“This is Italy!” Marco points excitedly to the steep cliffs coming into view. “And behind the famous Amalfi coast, you can see the Vesuvius. Or perhaps it’s that one the left? No, I think it’s too cloudy to see the volcano at all,” he decides. Then he bends over his complaints form, muttering that the ship does not meet Italian standards of cleanliness. Some other Italians do the same. We find the ship quite clean, but are glad to be among people who take complaints forms for granted. When we arrive in Salerno, we walk in awe along the coastal promenade. An aged punk asks for some money: “You are in love, eh?,” he smiles. “Ciao!,” someone shouts behind us and automatically, we turn round. But the elderly man holding a brown terrier on the leash had not greeted us but a friend of his leaning on the balustrade.
Of course we go out to eat pizza on our first evening in Napoli. After seven months in Islamic countries, the glass of vino rosso makes us feel dizzy. Over the next few days, we try to catch up on those Italian staples that are standard food in most European countries but largely unavailable in Asia and North Africa. We drink espressos and red wine and try mozzarella di buffalo, a speciality of the region. At Gay Odin, a traditional chocolate factory that has been producing sweets since 1894, we have enormous chocolate ice cream scones. In the evening, Giovanni, who runs the busy hostel in the old town, cooks huge dishes of lasagne for the crowd of young Inter-railers. One day he shows us how to prepare melanzane. “A recipe from Calabria,” he explains proudly. “I learned it from my Mamma!” It tasted great!
The Vesuvius remains shrouded in clouds over the next days. We resist the temptation to climb it, but stay close to its foot: In 67 AD, a volcanic eruption destroyed the thriving Roman town of Pompeii. While thousands of people perished in the volcanic ashes and toxic gases, their houses and streets remained nearly intact under a several meter high cover of ash. In 1748, the city was accidentally rediscovered by workmen laying the foundation of a summer palace for Charles of Bourbon, the King of Naples. Since then the excavations never stopped and the ruins have stunned generations of visitors. “Cave canem - Beware of the dog!” screams a mosaic floor at the entrance to a villa, and the dog fiercely fletches his teeth. A few houses down the road, where a colourful fresco decorates the wall, you could still lean on the bar of “Felix the Fruit Seller” and order your orange juice if Felix had not died nearly 2000 years ago. The only house that is still at least as lively as it must have been in the city’s heyday is the brothel, but today only pictures remain of the former inhabitants: Over every door is a graphic description of the service available in each cubicle.
Outside the excavation site, we meet a Japanese businesswoman who has lived in Pompeii for over 30 years. “Sushi! Umeboshi!” we crave in unison for Japanese food. „Recently you can even buy Nattō in Napoli,” she says, “but it’s made by the Chinese greengrocers and is not really tasty…”
A crowd of people is already waiting at the bus station in Sorrento. When the bus finally arrives, it fills within minutes. Everybody wants to ride along the Amalfi coast. The bus winds slowly through the streets of Sorrento, but the “Ah!”s and “Oh!”s wake us from our stupor when we cross the pass to the Southern side of the peninsula. Steep cliffs fall into the Gulf of Salerno, dotted by small villages in pastel colours. The bus hurries up and down the serpentines, honking at slower cars. “Every car had a dent,” we hear a big American in shorts tell his neighbour standing in the corridor. “And now I see why. We aren’t allowed to run the stoplights, you know, we get a ticket. Here, they all run the stoplights – and it’s the only way to survive.” In Positano, we get off the bus and spend the rest of the day hiking, almost alone, on the Sentieri degli Dei, the Path of the Gods. High up on the steep coast, we have a wonderful view and only a little bit of rain. Clearly, the Gods would have liked it up here.
The three days we spent in Napoli were just enough to see the most important sites. We took the night train from Napoli to Munich and are now back in Germany, visiting friends and family. We are still waiting for the culture shock to hit in – so far, Germany is fun.