The Naples Riviera by Herbert M Vaughan

The Naples Riviera by Herbert M Vaughan is a travel book published in 1908. I read it recently during a trip to Naples, itself. When using old guide books in contemporary trips, it can happen that the traveler finds a must-see site has been demolished in the intervening years, but nowadays a cursory check via a search engine can avoid such embarrassment. But what can be gleaned from reading what are now historical accounts of travel is a sense of perspective that is almost always missing from much tourist literature. Yes, the historical fact is always available, but its interpretation is always a variable, and it is this variability that immediately enriches an experience of travel.

Vaughan describes Naples, Amalfi, Sorrento, Capri, Ischia and the nearby bays as seen at the start of the twentieth century. His account indicates that these descriptions were contemporary, but also that they not being experienced for the first time. This is clearly an experienced traveler. It is interesting to note that he regularly advises that certain areas have become overpopulated with foreigners, or regularly crowded with tourists, or more likely to serve an English Sunday lunch than any local speciality. Gone, perhaps, are the barefoot luggage carriers who are generally women and who apparently queue up near the ferry hoping to earn a living by carrying tourists’ suitcases up the hill on their heads. Gone also, perhaps, are the traditional dances, such as the tarantella, that Vaughan claims the locals strike up spontaneously at any time of day and in almost any place.

A surprising observation comes early in the text, when the author refers to the city of Naples, itself, as having been largely rebuilt, and thus containing predominantly modern buildings. The author immediately reveals his preference for a particular period of the city’s history, a preference that looks down on the baroque modernization of Gothic spaces, perhaps questionIng even that the Renaissance should ever have descended into mannerism.

There is mild surprise when the author lists the number of places in the Campania region where malaria is either still endemic or was endemic until just before the account was written. Vaughan then discusses the possible causes of the disease. A modern reader, when confronted with the apparent contradictions of contemporary mores, is perhaps gently surprised. When confronted with the author’s incredulity at the idea of malaria being spread by mosquitoes, one approaches the state of being flabbergasted. But the modern search engine can again come into his own to remind the contemporary traveler that it was less than a decade before the writing of Vaughan’s book that the causational link had been confirmed. One lives and one learns.

Sitting in the narrow and sometimes hectic overcrowding of the matrix of the Spanish quarter near Via Toledo, the contemporary traveler is often confronted with the rasping noise and the odour of unburnt two-stroke as motorbikes speed past on what seemed to be collision courses, both with one another and pedestrians alike. The largely unhelmeted riders remind one of the fact Naples that was a lucrative market for diagonally striped T-shirts when the wearing of seatbelts in cars became compulsory. One is also minded to speculate what the experience of Vaughan in the streets might have been without the noise of the internal combustion engine and the smell of unburnt fuel. Vaughan of course reminds us that before two wheels there were four legs and that these modes of transport used to leave different evidence of their passing, which also had effects on the nose.

When Vaughan visits Pompeii and Herculaneum, his descriptions are lyrical and vivid. But again the contemporary traveler realizes that it that the experience of these places in the early twentieth century was significantly much less than it is now, since much of the excavation and archaeological work has been done in the intervening century. Anyone who, like Vaughan, wants to contemplate what life might have been like in these ancient Roman towns with their single room shops and narrow streets need only pause for a while in Naples old town or in the Spanish quarter, where, apart from the motorbikes, life probably looks pretty similar to what might have been transacted along those ancient streets. From a distance the city even looks red and yellow, the same colors the decorated most of the dwellings in the two ruined cities.

Vaughan’s description of Naples Riviera comes across as surprisingly modern. It confirms that whenever and wherever we travel it is the experience that matters, the here and now, and crucially how that changes us, rather than confirms what we expected or anticipated when we decided to go there. In an age where we are told that travel experience can be bought as a package, it is interesting and instructive to travel through the eyes of another, both refreshing and enlightening to share another visitor’s insight from a different time as we explore a new any new experience of travel.

Review of the Alabama and Friends Music Festival at Sea on the Norwegian Pearl

This was my first music festival at sea. I got to hang out at the mid-ship pool with 2000 new friends and watch Alabama perform on three different occasions. I enjoyed the music of bands I had never heard of but will not forget. My girlfriend and I line danced in the atrium, played bingo with Randy Owen and wore our bell-bottoms on the 70’s theme night.

The Pearl left Miami on 10/24/13 for a four-day cruise to Nassau, Bahamas, and Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas, which is Norwegian’s private island. The spa offered discounts on services while in port. So after a short walk to the straw market in Nassau, I was back on board for a facial and a relaxing afternoon in the thermal suite.

The coed area of the thermal suite included a large mineral pool with lots of bubbles, a smaller hot tub and two shower stalls with color-changing lights. Heated, tile benches were available to relax and take a nap. Lounge chairs faced a large floor to ceiling window that overlooked the bow. The women’s only side had a sauna, a steam room and a cold plunge pool. The spa charged $38 for a one day pass to the thermal suite or $68 for a four-day pass. Since I was in the thermal suite every day, the four-day pass was a real value.

I have been on the Norwegian Pearl before. So whenever I saw someone with a dazed look on their face, I would ask if I could help. It is a great way to make new friends. Our room steward, Eric, made the best monkey I have ever seen out of a blue and white stripped towel. He also kept our small balcony cabin clean and neat. We ate breakfast and lunch at the garden buffet on the pool deck, and had dinner in the Summer Palace at the rear of the ship. I could always find something good to eat. If you don’t like a dish, the waiters are happy to replace it.

Sixthman organized the cruise and did a great job. Before the cruise, they sent me name tags and luggage tags. On the ship they had a representative at the front desk to answer questions. I told her I had left my name tags at home, and she immediately gave me new name tags. While on the ship, we also received Alabama and Friends beach towels, an autographed poster and special Alabama pins. On top of that, everyone got to have their picture taken with Alabama at assigned photo sessions. When I got home, I received an email with a web address where I could download my picture with Alabama. Other pictures from the cruise were also available for free download.

More than half of the people on the ship were over 50 and married. It was a friendly crowd which shared a love for country music and left me with wonderful memories.

Books Set in France – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

So you are about to set off on the trip of a lifetime to one of the most-loved countries in the world — France! You have been practicing your ‘bonjours‘ and your ‘mercis‘, and studying maps of Paris to work out how to get around, but there is one more thing you can do to make sure your trip is extra special. And that is to immerse yourself in French life by reading some books set in France.

Reading novels set in Paris or the French countryside will give you an insight into the country which is impossible to get from the guide books. As the characters walk along the Seine or drink their coffee at a table on the Parisian pavement, it will fill you with anticipation to do the same — making the experience so much sweeter when you finally get to do it yourself. If the novel is set in the past, you will have more appreciation for France’s history, bringing many of the places and old buildings alive when you visit them on your trip. And if the novel is set in the present day, there’s nothing more fun than trying to find the streets, bars and restaurants that might be mentioned in the story.

So what books should you read? Here is a selection of five novels which do a great job in bringing France to life, even before you set foot on that plane.

‘Foreign Tongue’ by Vanina Marsot

Nursing a broken heart, Anna moves to Paris from Los Angeles. She begins working as the translator of a cryptic erotic novel and of course, finds herself some romance. The book is a love-letter to the city, with plenty of wanderings through the streets as well as descriptions of French life, food and cafes.

‘The Coral Thief’ by Rebecca Stott

History, mystery, romance and intrigue intertwine in this novel set in post-Napoleonic Paris. It is 1815 and a young Englishman travels to Paris to take up a position at the renowned Jardin des Plantes. But when the collection of rare coral specimens he is carrying is stolen by a beautiful woman, he is drawn into a plot involving revolutionaries, spies and the intelligentsia. Victorian Paris comes alive in this novel, which will surely enhance any present day visit to the Jardin des Plantes, France’s main botanical garden.

‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ by Susan Vreeland

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ is a famous painting depicting a group of Parisians enjoying lunch on the terrace of a restaurant on the Seine. In this novel Vreeland tells the story of those in the painting and how they came to be there. It is a glorious look at Paris at the time of the Impressionists, and you can still eat at the restaurant itself today.

‘Five Quarters of the Orange’ by Joanne Harris

Now we move out of Paris and into the Loire Valley with this novel by Harris that takes us to a village occupied by the Germans in WWII. The book moves between WWII and the present day, giving us an insight into the long-term effects the Nazi occupation had on the French people. And as it is a book by Joanne Harris, there is a of course lots of time spent exploring French food!

‘The Matchmaker of Perigord’ by Julia Stuart

We finish up with something fun and quirky, in a fictional village in France’s south-west. Amour-Sur-Belle might not be a real place, but it gives a taste of some of the declining villages of rural France. Here, the town barber decides to reinvent himself as a match-maker, quite a task when there are only 33 residents to match up. Filled with delightful characters and semi-ridiculous situations, this novel should just leave you giggling and enjoying the French temperament.

So if you have your tickets booked for Charles de Gaulle airport or you just WISH you had a holiday planned for France, try the books above to immerse yourself in a bit of French life and culture. And if you find yourself enjoying them…well, there’s plenty more to explore…Bon Voyage!