A heavy wooden door separated the convent from the outside world. As it closed behind me, I stood surrounded by silence. Flying anywhere from Australia takes a long time, and after a night and a day and a night I was exhausted. In true Roman style the taxi driver had careened down tiny streets where footpaths were more a suggestion than reality, before double-parking on the wrong side of the road.
The convent Le Soure di Lourdes was just a short walk from the top of the Spanish Steps. Once inside, the world became peaceful. Large wooden doors shut out the chaos of the street, and I stood in the quiet of a marble foyer.
I fell in love in the side streets of Naples. In love with Naples.
I’d been told that if I love the north of Italy, the south would prove be a revelation. Some people love it, some hate it, but no one is indifferent. First the Greeks then the Romans found a home here, followed by a plethora of kings and duke and princelings, each leaving in their wake a city awash with a vibrant cultural and artistic legacy.
Our boat sailed in at dawn, past the backdrop of Vesuvius. Arriving by boat is a great way to see the Mediterranean. These places have been ports since the dawn of time, and old cities and towns cluster along the shoreline. You see the city through the eyes of the sailors and fishermen who have plied these waters for centuries, hear it through the voice of Homer who wrote of this coastline and islands.
Naples Bay is reputedly the birthplace of the Sirens. Although the age of the city remains unclear, mythology has it the city was built on the site where the body of the siren Parthenope washed ashore. (She drowned herself when her songs failed to entice Odysseus, a man so readily enticed.) A town was probably founded by Greek colonists, perhaps as early as the 10th C BCE, which became a thriving city before the rise of the Rome.
Everyone should fly into Venice – with a window seat – at least once in their life. First come the outlying islands, so many of them dotted amongst the blue of the Adriatic. Suddenly the history of Venice makes sense, from when the swampy, malarial marshes offered shelter from the invading Goths, to her days of seafaring glory.
Then comes the city herself. Even from the heavens Venice is breathtakingly beautiful, especially when bathed by an autumn sun as storm clouds swell on the horizon. Every part of the city is on view, from the Camponile to the ridiculously enormous ocean-liner terminal. Even the wooden posts in the lagoon are clearly visible, marking channels, moorings, and all important routes through the swirl of shallows and sandbars and wrecks and lobster pots.
The next essential is catching a boat from the airport to the city. There is no better way to approach Venice, whether on the public vaporetto, or by a much faster private boat. Our vessel was all streamlined wood, the skipper as sleek and polished as his vessel. (I have yet to spot a female skipper in Venice.) Despite a complete lack of Italian, as soon as my husband began admiring the boat (being a long-time sailor himself) the skipper happily displayed the boat’s paces. As the rain finally poured down and visabilty vanished, the skipper raced along the narrow channel to the city, overtaking vaporettos and all other speedboats in a shower of spray. Continue Reading →