Beautiful Naples. A couple of years ago I met a guy in Bologna who was from the area of Naples. He was extremely proud of his area and proclaimed that Naples was the “piu’ bella citta’ nel mondo” the most beautiful city in the world. It became a running joke with us. I really couldn’t believe that it could compare with, say, Paris or Rome not to mention a bunch of other beautiful cities in the world. Karen and I had thought to take a little trip down to Palermo in Sicily, which I have visited before and enjoyed but talking to Italian friends (I’m no longer in touch with the “piu’ bella citta’” guy) I was convinced that Naples must really be special so we changed our plans and went there instead. You can take a high speed train from Bologna that takes a total of about 4 hours, hitting speeds as high as 300 km/hour (about 180 mph).
Well, I still dispute the piu’ bella statement but must say it is an interesting place. It is also dirty, chaotic, unruly and noisy. We stayed in an old part of the city not far from the Duomo (which just means cathedral and often refers to the principle church in an area). The streets were amazingly narrow, just room to walk in single file along the street (no sidewalk of course) and not be run over by a small car going down the same street. Obviously, being that narrow they are one-way but that certainly didn’t stop people on motor scooters from going in the wrong direction at a fairly fast rate of speed without a helmet and sometimes with a kid on the back. Welcome to Napoli where most rules don’t apply. Speaking of motor scooters, eating in a restaurant along a busy street (this one 4 lanes of nasty traffic) one evening there were scooters that avoided the traffic by simply taking to the sidewalk instead. What a crazy place. Crossing the street could present quite a challenge. We opted to just follow locals who seemed to think nothing of just walking across the street as traffic whizzed around them. This included an intrepid mother with a baby in a stroller who crossed the street in the midst of such traffic.
The little street where we stayed
And of course there is laundry
We did go to Pompeii one day. Karen liked it but I was unimpressed. To me it just looked like a city that was recently part of a war zone. A lot of crumbling ruins. Also I found that much if not most of the really interesting stuff – mosaics, wall paintings, etc. – had been moved to the Archeology Museum in Napoli where we could see it without being run over by tour groups while walking very irregular streets in sweltering heat.
Pompeii floor that was still there
Pompeii mosaic in museum
Pompeii fresco in museum
And another mosaic
Part of the erotica room at the Napoli museum
There is a pizzeria in Bologna called Spaccanapoli. I never understood the significance of the name until I visited Napoli. It is the name of a very long straight street (see the photo below) that “splits” (spacca) the city. There really was a lot of interesting stuff to see, stuff to eat and trinket to buy everywhere. And, of course, speaking of pizza, Napoli is the center of the universe for this dish. It is good and cheap. A friend in Bologna had told me that in Naples you just eat the pizza margherita – tomato sauce, good mozzarella (often buffalo milk mozzarella) and a few leaves of basil. A typical offering was 4 euros for a pizza which would definitely fill you up. That and another 4 for a beer and you’re set. And it is VERY good!
Spaccanapoli from a hillside
Miniatures seem very popular here
Napolitano specialties store
Napoli edible specialties
Mmmm – sweets!
If it’s not a pizza and it’s not sweet – it’s often fried
We also found a nice place to have a light dinner and a very atmospheric bar with, what else, grappa. Also a little cuban rum.
One of those wild Napolitane
Grappa for me, cuban rum for Karen
We did one thing that I tend not to do (sometimes I need Karen’s urging to get over my prejudices); we took one of those hop-on, hop off tourist bus tours of the city. Yes, they probably are overpriced, but Naples is a big city and we did go on two routes so we saw a large swath of it. We wouldn’t have had that opportunity just going it alone in the 4+ days that we were there.
Gulf of Napoli with Vesuvius – from tour bus
We also discovered, a bit belatedly the subway. That was great and I would advise any visitor to get lodging not too far from a subway station. It’s fast, reasonably economical and seems to go all over the place. We took it up into one of the hills and took a funicular back down. There are 3 or 4 funiculars and I’m not sure that the one we took was the best but still the contrast with the hill neighborhood was quite a contrast to the old city center where we stayed. It was quiet, clean and almost sedate – Bologna-ish.
The funicular that we took
All is relatively serene up on the hill
Just one other thing, I noticed that sometimes I could understand a word when people were having a conversation. In fact there was a group of maybe 20 something guys at dinner seated near us one night and it sounded almost like a slavic language (at least to my ear) . I asked the waiter and, yes, they were speaking Neapolitan which is more than just a dialect, it’s considered a separate language. Kind of a mashup of latin, spanish, french and god knows what else – everyone that has ever ruled that region.
So did I like Napoli? Well, not too much. Really too chaotic for me. If I want grimy and earthy I’ll take Palermo any day over Napoli. Am I glad I went? Sure, it was quite an experience and I only wish that I’d known more before I went to make better use of the time there since I don’t plan to go back any time soon. Still, I may dream about the pizza (and the spaghetti in clam sauce).
The best pizza is in Napoli
Oh, yes. One more thing. Often a lot of stores were grouped together. There would be a street with 8 or 10 shoe stores. Another with perhaps men’s clothes. Near the Duomo there were stores with everything wedding related: wedding gowns, shoes to match, men’s elegant wedding suits, florists and even a photographer. There was one wedding gown that seemed an “only in Napoli” thing.