The best thing about being in Italy is always the people and the food, and Naples was no exception. My team found a wonderful little bed-and-breakfast to stay at, and the people there couldn't have been more gracious and accommodating. In the evenings we'd walk down to Piazza Dante—so-named for the poet Dante, a statue of whom stands to one side of the square—and eat at one of many nearby restaurants. As we ate plateful after plateful of delicious food, washed down with equally fine wines, we'd people watch. The energy of the city is undeniable and electrifying.
By far the worst part of this assignment was the traffic in Naples. The sheer number of cars and scooters, each driven by someone who assumes he/she has the right of way, is overwhelming. The vehicles come at you from all angles, disregarding painted lines on the road—especially the scooters, which weave in and out, dodging cars. It's like you're in a video game, one that confronts you nonstop. One day, we were driving in a car, and a scooter came out of nowhere to cut us off. Aboard were a mother and three, yes, three, children. The youngest, a boy who couldn't have been more than four years old, held up his hand in the universal sign of "Stop, we're coming through." They learn young around here.
Visitors to Vesuvius are only allowed to climb to the crater's rim. But by special permit, my assistant and I were allowed to descend into the crater. A team of experts came along to show us around and take measurements. Vesuvius is an active volcano—it last erupted during World War II, so it is monitored closely to gauge when another eruption might occur. The crater walls are very steep, so we had to rappel down, taking only a minimum of equipment. Once at the bottom, I was surprised to see the amount of life in the caldera. It all seemed very surreal, at least to me. After we climbed out of the crater and were heading back down the volcano, our climbing guide told us that my assistant and I were the first two Americans to successfully make the trip into and out of Vesuvius.