Travelling back in time this month, one letter at a time.
Naples, Italy: Naples’ reputation as a crazy city is thoroughly deserved. I remember the walk from the train station to the town centre was a live stream of noise and chaos. Traffic all over the road, drivers driving with one hand on the wheel, the other sounding their horns, and the Vespa type scooters were using the road as well as the footpath alongside the pedestrians. Traffic lights were more a suggestion than a direction. But everyone somehow seemed to be getting somewhere, despite the chaos.
I loved it!
Naples was a city where noise + chaose = life. I felt very much alive there.
We had stopped in Naples for a day on our way back to Rome from where we would fly home. We had just come from seeing Pompeii so we wanted to see the museum that had all the artefacts from Pompeii in it, but – who knew? – unlike every other museum in Europe that is closed on a Monday, this one in Naples was closed on a Tuesday – the day we were visiting. As we had no fallback plan, we walked around the town to fill in the time. We ate pizza at the famous pizza place, we took the funicular up to the upper town, and as it was a hot day in Italy, we ate gelato. And then we walked back to the train station to take the train on to Rome.
We’d got a deal on our train ticket to Rome, and so were sitting in first class. After walking around Naples in the heat all day, it was so nice to get into the air conditioning of the train. Husband-then-boyfriend and I took our seats in the carriage full of professional and well dressed Italian people in business wear. After a few minutes, we were both quietly sniffing the air. Someone in this carriage smelt. We realised quickly that it was us, sweaty and unscented from a day of walking around Naples, amongst the beautifully groomed and fragrant Italian natives.
New York City, USA: We flew to New York in November 2001. This was less than two months after 9/11 and it was a strange time to visit the city. The area around the World Trade Centre was fenced off and there was still a lot of ash drifting through the air. It was hard to connect the area that looked like a building site with those horrific images we’d seen on the TV just a few months earlier. The reality of it came with the “Have you seen…” notices tied to the fences. All those pictures of the missing smiling out from pieces of paper tied to the fence – people with their kids, people in sports outfits, people in graduation gear, people on holiday, people at barbeques – “Have you seen…?” All those people who went to work one day and didn’t come home. “Have you seen…?” All those families and friends who were hoping they might get some news one day.
One sunny day we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and coming out on the other side we happened upon a diner called Selina’s. Breakfast at Selina’s was like walking into the set of a movie. For a start, everything was pink – pink seats, pink tables. We got seated in a booth and the waitress brought us tall glasses of ice water in ridged plastic glasses and she kept coming back and topping up our coffee. (I drank a lot of water and coffee and suffered the results of this for the rest of the day.) Someone came in from outside and used the payphone. There was a policeman sitting at the counter but he was just drinking coffee. I was hoping he would have a donut just to conform to stereotype. Selina’s isn’t there any more which is sad but I remember that breakfast. I also remember going to a bagel shop for breakfast. There was so. much. choice. Choose your bagel type, choose how you want it, choose your filling, choose any extras. Then choose your coffee. We stood there confused by the choice and had to keep waving the New York locals forward. “You go on ahead, we’re tourists here, we’re going to take a while to make a decision.” Meanwhile the locals came in and barked their orders at the staff. Even after all that time trying to decide I made the wrong choice because I should have asked for my bagel toasted.
We’d been told many scary stories about how fierce and aggressive New Yorkers were. “They will shout in your face, they will push you out of the way.” But we didn’t find that. Maybe people were shaken up by the attack and being a little nicer than usual. For instance, when we were stood on a street corner with a guide book trying to work out where we were and where we were going, someone stopped and asked us if we needed some help with directions. I would not have expected this in New York.
Desired place to visit – Nizhny Novgorod: A double N! I know very little about Nizhny Novgorod, but I’ve seen it on maps and I like the name. And isn’t that often part of what draws you to a place? Nizhny Novgorod. It doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, but it does have a satisfying mix of sounds that you just want to keep repeating. Nizhny Novgorod. Writing this post was actually the first time it occurred to me to look up pictures of this city. I found an insider’s guide that reveals there is a cable car across the river. A cable car! As if I wasn’t already sold on this city. I’m ready, when are we going?