Monday, October 31, 2011

Changes Afoot in Napoli

It's finally happened. Naples has joined with the rest of the country in finally (finally, finally!!!) designating much of the historic downtown area as a limited traffic zone. Can you feel my excitement...and relief? Naples as a city has an incredible amount to offer visitors, both as a jumping off point for any number of excursions (ruins, cruise ship port, islands, Amalfi Coast, the list is long) and in the city itself. Centro, the downtown area, is full of absolutely gorgeous, historic buildings. And yet, the city has always been full of trash and unbelievable traffic, two things guaranteed to turn visitor attention away from the attractions and beauty. Centro's streets are one lane with almost no space for pedestrians, meaning walking around is was an exercise in three steps forward, one step to hug a wall for a car to pass, and repeat. I was thrilled upon finding out Naples had designated much of the Centro area a limited traffic zone. I envisioned leisurely strolls down the ancient streets and the chance to actually look at the architecture and study the hidden charms. What I found, for now at least, is the Naples version of a limited traffic zone, meaning the carabinieri (police) stood around chatting on their cells and smoking, while tons of motorcycles sped past and even a protest began with some men moving dumpsters into a four-way intersection to block all traffic, including pedestrian traffic. I do recall there were some rolling dates for the traffic limitations, so perhaps the motorcycle traffic has yet to be forbidden.

I hadn't planned on taking Ma downtown since the traffic truly is was a nightmare. I thought that the uneven, lava stone streets, the multitude of people who make no effort at all to share the limited pedestrian areas, the cars filling the tiny streets, and the motorcycles dodging and weaving, would not make for an enjoyable experience for her. But a limited traffic zone changed everything. We set off on the Metro, had to walk a few blocks in the non-limited traffic zone, then reached Piazza Dante, one of the larger piazzas in Centro. Unfortunately, Naples doesn't do a great job with their piazzas, at least not when compared with many other Italian cities. The utter lack of even trying to appeal to tourists has confounded me in our first year here. I get that some places have no interest in the tourist trade, but in a town with something like 40% unemployment rate, yet (1) located in a country consistently rated as the most tourist-visited in the world, and (2) in a location that rivals every other major city in said country, I really have no idea why there's seems to be such a disdain for tourists. [As an example, this weekend, we visited Caserta Palace, a huge, royal palace built to rival Versailles in France. It's gorgeous. It's major. We were near the town where the palace is located, so didn't turn on the GPS. We literally drove in circles around the town with all sorts of visitor information signs pointing the way to various churches and restaurants, but not a single sign pointed the way to the palace. Not one.]
Piazza Gesu Nuovo
However, in our first year here, we've seen massive changes, perhaps due to a fairly new, very progressive, mayor. The cruise ship port has been transformed, there are a number of extra metro stops in the works, bus lines have been added in the 'burbs, trash collection seems to be regular (at least recently), and now, the pedestrian zone. Incredible, huge, transformative changes in just a year. I can't wait to see what happens next. I have high hopes for the coming years and this city I will call home for at least two more of them.

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