In Naples, you make do. If your city happens to lie upon steep hills — and beside a dormant volcano — you just build around these minor obstacles.
Italy’s third largest city, after Rome and Milan, is an urban shock for Toronto eyes. Traffic is chaotic and getting around by transit can be tough. Naples has many bus and train services, but, the buses can be hot, slow and crowded, and the various rail lines barely connect.
In fact, I spent hours understanding how the network fits together. It doesn’t help that there are decades worth of conflicting maps and diagrams scattered throughout the network. It does help that every form of transport in the region is covered by one fare system.
Construction at the main train station in Naples adds to the difficulty for visitors. Someone has forgotten to put up signs to the local rail and metro lines. (Toronto’s Union Station can be tricky but compared to Naples, it’s a cinch.) Finding your way downstairs, you may see system maps taped to walls. For some reason these comprehensive maps are sponsored by the service club Rotary International — but good luck getting one to take along.
While decoding the “Metronapoli” system, you make do. There are four funiculars (short, incline subways under the hills) although it’s not obvious how they connect with the trains. I eventually found open-air escalators that link these incline railways to the wider network.
Transferring between subway, urban and suburban rail lines requires sleuthing, plus some helpful Neapolitans. For example, one funicular meets commuter trains at a lovely new station. There is a subway station a block from this hub but I saw not one sign. A local pointed the way.
The main cross-city suburban rail line is gradually being integrated into the Metro network except it does not link well with the main metro route. Imagine transferring between Yonge and Bloor stations via moving walkways and a deep, graffiti-coated stairwell. I did not try the elevator.
A beautiful four-stop, orphaned Metro line runs far from the city centre, waiting to be connected to the rest of the network — but it could take a long time. Naples is old and much history lies beneath street level. I peered into a construction pit for the new downtown subway and men were sifting the near-black soil, pulling out shards of pottery.
Naples does have streetcars along the seafront, but service has been suspended. If the lines reopen, perhaps the authorities will have a way of keeping the city’s insane traffic from clogging the tracks.