At the entrance to our accommodation there is a small chapel on the wall. A statue of Mary is above a general melee of religious miscellany. While this isn’t particularly unusual, the 24 hour light shining up at her is. This morning I noticed that she is the same Mary as the one on the little cards from yesterday…the one with Mary and Jesus in space suits. Anyway, because of the 24 hour light I have decided she must be Our Lady of the Perpetual Spotlight.
Actually we could have done with a bit of Mary luck today given the weather we experienced. Okay, we were fortunate that we didn’t get caught by the rain while we wandered around the mud bubbling sulphur field that’s Solfatara…though we were close.
Solfatara is an extraordinary landscape. Plumes of egg smelling steam rising up from fissures in the ground with an occasional glimpse of mud. The volcano last erupted in 1198 so there’s every chance it could go again. It stands to reason that the longer something waits, the shorter time there is for it happen again.
And there are some who may have preferred the volcano to erupt this morning and rid the world of a few thousand school children. In separate packs, each numbering a few hundred, they roamed hither and thither, chattering away in every imaginable language all equally unintelligible to anyone above 20 years.
I’ve noticed that school kids in groups have an inability to recognise anything beyond themselves and their immediate vicinity. If you are ever unfortunate enough to get in between two converging groups of school kids, you are completely and utterly invisible. Sometimes it’s worth it to see the surprise on their little faces when they encounter a solid object but, really, it’s just not worth it.
Mind you, the crater at Solfatara is massive. It reminded me of the empty expanses of the Forbidden City. (This does beg the question of why the groups of school kids wind up crowding the grown ups though.)
One soon gets used to the smell of sulphur and the extreme heat of the steam emerging from the holes, particularly the ancient structure which has all the hallmarks of a perfect sauna without the need for a bucket of water and a ladle.
To get to Solfatara we walked up to the Metro station (where the playground died last night) where an ancient printer spewed off twenty tickets in just under an hour and we sat in a cafe sucking up the sun and a few pastries for breakfast…for those who have breakfast. Obviously I just had a coffee. We then hopped on a train out to the end of the line at Pozzuoli.
The train trip was pretty much uneventful, which is good but a bit dull for a blog post. Actually the trip back was more eventful with a lot of very slow driving. I think it’s a natural feature of Italians trying to NOT keep to a timetable that they have to drive increasingly slower as the day progresses in order to avoid any train being on time. It’s not easy but they try very hard. This was a bit tough on poor Lex and his bladder because, like one expects from an Italian train the existence of a toilet is no guarantee of said convenience actually working.
I think the reason the toilet wasn’t working was because it was too high tech. It was on one of the new Jazz carriages and, instead of a simple seat over a hole in the floor and a non-working latch, it is complex enough to fail. This proves the universal law that the non-workability of any object is defined by the level of complexity used to make it work.
From Pozzuoli station it’s a very long walk up a very long hill to the entrance to Solfatara where a very helpful bar owner points you in the direction you have to go. This is despite the massive sign and entrance. I guess he’s there for stupid or illiterate tourists. It’s hard to imagine anyone intent on going to Solfatara not knowing where to go when presented with this:
On the way up the hill we passed a voracious little dog who clearly enjoys barking at tourists. It wasn’t barks of aggression as his tail never stopped wagging so I think he was probably practising his English. On the way up the hill he barked at us all but on the way back he stood in wait for Anthea. I walked by first and he had his head turned, looking for her distinctive red hair. When she appeared he let fly with his best northern accented barking, scaring the daylights out of her. It was quite obvious he’d been waiting for her return to the point where I figured he’d have waited for a very long time had she not turned up.
We walked back down the hill (I think we walked around 347 miles today in all) and stood outside the amphitheatre debating whether to go inside or walk down to the port for beer and pizza. The debating went on for quite a long time but the decision that had been obvious from the start of the debate was the one that was eventually reached and we headed to the port for beer and pizza.
It’s down here that ferries leave for the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples so there’s lots of lovely car ferries and yachts and boats and…well a lot of enjoyment for a marine crazy guy like me. Though given how exhausted we all were from the endless walking, the surroundings didn’t really matter for the three hours we spent drinking and eating. The owner eventually had to go to another restaurant to get more pizzas because we’d all of them.
While at the port we sat in a sort of frosty plastic marquee, bits of which were held together with packaging tape, watching a chap chase the pigeons out. He explained, as we were leaving, that this was his job. I reckon there can’t be a lot of job satisfaction when the object of your employment keeps returning…though maybe I’m wrong and this is exactly what job satisfaction is in the pigeon chasing industry. After all you’d be out of a job if they didn’t return.
Full of beer and pizza we headed back to the train via the port and through the rain which had been threatening for quite a while. It was ironic that it didn’t rain while we were in the shelter of the marquee but waited for us to be wandering around the narrow streets. Still, what’s a holiday without a little drizzle…or without ice cream. I say that because Anthea and I spotted a gelato bar and, like honey spotting bears, we dived into it. Glorious, delicious, everything I’d expect from experts in the art of taste bud delight.
Eventually the rains stopped and we made the long, stop-start trip back to the centre of Naples and our rooms for a bit of a rest up (and wine) before heading out to Bellini’s for dinner. It’s at Bellini’s that the legendary fish in a bag is prepared. While it looked amazing, I settled for a pizza (naturally).
It was here that Anthea endured one of the worst red wines known to man. When she ordered a red, the waiter looked somewhat dubious then brought out a blue bottle without label or lid. It actually had a head and tasted foul. I’ve consumed quite a few bottles of barely drinkable liquid in my life but this stuff was diabolical. Personally, I think it was the leftover dregs of other patrons’ glasses put back into the bottle and given to the next stupid person who ordered red in a seafood restaurant, something that’s been going on since 1975. How Anthea managed to drink almost two glasses of it is a testament to her iron stomach.
Apart from the red wine, Bellini’s is superb. The food was fantastic, the atmosphere a delight. The staff treated us like long lost relatives who had returned from years away where we’d not known decent food for centuries.
Finally, having walked the length and breadth of Italy, we fell into beds and slept like we’d earned it. At least I did.