Naples is all chaos and wonder. Naples is not an easy city and in order to appreciate it, one has to go there free of all judgement. Parts of the old city is crumbling as Havana, but without the Caribbean allure, it is decadent as Lisbon, but without the colourful tiles or the charm, some corners have the grime of old Delhi, but without the exotism. So what is so special about the city? The answer is its authenticity, a fenomenal pride that holds no arrogance. The bravery of presenting itself as it is, without making any concessions to tourism or to what people will think.
Its inhabitant seem to have a thoroughly ostentatious faith that results in over ornated churches and sumptuous weddings. We know, since we attend 2 ceremonies in one afternoon, as we were sitting in churches to run away from the heat. As we see the guests arrive, we wonder if we are waiting for the Eurovision festival to begin, such is the bling, bling of their clothes and we still don’t know why the men are not wearing socks. What we do know is that everybody was very friendly and nobody seemed to be bothered by our presence and even the priest had some words for us inviting us to stay to the ceremony if we so wanted.
Apart from everything else, the streets of the old city are a paradise for photography. A hectic mix of people, grafitis, old bookstores, memorabilia from the golden age, scooters and you name it.
Food is one of the most amazing chapters of the city. Great taste, big variety and an incredible amount of passion.
Rome is in equal proportions divine and mundane, eternal and contemporary, chaotic and elegant. It is so hot that we feel like walking through a frying pan, but this does not stop the thousands of visitors from walking around and exploring every corner. People from all continents and all ages mix in this impossibly monumental city, taking pictures, eating ice-cream, or looking at its rich cultural heritage with wonder.
There’s a lot to marvel at. One cannot help for example to look at the incredible amount of statues that adorn the air with pride.
There’s also the churches, sooooo many, dating from so many different historical periods, that one would need weeks or maybe months to explore all of them. Many of them sheltering treasures in the shape of paintings, statues, etc. Michelangelos´s, Botticceli´s, Caravaggio´s, you name it.
Of course, the masterpiece by excellence is the Sistine Chapel. The first time I saw it, many years ago, it impressed me in an overwhelming manner. As we were in Rome for my birthday, Christian gave me the visit as a birthday present. Well, the chapel was equally impressive and the Vatican Museums equally fascinating. No other museum I have visited gathers the history of humanity with so much completeness, from the very beginning of the civilisations to today. Amazing. What is a bit outrageous is the almost 2 hours of queue in the scorching sun, that people from all ages have to withstand in order to enter the museums. This is unless you are one of the lucky ones that manages to buy a fast track ticket on line, for a premium price, or you surrender to one of the street sellers that tempt you walking up and down the line, while you are sweeting like a pig, offering super fast track tickets at truly astronomical prices.
Saint Peters Basilica continues to be the icon that attracts pilgrims and people from all the corners of the world. The lavishness and abundance of the interior feel a bit disconcerting for a place of recollection and prayer. The exterior is serene, but magnificent, grandiose, rich in columns and statues, that stand next to the West shore of the Tiber river, since the Renaissance period.
In the chapter of churches, somehow the most impressive one, is the Pantheon. Probably because it was built in the time of the Romans, making it almost 2000 years old, and is amazingly preserved. The center is under a coffered concrete dome, with a central opening (the oculus). It is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built. The height to the oculus and the diameter of the inner circle are exactly the same, 43 meters.
Rome exude icons. Surely the Piazza Navona, the Spanish Stairs or the Fontana de Trevi, speak to everybody, as they have been featured in several classical movies. And then there’s the Piazza del Popolo, with its elegant obelisk and the Piazza Venezia, which I find unnecessarily bombastic, but Christian seems to like.
Surely the icon of icons is the Colosseum, which needs no introduction. We just contemplate it at dusk, marvelled and humbled.
Yes, it was far too hot, yes the bus system is sadly unreliable and frustrating, yes the city is crowded, but nobody can deny that Rome is eternal.
In our trip to the North of Italy we make a brief stop in Viareggio, where we meet with friends Gaetano and Ingrid to catch up and have a nice dinner by the beach.
From there it´s a stone’s through to Cinque Terre, which is a string of five tiny seaside villages with picturesque colourful houses, that wrap themselves around the steep coastal cliffs. They are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
Some of them also have tiny harbours with small fishing boats that enjoy the golden notes of the sunsets.
The villages are also linked by hiking paths that follow the contours of the coast from above the hills. Unfortunately a big part of the main path, the Sentiero Azzurro, are closed due to erosion and deterioration, but we still manage to do a piece of it and find other paths that go from village to village, and even if they are a bit of hard work in the heat, they have stunning views and are absolutely worth it.