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The lively city of Naples (Italian name Napoli) is the capital of the Campania region of Italy, and is located approximately 120 miles
(190 km.) southeast of Rome. It has a population of slightly less than 1 million people and is one of the most densely-populated cities in
Europe. The city is more than 2800 years old, and was originally founded by the ancient Greeks. There is much for a tourist to see in
Naples, as it is home to many churches and museums, as well as other points of interest. A number of historical sites are nearby, as well
as one principal geological site – central Naples is situated less than ten miles from the crater of Mount Vesuvius, which erupted to
devastating effect in 79 A.D. and has erupted with less enthusiasm several times since. Nearby historical sites include the cities of
Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were destroyed and buried by the 79 A.D. eruption. Preserved for many centuries by their burial, they have
since been unearthed to some extent and are available for perusal by tourists. More on this later.
Naples is considered to be the “home” of pizza. The concept probably wasn’t invented there (the idea goes back many centuries), but
something resembling the present form was popularized there in the 18th and 19th centuries, and they still make it extremely well in
Naples. They do pasta very well there, too. While we enjoyed the food throughout the trip, we enjoyed it most in Naples.
Unfortunately, crime is also alive and well in Naples. It may have something to do with the unemployment rate, which is about 28%, but
petty theft is apparently common – if you visit Naples, pay attention to your cash, credit cards and belongings, and try not to draw
attention to yourself as someone with money or cool stuff. But crimes against tourists tend to be of the non-violent variety – it seems
the perpetrators would much rather have you find something missing than be a victim of overt robbery, so you probably don’t need to fear
for your safety. Speaking from our own experience, we didn’t have a problem with theft in Naples or at any time during our stay in Italy.
But on June 17, we did have the problem of trying to figure out how to get to Naples from the Fiumicino Airport near Rome. After clearing
Immigration and Customs, we eventually found the airport’s train station from following the posted signs (side note: you may be disappointed
if you’re looking for an ATM in the airport; we found two, but one was out of order and the other didn’t dispense cash). At the station, we
found ticket windows and an agent who fortunately spoke English. There is a train called the Leonardo Express that takes people from the
airport to the main train station in Rome (Roma Termini) at frequent intervals and for a flat rate, and we needed to catch this train and
transfer at the main station to a train for Naples. The man at the ticket window was able to set all this up for us, and also accepted
credit cards. But he also tried to sell us tickets to the fastest train to Naples, which would have saved an hour (out of about three) but
would have cost twice as much as the next fastest train. Unless you’re in a big hurry, stick to the Intercity (IC) trains.
The Leonardo Express performed as advertised, and there was no problem with finding the Naples train at the main station (match the train
number on the ticket with the number on the posted schedule, and the schedule will show you the track number, or “binario”), but we didn’t
have a chance to pick up anything to eat for lunch. So after a few hours of travelling southward, we arrived at the Naples train station
(Napoli Centrale, described in the guidebooks as a den of thieves) jet-lagged, hungry and thirsty.
We found a small McDonald’s at the train station that also served pizza, so we commandeered a table and barricaded it with our luggage. We
used some of our dwindling Euro supply to feed ourselves, and then dragged ourselves and our luggage out of the McDonald’s (to the probable
relief of the proprietor) for a brief (and fruitless) search for an ATM, and then headed for the taxi stand.
All of the taxis at the taxi stand were of the compact variety, so we just hired the small white hatchback at the front of the line. There
really wasn’t room for five people (including the driver) and all the passengers’ luggage – the driver fit what he could in the back, and the
rest was wedged in with the passengers. Fortunately Nella and Connie don’t take up much space, but it was still a tight fit. The driver
seemed cheerful but didn’t speak much English, and seemed to make up his own driving rules (as did all the other drivers). Red lights aren’t
treated as strict traffic regulators as they are in the U.S., but as schoolmarmish recommendations which are often ignored (our driver would
usually honk first before accelerating through one). Pedestrians are pretty much on their own – on narrow streets without sidewalks (a main
reason the cars tend to be small), the driver would tailgate them and rev the engine or honk to encourage them to hop out of the way. At one
point on a busy street with stopped traffic, our driver invented his own lane by straddling the center line; fortunately no one coming the
other way had the same idea. But the driver seemed to know what he was doing, as we eventually arrived in one piece at our hotel, the Hotel
Piazza Bellini. Or so it seemed from the address. As the taxi drove off, we found ourselves in a graffiti-decorated part of town, standing
with our luggage in front of a large and somewhat beaten-up set of green wooden doors that didn’t open.
Then we noticed a small call box with a paper label on it that said “Hotel”. Nella pushed the button and talked to the scratchy voice at
the other end, and something in the door clicked. We pushed on the door, and a small panel of it swung inward. We squeezed ourselves and our
luggage through the opening and found ourselves in a darkish area which was clearly undergoing some kind of construction, though no workers
were around. The door crashed closed behind us with a sound reminiscent of a haunted house movie. We eventually noticed a small sign pointing
to the left, where we found a small elevator. We went up in shifts, two people at a time (that’s all that would fit), and on the first floor
(what Americans would call the second floor) we found glass doors leading into a small but modern and attractive lobby manned by a friendly
desk manager who checked us in.
Our room was quite nice – it had a wooden floor and a small flat-panel television, and looked like it had been recently decorated. It was
large enough for a double bed and two twin beds, which is apparently not that normal – there are many hotels which don’t have quad rooms
and would force you to take two doubles if you have four people. Philip and Connie claimed the twins and immediately crashed on them. Bob
and Nella went out and explored a little, in search of an ATM to supply some much-needed Euros. But ATMs were found to be a scarce
commodity in that area, and the one or two that were seen had unsavory-looking fellows loitering nearby for no obvious good reason and were
avoided. It was decided to look again in the morning. But a gelato store was found, and enough Euros were scraped together to purchase two
The next morning found us in the hotel’s breakfast area, where an adequate continental breakfast (included with the room) was served. There
were bread and pastries, cold cereal and cold meats and cheeses, along with breakfast beverages and some slightly elderly apples. The ATM
search was resumed, and one was eventually found fairly close to the hotel, in a direction not tried the night before. Feeling less
impoverished now, we headed for the Metro stop at the nearby Piazza Dante and embarked on our excursion for the day – a visit to the city of
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