Subject: Recent trip to Italy: Primo Piattti (Naples area--semi-long)
My wife and I returned from our fourth trip to Italy earlier in the month. We are serious Italianophiles-both of us are studying the language, and my wife became a travel agent after our trip in April of 1998. Since the places we visited were fairly well known to those interested in things Italian, I will save some space and limit discussion to some highs. There was only one major low-my wife's luggage did not make it off the plane when we landed in Naples at the start of the trip. It seemed like forever waiting for it, but it was delivered to our hotel the next day. Many have been through the same experience, and there is not much you can do about it.

The trip involved side trips from three major spots-Naples, Florence, and Milan. The latter was dictated because it was our departure city. Normally, we kind of use it as a throw-away day because we don't find it nearly as interesting as the other cities we visit. However, it was extraordinary this time because we got together for a memorable evening with Marco de Angeli and Simona Riela, whom some of you know from the Travel-L list (and who are now just as active in TheTravelzine). I don't want to forget their friends, especially one of Simone's, who looks just like Robert Di Nero. We also got to see Laurie Federgreen whom we met a couple of years ago in the same way when we spent a day in Rome. Our trip was delightfully complicated by the fact that we brought back our daughter's adorable shih tzu since she was returning to the states from nearly three years abroad. In the process of making arrangements for the dog, we also learned a lot about airline regulations. The bottom line on that score is that if you want to travel with a dog in the cabin on an international flight to the US, Delta is the only major carrier that permits it. Plan early because they limit this to one dog/plane (two on domestic flights and other airlines can be used). We also had to get a certificate from the Italian government to allow him to leave. Write me if you wish further details. Also note that airlines will generally not even let animals go in cargo (the more usual method) during the summer. We were also happy because our daughter was with us for most of the trip. We hadn't seen her since our previous trip to Italy a bit over a year ago. She was stationed in Germany but is now back in the US. We used Naples as a base for two reasons-the number of nearby attractions and the fact that we could find a hotel that would allow pets. We were lukewarm about the hotel. On the positive side, it was physically attractive (it was classified as a 4*) and was under $100/night (all prices US) and became cheaper because of the increasing strength of the dollar. On the negative side, its location on the West side near the Phlegrean Fields and NATO headquarters was inconvenient, and the staff, while not unpleasant, was less well informed than most we have dealt with. Also, though advertised as air conditioned, the air conditioning was turned off at night (sorry to appear like spoiled Americans, but we are Texans and air conditioning is listed as a birthright in our State Constitution). While not unpleasantly hot during the day (certainly by our standards), things start getting muggy in mid to late May. Naples is skuzzy, by any reckoning, but my wife and I differ as to whether it is delightfully skuzzy (my view), so that you would return, or plain skuzzy so that you would not (my wife's view). We were in Livorno a couple of years ago. That is plain skuzzy. So, I understand, is Brindisi. It is also even more spread out than the far larger Rome so you spend much time, money, and effort getting from place to place. We were also warned of the thieves near the Stazione Centrale when we necessarily arrived late. However, there are worse ways to spend one's life than to sit at Caffé Gambrinus, a venerable cafe/bar/gelateria near the Piazza del Plebiscito. This wonderful place is also near the Galleria Umberto and the Teatro San Carlo. Naples is also an extremely pretty city because of its famous Bay and its less famous heights. My daughter and I wanted to go see the synagogue so that bit of unfinished business may bring us back. Given the places around Naples, I don't think I will need to twist my wife's arm very much. It is noticeably cheaper than the more Northern points of interest. We did little shopping here, because we had our money targeted for some of our favorite places in Florence. I don't think that Ischia, Capri (choose it if you don't have time for both legendary isole), Sorrento, Pompeii, and Positano need much elaboration. Everything you have heard about them and their beauty is true. It is particularly useful to know that you can go by ordinary bus from Sorrento to Amalfi. We foolishly only went as far as Positano. Again, that gives us a reason to return. Some less well-known things we enjoyed were: 1. Taking a ride on the Funicolare to take advantage of the city's heights 2. Taking a cab ride for aerobic exercise. Naples has red and green lights for traffic, just like anywhere. The major difference is that the lights have no impact on drivers, especially cab drivers. On the positive note, if you have to catch a train or plane, your cab driver views his (I only saw males in this blood sport) mission as personal. You are his Lord; he is your Knight. I did find myself reciting prayers from at least six religions, including two generally considered pagan. 3. Eating at Brandi's restaurant. It is one of umpteen ristorantes that claim to have invented the pizza, but it was good and fun. You can also walk down the street to Gambrinus afterwards. 4. Eating at Due Perle (Two Pearls) Ristorante if you are in the Western part of the city. It was near our hotel. It was about as good as Brandi's and a bit cheaper. We had an enjoyable al fresco dinner at another ristorante in the Merggelina district whose name we neglected to record, but it was compromised by the voluminous number of panhandlers who disturbed our meal-one of whom who brought a _bird_. I hope we do not appear callous to those less fortunate than we are, but there simply are too many documented cases of panhandlers earning far more from their skills at mooching than at a real job here in the states for us to be anything less than cynical, especially when it comes to the privacy of our dining. 5. Visiting the Museo Archiologico Nazionale, which houses many artifacts from Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other parts of Southern Italy.

Ira H. Bernstein