Tuesday, 10 July 2007


Been in Napoli (otherwise known to the outside world as Naples, Italy) since Sunday noon. Why, you ask? Conversations, of course. This time it’s the Coordinating Committee meetings of the Global Planning Education Associations Network (GPEAN) held in conjunction with the AESOP Congress and Conference.
Am typing this on the tiny balcony of my heritage hotel room right in the historic city centre. Bummer, no Internet connection in the room but I will run over to Internet CafĂ© (which they advertise as “Internet Point”) right across the street later to upload to by Blog. First impressions of Napoli. The taxi driver fleeced me, I am quite sure of that. He asked for 25 Euro which I protested was too expensive so he gave a mouthful about Sunday being a holiday so he has to charge 20 – 30% more. The trip is actually very short to the hotel but it was one helluva a right. He went fast and furious on those trademark bumpy roads (which we are copying in Penang).

On reaching the hotel, I got another shock. Everyone seems to be out drink, not just coffee, but people on sidewalk cafes as well as people on the sidewalks enjoying huge mugs of beer or wine. Some young people were actually walking around with big open bottles of beer in their hands. As I look down on the street at 8.50 am on a Tuesday morning, I don’t see them around. The third shock. Rubbish everywhere. Aw, man, this is like a third world country, but worst. Okay, so I am being judgmental but first impressions, that’s what I am telling you. And as I walked the streets later, I sawed hawkers everywhere on the streets. Hey, isn’t the informal sector the main stay of the third world economy? Not anymore. And who are the hawkers. Lots of Caucasians but I see Chinese, Indians (many) and blacks from Africa. So, the first day was not impressive. Yes, lots of very old buildings which have been renovated very nicely and lots of people staying in the city in these refurbished buildings, even young couples and families with small children. So, that’s good but … I want to be impressed.

The next day, Monday, I decided to get out of the city. The tours are too expensive (about 60 -100 Euros for a day trip). The guy at the frontdesk told me I could do it by train. So, I took the train to Pompei (cost 2.30 Euro; about 35 minutes ride). The train has perfect scheduling and is clean and efficient but covered with “official” graffiti on the sides. The highlight of the ride was a group of 5 American ladies who sat down around me on the train. One of them was a 86 year old granny from Nebraska. The others were 2 daughters and 2 daughters-in-law on a trip through Italy (I forget where else). Unfortunately, Granny can’t walk a lot so she has to sit out while the others zipped through the Pompei Ruins.
Hey, Pompei restored my faith in Italy. As a town planner, the ruins was really inspiring. We are talking about a city which was covered by ashes when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, about 2,000 years ago. But I do have a beef with the management. You know, typically, when you buy a ticket they give you a map and brochure to explain things? Well they didn’t give that to us when we bought the tickets (11 Euro). When I exited, I happened to walk by the little office next to the toilet and saw them handling out maps and little booklets. Hhmmm, I wonder if it is just a scam to make people pay 19 Euro for the Audiophones. But all said, the walk through the ruins was good though I think I only covered a small part. One interesting note from a planners perspective. As I walked along I noticed a centre wide passage paved with undereven big stores and every now and then there are these huge boulders across. I first thought they must be some form of traffic barriers, you know to prevent horse carriages from passing through. I also noticed that people were all walking on the sidewalks, about one foot higher than the “main road”. Hey, this is pretty advance transport system, I thought. Later I noticed these water fountains situated at the side of the “main roads” and intersections of the “roads”. And then I saw water flowing from one of the fountains down the “main street”. Then it hit me. These are not roads but an ancient sewer system. And those huge boulders across the “roads” are really bridges for people to cross the sewers. Ah, the exhilaration of accidental discoveries (and being penny-wise).

Left Pompei at about noon and headed for Sorrento, planning to take the boat to Capri Island. Same train, the ride cost 1.80 Euro. So, really very cheap compared to the tours. As I exited the Sorrento train station, I debated whether to take the ho-on-hop-off bus but based on past experiences, I decided to follow the crowd instead. Oh, was I charmed by Sorrento. Completely different from Napoli. Clean and very welcoming. And I love the alleyways which have been rehabilitated into a shoppers paradise (ooh, I bought my daughter’s 15th Birthday present here). I was so captivated I spent 3 to 4 hours just walking and absorbing sights and smells (lots of cafes everywhere). I finally settled down for a drink (actually 2 drinks) and a snack and a fantastic view of Mt Vesuvius … cost me 15 Euro. That’s about 70 Ringgit. But as they say, when in Sorrento, do as the Sorrentos do.

Capri Island? Another day.

Afternoon is when I justify my trip – first meeting in a series of 3 or 4.
9.16 am, Tuesday, July 10, 2007, Hotel Prati, Naples.

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