See Naples Without Dying
The Easter break arrived in time for a cheeky trip to Naples. I’d not been, it’s not far away and it’s weekend friendly. Cultural overload, I imagined, too much to see in a short break. Except that it’s now Saturday and I haven’t even started, because Naples misled me; instead of hitting the National Architectural Museum we wandered onto a boat and ended up having an extended lunch in a lemon grove on Procida, one of the Flegreen islands off the coast of Italy.
I realised that in my youth I defined many places by their museums and bucket-list sights, part of the generation that changed the nature of travel, and not for the better. By the early 1970s cheap tourism had become the punchline to a national joke. Now it has woken many to the threat posed by sheer numbers. No matter how much I’d like to imagine I’m helping local economies I’m adding to the problem.
Now we’re more likely to avoid tourist-clogged sights for backstreets, find a room to rent in a neighbourhood with a strong local identity and avoid traditional guide book suggestions by going on instinct.
Naples reminds me of Marseilles, a working port, run down, noisy, dirty, energetic and wonderful if you can blend in a little (being blond I’ve not much chance of that). One of the best moments so far has been standing in a confluence of alleyways past midnight as twenty or thirty motor scooters all overloaded with passengers somehow negotiate a four-direction crossing in a state of polite chaos.
There’s a generation coming for whom all travel will be new. At the present time less than 10% of the Chinese population have passports (the figure varies depending on how you check) but the state suggests that the figure will jump to 80% within 10 years. What’s interesting, though, is the list of places Chinese tourists most want to visit; it’s a top ten of Instagram hits, including a selfie with the Mona Lisa (good luck with that) and the Bridge of Sighs (ditto).
It suggests that Paris, London and Rome will get much busier while say Plovdiv and Gdansk won’t grow their tourist industries unless they find something Instagrammable and go viral. The situation is not helped by Tripadvisor, where tourists endlessly plug guaranteed old favourites.
(Top photo taken on the terrifyingly low-walled balcony)