When people told me that Italian drivers can get a little feisty, I used to give them a knowing look and maybe nod sagely.
“I’ve been to Milan”, I thought, “I know exactly what you mean”.
Nothing had prepared me for Naples.
The first warning sign is that at least 90% of parked cars (although parked is a strong term – abandoned might be better) bare the scars of multiple impacts. Wings are dented, doors are scratched, wing mirrors hang sadly from loose cables and generally at least one bumper is missing completely.
As I walked the streets on my first day I came across a traffic jam of monster proportions tailing back for miles through the streets in the baking sunshine; drivers leaning casually on their horns to create a symphony of stressfulness. Scooters and pedestrians weaved clumsily through the crush of cars, and people shouted and gesticulated angrily as only Italians in traffic jams can really manage properly.
What I didn’t realise at the time is that, from the pedestrian’s point of view, enormous city-halting traffic jams are the best-case scenario in Naples. Once things start flowing again all hell really breaks loose. I don’t know if the recent release of Grand Theft Auto has inspired everyone to drive like they’re in a getaway chase, but I’ve seen people driving the wrong way around roundabouts, running red lights, bumping into buses, shouting at traffic policemen and generally trying to cause as much chaos as they can reasonably expect to get away with. Maybe the guys who make Grand Theft Auto come here on their holidays.
It took a couple of days, but Naples did win me over in the end. Having arrived there on the back of Florence and Venice, poor old Napoli – with it’s death wish drivers and litter-strewn streets – was always going to look like the ugly sister. I went out for some drinks on Friday night though, accompanied by an unusual mix of drinking buddies (Italian, Chinese, Canadian, American and Turkish), and we spent the night wandering through crowded piazzas, drinking beers on the streets and trying to avoid the nighttime drivers who plough through the drunken crowds as if they’re not really there, bumping into people as they go. There’s a fantastic lively atmosphere on the streets that reminded me more of South America than Southern Europe.
This is also the city that introduced me to the cornetto bianco; a freshly baked croissant filled to bursting point with melted white chocolate that drips down your face no matter how carefully you try and eat it. As drunken delicacies go it’s right up there with the warm cheesy goodness of Austrian kasekrainers, and that’s high praise indeed.