Day 1 – Friday 22 December
A Rome street scene.

The flight was Dublin – London – Rome – "all roads lead to Rome". Newspapers were reporting strict security after a series of bombings in Italian cities. In fact, just after I landed in Rome a bomb exploded at the offices of the left-wing newspaper Il Manifesto in the city centre. A severely injured man found at the scene, Andrea Insabato, turned out to be a member of an extreme right-wing group, Forza Nuova, and was arrested. Also in the city centre demonstrators were protesting the visit of the right-wing Austrian politician, Haider, to Italy.

Since it was raining heavily, with no signs of a break, it made sense not to hang around but to head straight down to Naples. The Termini station has been renovated for the Rome Jubilee year (2000), so there's now a half-mile walk between the airport train and the ticket hall – I pitied the elderly people, weighted down with luggage, struggling along this long stretch. The ticket hall was crowded with people, going and coming, being waved good-bye, being greeted and welcomed. Christmas is the busiest time of year, with all the trains crammed with people returning home – it's each man for himself in the fight to pile into the overcrowded trains. The first two trains to Naples were hopelessly packed, but I managed to get standing room in a train going to Calabria, along with several hundred boisterous soldiers on Christmas leave. In the packed corridor I was surrounded by group of teenagers from Palermo, with whom I chatted during the journey. Everyone was very friendly – but after checking my bags I found that a bottle of Scotch was missing. A feigned angry call on my mobile phone to the "big boys" in Naples ensured its swift return, with apologies from the lads for the scherzo (joke).

Rome street scene

Emergency services outside the Manifesto offices.

Il Manifesto bombing

Piazza Garibaldi

In Naples the rain was easing off as I emerged from the gloomy interior of the station into the casbah that is Piazza Garibaldi. Ahead of me two taxi drivers argued vociferously over a Japanese client, who gazed fearfully on – until he decided it might be quicker to walk. On the footpaths around the square and neighbouring streets African hawkers plied their wares, wizened bleached-blonde crones hawked contraband cigarettes, and sad-eyed South American prostitutes plodded their weary beat. From behind the nearby McDonald's window a group of garishly dressed young transvestites lingered over lipstick-stained cardboard cups of coffee. Keeping an eye open for the ever-present pickpockets, I made my way past the junkies and bag ladies to the Terminus Hotel (last building on the left in the photo). It costs a bit more than I would normally pay, but damn the expense – it was the end of the Millenium Year, after all!

Piazza Garibaldi

Vegetable transport at Porta Nolana

Porta Nolana

After unpacking I felt peckish, so I decided to pop around the corner to the Porta Nolana, an ancient gate in the city wall, for a snack. Not a difficult task, since there's a good selection of restaurants and pizzerias on this side of the Piazza. A lively area for street hawkers, now mainly Chinese, it was bustling with Christmas shoppers. However, it's not the most salubrious area in the city. As is often the case after a plane trip, I had a sore throat, so large quantities of lemon soda (what we call bitter lemon) were required to last for a few days.

Next day