2000 Cycling Season, June 10 - 12


June 10,2000, Saturday - Travel to Naples

This morning we took our big city thick skin, and headed south to Napoli (aka Naples). We've heard all kinds of horror stores about Naples. We've heard it's a 2000-year-old city that shows every day of its age. We've heard that in some areas violence is rare but pick pockets about but in other areas its exactly opposite (what does that mean!?!). We've heard that on the sleeper trains to and from Naples that it's not unheard of to have your room gassed to knock you out and have all your baggage stolen. We've also heard to watch out for cabbies and anyone offering you help.

The reality that we found was much different. The area by the central train station is definitely a rough area that I would not want to travel on the bike. However, once we got out of the center of the city Naples is just another big costal city like L.A.

Darlene our travel agent put us in a residence inn out of the main city in a residential section of town, and thankfully they had the first pool we encountered in Italy. The relative heat of 88 degrees, high humidity, and no wind makes this part of Italy an unpleasant place to walk around in the sun all day. So the pool provided a much needed place to cool off.

We actually found this part of Naples very nice feeling. Just before dark we saw lots of kids playing and girls and women walking alone. So we walked down to a local pizza place for dinner. After dinner, at 10:30pm we felt very comfortable and safe walking back to our hotel.

To help ensure a safe visit we stopped and arranged a private car tour of Pompeii and the Amalfi coast. Dorothy actually arranged this tour while I was standing guard over our stuff; however, she hasn't been the one dealing with Italian money, and she isn't used to paying attention to the number of digits in prices. When she told me she had arranged a nice full day private tour in a Mercedes for 36,000 Lira (~$18) it sounded good but just didn't seem right. When we got back to the hotel I double-checked what we had signed up for. Yes, we were signed up for a nice private tour in a Mercedes to all the places in the area that we wanted to go, although the price was 360,000 Lira (~$180). I've almost made the same mistake a bunch of times. The Italian 50,000 Lira bill looks a lot like a 5,000 Lira bill only it's slightly larger. Since I've been dealing with all the cash I've learned to watch the number of zero's as I hand out cash - what a strange thing to get used to. I guess it's better that Dorothy stick to navigating and handling the maps, and I'll stick to dealing with handing out thousands of Lira at every turn.

Later that night we found that our hotel had everything we needed but an air conditioner in the room. We also discovered that we got a lot of road noise if we opened the windows, and that the ceiling fan made as much noise as the flight for life helicopter. So it was a very unpleasant hot and noisy night and to top it off we faced a plague of mosquitoes that came in with the noise through the screen less open windows.

June 11,2000, Sunday - Naples

At 9:15 sharp our driver arrived in a nice 1998 four door Mercedes that thankfully had had a great air conditioner. We started our luxurious tour by driving past Vesuvio (aka Mt. Vesuvious) to Pompeii which is just outside of Naples. I sure wouldn't want to live 10 miles from one of the world's best-known pyroclastic volcanoes, but 1.6 million people in Naples do.

Pompeii is pretty cool and we could have stayed all day. It's basically a little ancient city like so many that we've visited here in Italy. Only this one was frozen in time by flaming hot ash in 79 A.D. If it weren't for the damage done by the bombs of World War II Pompeii would still be in perfect condition including all of the bodies encased in ash.

John In Pompeii

John in Pompeii

In Pompeii we visited the theaters, several nice homes with painting on the walls, and the bath houses that reminded me of the locker rooms at some of the nicer athletic clubs at home like the D.A.C. or Greenwood Athletic Club.

Pompeii Ruins

Pompeii Ruins

Everything looked like a nice ancient city except for the expressions of pain and fear locked into the faces of the locals who's skin and muscles were replaced by the flaming ash preserves their expressions to this day. This sure reminded me that we still do not control the most powerful forces on this planet.

After visiting Pompeii we took a beautiful drive through the costal mountains that separate the Bay of Naples from the Amalfi cost. These lush mountains are covered with a tapestry of greed deciduous trees.

Just behind these mountains are the cliffs of the Amalfi cost. The Amalfi cost is a lot like the cost of California that is just north of San Francisco only on a much grander scale. The mountains are steeper and higher, the water is bluer, and the cliffs punctuate the boundary of land and sea more dramatically than anything that Northern California has to offer.

Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast

More Amalfi Coast

More Amalfi Coast

Hanging on these mountains and cliffs are the little towns of Amalfi and Positano. Almalfi is nestled in a little grotto that forms a nice little bay. The little town is full of cute little tourist shops and peaceful looking hotels.

Church in Amalfi

Church in Amalfi

Positano is a big bigger and again is nestled in a grotto area that forms a bay with a nice beach. The grotto surrounding Positano reminded us of section of Glenwood Canyon back in Colorado. And in one part of the canyon large stalactites hang from the cliff wall. I'm not sure of the composition of these cliffs but they sure look like a great place to play with the climbing gear!

Cliffs of Positano

Cliffs At Positano

The buildings of Positano and the surrounding area have an eerie way of reminding me of the ruins of Mesa Verde in Southern Colorado. The hotels and housed are built right into the cliffs much like the Anasazi cliff dwellings that dot the southwestern United States. Maybe this is what Mesa Verdi would have been if it had turned into a tourist town rather than mysterious ruins.

Groto Arround Positano

Groto Arround Positano

We also made a quick stop at a cool little tourist trap called the Emerald Grotto. It's a cave that has an underwater passage out to the sear where the blue-green light filters in to light stalagmites and stalactites. With SCUBA gear I'm sure I could blow an full day here, but without it this is just a good 20 minute roadside distraction.

Emerald Grotto

Emerald Grotto

The last stop on our days agenda was the town of Sorrento which reminds me of Colorado Springs. This would be a great place to use as a base camp for exploring the Amalfi coast. It's much smaller and friendlier to visitors than the big city to the north.

Once we got back to the hotel I burned the rest of the evening backing-up all the digital pictures I've been taking. I move the pictures from my camera to my laptop, then I put them on my web server where my brother Lewis and Nephew Jim pick them up and put them on CD, just in case something happens to the laptop in our travels.

In this digital chain I've experienced some interesting problems in the local infrastructure that you just don't see in very often in the big cities back in the U.S. I've been using MCI's UUNet Internet service because they have points of presence (POPs) all over Europe. However before you can do anything, first you have to get a phone connection from your location to the POP. The first problem I found is simply having the right widgets to make a physical connection. This plagued me in France and in Rome where the apartment just didn't have a phone. The next problem is getting a clean phone connection that your modem can use to modulate a decent signal over to the POP. All the cracks and snaps on the hotel telephones caused me a lot of grief in Sienna and Assisi. I couldn't get a clean modem connection to Rome or Milan from either of these cities. The third problem, which frustrated the heck out of me in Naples, was establishing a session though all the routers back to my web server in San Jose. I had a good modem connection, but the MCI network between Naples and Milan isn't quite as stable as I expected. On Sunday night at 9:00pm my FTP sessions kept getting clobbered. When I investigated deeper, I found that sometimes packets made it sometimes they didn't. On a few tries, I couldn't even establish a route back through the network any further than Milan. Boy if I were building a bank ATM system in this part of the world, I would sure spend a lot of time on failure handling. The infrastructure over here sure isn't what it is in the U.S. and it sure doesn't provide five nines of availability (99.999%). That includes phones, networks, and especially the passenger rail system.