Water, water everywhere…

Tiber, Rome – copyright Time Life magazine archive

…but not a chance of a swim. Oh the joys of travelling in the Covid era, on the down side antigen tests, endless PLO forms (passenger locator bumph), rigorous masking on public transport. On the plus side the almost divine lack of crowds visiting some of humanities greatest creations – the Grand Canal in Venice (crossing the Rialto bridge without being trampled), Michelangelo’s David in Florence, the Colosseum in Rome, the excavations of a baking Pompeii. I was however unable to achieve my objective of swimming in the waterways that flow through these cities, every time I ventured to the shore with my cap and goggles I was brusquely told – niente nuoto qui! Except of course in Naples where I had to pay for the privilege – 10€ to access the beach and a lifeguard to keep me safe.

On reflection in Venice I would have been chopped to pieces by one of the scything water taxis as they course up and down the waterways, in Florence I would undoubtedly have caught some bilious disease and the Tiber whose current is famously precarious may have sucked me down in to it’s murky green depths. Rome’s watercourse of course gets its name from Tiberinus Silvius who unhappily gave not just his name but his life to the river as the first ever recorded drowning. Not wishing to emulate the King of Alba Longa I desisted from adding to the statistics but later that evening marvelled on Youtube at the only sanctioned swim (more of a dive and a fast drift) that every New Year’s day takes place from the Cavour bridge.

68 year old Maurizio Pullmani taking the dive (love the shoes!) on 1st. January 2021. “”With the passing of the years the height becomes bigger and bigger – explains Palmulli – But for me it is always the same beautiful emotion: the adrenaline lasts for days and that enthusiasm recharges me”. Photo credit: Fabio Novelli

Naples, the grungiest and liveliest of the cities we visited finally afforded me the chance of a swim. Catching the no.151 bus from the Piazza de la Cavaliere followed by the no.40 we alighted near the semi ruins of the Palazzo Donn’Anna which is best seen off shore from the grey sand beach. Originally built by the magnificently named Dragonetto Bonifacio the cycle of owners and abandoners since the 15th. century has left left this proud building in a semi ruinous state, housing a hotel at the grand seaward end and cavernous halls open to the skies at the landward end. It seems all the beaches along the Naples shoreline are speculative, there is either a man with a stripy umbrella at the head of the stairs asking you for whatever he thinks you’re worth (don’t wear your finest Dolce & Gabanna to the beach) or you must swim or canoe to the many coves that have no access from the cliffs above. My almost 2km. swim took me past tiny inlets with amorous couples hoping for some peace and quiet; a vast smart villa cut in to the rocks; a smugglers cave tall enough to let in a dinghy with its mast fully upright and inexplicably a young guy swimming along with his motorbike helmet on while desperately holding aloft a pizza box with a couple of beers sitting on top of it. Whether he made it to the huge rock he was evidently aiming for I’ve no idea, having left the kids on their own I had to swim back. I hope he made it, he deserved the beer and a dry pizza for the sheer audacity of it.

Finally a swim! 1,800 metres from Bagno Elena beach.

More swimming adventures hereSwimming the Great River