From Naples with Lava

By Christie, Janet | Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh, Scotland), February 2, 2014 | Go to article overview

From Naples with Lava


Christie, Janet, Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh, Scotland)


A FIGURE crouches as the ash rains down on the town of Pompeii from the supposedly extinct volcano of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Almost two thousand years later we stand and gaze at him, one of the casts made by pouring plaster into the void his body left in ash, catching him in the moment of death. It is impossible not to feel a wave of pity for him and the town's 20,000 inhabitants, the vintners, blacksmiths, tailors, farmers and their families who lived and worked on these busy streets in the shadow of the volcano.With two- and-a-half million visitors every year at this Unesco site, just 17 miles from Naples, the streets are still teeming today, and it doesn't take much imagination to see what this bustling Roman town must have been like. Vesuvius shimmers in the late summer heat, a brooding presence as we explore the ruins, from the formal forum to cobbled back streets where artisans lived above workshops. Dispensing with the map, we wander on through the wider thoroughfares where the frescoed villas of the prosperous are arranged around gardens and courtyards, finally arriving at the impressive amphitheatre. There it's impossible not to stand in the centre of the arena and turn, looking up at the stands and imagining the crowds baying for blood, as the hairs on the back of your neck rise.Later that night, Vesuvius seems a more benign presence from the terrace of the Grand Vittoria Excelsior hotel in Sorrento, content to provide the backdrop to picture postcard views across the Bay of Naples, with the city's lights winking in the distance. Just a half-hour's train journey away from both Pompeii and Naples, the town clings to the cliffs and makes a great base for touring the Amalfi coastline, a popular holiday destination since Roman times. All hairpin bends, soaring cliffs and gaily painted villages tumbling down to pebbly beaches, it's as if the region of Campania divebombs straight into the sea.We never made it as far as Amalfi, but arriving from a chilly Scotland the previous night, we'd dumped our bags, shed several layers and headed straight out to explore Positano, the next village along. After an exciting bus journey during which my window seat afforded dizzying views of waves smashing on to rocks below from every bend, we were rewarded by the picturesque Positano. Tramping down winding streets from the bus stop past still-open designer shops and expensive eateries, it soon became apparent this is where the well-heeled kick back. Their holiday souvenirs apparently include white linen beach gear and thong sandals worth more than my car, and some of the most hideous pottery seen this side of Deirdre Barlow's sideboard, yet with eye- watering price tags. Priced out of the market we opted instead to sink cold beers on the beach as assorted lap dogs were promenaded past and the sun slipped behind the cliffs. As it was replaced by the moon, the local fishermen appeared on the pier and chatted to us about the ones that weren't going to get away; sea bass, calamari and eels bound for a plate in the expensive restaurants lining the streets behind us.Arriving back late at the hotel we'd missed dinner so headed off into the centre of Sorrento for takeaway pizza from one of the town centre eateries. We were in Italy. How bad could it be? Terrible, unfortunately, but the Grand Vittoria Excelsior had surpassed itself with the provision of fruit in our room, so we sat on our verandah and listened to the insects buzz among the orange and olive trees and soaring pines, whose height bears testament to the hotel's long history. …

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