Postcards 3, 4 & 5 From Dublin, Naples and Pompeii

Whilst Belfast wasn’t intimidating as such, there are tensions. In Dublin the accent is on welcome and hospitality. We present ourselves at Wuff’s, a corner cafe run by some lovely East European Irish who share their adopted country’s attitude to conviviality and superb food. I go for the full Irish and am rewarded with an excellent mix of white pudding, black pudding, bacon with an egg that is perfectly cooked and all complimented with two exquisite slices of toasted sourdough. OK, it’s not soda bread but I’m a very happy man.

The walk into the centre of Dublin is along the Liffey and whilst it’s certainly not the prettiest on a cold, overcast day, it does help to work off some of the calories just consumed in Wuffs.

The plan is to find the ‘Famine Exhibition’ which is rumoured to be in or near St Stevens’ Green so we walk within the park and read some of the uncomfortable reminders of the English occupation and the Irish fight for freedom.

We find the exhibition on the top floor of the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre which has considerable architectural merit in its own right. It’s a steel structure with huge areas of glass, an Irish Crystal Palace!

The exhibition is fascinating and heartbreaking in equal measure and an hour later we emerge better informed and chaste.

Click on any photo and you can page through them full screen…

We’re heading across the city now for our final cultural dose of things ancient then it’s off to the ‘Ginger Man’ owned by another wonderful product of the Camino, Andrew. The Pilgrim met him four years ago on The Norte and this creates another connection as it’s the one that I’m 400km into and hope to return to finish it later this year.

Andrew is already at the bar and greets us both with a hug followed by several pints of black liquid, lots of reminiscence, a tour of the pub and its history (fascinating – they’ve even got a confessional for when the alcohol has loosened your tongue ?) and a great meal. If you’re in Dublin put ‘The Ginger Man’ on your list, it’s outstanding.

Tomorrow is an early start so this evening is an early finish and we hire a cab to get an extra half hour in bed.

Postcard 4 – Thursday – Dublin to Naples

We’re up at five and ready for our taxi at five thirty. I’ve received a text informing me that Christopher Grogan is the driver and will be outside the hotel at 5:29, now that’s service.

As we set off he receives a text warning of a multi vehicle accident on the airport road – we could really do without this! However, Christopher’s made of sterner stuff and whisks us off in another direction. We’d left plenty of time but not being stationary on a motorway certainly feels better than clock watching and we pull up at T1 with plenty of time to spare.

We’re on Ryanair so there’s always some minor anxiety regarding this week’s baggage size but we have no issues and board with ease.

As an aside, when I go on any of these adventures, all my worldly goods are in a rucksack and the total weight is less than 10kg. I carry three sets of underclothes, socks and shirts and the routine is, wear it, wash it and dry it on a daily basis. It’s rare that this routine is missed and if I do stretch to two days before doing an underwear wash I still do the change. I carry only one pullover, one pair of shorts, one pair of jeans and a waterproof jacket, a pair of trainers and a pair of light shoes or sandals if it’s a hot country. (When I’m doing long walks then I have hiking boots). I carry a toiletries bag with toothbrush etc and throwaway shaving equipment which may or may not get used – I sometimes come back with a beard!

Napoli (Naples)

Naples is very efficient and we’re through customs with only a minor hold-up getting our passport stamped. It makes me angry that we’re now ‘third country aliens’ but it is what it is and we count the days to ensure we’re within the 90 in 180 that, ironically, we voted for when we were in!

The airport bus is easily found and we’re packed in like sardines as the driver takes us across the city ‘wacky races’ style. The Italians really do like the sound of their horn and the cacophony is a mixture of “get out of my way – I’m coming through regardless” and “here I am, just so you know”

The Pilgrim has found an AirBnB at a little place called Castellamare di Stabia just before Sorento and at less than £100 for two nights for the apartment, it’s a steal.

We take advice regarding the train to take and have to pay as the Circumvesuviana line is not included in its entirety with the Interrail Pass.

I’m beginning to discover that ‘giving a shit’ is not part of the Italian psyche but it is consistent so we’ll need to get used to it.

The state of the train is poor in the extreme, it’s covered in graffiti (which I believe is an Italian word) and rammed with people although, on this occasion, we manage to bag a couple of seats.

It’s a fifty minute journey through some poor districts but the coastline looks nice and on the odd stretch that’s near the sea, I can see why people flock here in the summer.

The apartment is on the first floor accessed by stone/marble steps and we’re greeted like long lost friends by the host’s mum. She explains in broken English the rudiments of using the keys and the heating/air con (we won’t need the latter and will need the former). The apartment has it’s own kitchen, good shower and toilet with a bidet; I do like a bidet, and all complemented with a separate bedroom.

We drop our rucksacks and wander along the coast line, it’s not pretty yet the harbour is littered with boats that would command eye-watering price tickets. We later learn that we’ve walked the wrong way and when we do go North for an evening meal on the front tomorrow we’ll be rewarded with a wonderful dinner in very pleasant surroundings.

Today, however, we decide on a trip down the coast to Sorrento and it’s well worth the extra train mileage although we’re starting to learn that the Circumvesuviana is permanently rammed and uncomfortable although there is an alternative which generally runs empty. It costs 15 euros whilst the others are a mystery but vary between 1 euro and 3 euros depending on the whim of the ticket clerk. (We were once given a 1.20 euro ticket and a 3.20 euro for the same journey – it’s all such fun!)

We enjoy a very pleasant meal in the square but the Pilgrim is rewarded with finger nail in her salad which results in a free main meal that commutes to a 20% discount by the time we leave.

Sorrento is a lovely place though and would be worth a visit in the sunshine.

Postcard 5 from Pompeii

A not so early start but we avoid a huge downpour in the process. Pompeii is really interesting both from an antiquity point of view and also how it is managed. We arrive at the station and confronted by ‘sweepers’ who are trying to identify those without tickets so that they can be directed to their favoured sales booth. They all have the same strategy, they want to upsell a ticket to include a 20 euro guide. The one we choose has tickets but informs us that they have none of the audio commentaries left (bear in mind we’re only mid-morning and there’s the rest of the day to go yet).

The entrance is poorly signposted but we persevere and accidentally get in. I won’t describe the layout but I will say it must have been terrifying when the ash and superheated gas hit the town.

We walk along streets and duck into alleys to avoid the torrential downpours. They’re generally sharp and short but there is the odd extended storm and the old street gutters work overtime to shift the torrents, those Romans were an inventive breed.

We’re two thirds around when the Pilgrim mentions ‘the brothel’ and a quick check on Google gives us the directions that’ll lead is to this Roman den of iniquity. There’s a large crowd of ‘old people’ on the cobbled street and I await their reactions when they see the “menus” depicted in relief on the rendered walls – then I realise that I’m technically ‘an old person’ and scold myself for the thought – I still watch the expressions on the faces of some of the ladies as the penny drops about what they’re looking at and I’m amused at the thought that the youngsters chattering and giggling further ahead thinking they’re the pioneers. I’d love to remind them that if their twinkly-eyed grannies hadn’t got laid then they wouldn’t be here.

As we leave we’re directed to the Museum where plaster casts depict some of the victims together with their position and where found. They’re a stark reminder of what happened together with the human and animal reality of the tragedy. We come out into brief sunshine and manage to make our way to a bar charging eye-watering prices for beer together with a ‘cover charge’ for the table. That said, the heavens have opened again and driving rain is falling like stair-rods soaking the poor folks on the street to the skin and freezing them at the same time. The temperature drops like a brick in these mini-storms and whilst we inside are not cosy, we’re certainly not cold.

We return to our apartment for showers and a change of clothing ready for an evening out and this time we walk the right way! The wind is still blowing off the Mediterranean and, whilst it’s stopped raining, we still have to lean into it as we approach the beach area.

The Mama Mia bar/restaurant may not have the most authentic name but the waiting staff are friendly and welcoming and, as it turns out, the food is good too.

It’s very nearly an early night but the opportunity of a night-cap presents itself at a small bar opposite our apartment so we take it. As an aside, I think I’ll be a little less profligate with Leffe in future…

Enjoy the snaps. G x

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