Napoli… and strange things

Well we are in Naples. Today went surprisingly simply actually, the moment we arrived at the Placa de Catalunya to catch the airbus to Barcelone airport, a bus turned up. There was a minor traffic jam on the Barcelona motorway heading out towards the airport, largely because Spaniards seem really pathetic at merging. But anyway, we made it to the airport in pretty good time, we checked in amazingly easily because I had been smart enough to somehow check in online, and then basically as soon as we turned up at the gate they started boarding. The flight from Barcelona to Naples was pretty non-eventful, although we got a good view of Barcelona as we left the city, and then a pretty nice view over Naples and the surrounding area as we came in to land. At the airport the necessary bus was right outside the exit from the airport, and although finding the hostel was a little tricky, in the end it was exactly where I had expected it to be, so there were no real dramas there.

I say no dramas, but really drama is what Naples is all about. This city is literally unlike anywhere I have ever been before. To cut things short it’s totally nuts. There are traffic lights, but everyone on scooters just ignores them; driving in the place seems a case of moving forward slowly, honking on your horn so everyone else moves out of the way, and then making your way through the intersection, regardless of what the traffic light says, totally regardless of any potential road rules, and sometimes even irrespective of what side of the road they are on. Once again, this is particularly the case for all the nutty drivers of scooters. Crossing the road is truly a mission, as there’s a steady onslaught of cars edging their way across where you’re trying to cross (no car ever seems to be going quickly thankfully) , while the scooters zig-zag their way between everything. It’s not just young guys on the scooters either, often very respectable looking business-women zip along in them, as oblivious to any road rules as the teenage hoon might be. Down some of the narrow alleys, about the same width as a car (forcing you to duck into a doorway when a wide car drives along one) we actually found two or even three people to a scooter. Mothers would be carrying their young kids in front of them, zipping through the mayhem, and there was even one scooter with Dad in the front driving, Mum in the back and the kid in the middle. To make things even more insane Mum and Dad were having an impassioned conversation (no conversation in Naples is ever NOT impassioned), with Dad barely paying attention to zipping between traffic. Of course nobody was wearing a helmet….. it would be a literal interpretation of every traffic safety officer’s worst nightmare.

So yeah, Naples is pretty nuts. But nuts in a good way. Although our first impressions were a little stressed, lugging heavy suitcases through streets to a destination that I was only partly sure of, and having to cross super-busy roads in the aforementioned manner; once we managed to get rid of most of our stuff into our room, and headed out to explore some of the better parts of the city, the magic really came alive. If Paris made London seems quiet, and Barcelona made Paris seem quite tame, then Naples makes all these places seem like kindergarten. I don’t think I have ever been in a more different place, but it is a great experience that’s for sure!

Going to try to put some photos up onto facebook.

Paris & Barcelona

OK well it seems like I´m getting a bit behind in my updates, which isn´t exactly ideal. However, fortunately the Spanish keyboard is the same as the NZ one, so it´s not going to be totally nauseating trying to type on it. I have a feel Italy is going to be different again, so it´s probably a good idea to catch up on everything now, while I can.

Anyway, I think I left off on Sunday. That day Leila and I headed to the Palace of Versailles – which I knew about as the place where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, and also as Louis XIV´s amazing palace of grandeur. We caught an RER train out there, which was quite interesting as it gave us a chance to see some of the Parisian suburbs. I was quite amazed to see high-rise apartment buildings way out in the suburbs, but I guess they need to fit their 8 million + people in somewhere. When we got to Versailles, along with a whole train load of other tourists (mainly Americans complaining about everything possible to complain about) it was a short walk to the palace. We had made a bit of a mistake by not buying our tickets beforehand, and joined a really long and really really slow moving queue as a result. An hour and a half later we actually bought our tickets, and then headed off into the gardens, as the thought of immediately facing another queue to walk through the palace was a little unbearable at that moment. The gardens were simply spectacular though, stretching on for miles and miles. There was perfect symmetry everywhere, which my Dad would have hated but I found fascinating. I remember in a stage one geography paper we looked at the gardens of Versailles as an extreme example of the Western European attitude to nature, as something to be tamed and dominated. After wandering down the gardens to the huge lake that formed the perfect shape of a cross, we checked out the small Marie Antoinette palaces at the bottom of the gardens (which included some amazing furniture and artwork on the walls) before heading back to the main palace. We then wandered around the main palace, which really did make the long wait and pretty steep 25 euros entrance fee worth it. While much of the art on the walls was similar to that which I had seen at the Louvre or at the National Gallery in London, it was much better to see it in the place where it was meant to be, rather than out of place in an art gallery. The huge floor to ceiling paintings made much more sense in the enormous hallways they were in, while the hall of mirrors was simply astounding. After a pretty long day we headed back to our hotel to crash.

On Monday we had quite an interestingly varied day for our last full day in Paris. In the morning we headed up to Montmartre, a cute little hill not far to the north of central Paris. The steepness of the hill and the narrowness of the streets made it difficult for any car traffic to head along most of the small streets around Montmartre, so it felt like a quaint little French town, even though we were actually in the middle of Paris. The Sacre Ceur basilica on the top of the hill was truly amazing, with the awesome views over Paris a big bonus. After that we headed across town for something completely different, the modern CBD of Paris – La Defense. In the 1960s Paris realised that it had to provide a modern business area in order for it to stay competitive with other large cities around the world. But instead of destroying its old downtown area, or mixing all different types of buildings together like London has, Paris decided to build a whole new CBD out to the west: La Defense. Awesomely, all the roads were put underneath into tunnels, and the main area is a huge pedestrian square, with great views across to the Arc de Triomphe in the east. The Grand Arche, a modern equivalent of the Arc de Triomphe, dominates the area and is a true architectural amazement. Although we got lost in the dark underbelly of the area for a little while, overall it was a really interesting experience and I took lots of photos of really amazing modern skyscrapers, not really what one would expect in Paris. After that we went to the Pompidou museum, and I got a really good introduction to the history of modern art, which truly helped me appreciate it, and to be able to say more than ¨wow that looks weird!¨

On Tuesday we flew from Paris to Barcelona. I was stressed out as anything for most of the day – as I usually am when there are flights that need to be caught, buses that need to get you to the right place by certain times, and inevitable mess-ups with delayed flights and broken luggage carousels. I guess the less I say the better about the time until we arrived in Barcelona. However, fortunately one wander around the amazing Gothic Quarter of central Barcelona made me forget all these previous inconveniences. We did find our ¨Pension¨ accommodation easily enough, and then headed out to explore. The Gothic Quarter, the oldest part of Barcelona, just across Las Ramblas from where we are staying, turned out to be an amazing array of super-narrow pedestrian walkways. Even on a Tuesday evening the place was totally buzzing, with stylish shops intermingled with millions of bakeries and souvenir shops providing plenty of opportunities for people to enjoy themselves. We wandered around for quite a while, before finally retiring.

Then yesterday we headed off to the La Sagrada Familia, basically the reason I chose to come to Barcelona in the first place. Master architect Gaudi chose to build a church that he knew would be so complex and massive it would take perhaps 200 years to complete. Currently the building is supposedly just over 50% complete, but things have progressed quicker in recent years thanks to modern technologies so there´s hope that it´ll be done in my lifetime. We caught a lift up one of the huge towers, before slowly making our way down it, including the last bit along a rather scary snail-like spiral staircase. The building was truly fantastic, even though it´s only half built. Once it´s complete I imagine it´ll be one of the most fantastic buildings in the entire world. After that we headed off to another of Gaudi´s buildings, La Pedrera (I think). This was built as an apartment building back in the early 20th century, although these days its architecture is so amazing that it´s a full time museum. Both Gaudi´s buildings really made me want to be an architect, and to create something so super special, yet at the same time something that simply works so damn well as what it´s doing. In the evening we wandered around the waterfront of Barcelona, which itself was quite interesting, although not as buzzing or vibrant as the older centre.

Then today we decided to have a little bit more of a laid back day. In the morning we headed to the Pablo Picasso museum. This gave me a chance to put some of my newly acquired knowledge of modern art, from the Pompidou, into action. Most of the museum was dedicated to Picasso´s earlier stuff, which was fairly normal for the times, although you could see it slowly developing into something truly different, and how he would eventually become one of the founders of modern art. There were a few later paintings too, which provided an interesting contrast with his earlier stuff. After that we caught a metro across town (I´m really impressed with the Barcelona metro, it´s probably better than Paris´ or London´s and a heck of a lot cheaper) to the Nou Camp, home of the FC Barcelona soccer team. We did a tour of the stadium which was fantastic as I had always admired the stadium on TV with its huge capacity of around 99,000 people. I only wish that we were around at the right time of year to go to a match.

So tomorrow we fly out of Spain and into Italy, landing in Naples. Italy´s our last new country before heading back to England and New Zealand. I think tomorrow also marks the halfway point of the trip. Even though I´m really enjoying the holiday, in a way it´s good to know that we´re halfway through it and returning to New Zealand isn´t too impossible far away in the future. I am really missing Amaliam, although fortunately it has been reasonably easy to stay in touch. But, especially with the different language in recent days, I´m missing a place where I really understand what´s going on and don´t feel like such a dumbass all the time.

The beginning

Note: this post was written somewhat later than May 1st, 2008. However, it’s probably worthwhile having an obvious first post for the blog so that it makes a bit more sense.

Since 2001 I have had an online blog of some sort, generally just a personal blog but also over time commenting on various other matters that interested me. In 2008 my personal blog began to morph into talking more and more about transport – probably somewhat a result of the trip to Europe I took in 2008, but also probably a result of my job as a planner.

As a planner, my obvious ambition was always to try and make Auckland a nicer city to live, work and play in. One would hope that all planners have this goal – otherwise they probably should be doing something else. As I got to know and understand how Auckland works, what makes the city really tick and what seems to influence its urban outcomes more than anything else, I began to realise how utterly critical it is to get the transport right. I was also strongly influenced by watching these “City of Cars” videos on Youtube:

This blog is my attempt at trying to make Auckland a better city through ensuring our transport system works for the benefit of the city and its inhabitants, rather than working against their best interests as has happened so often in the past.