Monday, 16 July 2007

Goodbye Napoli

This is my last night in Napoli. Its been 7 days.

My first impressions of Napoli when I got to my hotel last Sunday was one of shock. I have walked for hours and hours and hours and I must count my lucky stars. My guardian angel has been watching over me. This morning at our GPEAN meeting, we observed that three of the participants were robbed in broad daylight. We recalled that a huge guy from Canada was robbed in the subway in Mexico City last year during the World Planning Schools Congress. One of the GPEAN members made an interesting observation that “everyone in Naples knows that you should go out with only enough money” to last the day. Keep your cash, passports and credit cards in the hotel. This, he said, is the “cultural ethos”. When “in Rome, do what the Romans do”.

Napoli traces its history back to the Greeks from the 7th Century so that’s a long history of some 2,000 years. 4 million people. I have seen the “good” side and the “no so good” side of the city but what I like most about the city is that it is lively and vibrant. People, young and old, live in the city in rehabilitated (and rundown) old buildings. Traffic during peak hour is crazy and it is amazing how they can maneuvre their tiny cars in and out of tight parking spaces. Most cars have scars from these delicate operations.

The public transport is extensive with buses, trains, trams and ferries. For 3 euro you can travel the whole day anywhere in the city. Learning how to use the system is not so difficult but getting the elusive maps showing the routes is. In the 6 days I have been here, I have not seen a single tourist booth. Ask for directions and you get a torrent of Italian. People are generally helpful but language is a problem. Waiters say arigato to me when I give tip. I tell them I am from Malaysia, they give me a blank look.

I love the spaghetti with clams – I think I had it 3 or 4 times. Cost between 8 and 10 euro a plate. Food at the hotel during the conference was also excellent. Tried the kebab, didn’t like it. Saw a Chinese Restaurant but decided not to waste my money. And of course, the cafes are great. Cappucino is 1.20 euro, expresso 0.70 and a doughnut 0.70. I have not seen a single Starbucks, Coffeebean, Pizza Hut or Dominos and we are cheering. One presentor from Istanbul was lamenting that these icons of the West are destroying the traditional cafes in Turkey. I wish those modern Kopitiams sprouting out in Malaysia could bring back some of the old world charm to Penang and KL but I think they lack character.

SALDI, SALDI, SALDI. Stupid me. I was wondering how come all the shops are called “Saldi”? I thought it was a brand! I finally figured out (after 7 days) that “saldi” meets “sale”. Yes, every shop is on sale. If shopping is what you want, you can find cheap, or cheaper, as well as extensive brands. Yesterday, because I had an all-day pass, I took the train, then the furnicular train and ended up in nice neighbourhood with a shopping area pedestrianised and full of people enjoying the outdoors. Accidental discoveries are my forte. Normally, I buy one item each for the 3 children and couple for my wife and maybe one or two for myself. That’s about all I can manage.
It’s been fun. Goodbye Napoli. Hello Roma.

10.23 pm, 14th July 2007, Napoli.

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