Bella Napoli


Bella Napoli

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

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

The little street where we stayed

And of course there is laundry

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 scene

Pompeii scene

Pompeii mosaic floor that was still there

Pompeii  floor that was still there

Pompeii mosaic in museum

Pompeii mosaic in museum

Another Pompeii mosaic in museum

Pompeii fresco in museum

And another

And another

Yet another

And another mosaic

Part of the erotica room at the Napoli museum

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

Spaccanapoli from a hillside

Miniatures seem very popular here

Miniatures seem very popular here

Napolitano specialties store

Napolitano specialties store

Napoli specialties

Napoli  edible specialties

Mmmm - sweets!

Mmmm – sweets!

If it's not a pizza and it's not sweet - it's often fried

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 Napolitana

One of those wild Napolitane

The bar

The bar

Grappa for me, cuban rum for Karen

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

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

The funicular that we took

All is relatively serene up on the hill

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

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.

Wedding dress?!

Wedding dress?!

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4 Responses to “Bella Napoli”

  1. Marcia Nance Allen Says:

    I so agree with you about Pompeii. We were there three years ago, and not much worth seeing was really actually left in the ruins. The same thing was true of the Acropolis in Athens. Most of the “interesting” items had been moved into the Museum. I very much enjoy your travelogue!

    Marcia

  2. Joe Says:

    I’m glad that you like them Marcia. To tell you the truth I’m not too much of a museum, church, ruins kind of guy. I really prefer to stuff of everyday life; grocery stores, hardware stores, drugstores, buses, etc. I like the feel of life as lived wherever I am – even here in the states ;^)

    Joe

  3. Helen Says:

    Hi Joe – enjoyed your musings! You might have to publish a guide book someday. We are finishing a week in Lucca and then back to Paris to host my daughter and grand daughters. We have loved Lucca. Haven’t been here for nearly 20 years but, aside from fancier shops, it seems unchanged. Always nice to have a wall to protect you from ugly expansion. Hotter than H this week – high 80’s to 90. We have a great apt on a top floor w lovely views and windows, but we yearn for AC until about 11 when it cools down. Abby has been in the Lucca Italian School (LIS) all wk and loves it. She is doing wonderfully, conversing entirely in Italian w Italians. And the food is so wonderful! We took an amazing cooking class today and have profound admiration for anyone who makes their own pasta. Bet that includes you !

  4. Joe Says:

    Thanks Helen. I visited Lucca maybe 20 years ago and liked it. It’s small enough to see absolutely everything on foot, walking around the wall is certainly interesting and I suppose they still have a tree growing out of the top of a tower.

    Yes, making sheet pasta with a mattarello (that long rolling pin thingie)is quite an undertaking. I made it one time with Cesarina in Bologna (actually I did a blog post) but that’s it. I guess if you grow up with it it’s not so daunting but when I rarely make fresh pasta I use a machine.

    Obviously I’m WAY behind on blog posts since I’ve been back in California since the first of June. Oh well, better late than never.

    Joe

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