In all the years I’ve been going to Italy, I’ve always refused to go to Naples. ‘See Naples and die’, they say, and I’d taken it to heart, being sure that it was a hotbed of crime and corruption, with filthy streets, and that there was nothing to see anyway.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is true that the Pulite Strade (‘clean streets’) campaign has not been taken literally and that, in some parts of the city, rubbish is piled up on the pavements, but we felt just as safe here as in any other major city. In fact, everyone was friendly and helpful and we got the impression that this is a deeply conservative, family centred community, even to the extent that most of the restaurants remain closed on a Sunday (we had read this in the guide book, but refused to believe it until we found out – to our cost – that it was true).
And nothing to see? This is one of the oldest cities in Italy, originally founded by the Greeks, and the historic centre is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then there are the elegant shopping streets and multitudinous restaurants that you would expect in Italy, with the added bonus of a seafront area. And the looming presence of Vesuvius, visible from almost anywhere in the city, and the possibility of visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum. Not to mention boat trips across the Bay of Naples to Capri or Sorrento.
The Naples traffic deserves a mention: crossing the road is an art form. The technique (which takes a bit of mastering) is simply to walk into the road, without looking, blithely assuming that the traffic will stop or go round you. Which it does. Even the vespas. I watched a young couple, obviously from another part of Italy. The man plunged into the traffic, leaving his girlfriend hovering nervously on the side. ‘Ma, questo è Napoli’, he said, urging her forward. They do things differently here.