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From Campania, Italia (Napoli, Monte Vesuvio, Pompei)

By Sahand Rabbani

from Campania, Italia (Napoli, Monte Vesuvio, Pompei)


Naples is by far the most beautiful city that I have seen during my trip. It is not pretty in the historical and monumental sense of Rome or Berlin, nor spectacular for its beaches in the way of the Croatian and Montenegrin coasts. No, Naples is stunning for its colors, hills, castles, and narrow alleys. It is impressive for its size and its diverse views: the mountains, the bay, the city, the islands.

I arrived in Naples on the afternoon of the thirty-ninth day (May 29) after a four-hour train ride from Rome. I showed up at a hostel that I had chosen based on a positive recommendation from an American that I met in Rome. Unfortunately, I met no Naples-bound travelers in Rome to join me, nor did I meet anybody with whom I would have wanted to travel. So I was still solo as I slowly remembered how it is to travel alone. One sees more and thinks more but, perhaps, one laughs less. Both modes are worthy, and I was in fact excited to be independent once again after having been traveling in groups for so long.

True to the recommender's word, this hostel in Naples, La Controra, is magnificent. Set in a piazzetta near an old church in the outskirts of the city, it is a quiet and spacious place with a beautiful courtyard, porch, and kitchen.

That night, I set out to explore Naples. I headed down the main road into the city. I walked for hours. I lost track of time. Soon, I was off the map that was in the guidebook, donated to me by a traveler who was dropping weight at the end of her trip. I had no idea where and when the buses ran. On top of that, the ticket machines were not working, and I was hesitant to board without one after hearing about a thirty-seven-euro fine from an American who had not validated his ticket in Naples.

This is when the city turned its dark face to me. The sun had set and I found myself hiking down a wide boulevard flooded with impersonal traffic but devoid of pedestrians. A passenger in a car speeding by threw an empty food container at my feet. Soon, I was approached by a ragged man who insisted on talking to me. He asked me where I was from. I did not answer. Then he asked if I was Spanish. I told him that I was, hoping to satisfy him and to end the conversation. But he would not leave me alone. He swore at me in Spanish and watched me as I did not react. Then he started to wave his finger at me, telling me that I was not Spanish. Meanwhile, he forced his windshield mop on any car that was stopped in traffic. I picked up my pace to create distance between us.

I continued to walk, almost aimlessly but with some idea of where I needed to go. The last resort was to return to the train station, kilometers away, from where I could take the metro. And as time passed, it became clear that my last resort was my only resort. So I hauled onward. I made it to the train station, a seedy area at night, and found my way home in the subway.

The next day, the fortieth day (May 30), I saw more of Naples on a transit day pass, taking subways, buses, and funiculars to cover the city. Naples is as I imagined it. It is a sea of short stucco facades, a pastel of vibrant colors that appear like a haphazardly sewn quilt from the vantage point on Vomero, a hilltop district.

On the forty-first day (May 31), I woke up early to execute a full itinerary, which, when properly done, requires two days. First, I found my way to a town called Ercolano, which shares the name of the neighboring Roman city that was destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius's wrath millennia ago. The excavation site at Ercolano is well preserved but smaller than the one at Pompeii.

From Ercolano, I had heard that one can take a bus to the top of Mt. Vesuvius. But this bus runs infrequently, and short of taking a taxi, the only way was to take another bus that leaves off at a point from which remains a forty-five-minute hike to the top. Or so I was told. The estimate of forty-five minutes is based on a weighted average of testimonies from various residents of Ercolano. I assigned higher weights to those who spoke with more confidence and those who were in a certain age range: young enough to be sharp yet old enough to be wise. I was game, so to speak, for a short hike. The prospect of some exercise was even appealing.

At the bus stop, I encountered a gay Dutch couple who was attempting the same feat. They owned a modeling agency and had taken a vacation after a photo-shoot in Rome. We decided to stick together, yet unaware of the adversity ahead.

Our half-way bus dropped us off at the foot of the mountain. The locals pointed us in the direction, and we were off. They had not asked us why we were doing this. They had not told us that our feat was impossible. They had simply said that it was a long walk, and none of them had attempted it.

So we walked. And we walked. And we walked. And the peak receded in the distance, two meters for every meter we progressed. We began to realize the magnitude of our mistake. It was a street sign that gave it away: winding road for the next eight kilometers, when we had put about three behind us. And, surely, that was only a part of what was ahead. Who knew what was next? There were no bus stops along the way. Indeed, there were no pedestrians, for nobody in their right mind would do this. We should have paid the ten euros per person to go by taxi, we lamented. But it was too late. Every bus we flagged passed by. Some drivers ignored us, some dignified us with a shrug. Further, it is hard for these buses to stop on a steep slope. The taxis that passed us were all full, for they do not depart to the summit until every seat is taken.

We were stuck between a rock and a hard place. We were hesitant to undo our hard work by turning back, but we were afraid to continue to dig ourselves deeper into the hole; surely, what was behind us was a mere fraction of what was ahead. But we hauled onward with a beautiful view of the Bay of Naples on one side and a discouragingly high peak on the other. Buses, taxis, and cars sped by. No one would stop. The roads were narrow. A paved version of the Albanian ones, I thought.

Indeed, were it not for the guiding hand of Trafficus, god of traffic jams, we may have suffered on the sun-patched Neapolitan road forever. But when one bus comes from the top of the mountain and three buses are hauling upward around the bend, the road fails and the buses stop, and the local who lives in the hut on the mountain emerges to guide these buses through, directing them to reverse, pull over, move forward. For a long time, however, there was little movement. One of the buses that was headed upward was in fact the public transit bus, and, completely stopped, had no excuse not to admit us. Eventually, the road cleared and we completed the remaining kilometers on wheels.

Vesuvius was fascinating to see. My inspiration to write about the mountain, though, has evaporated with the departing muse. I have little more to say than the pictures that I will show at the next possible moment.

Afterward, another bus on the same ticket ported us to the excavation site at Pompeii, where the remains from the city that was killed by Vesuvius were amazingly in tact. Guidebooks and testimony suggest an entire day just to see the town, and indeed it is large. But unforeseen circumstances had delayed us, so we spent two and a half hours and saw what we could. Once within the gates, we could walk in the streets, enter some buildings, and explore the town as if it were any other. We sat in the Colosseum, visited the brothel and the bakery (they were closed for business, of course) and saw many other aspects of daily Roman life.

The Dutch boys and I had dinner in Naples that night. We parted ways. It is now the forty-second day (June 1), and I depart for the Sicilian capital of Palermo tonight by train to arrive tomorrow morning.


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