Beauty and the Beast: A Culture Shock between Florence and Naples.

September 18, 2018

Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo in the evening
Hello, beautiful Florence!
The train shoots through Tuscany, past dark green cypress trees that are rising like candles into the blue sky. Small stone houses lie on the tops of golden hills and the classic patterns of vineyards flow across the slopes. We take the train from La Spezia via Pisa to Florence. In Italy, train connections between the major cities are fast, good and cheap. It also saves you the shitty toll, which reaches for the next best driver with its expensive claws.
We spent the afternoon in Pisa, where one day is definitely enough to see the most important things - including of course the Leaning Tower. By the way, we didn't take that kind of typical photo in which you hold the tower upright with your hands (but 250 other tourists around did it, which looked rather bizarre from distance). After the air conditioning in the train almost brought a freezer burn to my knees, we arrive in Florence in the evening. It is still pleasantly warm in mid-September and there is a bronze shimmer over the entire city. What I don't know yet: Only a few days later we will go to Naples and get a hard slap in our face.

Stone flower tendrils at Florence Cathedral

The Florence Cathedral
The wonderful Florence Cathedral with its breathtaking decoration

While my best friend Dani is still struggling with the heavy shutters, I unpack my suitcase and almost shoot the flip-flops under the bed with the pillow, which could also be a brick. Apart from that, however, our apartment in the Old Town is fantastically located and it almost seems to us as if we have been living in Florence for quite some time. The city hums, sounds and glows from the inside. Between magnificent church towers, cobblestone pavement disappears under the easels of numerous street painters who throw fantastic works of art made of oil, acrylic and watercolour onto their canvases. Just a minute from our accommodation is the Cathedral of Florence, whose greenish decorations on the white façade look like symmetrical flower tendrils. It was consecrated in 1436 and simply takes our breath away when we enter the square. The beauty of the huge red dome can hardly be seen from down here from an ant's perspective.

The most beautiful viewpoint of Florence & the Lego-bridge Ponte Vecchio

The best view in Florence
A stunning view from Piazzale Michelangelo down to the city of Florence
It is best to climb up to Piazzale Michelangelo, from where you have a magnificent view of Florence and above all the Cathedral. Access is free of charge. Well, that's a lie, because it costs you the air to breathe for the next three days and about half a gallon of sweat. Besides, you're not alone up there. But it is totally worth it, especially as you can find a lot of work of the well-known street artist Clet close the viewpoint. He is decorating traffic signs with his very own humour and even running a small shop with stickers and postcards in the hood. On the way between the cathedral and the view lies Arno. No, it's not someone who died on the way up, but the wide river that floats through Florence. There are numerous bridges over the Arno - but one of them is a very special architectural treasure: Ponte Vecchio. It is the oldest bridge in Florence and there are houses on it. No joke! When you see it from a distance, it looks like a building made of Lego with colorful stones and small windows.

A fortune for jewellery and a little postcard-mania

Ponte Vecchio of Florence, Sights in Florence, lonelyroadlover
Tiny little shops on the front of Ponte Vecchio
Since 1345 there have been small shops on both sides of the bridge. You can reach their entrances by walking from one bank to the other. If you don't get trampled down by the masses of tourists and end up in the river as a flounder. In the past, butchers used to sell their stuff in the shops. Today they are exclusively jewellers. So hardly anything has changed. We take a few glances into the windows of rocks, on which we suspiciously can't find any price tag.  You could hang a whole forest of Christmas trees with the mass of ornaments. We decide not to go to hell with our credit cards and instead spend kind of an hour at a postcard shop where we manically compare 300 very similar motifs. Later it turns out that the sun-drenched photos that we take from Piazzale Michelangelo let the postcards look like shit anyway.
Speaking of postcards: Strangely enough, there are dozens of postal systems in Italy. Besides the official post office with its red, traditional mailboxes, there are other providers like GPS, whose cardboard boxes can only be found at souvenir stands. It doesn't really matter where you buy your stamps and which system you use - just throw them into the matching box, otherwise it won't work (although in Italy it is possible that the post office is messing up your cards anyway).

Signum Firenze: a little insider tip for wanderer and time travelers

Street Art in Florence
Florence - so full of art and colorful vibes!
Unfortunately we can't make it to the Uffizi because we don't have enough time for it. Instead, we admire a statue on Piazza della Signoria with a pigeon on its head which makes it kind of not-really-serious-looking. In the Borgo dei Greci street just behind the square we find a fabulous shop with historical globes, miniature books, maps, binoculars and artistic stationery. Who cares about jewelry - we simply throw our credit cards in here! The shop is called Signum Firenze and of course we don't leave it without bags and cardboard rolls in our backpack. I am particularly pleased about a globe that shows the earth at the time of the discoverers in the Renaissance.
In the evening we take a short walk through the warmly lit city, which becomes a two-hour hike. A little outside we almost land at the pothead-party of some teenagers at the Arno. Yes, even the enchanting Florence has a few corners you can skip. All in all, however, the farewell after only one and a half days is difficult (so better plan three to five days for Florence!) and a hint of artistic stardust still has not left our clothes when we are entering the train to Naples.

Naples - Please, tear it down for a moment!

The Old Town of Naples, run-down and dirty
Naples Old Town - a place to be! Not.

Not for very long, though. As we get off at the main station, a permanent, aggressive chorus of horns from the streets of Naples roars in our ears. Although we vehemently reject any encore and even stuff ear plugs into our ears at night, the Orchestra of Smog will not rest for the next few days. While blue exhausts are crawling down our lungs and Dani tries to avoid walking across dried urine with her suitcase, I briefly look again at the sign in front of the train station. Does it really say "Napoli Centrale" or "Calcutta Centrale"? The deep alleys with smeared walls block any sunlight from the asphalt. Down from the flaking facades are hanging tons of cables, while people shout at each other gruffly about the noise level of a German Autobahn. They don't argue, they just talk. First we flee to our apartment close to the Old Town and try to recover from the culture shock with mediocre red wine. In the evening we take a walk into the historic quarter. Naples is generally considered dangerous and is often associated with crime and violence. We don't notice this - not even in the dark, but it also doesn't make it any more attractive. It's like on a bad date - you just can't always drink to make it look nicer.

Morbid charm and the faces of poverty

Naples, run-down houses and electricity
Electricity in Naples...
"Somehow,this city has its own charm", I try after a while. In fact, the morbid atmosphere, the disregard for the historical heritage and the fluttering laundry above the alleys is something that fascinates me in a strange way. I don't travel for holidays or to see only the beautiful, but the real world - the way it is. Dani is looking at me crooked. "Charm?"
I'm sticking with it. It is a bittersweet charm that tries to chase you out of the city with cough, but at the same time it is so honest and undisguised that I am happy about this enriching impression. How different a single country can be. The people, the mentality, the life. How much poverty can be reflected in all areas of our lives, for Naples has clearly been decayed for years and lives on the substance of the past. We walk past some stands with fried rice balls and pudding biscuits and circumnavigate an overflowing dumpster to get to Castel Sant'Elmo. The fortress lies above the metropolis and again causes shortness of breath due to many steps to the top.

View to Vesuvius and Fireworks at night

Naples from Castel Sant'Elmo
View from the top
From above we get a view of the picturesque scenery behind the city - the sea with the mighty Vesuvius. Couldn't it all possibly be The Truman Show? Far away from the Moloch, small, colourful alleys with cats, flowers and lanterns do unfold. The thunder of wild traffic (which is at least as crazy as in Paris!) fades away like the quiet noise of a car radio when the window is open. Everything seems so calm and far away from the city. Little ships drift on the clear blue ocean and there is no cloud on the horizon. But everything feels like it's all wrong and just an escape from reality.
At night, there are suddenly noises like a shooting. However, none of us is seriously thinking of a shooting, because most of the horror stories about unsafe cities only come from movies and single incidents that are particularly highlighted in the media. I'm not getting stabbed by the Mafia here as well as I was not shot in Chicago or robbed in New York. Shortly afterwards we see red, green and blue shadows on the walls. Fireworks. The Neapolitans have just decided that the middle of the week at half past twelve at night might be a fabulous time to further ruin the historic facades.
"Charm?" asks Dani smugly. I admit defeat: "Ah, get lost!"
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