I've heard repeatedly, from foreigners as well as Italians we've met along the way, that once you arrive in Napoli, leave all your jewellery and belongings in the safe at your hotel; walk the streets, but not the small ones, and not at night.
I always hear such advise with a cautious ear; people generally relay info of this kind with exaggeration and a midday-TV-drama spin. There's always dodgy corners in every major city. You just have to be street smart and not look too much like a tourist. Don't dawdle, leave your map in your bag if you feel uncomfortable, and don't talk to strangers.
Of course, Napoli has an extra bit of criminality; the Camorra, or mafia, and their side arms that deal in petty crime such as robbing old ladies of their handbags. Every now and then, tourists are shot or injured from under-world cross fire, but otherwise, we were told to just watch our bags and cameras.
So, I'm prepared for the worst as we head out of the hotel towards the marina and the centre historico, the historic centre. What I find in this once-booming city, however, is far worse than Rolex-stealing thieves; there are, on every corner, every street, every shop step, mounds of stinking rubbish.
You cannot imagine it without actually seeing it; its like the bad parts of Asia, only worse because we are in a rich, first world European Union country here, with a far lower population to area ratio, and a much milder climate. I'm shocked as I try to understand how civilised people choose to live this way. Why on earth doesn't the city clean up this mess? What do they do with the tax monies they collect?
Mum explains that part of the problem is the constantly changing political powers of the city; once they are voted in, they are out again on corruption charges or from Camorra bullets before they care to say boo! But hold on, we are talking about rubbish collection and street sweeping, not constitutional change or God forbid, about football. You get some trucks, you clean up, you dispose.
Not in Napoli. Its that bad that we find loaded rubbish trucks along the main seaside boulevard - parked! The public gardens are also littered, with grass and weeds as high as the mini skirts of the scanky looking local girls we pass all over the city. There's an old mattress, a dumped engine, and a weathered chipboard cupboard - on the sidewalk metres from the harbour along the main tourist drag.
When I think it cannot get much worse, we approach the district of Napoli that houses many of the oldest, most culturally valuable buildings and monuments - the old centre. Its shocking, literally. There's a 10 metre marble fountain covered in graffiti; churches and building from the 12th century ransacked, covered in spray paint; the Banco di Napoli, the biggest bank of the city, is missing glass panes in its top windows.
I just keep shaking my head, though I have to be careful as I don't want to upset any locals who might be sporting a bad drug habit and are trigger happy. We are already attracting way too many up-and-down stares from greasy men leaning in doorways. I'm prepared with my limited Italian to tell them, with a stern look: si, grande e forte, yes, big and strong, if they say one more time 'boyfriend, boyfriend'.
This place is the pits. These people should be utterly ashamed of themselves for letting their city, their life blood, go to such ruin. I've never seen anything like this, not in the worst parts of India or Cambodia; they don't smear tags and swear words all over their most treasured belongings.
We thought that Napoli might appeal to us; perhaps people were just exaggerating. But there's no love it or hate it about this place; you cannot form sentimental attachments to entire cityscapes filled with graffiti like water fills a goldfish bowl, excrement at every third step you take along filthy walkways and roads, and a stench so overpowering from urine and rubbish that you feel you may puke at any moment.
Eva comments that its Sunday and perhaps during the week it wouldn't seem so bad because the shops are all open; maybe. But I know for one that I won't be hanging around here to find out and wait for Monday.
Napoli can keep its dregs and dodgy people; I won't be saying arrivederci to this city, not for quite a while.
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