Naples: the skin tingles.
Description: chaotic but edgy and sensual.
Question: How could we have avoided her for so long?
Answer: In past visits, we’d stuck to the well-worn tourist trails leading to Italy’s Sorrentine peninsula, Capri and the Amalfi Coast.
Result: I was always curious about Napoli and its reputation for being exactly the opposite of elegant Florence, tendy Milan and stately Rome.
My curiousity increased with tales of cruise ship tourists refusing to disembark there, apparently rattled by fears of pickpockets, mafia and drug wars.
This city had long intrigued me. It is often described as “beautiful chaos”. But, what exactly did that mean?
Sorrento and the Amalfi, I was told, were like the southern belles of Italy – alluring in their pastel colours and genteel manners. Naples flirted openly – suggestive and gritty.
Yet, intriguing or not, we never found our way to the city under Mount Vesuvius until Gert’s car GPS experienced problems on the way from the ruins of Herculaneum.
Suddenly, we were tangled in the urban canyons of suburban Naples – and our senses were on overload.
The area was the very epicentre of Neopolitan life played out on crowded and dilapidated streets, with just a hint of danger. Sue gently pushed her handbag out of sight beneath her car seat.
It was in-your-face and overwhelmingly loud – a warren of narrow roads and lanes, confusing street signs, poverty, drying laundry, rubbish and graffiti.
Neopolitan men in sweaty singlets, trucks overladen with fresh fruit, kamikaze motorcyclists on footpaths; women in traffic-stopping tight shorts and heels, road signals that no one seemed to obey – all wrapped in the smells of coffee and pizza.
The streets were a bewildering maze of traffic, charging heater skelter everywhere, without the semblance of order or marked lanes.
We’ve survived the craziness of New York City taxis; the insanity of downtown Bankok; the wall-to-wall vehicles of Los Angeles; and the free-for-all that is Paris traffic, but we’d never seen anything like the streets of Naples. This was a whole new league.
The streets were a knock-down, winner-takes-all competition, where the first person to blink lost.
How, I wondered, could anyone be indifferent to this raucous streetscape. Surely, it was either appalling or captivating!
Either way, it was a remarkable experience and, unlike those cruise ship tourists, I was excited by the intense, heaving humanity around me – and keen to see more.
Later, we sat in a quiet hillside coffee shop where a shrine to the Madonna looked down on us from a roadside tree and the city spread out below – from the Bay of Naples to Vesuvius and the Lattari Mountains.
Admittedly, the cityscape was somewhat blurred by a soupy smog not uncommon in Naples.
Young boys kicked a football on the concrete beside us and the rich sound of Italian voices provided a soundtrack that was somehow perfect.
We had been thoroughly enjoying the solitude and intoxicating traditions of the Lattari villages. These are our type of places.
However, the contrast of Naples and its gritty excitement also touched something inside us – possibly a yearning for a long-passed youth.
I made a mental note to return if possible – to ‘See Naples and Live”.
Note: the writer was flown to Europe by Scoot Airlines