Naples: A city of culture, charm and vitality

1 / 5
This Italian gem is home to awe-inspiring cultural heritage and historical sites. (Shutterstock)
2 / 5
Walking through the streets of Pompeii is an eerie experience.
3 / 5
The glamorous Hotel Vesuvio in Naples.
4 / 5
Colorful market stalls line the streets.
5 / 5
The streets of Naples are lively and full of hustle and bustle.
Updated 25 November 2017
0

Naples: A city of culture, charm and vitality

NAPLES: Sitting on the roof terrace of the Hotel Excelsior in Naples at sunset overlooking the island of Capri and the brooding outline of Mount Vesuvius, it is hard to imagine a more beautiful setting. Far below stands the magnificent Castel dell’Ovo and overhead seagulls’ wings turn ruby red as they catch in the floodlights illuminating its massive ramparts.
We are in one of the most affluent neighborhoods of Naples — Chiaia — with its sweeping seafront lined with outdoor cafes and bathers making the most of the sun-drenched bay. Next door to the Excelsior is the Grand Hotel Vesuvio, which transports you back to an era of refined style and elegance. Here you will enjoy a five-star experience handled by staff who know what top-class service means. Grace Kelly, Clark Gable and Sophia Loren are just some of the famous names to have stayed at the hotel, so it is easy to understand why a room there is so sought after.
But Chiaia, though beautiful, is the elegant sister to the noisy, high-spirited sibling that seizes you and demands your attention as you step into the bustling heart of the city. Here you have narrow streets packed with people of all ages nonchalantly dodging kamikaze mopeds and market stalls stacked with luscious fruit or souvenirs. Old crumbling apartment blocks with little balconies that look like they could fall down at any moment stand alongside cavernous mansions with sweeping staircases. The whole place has a theatrical air and once you have got used to being almost run over every time you step outside, it is a tonic for the senses.
One negative, however, is the ugly graffiti that covers so many buildings. This offends the eye and is an insult to a great city.
Of course you cannot visit Naples and not recognize that this is home to some of the greatest art and culture in the world.
High on the agenda of many tourists is a visit to Pompeii, the Roman city buried under meters of ash and pumice after the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
When visiting Pompeii, I would advise that taking the train from Naples Central Train Station can be an uncomfortable experience. That was certainly the case for my party and I. First, we waited on an alarmingly-overcrowded platform and as the train drew in, there was a crush because there were so many people, locals and tourists alike, trying to board. Having struggled onto the train, the problems continued due to the stifling heat. It is an environment that thieves thrive in and sadly one of our group had his wallet stolen on the train.
Considering Pompeii is one of the most wonderful sights on the planet and on the wish list of people from every corner of the globe, it seems incredible that more effort is not put into transporting visitors in comfort.
So, if you want to have a more relaxed journey it might be a good idea to take an air-conditioned coach with one of the many companies offering guided tours of the site.
Though the train journey was unpleasant, once you step into Pompeii all the upset is forgotten and sheer delight takes over. I was not prepared for the huge scale of the site, which shows so clearly the highly-sophisticated lifestyle enjoyed by the citizens all those centuries ago before the catastrophe.
It is shocking when you come across the casts of the people who died when the volcano erupted and there is a sense of horror at the scale of the tragedy that overwhelmed the city.
Herculaneum, also devastated by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, is on a smaller scale to Pompeii as it was largely residential rather than a major commercial city. It is exceptional for the objects that survived the eruption as, unlike Pompeii, the deep pyroclastic material that covered it preserved wooden and other organic-based objects, such as roofs, beds, doors and even food.
One bit of advice concerning both Pompeii and Herculaneum is that if you visit in the summer months, you should remember to wear a hat and consider carrying an umbrella to protect yourself from the sun as there is very little shade or cover on either site.
A visit to the National Archaeological Museum (Museo Archaeologico Nazionale di Napoli) offers the opportunity to see the wonderful collections connected with Charles III of Bourbon. The museum hosts extensive collections of Greek and Roman antiquities. Their core is from the Farnese Collection, which includes a collection of engraved gems and the Farnese Marbles. Among these are magnificent busts of Homer and Julius Caesar.
You can also see the Herculaneum papyri, carbonized by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, found after 1752 in the Villa of the Papyri.
To see exceptional Italian Renaissance paintings, a visit to the Capodimonte Museum is a must. Capodimonte is a royal palace, which served as a residence for successive rulers of Naples. The dynasties of the Bourbons, the French kings Joseph Bonaparte and Joachim Murat and the House of Savoy each left their mark on Capodimonte. Inside you will find regal ballrooms and reception rooms with elegantly-frescoed walls and a salon entirely crafted out of delicate Capodimonte porcelain.
Also well worth a visit is the 13th century Castel Nuovo which has spectacular views over the Bay of Naples. Highly-atmospheric theater and musical events are staged within its ancient courtyard and the museum has sculptures, paintings and frescoes dating from the 14th to the 19th centuries.
It goes without saying that the food in Naples is fantastic and you can sit down and enjoy wonderful pasta and seafood dishes all over the city. A great place to relax over lunch is Ristorante Ciro, situated near the Castel dell’Ovo, overlooking the harbor.
Moving out of the city, you can take a ferry to the island of Capri, which, though over-crowded with visitors, still has a bewitching beauty. Do not forget to take a boat trip out to the Grotto Azzurra, a cave filled with spectacularly-blue water. You can also take a ferry to the popular seaside resort of Sorrento.
All in all, Naples is a city that has great charm and vitality alongside its awe-inspiring cultural heritage.


First space tourist flights could come in 2019

Updated 13 July 2018
0

First space tourist flights could come in 2019

WASHINGTON: The two companies leading the pack in the pursuit of space tourism say they are just months away from their first out-of-this-world passenger flights — though neither has set a firm date.
Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, and Blue Origin, by Amazon creator Jeff Bezos, are racing to be the first to finish their tests — with both companies using radically different technology.
Neither Virgin nor Blue Origin’s passengers will find themselves orbiting the Earth: instead, their weightless experience will last just minutes. It’s an offering far different from the first space tourists, who paid tens of millions of dollars to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) in the 2000s.
Having paid for a much cheaper ticket — costing $250,000 with Virgin, as yet unknown with Blue Origin — the new round of space tourists will be propelled dozens of miles into the atmosphere, before coming back down to Earth. By comparison, the ISS is in orbit 250 miles (400 kilometers) from our planet.
The goal is to approach or pass through the imaginary line marking where space begins — either the Karman line, at 100 kilometers or 62 miles, or the 50-mile boundary recognized by the US Air Force.
At this altitude, the sky looks dark and the curvature of the earth can be seen clearly.
With Virgin Galactic, six passengers and two pilots are boarded onto SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, which resembles a private jet.
The VSS Unity will be attached to a carrier spacecraft — the WhiteKnightTwo — from which it will then detach at around 49,000 feet (15,000 meters.) Once released, the spaceship will fire up its rocket, and head for the sky.
Then, the passengers will float in zero-gravity for several minutes, before coming back to Earth.
The descent is slowed down by a “feathering” system that sees the spacecraft’s tail pivot, as if arching, before returning to normal and gliding to land at Virgin’s “spaceport” in the New Mexico desert.
In total, the mission lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. During a May 29 test in California’s Mojave desert, the spaceship reached an altitude of 21 miles, heading for space.
In October 2014, the Virgin spaceship broke down in flight due to a piloting error, killing one of two pilots on board. The tests later resumed with a new craft.
The company has now also reached a deal to open a second “spaceport” at Italy’s Tarente-Grottaglie airport, in the south of the country.
Branson in May told BBC Radio 4 that he hoped to himself be one of the first passengers in the next 12 months. About 650 people make up the rest of the waiting list, Virgin said.
Blue Origin, meanwhile, has developed a system closer to the traditional rocket: the New Shepard.
On this journey, six passengers take their place in a “capsule” fixed to the top of a 60-foot-long rocket. After launching, it detaches and continues its trajectory several miles toward the sky. During an April 29 test, the capsule made it 66 miles.
After a few minutes of weightlessness, during which passengers can take in the view through large windows, the capsule gradually falls back to earth with three large parachutes and retrorockets used to slow the spacecraft.
From take-off to landing, the flight took 10 minutes during the latest test.
Until now, tests have only been carried out using dummies at Blue Origin’s West Texas site.
But one of its directors, Rob Meyerson, said in June the first human tests would come “soon.”
Meanwhile, another company official, Yu Matsutomi, said during a conference Wednesday that the first tests with passengers would take place “at the end of this year,” according to Space News.
SpaceX and Boeing are developing their own capsules to transport NASA astronauts, most likely in 2020, after delays — a significant investment that the companies will likely make up for by offering private passenger flights.
“If you’re looking to go to space, you’ll have quadruple the menu of options that you ever had before,” Phil Larson, assistant dean at the University of Colorado, Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, said.
Longer term, the Russian firm that manufactures Soyuz rockets is studying the possibility of taking tourists back to the ISS. And a US start-up called Orion Span announced earlier this year it hopes to place a luxury space hotel into orbit within a few years — but the project is still in its early stages.