Rain – lots of it.
The Pilgrim has gone to Herculaneum and I’m thinking about a cable car to the top of the local mountain. In fairness, mountain is probably not the best description. In height it’s about the same as Roseberry but it affords wonderful views and it’s covered in vegetation; however, the rain has set in and by that I mean stairods. It’s not an angry storm like the ones I’ve experienced in the tropics, it’s heavy duty, driving wet stuff that falls from the sky like someone kicked over a never emptying bucket or redirected Niagara Falls. As the droplets hit a hard surface there’s an audible crack and the results merge together to form a stream down the gutter of the narrow road outside the apartment. I change my plans re the cable car and decide on the relative dry of the Circumvesuviana to Naples and hope for an improvement.
There are two levels of service on the Circumvesuviana. You’re either treated like cattle in the normal trains that become so packed you could expire and no one would know because there’s not enough room to fall down; however, you do get a standard level of rudeness and indifference from the officials. There is an alternative though, once an hour, you can alight the ‘express’. This is a train with less graffiti but has a supplement of 13 euros on which you can ‘maybe’ have a seat but you do get an enhanced level of rudeness and indifference from the officials as part of the upgrade. I say you can maybe have a seat, that really should read, it’s very likely as it usually runs with the nine officials who are paid to stand at the doors and check your ticket. There are two on each door and four sets of doors and we’ve seen these trains accelerate out of the station with no passengers but carrying all of the officials!
Today though I think the rain must have influenced the travellers and it’s all but full however, in a fit of naughtiness that befits a seventy three year old child, I use a technique that my mam would have referred to as ‘trying it on’ and confidently walk towards one of the officials with my one euro standard class ticket and say, “This is the express?”.
I add an upward inflection to turn it into a question whilst simultaneously proffering the ticket and I’m rewarded by a nod of confirmation and the wave of an indifferent arm inviting me on to his hallowed train.
OK, not all wins are lottery but I’m bathed in a slightly anxious glow as the ‘express’ delivers me to Naples in a seat and I’m back in the rain seven minutes earlier than using the other train but at least I had a seat.
There’s a break in the cloud and blue skies appear so I approach the ticket booth for an open topped city tour whilst I await the return of the Pilgrim who’s just about to board the grockle-class at Herculaneum.
Minutes later the blue disappears and the stair-rods start again so the tour is off and I’m sitting in a cafe off Napoli Garibaldi Station when a text arrives. It’s the Pilgrim, “I’m in Garibaldi and I’ll meet you ‘here’.” It’s a What3Words (W3W) location that we’ve agreed to use and it’s highly effective although this time we’re so close it’s not necessary.
We calculate the W3W address of an Italian food place that enjoys some spectacular reviews on TripAdvisor and walk for ten minutes to find it exactly where W3W tells us it should be, result! However, there’s a queue. Now Italian queues make no sense. We join it, get to the front, then enjoy a period of complete anonymity as people from behind and people that seem to be ‘known’ together with people that we’ve never seen before are asked inside.
A few minutes in and a man who may or may not have been a manager asks for a name and the Pilgrim gives hers and I think we’re a roll – but no – the above scenario is repeated and we’re becoming increasingly disillusioned and slightly hostile when her name is called and we’re invited in. It’s an interesting old place and we’re glad to be seated. We’re also in a for a bit of a surprise as our waiter is very pleasant, helpful and even smiles. The food is divine and the wait becomes retrospectively worthwhile – it’s full marks on this one and we leave as happy bunnies.
Napoli to Rome
Back at the station we’re redirected from one train company to the appropriate one and receive excellent service from a gentleman who issues us with the reservations we require at two euros less than online. I mention this in passing because we experience some very challenging service in a couple of days.
It’s a two story train and we’re treated to some marvellous scenery as we’re whisked through the beautiful Italian countryside. It’s such an uplifting end to a day when Italian officialdom (not the people) were less than perfect.
The remainder of the day is a wonderful revelation of architecture and history that gets even better tomorrow.
Postcard 7 from Rome
Back at street level now and after a little bit of thoroughly enjoyable aimless wandering we buy tickets for an open top bus. The process is interesting though and the conversation goes like this…
“Can we use the ticket on any of the buses?”
“Yes sir, any, they’re all owned by the same company so jump on any”
“Thanks, we’ll have two”
The transaction takes place.
“Here are your tickets sir, you must only get on the green bus, you’re on the green route”
“But you said we could get on any bus”
Person selling the ticket completely ignores the last comment…
“No sir, you must not get on the green bus”
We put it down to experience and as it turns out the green route is superb and we don’t miss anything but it’s an interesting observation on truth.
After returning to the hotel we change for dinner and present ourselves at a recommended restaurant. It’s the 3Quarti and the management are a bit brusk but it does look and smell exceptional so when we are required to return at nine thirty we agree and look for a street bar. It’s a bit late for us to eat and we nearly don’t return but fortunately, after a little mellowing due to a couple of excellent Italian wines at our chosen watering hole we do return and it’s superb.
Another lovely day and the Basilica experience is yet to come.
Sleep comes easy.
Postcard 8 From Vatican City
The intention is to get up early and join a minor queue to tour St Peter’s Basilica so we rise at about seven thirty and make our way leisurely to St Peter’s Square just inside this tiny yet discreet country and find a queue of biblical proportions and it’s not yet nine. We decide on joining it and timing the progress for what we estimate to be a quarter of the distance to make a final decision as to the actual waiting time. This works well and we’re pleasantly surprised that it’s going to be less than an hour – and it is. Our bags are efficiently scanned and we make our way to the entrance taking in a Pope’s eye view of the square and the queue snaking around it in a huge arc.
As we enter the Basilica I’m rendered speechless at the size and beauty and go through a series of emotions as I think of my Mam, Mary and Linda all of whom would have loved to do what I’m doing now. With all of this emotive activity going on in my head and chest I’m slightly bewildered and very emotional as I suggest we wander around this exquisite building alone and in our own time.
After an hour or so I drift towards the main entrance again and realise that there is no queue for the Dome and send a message to Cecilia who is in a quiet area dedicated to prayer and contemplation. I’d spent twenty minutes in it a little earlier and thought about all of the people that had left this life and influenced me with their love and care. It’s a beautiful experience and has left me with a feeling of internal love and fulfilment with the knowledge that I’ve been both unlucky that I’ve lost them but hugely privileged that they were part of my life in the first place.
She responds and I get the appropriate tickets and we meet ready for the climb. The lift takes us about half way and deposits us on the roof of the main Basilica where there is a very fine cafe and a gift shop both of which sell their wares at remarkably reasonable prices. I get a couple of coffees and they’re three euros for the two!
Now, if you intend to do this you need to know that the next bit includes a long ramp, a zig zag staircase, a spiral staircase, another zig zag, then another spiral all going up and all get narrower as they approach the top. There’s also an obvious but disconcerting feeling of movement so if you are claustrophobic, agoraphobic, suffer from vertigo or have any issues with heart or lungs you might want to give it a miss but if you do decide to go to the top, the views are spectacular. There are quite a few people on the circular ledge but all in good spirit and respectful and some are offering to take pictures for people that are struggling with selfies. It’s wonderful.
In life there is Ying and Yang as negative is balanced with a positive and this trip has illustrated this fact multiple times.
Italian people are a joy, they’re fun, family oriented and loud, very loud; however, Italian officials are a different breed. The donning of a uniform changes them and gives them assumed and only latent authority but it would seem it was gifted by Mussolini himself. Here is an example that I’m sad to say is the norm for unformed people in these cities rather then the exception…
Rome to Florence
We’re back in Rome station and trying to book the mandatory seats on the Intercity high speed train to Florence.
We’re queued up as normal and kept outside of the office by an official wearing a side arm that he caresses as he struts about with inflated chest trying to look important. He’s not a policeman but he’s more than a security man and combines the roles with an air of arrogance that makes him easy to dislike. After ten minutes of waiting and a change of personnel in the office someone steps out to inform us that we should be taking tickets from a machine so that we can be called for services when our number is selected. It’s a great idea except,
- There are no signs either inside or out to give guidance so even the Italians are mystified
- No-one has mentioned this until now
- The machine that produces the tickets is broken
…so the man with the gun does his ‘High Noon’ moseying walk to deal with it and, much to the amusement of those watching, fails (I can hear Tex Ritter singing “Do not forsake me oh my darling.” in the background…
A lady official then intervenes and replaces the paper roll and off it goes again. However, in the intervening time the machine has generated multiple ‘rogue’ numbers that when called will not be responded to as no ticket was printed. There are a number of people who’re in danger of missing trains that would like immediate service and they are ignored. We, in the meantime are frustrated but have no time demands as the trains to Florence run every twenty to thirty minutes and we can go on any (provided we have a booked seat!). There’s a heart-breaking moment when a very old Frenchman hardly able to walk and is currently sitting on his case is ordered out of the office by the man with the gun to sit outside. The Pilgrim asks for a chair for him and is completely ignored and he sits back on his suitcase but looks anything but steady.
We’re eventually called after numerous ticket numbers are either ignored or were part of the ‘hole’ in the number sequence created by the lack of paper roll and we’re served by a young official who defies the generalisation by being kind and helpful and even smiles as he issues us with our reservations and we make a dash for the platform where our train is waiting. (once more we have the Yin and the Yang and we’re back in balance).
The HST to Florence is double decked so we take the top floor which affords us some outstanding views of the Italian countryside as we shoot through the fields at 200 mph.
Once we’re deposited and the central station we find a comfortable wall in the sun to search for accommodation and we’re rewarded with a lovely little hotel in the heart of the city at a reasonable rate and only 20 minutes walking through the heart of the city to reach it.
Florence is off the wall beautiful with a huge Cathedral that defies logic as it is very much more beautiful on the outside than it is in. However, in or out it is big. What I mean is the top end of immense and not much smaller than enormous.
There’s also a wonderful bridge that must have looked like London Bridge many centuries ago when it had multi-story houses, shops and the odd jeweller as part of its structure.
We have a very enjoyable stay that includes meeting a delightful American couple who tell us about some of the walks they’d done in the Cinque Terra region which is our target for later in the week.
Enjoy the snaps. G x
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