As we began to descend through the clouds I leant over to my traveling companion Nick and informed him that I was dying for a slash. Disdainfully he swiveled to me and said, ‘Were arriving in a new exciting place, intrepidly exploring round a nation neither of us has visited before and the first thing you can think of is piss.’
Our first stop off on our InterRail mission was the much maligned Naples. Receiving a bad reputation over the years for its crime rates. The local Mafioso weren’t the first to commit a heinous crime on our trip though, mod haired and ox calved Nick was. Earlier on at Liverpool airport he had been handed a rubber wrist band by security that said, ‘Health’ on it, this mantra somehow inspiring its owner to jog and not eat gratuitous amounts of lard. The band had been put in the wrong tray and just as we were making our way through to the duty free to look at Milka and overpriced Beatles memorabilia the same security guard charged in our direction shouting, ‘Stop thief!’ a distressed youngster was weeping by the X ray machine claiming some heartless fiend had made off with his inspirational bracelet. Nick too socially awkward to make a scene and actually point out that it was the security guard who was the manipulative delinquent handed the Mr Motivator plastic back and accepted the family’s scornful stares. The mother walked past us as we doused ourselves in Hugo Boss samples and whispered, ‘Nasty McCartney.’
We flew into a baking Naples wearing denim jackets, shirts, jeans, scarves, woolly hats and in Nick’s case mittens and due to us not having one ounce of space in our jam packed bags we would have stay clothed in this Antarctic prepared manner until we arrived at our hostel, Giovanni’s home. A man who on hostelworld was renowned for his warmth, hospitality and inappropriate erections.
We shed a good ten pounds in weight finding it. The moments we’d held onto the wristband had had a profound effect. Our upper halves were drenched in sweat; some of the stitching on a new shirt had perished. Gio met us at the door with a gratefully received cup of cold water. This was to be the only gesture that would be welcomed. He took us on a tour of the rather basic, dilapidated residence, ‘These are toilets, put soiled paper and sanitary towels in bin, although the last bit doesn’t apply to you two guys….does it?’
After being informed of tampon disposal he sent us to bed like petulant children. ‘It is too hot for you, go to your room.’ We initially thought he was joking. Chuckling out of politeness we then attempted to walk past him to make our way to the sun terrace, ‘What did I just say!? Get back to your bunks!’ he placed his hands on Nick’s shoulders and forcibly shoved him back through the door. He collapsed in a dejected fashion onto his bed. His eyes began to well up and all excitement and anticipation drained out of him thinking the entire trip would be like this.
After two hours of angrily sitting on our beds (we had intended to visit the Amalfi Coast during this time) we decided to creep out the room only to be met by the overbearing father figure sat at his desk. ‘Sit down boys, now you are rested I shall tell you about Naples.’ Other travelers had arrived and were gathered round the table listening to Giovanni’s tips on where to go. Michael, a Danger Mouse lookalike Australian who had endured a 20 hr flight was beginning to flag during the lecture, ‘Wake up now! I will never say this again, pay attention!’
He went on to say how there a 10pm curfew, only idiots go to the coastal town of Sorrento and how drink wasn’t his thing so it shouldn’t be ours either. He then unfurled a dog eared map of the city and got Nick to hold one of the corners, his hands visibly trembling. He would often wrap down on the table with a ruler if he felt someone wasn’t concentrating sufficiently. He pointed out landmarks and museums we should visit and coloured in areas that we shouldn’t venture. ‘Don’t enter the zones controlled by the Mafia. Those I have shaded in lilac.’ A lighter shade of purple is not exactly a colour that screams stark warning. It says enter me, I am lovely and clean. ‘Let go Nick, now!’ and the charted paper rolled back into the middle. He then rather creatively used it as a rudimentary telescope and aimed in the direction of a shy Icelandic girl, ‘OOOOOO I see you.’
‘I cook now, wait here for an hour.’ After returning to rock in our bunks like Romanian orphans with tennis balls we were given dry pasta shells. ‘You’ll not find tastier than this in all of Italy’ Even the Dolmio puppets would disagree with that and their taste receptors are made from felt. We’d lost four hours that afternoon before we were able to explore and we vowed to spend as little time as possible at the hostel. Every time we left we looked round the corner to check that he was off touching sleeping women and would bolt towards the door.
Having to run extended beyond escaping Norman Bates, you had to be constantly on your toes to avoid scooters racing down the tight cobbled streets. In one case we had to grab hold of a lamppost to avoid being steamrolled by a pensioner in a mobo kart who was giving his wife in a wheelchair a backy, Marty McFly style. It was a moving embodiment of ‘the power of love.’
The city is much like an open air museum filled with various historic statues and monuments. The Piazzo Plebiscito is quite Vatican City-esque in its vastness and over the top grandeur. Sadly some people had defined the prefix of the square’s name and put graffiti on many of the walls. Nothing very Banksey in nature, more, ‘I was ere.’ One faux Raphaelite revivalist actually congratulated himself on his location achievement, ‘I am here, I know I am, hurrah.’ And protruding from the mouth of a stone carving of an Italian reformer was a crudely daubed penis with a perforated line emanating from the frankly ludicrously sized crown. We moved onto the Spanish quarter which comprised of gypsies looking through bins and row upon row of closed shops, a pretty accurate representation of their European no moneyed counterparts.
On returning to the hostel, wary still of its master, we crouched and shimmied out onto the sun terrace, expecting him to leap out and tell us that we’d instantly contract skin cancer. We found a young South American girl reading the current jump on the band wagon mummy porno (what vile imagery) 50 shades of Grey. I prefer the book that simply features 50 shades of grey, each page darker than the last. Nick mistakenly thought the protagonist was shaky headed provider of middle class dinner party music David.
‘You appear to be wearing rather pale looking stockings that have a tear in them, may I be so bold to suggest that I climb your white ladder.’
‘I appear to have shot my load directly into your eye, please forgive me.’
More travelers began to appear on the terrace and they started to become competitive about where they’d been and what they’d done, ‘I was in China one time, I’d actually arrived there on a magic carpet and I eat a cat’s bum.’ ‘Ah well I was extreme ironing on the apex of a mountain in Outer Mongolia and I started to gnaw on a wild cat’s knee while it was still alive.’ This may sound quite a staggering feat. To perch on a summit, rid clothes of creases and chew on a feline but the outdoing of one another becomes tiresome and the only thing that struck me during the hill based, domestic goddess, animal torturer boast is that nobody ever refers to Inner Mongolia, or any inner part of any country or city. Perhaps it’s just because rather reasonably people tend to refer to it as the centre, I don’t know.
The one notch up tales continued so I decided to retire to bed. After all the traveling, scaremongering and condescension I was fairly exhausted and quickly dropped off. The slumber didn’t last long, cue serial snorer, Michael. Unrelated to his decibel shattering sleeping habits he kept a jar of mayonnaise under his pillow. He was blatantly a condiment hoarder as he also had a pot of wholegrain mustard in his shoe and a bottle of Tomato sauce in his trousers. His nostrils and gob combined to emit a sound which can be best described as a female howler monkey who was nearing coital climax. The red eyed inhabitants of the room punched their pillows and looked wearily at each other; some made similar noises to his, not out of empathy, more out of sleep deprived annoyance. Nick closest to the night moaner decided to climb up to Michael’s bunk and repeatedly whisper ‘fvck off’ in his ear, hoping to guilt trip his sub conscious. The cacophony in the dark continued, the snorer’s inner self had told Nick to ‘fvck off’. It was now Diego’s turn, a softly spoken but huge Brazilian beast of a man who spent most of his time in bed embracing himself and openly weeping due to having all his possessions stolen went over and began to take out all his post-mugged aggression on the noisy git and started to shake him violently. Michael’s body lurched from side to side in a most unnatural fashion, his head colliding with the bed frame. Yet still he carried on making the death cry of a whale. Desperate, sleepy and low, Diego took to slapping him round the face and like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction after having the needle rammed into her heart, he sat bolt upright. Diego took him by the shoulders, pressed his face into the wheezers and said, ‘You stop this madness, now.’ Michael lay awake with his mouth ajar for the remainder of the night.
The next morning we visited the apparent haven for stupid people, Sorrento. Not because we necessarily wanted to, more to undermine his authority. To be fair to the demon headmaster his assessment wasn’t far wrong. It took well over an hour to get there and the majority of the coastline is being whored out by small businesses. Nasty little restaurants with pictures of the ratty looking food plastered all over the walls and private beaches (that aren’t beaches, just piers) that have rows of broken sun loungers that you have to pay ten Euros to sit on. Still, the sea was pleasant enough and I encountered no turds or tampons. On returning to the hostel we were met by a suspicious Giovanni, ‘Where have you been today?’ ‘Just exploring and that.’ ‘Where?’ ‘Just about, places you know.’ ‘Why do you have salt on your skin?’ ‘I’m a big seasoner of food and I got sloppy.’
On the evening we went in search of some bars. We got out quite late after Nick had debated whether he should wear skin tight jeans or not. I said he should, as they would extenuate his finest feature, his huge calves. He initially went against my advice opting for a baggier pair but when I pointed out that it was like Superman not wearing his cape or Samson not even waiting to have his head sheared by a set of devious cows he’d decided to grab the clippers and do it himself, he buckled and put them on. On the way to finding some drinking holes we came across a beautifully constructed shopping arcade. An ensemble of wrought iron balconies, stone sculptures, glass domes and meticulously decorated facades. Nick’s assessment was less glowing, ‘It’s just like the Oasis at Meadowhall, but you can’t get a McFlurry here so I guess its crapper.’
There weren’t too many nice bars to be found so we bought a couple of one euro Peroni’s from a Chinese supermarket and sat on the docks and looked out across the bay to the rather foreboding looking Mt. Vesuvius. We deliberated on its possible practical purposes and how it could utilised by the locals. A huge BBQ perhaps where teams of helicopters would lower a massive grill into place. A naked and seemingly excited diver submerged so we quickly finished our beers and headed off to explore more.
Many of the historical buildings including the medieval castle Maschio Angionio and the Teatro di San Carlo are tinted by roadwork’s or have police tape wrapped round them. Doubtless some criminal element had strayed out of the lilac zone and caused havoc.
After a few walk round beverages and breaking the 10pm curfew we went up to the roof terrace which was teaming with new arrivals including a posh English vet wannabe, ‘They are truly awful to the animals over here. I’ve seen an arthritic donkey dropped kicked and they sawed off the front legs of a cat who had come in to have the back ones amputated. They thought it was hilarious to prop the cat up and then watch it teeter, wobble and then collapse.’
Other newcomers were a Finnish girl who hummed and a monstrously sized Canadian homosexual who insisted that you called him, ‘Big gay Dan.’ Nick kept calling him ‘Big gay Pete’ which really annoyed him. He kept leaving the table saying he had to ‘bathe himself.’ On returning he’d say, ‘I read alot. Maggie Thatcher was a real bitch, did you know that?’
The next day we decided to enrich ourselves culturally as oppose to liquidily and began with a visit to the Museo del Purgatorio ad Arco. Which in Italian means church that has lots of shoeboxes containing bones. A photograph of the deceased was laid beside the Asics or Adidas cardboard crypt. The deathly highlight was Princess Lucy. A skull, tarted up with a wedding veil and a tiara. The people of Naples have a strong relationship with the dead, and will perform ritualistic practices with those they claim to be ‘lost souls.’
Naples has a world which lies deep below the ground away from the chaos, noise and activity. Underground passageways and cavernous wonders stretch for miles. Napoli residents used these as air raid shelters during World War Two to escape the Allied bombardment. Other than our eccentric guide we only had a candle to lead us round the tight and claustrophobic tunnels of Sotterranea. Dressed in pink board shorts and a check shirt our guide cut a colourful figure in the dimly lit caves. ‘Hey, are you two guys English? I am a big fan of your countries humour. I love Stephen Coogan. I have the two kids but they don’t want to see me!’ His Partridge quotes would be inserted on a regular basis, at the start of the tour when he had to move a bed to reveal a staircase that winded down into the depths he exclaimed ‘AHA!’ They even got crow barred in as he talked us through the history of various artifacts and ruins, ‘This is a fabulous example of neo-classical Greek architecture……Jurassic Park!’
We then hopped on the train and went to see the Roman ruins at Herculaneum; we’d already popped into Pompeii which I felt was too big and samey. Bastard architects not anticipating that over a millennium later tourists would become bored by row upon row of well built red brick housing. On the journey we got talking to a middle aged Canadian lady whose hair bore a flower. We got onto music and she claimed like me to be a big fan of the delta blues, ‘I just love it. That gutsy, speaking from the heart sound. Makes me feel alive. I would have to say my favourite in that genre is Michael Buble.’
At Herculaneum the mosaics are better preserved than Pompeii and it’s easier to navigate round. Me and Nick who are keen history lovers and marvel at how the past has come to shape us took this rare opportunity to scare Japanese tourists by leaping out from behind columns. Some would ask us to do it again so they could capture it on film. One who we did a real number on, he squealed, deemed himself to be an auteur ordered us to jump out for the third time but on this take he wanted more intensity.
After providing a filmed leap from behind a pillar that contained just the right trajectory, amount of surprise and mindless aggression we went to Mt Vesuvius. We took a coach up to the summit with a man whose hair was stuck on with glue. It looked like he’d swept up a hairdresser’s floor and wanged it on with Bostik. It was different shades, blonde next to black, white beside ginger. The adhesive began to melt in the sun and he quickly got out a Pritt Stick to resolve the issue. All the while the driver kept shouting for seemingly no apparent reason, ‘1944!’ and pointing towards the scorched earth. I later learned that he was referring to the last time the volcano erupted. Along the roadside there were pieces of modern art including a headless dog with its leg arced and a wasp with tits.
Next to the gaping hole we met a gruff Welsh businessman who would later become known as one star Geoff. He got this name due to his preference for low budget hotels and the score he gave everything he reviewed. I got him to take a photo of me and Nick in front of the natural phenomena. ‘What a fvcking shit camera. I’ve been handed a few in the last few days and this is easily the crappest. Right, smile when I shout bollocks. What was that? You said teste? You fvcking posh bastards.’ After a walk round the big gaping chasm where a group called the Blind Crew had graffitied on numerous parts of the safety barrier, they must have enjoyed the view; we met up with Clarkson worshiper Geoff again. ‘You two were struggling up that hill weren’t you?’ Despite the fact we’d passed him twice and seen him vomit off the edge and steady himself on an old man. He gave us his view on the volcano, ‘Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen em all. Might as well look at it on Google images from the comfort of your own home.’ Walter Raleigh went on to say his perfect holiday would be working as a barman on a nudist beach. He was disgusted when he found out where he was going next, ‘Fucks sake, Pompeii, the one with all the tiles? It’ll be like looking at a massive bathroom but a shitty old one.’