbled down, and he told me to follow him. Practically running across the train station he walked me at least fifteen minutes out of his own way to lead me to the bus terminal that would take me to the hostel. I thanked him profusely and asked quickly about where I should purchase a ticket for the bus. Without hesitation he pulled out his wallet and took from it an already purchased bus token for a single ride and gave it to me. The kind man went on his way and I ventured onto the bus alone, smiling to myself once again about the kindness of strangers.

Arriving at my first hostel in weeks, I was pleasantly surprised by the colorful walls, charming atmosphere and friendly staff that greeted me. Amused by the neon sign that sat at the front counter that read “Do not buy electronics from dodgy street men,” and the fast talking woman that gave me a quick run down of the best sights to see, I settled in nicely. That evening I decided to take the advise of the staff and go to the most famous Pizzaria in Naples. Naples is the founding city of the delicious Pizza creation so I would assume that if this is the best Pizzaria located in the founding city, it must be the best in the world, right? Let’s just say I was not disappointed. The hilarious waiters that ran around frantically trying to keep up with the consistent crowd rolling in and out were entertainment to me as I dined in the center of the restaurant, people watching per usual. Also sitting alone, was my soon to be new friend from Switzerland. We started talking, bonding over the delicious choice we had made for dinner and that we were both traveling alone. He had driven over nine hours from Zurich the day before, just to see the active volcano in the bays of Napoli while on holiday from work. I was thrilled to have a new friend, and even more excited to have some one to engage in a full conversation with for the first time in several days, since my last host and I had such an extreme language barrier and my engagement with others recently had not surpassed general pleasantries. Finishing our dinner we wandered to a bar nearby and continued to discuss and compare pieces of our lives and our home life as he taught me all the things I’ll need to know when visiting Switzerland. Exciting the Swiss blood in my veins, I told him about the tiny village that my family is from in Switzerland and that my Grandpa proudly flies his Swiss flag whenever given the chance. Our conversation progressed to friendship and he insisted that I visit him so that he can make sure I see the best sights, and at the end of the night we parted ways saying “See you in Zurich!”

The following day I spent exploring the massive city of Naples. I started my trek in the historical district. Now, I had spent the last week visiting towns a tiny fraction of the size of Naples, and so after turning the corner and running smack into a gigantic castle I knew this would be a different experience. The streets were crowded with people, darting in front of cars and motorbikes at random, paying no attention to the streetlights and choosing every risky pathway. I decided to follow those who looked like they knew what they were doing and quickly found the first gem of the historical scenery. The Galleria Umberto, basically transformed now into a busy shopping center with gift shops, cafes, bars, and information booths, but the overwhelming amount of tourists couldn’t take away from the beautiful structure that covers the area. Continuing south, I quickly found the Palazzo Reale, with the Teatro di San Carlo to the left, and the Basilica di San Francesco to the right. Both massive, both beautiful, and both breathtaking. From there I wandered down the waterfront to explore the Castel Dell’ovo (egg castle). The castle is named as such because of a legend revolving around an enchanted egg that was said to have the fate of the city in its shell. If anything were to happen the egg, Napoli would crumble as well. When destruction hit the castle years ago, the queen herself had to reassure the local people that the legendary egg was still intact as to defuse any potential chaos in the city. Desiring more history before the conclusion of the day I took the tram north up the hillside in hopes of visiting another castle, Castel Sant’Elmo, said to have the best view of all of Napoli. After failing to read my travel book more carefully, and making the long haul up there I discovered that the castle was not open on that day of the week. However, the viewpoint provided a good resting place and a chance to see most of the city from above. Shortly after trekking back down to the main hub of the city and checking out a few more sites I was exhausted from the never-ending heat and ready to call it a day. 

1 comment:

Abby said...

all i want is to eat that pizza with you! might have to make some tonight and pretend you are here