Europe ’15 – Salina to Naples

Squalid NaplesSalina is the second largest of the Aeolian Islands with an area of 27 square kilometres. It is dominated by volcanic hills with very little flat land near the coast. Although Salina would seem to be an ideal site for solar and wind energy it is probably constrained by its World Heritage listing. Currently, like other islands in the group, it has a small diesel power station operated by Enel, an Italian renewable energy corporation. The exploitation of geothermal energy may provide a means of introducing renewable energy without detracting from the beauty of the islands.

Although Salina only has a population of 4000, the island’s council operates a very reliable bus service (15 seaters) that meets the hydrofoils that arrive at both of its ports and connects the main population centres.

After three days on Salina we took the hydrofoil to Lipari, the largest and most populous of the group. Its permanent population of around 11,000 doubles during the tourist season -May-September. It is a major staging point for tourists travelling to the active volcanic island of Stromboli nearby. Other than tourism, Lipari relies on agriculture and mining of a large pumice deposit. As it has no natural springs, water is a major problem for Lipari. Water is shipped onto the island and pumped to the houses. Most of the tourist activity is centred near Lipari’s port that services, hydrofoils, roll on/roll off vessels, large ferries to Naples, and diesel/water vessels. During our stay, the island was even visited by a medium sized cruise ship that excited the local shops, cafes, bars, and bus service. Another frequent visitor to all the islands is “Green Lipari” a retired ferry that takes rubbish and recycling from the islands to Sicily for processing.

When we left Lipari for Milazzo (via hydrofoil) on 30 October the tourist season was coming to an end. Boat services to Stromboli and Volcano were being cut back and hotels (including ours) were closing for the winter break.

We were pleased to see that the carriages on the regional train from Milazzo to Naples had been updated. At Messina, the train is shunted onto a ferry that takes it from Sicily to mainland Italy. The VFT line only extends to Salerno (27km south of Naples), so we proceeded at a slower rate than the 300kph Frecciarossa. The trip took around 7 hours, an ordeal on a train with no dining car.

Naples, with over 5 million people, is Italy’s second largest city, behind only Milan. On this, our second visit, I was shocked at how squalid a city Naples is in comparison to Rome, Turin, Genoa and even Palermo. The outer suburbs have row after row of old three storey apartments with no trees or parkland. The only park we came across could not be enjoyed by the citizens as pet owners had converted it into a dog toilet. Based on what we saw in Naples, there is a lot of truth in the frequently heard complaint that most of the Italian taxpayers’ dollars are spent in Rome.

Apart from its beautiful harbour and very busy port Naples attracts hordes of tourists travelling to the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum both destroyed by Vesuvius in 79AD. On this trip, we visited three impressive Roman villas including one originally occupied by Nero’s wife, Poppea.

Naples is a major stop on the Frecciarossa line for travellers to Rome, Milan and other major centres. It also has its own suburban metro that services commuters and visitors to Pompeii, Herculaneum and the villas. It also has a light rail network and public buses. It is fortunate that the city is well serviced by public transport as the roads are usually clogged with Fiat drivers leaning on their horns.

Next stop Rome.