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Miscellaneous Day in downtown Naples

My friend Miranda and I decided to go to the archaeological museum and wander the streets of downtown Naples. Not much to say, here are a few pictures:

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Scotland is voting this year (2014) for their independence. Our anthem during our vacation as well as Scotland’s future national anthem:

We had quite the debate on where to go for spring break. Once we had finally found reasonable plane fare we decided upon the land of the Scots. One week before we were set to leave Naples to Edinburgh Lufthansa, our flight provider, decided it was a good time to go on strike. All flights from Lufthansa were cancelled. All week we kept checking as they added more and more cancelled flights. Luckily, the last Lufthansa flight they cancelled was the one right before ours. We made it!

We spent the next couple days in Edinburgh exploring and finding our way around. We visited the Scottish National Gallery and the National Museum of Scotland (which houses lots of great artifacts, of particular interest to us were ancient Viking artifacts and runes, a neat printing press, and Dolly the Sheep (the first mammal cloned from an adult cell). This museum was incredibly nifty, we stayed for many hours. While in Edinburgh we loading up on Christmas gifts, ate too many fish and chips, and tried some traditional fares, such as haggis with neeps and tatties, fresh salmon, mussels, and blood pudding. In case you are wondering, haggis is great, blood pudding is not. We then took a five day bus tour through Scotland, including the Isle of Skye. We stopped about every 30 minutes to go hiking, see castles, ruins, other sites, hairy coos, waterfalls, lochs, cliffs, dinosaur tracks, a white sandy beach, various towns, etc. It was non-stop action packed and we saw way more than we would had we attempted this ourselves. All this and more helped make our Scotland trip one of our best vacations whilst living in Europe.

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We made our way through the cities, towns, lowlands, highlands, lochs, glens, and fjords. The weather was generally a bit chilly (which we quite enjoy). It tended to rain at least once a day, though hardly worth getting an umbrella out for. Our day we spent on the Isle of Skye was just the opposite, it rained all day. We still did tons of hiking and site-seeing and we were soaked to the bone (totally worth it). We did rent some wellies from our hostel, so it saved our shoes from the soupy terrain.

Some highlights, outside of all the breathtaking scenery, was one spot in particular on the cliff side high on the Isle of Skye. It was incredibly windy and rainy; you had to shout to the person right next to you. This particular place was the MacDonald castle ruins from about 1600 where Donald MacDonald, the son of the MacDonald chief, and Margaret MacLeod, the sister of the rival clan’s chief, were hand fasted and lived. Donald was a crazy man not to cross. He cut out Margaret’s eye when she didn’t produce a male heir. He sent Margaret back to her home sitting backwards on a one eyed horse (which he also cut out), accompanied by a one eyed servant and a one eyed dog. This reignited the feuds between the clans, and was then known as the Wars of the One-Eyed Woman.

Another highlight was our stop at the 14th century Doune castle, where a majority of any castle scene seen in Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail were filmed. Part of the entrance fee included a headset guide. Justin and I were so excited we were basically running through the castle trying to recognize places. The castle itself is nearly empty inside. On our head sets were lots of facts about the history of dukes and queens staying there and what each room was used for. We realized after all that less interesting stuff they had facts about Monty Python after them. So we had to go through the whole castle again and listen to commentary so we could fast forward it to get to the good stuff, like the history of Spamalot, elderberries, African swallows, and wooden rabbits.

We also saw the Castle Aargh! at the end of the Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Castle Stalker in Argyll). You need a boat or take a swim to get there, which we didn’t have/do, so we admired from a near distance. We saw the viaduct where Harry Potter first met the Dimentias and Hagred’s house location (the house had been picked clean and taken apart so there wasn’t really much left of it other than some stones).

We went Nessie hunting on the great Loch Ness. We did not see her. We did, however, decide to take a dip. The weather outside was about 7° C/45°F. I’m not sure what the temperature in the water was, freezing is my best guess. It was uncomfortable walking in and out because it is all rocky. If it were dirt or sand I’d have stayed longer. What was neat about it was that once we got out of the water we were warm (because the air was so much warmer than the water). We didn’t need to put our winter coats and scarves back on!

Those were the top highlights. Among other notable things we adventured include The Hermitage forest/waterfall/hiking, the Dalwhinnie distillery, Inverness field of bunnies, Culloden battlefield, Clava Cairns (5000 year old burial site/tombs/standing stones from the Bronze age), Loch Maree, Loch Torden, Loch Garonne, Eilean Donan castle, Dunvegan castle, Maddy Faine waterfall by Storr Loch, Fairy Glen, the white sands of Morr, Ben Nevis, Glen Coe, Ceilidh (pronounced like Kaylee) dancing/bar, Glen and Loch Lonan, St. Collen’s Kirk, Kilchurn castle, Rob Roye country, Argyle National Park, Stirling Castle, the William Wallace monument, and of course tons of sheep and hairy coos!

Why No One Goes to Naples

Why No One Goes to Naples

The New York Times


April 11, 2014

NAPLES, Italy — Spring is here. In southern Italy, the sun is shining, the sky is blue and the weather is balmy. Orange blossom fragrances mingle with wafts of jasmine. The food is good, the wine is inexpensive, the locals are friendly and beauty is all around. But where are the tourists?

The Amalfi Coast, south of Naples, is still a magnet for wealthy Russians and romantic Americans. Yet Naples itself is a tourist wasteland, and the rest of southern Italy is largely vacationer-free.

Only 13 percent of tourists who come to Italy go to the Mezzogiorno, as the south is known. The rest head for the center and north of Italy, or other Mediterranean countries altogether. German airports sent 223 flights to Spain’s Balearic Islands in one week last summer, and only 17 to southern Italy.

Defensive Italians, particularly from the prosperous north, will tell you that no one goes to the south because there’s nothing worth seeing (they’re wrong). But the lack of tourists in places like Sicily or Calabria is indicative of a larger, nationwide failure by the country to take advantage of its most precious resources — in this case, the region’s natural and cultural beauty.

Poor marketing is one problem. The Italian Tourist Board spends an astounding 98 percent of its budget on salaries, with basically nothing left for its actual job of tourism promotion. The Italian government tried to boost interest in the southern region with its $50 million website, but it still debuted with glitches and inaccuracies.

Or consider how little regional tourism authorities in Italy coordinate with one another. Years ago in Shanghai, I came across three separate delegations representing the same part of Sicily. They also spend wildly: Until recently the Campania regional authority had a palatial New York residence on Fifth Avenue.

Infrastructure is another issue. Italy has wasted time and money fantasizing about a bridge to Sicily. It was the pet project Silvio Berlusconi would wheel out during every election campaign. Yet high-speed rail services stop at Salerno, just beyond Naples, 300 miles to the north. There are trains in the Mezzogiorno that travel at an average speed of 8.7 miles an hour.

Last year I took a rail journey from the far northeastern city of Trieste to Trapani, on the southwestern tip of Sicily. Once I was past Rome, I found another world.

Metaponto in the Basilicata region east of Naples, has a five-track, marble-clad rail station, paid for by $25 million in European Union funds. But the last train out is an 8:21 a.m. express to Rome. If you want to go anywhere else, you have to take a bus. Farther south, the small locomotive coughing its way along the Ionian coast has to stop as ice-cream-toting teenagers cross the track on their way to the beach.

Nor are the roads any better. Upgrades on the Salerno-Reggio Calabria highway have been going on for 29 years amid a tangle of inflated costs, corruption and Mafia threats. There are stretches where construction work has had to be protected by the army.

This isn’t a regional failure; it’s a national one. Tourism ought to be to southern Italy what oil is to Norway: a blessing and a source of wealth.

And the south could certainly use it. Annual gross domestic product in the south is just over $21,000 per capita, compared with $43,000 in the center and north. Nearly two out of three young southerners have no job. Across Europe 64 percent of women work; in Campania, only 28 percent do.

What does this sorry tale say about Italy as a whole? Across the country, tourism is going from being a given to being a missed opportunity. In the 1970s, Italy was the world’s No. 1 tourist destination. Today, it has slid to fifth place behind France, America, China and Spain. As late as the early 2000s, 6 percent of the world’s tourists came here. Now only 4 percent do.

It also highlights Italy’s poor state of coordination across sectors of society. Despite still being a major destination for vacationers, Italy doesn’t even have a minister for tourism, as other European countries do. Infighting is the norm. Hotel owners argue with vacation rental agencies. Public enterprises and the private sector wage war. Neighboring regions don’t speak to one another. Do you know why flights and trains to Calabria fail to hook up with the ferries that cross the Strait of Messina? Because Calabria doesn’t want to see tourists siphoned off to Sicily.

Finally, the story of southern Italy’s tourism-fail illustrates the country’s inability to grasp how scattershot public funding means waste, not investment. Since World War II, the government has poured $550 billion into the Mezzogiorno, to no avail. By almost every measure, it is actually worse off relative to the rest of the country than it was 60 years ago.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the new prime minister, Matteo Renzi, can follow through on his promised reforms. The same things that would make Italy good for Italians — efficient transport, lower taxes, fairer prices, respect for the environment — would also transform southern Italy, and the rest of the country, into a paradise for vacationers.Beppe Severgnini is a columnist at Corriere della Sera and the author of “La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind.”

Oplontis and Villa Regina

I took a day off work to go visit Oplontis and Villa Regina last Thursday. These are the two smaller ruin sites, after Pompeii and Herculaneum, that were destroyed in the volcanic eruption of 79 AD.

I visited Oplontis first. It was one large villa (some incredibly rich person’s show-off summer place by the sea) that is largely excavated, except for part that is still buried under the neighboring road and a gun factory. The villa is known for its many peacocks that are painted all over the place as well as mythological themes up the wazoo. The walls still have a majority of wall paintings and the floor tiling. Archaeologists have put a ton of walls and columns back in place as well. And the villa has a gigantic swimming pool.

Then I went to Villa Regina, which is quite tiny compared to Oplontis and especially Pompeii. Outside of a large room full of partially buried, gigantic wine amphorae, there is not much to those ruins. The best part of Villa Regina was the museum on the property. It is not too big, but it houses some very important artifacts found at the site as well as some from Pompeii. You can see a full loaf of bread, various grains and nuts, fishing nets, shells, pots, a plaster cast of a dog, a cast of the woman who was living at the villa with her scarf over her face (as she was suffocating to death from the volcano’s deadly fumes), glass tear jars and perfume jars, paintings, etc.

These villas are nothing compared to the grand, albeit empty Pompeii, and the small, dense, tiled, and fascinating Herculaneum. My order for my favorite ruins is happens to be directly proportional to their sizes-Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, and lastly, Villa Regina.

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Sorrento and Pompeii

I took a day trip to Sorrento and Pompeii just to revisit places for the last time before I leave the area. It was pretty much just how it was the first time, so nothing really to say. Enjoy.

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A weekend in Bratislava and Vienna

Justin and I spent Valentine’s and President’s Day weekend in Vienna, Austria and Bratislava, Slovakia. Our first day was spent in Bratislava. It reminded me of a very mini version of Prague, though without anything particularly spectacular. The old town is quaint with red roofs. There is a castle where at the top you have a nice view of old town and the river Danube. We stayed the night at a botel right next to the castle and old town, overlooking Bratislava’s famous UFO building on a bridge. The botel was a boat/hotel, if you didn’t pick up on that. It was a little crappy, but very convenient. I can see that Bratislava is a good party town during the summer, but during winter, it is quite empty and lackluster…which was both good and bad. We found a small bar/restaurant with some neat decorations (if you see a small guy in a cage in the pictures that’s where that was). There were a lot of random statues all over the city which was a nice surprise. And there were a lot of people walking their dogs.

Our last half of the long weekend was spent in Vienna. Go from a mildly drab but quaint Bratislava to a city full of nothing but luxurious palace style buildings as far as the eye can see-Vienna was quite the change. Vienna was really fancy and very nice to walk through. There was a magnificent cathedral in the heart of town and a number of museums, two of which we ventured. The Museum of Art History was pretty great. There was a whole room dedicated to Bruegel paintings. (While in Europe I have given myself a bit of a challenge to visit every Bruegel painting, I am a few museums shy, but this was one more to check off the list.) There was an awesome Medusa’s head painting by Peter Paul Rubens, quite a lot of nice Dürer’s, Gustav Klimt’s, and even a couple mummified crocodiles in the Egypt section. Didn’t think about it until later, but we visited a lot of places Hitler did as well…go history!

Overall a great weekend away. Happy Valentine’s Day…Happy President’s Day!

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