Naples … not everyone’s cup of tea!
Coming from the Amalfi Coast, Capri and Sorrento, I thought Naples was going to be a bit of a shock to the system and the city didn’t let me down one bit. Yes it’s dirty, it’s crowded, it’s loud and a bit too much in your face, but the energy and the history of the place left me intrigued and wanting a more.
My mom on the other hand, was not a fan. If we had come directly from Rome, it may have been a different experience, but coming from the beauty of the Amalfi Coast and the island of Capri, the roughness of Naples was too much of a change. Would she warm up to Naples by the time we left? We’d have to wait and see!
Introduction to Naples
We were staying in Naples for two days and two nights. The plan was to have two evenings wandering around the old city, with a full day split between visiting the Archeological Museum and Pompeii. We would then take a ferry to Ischia the following afternoon.
We arrived in Naples via the Girabaldi Train Station. The station is multi-level, with trains coming from Sorrento arriving at a lower level to the main station where trains arrive from the north, Rome and beyond. We were going to be taking the metro which was in another spot altogether. The giant train station was surprisingly easy to navigate, with lots of signs posted to lead the way. The ticket machines for the metro were some of the oldest looking and confusing ticket machines I’ve ever seen. Fortunately there was a small stand with a guy selling tickets so we bought a few from him. After four stops, we arrived at the Dante stop and Piazza Dante which had been taken over by an international food market selling everything from Dutch crepes, German beer and Mexican tacos. Quite the international welcome to Naples!
Come d’Incanto A Napoli B&B, our accommodation for the two nights, was a 5 minute walk through Via Port Alba (a pedestrian walkway lined with second hand booksellers) and then down Via S. Sebastiano, a narrow street with buildings four storeys high and lots of graffiti. This ‘style’ would be repeated throughout much of the old town. We’d only been walking in Naples for less than 10 minutes and the B&B was already a welcome relief from the craziness outside. The B&B host was molto italiana and didn’t speak any English. This was great for me since most people in the resort towns would revert to English so I didn’t get much of a chance to practice my Italiano.
Walking Tour of Naples
To get our bearings and to see some of Naples’ sights, we started off with Rick Steve’s Naples walking tour, starting outside the Naples Archaeological Museum just up the road from the B&B. The first stop was across the road at the Galleria Principe di Napoli. Back in the late 1800s, it was but as a shopping centre, but then Italy became a country, Naples money went North and the shopping centre was never properly used. With no shops open, it seems to be a popular hang out spot for teenagers and homeless people. We had only been on the walking tour for a couple minutes when a group of teenagers with skateboards thought it would be funny to roll one of their skateboards at us, hitting me in the back of the leg that left a pretty bad bruise and broke the skin. They ran off laughing, I tried to walk it off without yelling back at them (my Italian swear word vocabulary is pretty much non-existent). So far, Naples was not looking very good.
The walk had us passing through a number of piazzas including Piazza Bellini (complete with 5th century B.C. Greek ruins), through Porta d’Alba to Piazza Dante for the giant Dante statute and lots of book stores. Then onto Via Toledo, Naples grand shopping street, Piazza Sette Settembre and the first few streets of the Spanish District. The walk gave us the right amount of history and context for what we were seeing, but wasn’t over the top. I find Rick Steve’s walking tours the right mix of entertainment and information.
When in Naples one must try the pizza
At about 7pm, it was starting to get dark and the crowds were coming out. This was also the time we were walking along the narrow and very long street called Spaccanapoli (that actually goes by many names as you walk along it). It’s lined with shops, bars and is full of people, dogs and the ever-
present sight of overflowing rubbish bins. Eventually we made it through the herds of people and down a creepy looking street with the odd motorbike whizzing past us to arrive outside L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele, the pizzeria that’s been operating since 1870 and is rumoured to be the birthplace of pizza. It was also featured in Eat Pray Love (there’s memorabilia on the wall to prove it). You’ll know you’ve found it when you first see the crowds. The set up is quite simple once you figure it out. Find the guy with the tickets and get a number to get into the queue. Let him know if you’re taking away or want to sit inside. And then wait on the dirty sidewalk (we waited about 45 minutes). With only two types of pizza on offer (with or without cheese), it shouldn’t take too long to order. There’s also water, soft drinks and beer on offer. Cash only and most likely the cheapest meal you’ll have in Italy (ours was less than 20 euros for the two of us).
Was the pizza as amazing as I was expecting? Yes, I could quite easily eat the dough even without sauce (yes it’s that good) but I found the pizza to be quite watery. Was I unlucky? Quite possibly. Did I pretty much eat the whole thing? I got pretty darn close!
The walk back to the B&B was among the same narrow and crowded street and unbelievably, there were even more people this time. It was about this time the crowded streets, the noise, the barking dogs and the busyness all around us, got to my mom and she started feeling very anxious. The only thing I could do was pop into a small grocery store and buy some wine for when we’d get back to our B&B. I’d chosen the B&B because it has a rooftop garden terrace and I thought it could be our sanctuary in the busy city. Up there, the craziness of the Saturday night streets below were gone and we could enjoy a drink in peace.
Naples Archeological Museum
Though I’d wanted to visit Pompeii since I was in elementary school and learned about the city buried in the ash, when I found out that the treasures found at the site were displayed in a museum in Naples, I knew we couldn’t do one without the other. I don’t think the order you do the is important, but I was happy with the decision to see the museum first and then Pompeii second.
The museum was really mind blowing and one of the most impactful museum experiences I’ve ever had. To know the history of the artifacts, for the immaculate condition of a lot of the items on display, and to know they were preserved under meters of ash and rock for nearly 1800 years is tough to comprehend.
Of all the areas of the museum, the mosaics were my personal favourite. The largest piece on display (part of it is shown below) has over one million tiny piece of stone to recreate a pretty epic battle scene. Absolutely incredible! How rich would this family have been to afford such a work of art?!
Though not a mosaic, this picture really caught my attention since it showed Vesuvius back before the top was blown off, covering the towns below. For all those years people were living in the shadow of the volcano, never imagining what was going to happen in 79 AD.
The Archaeological Museum was definitely worth going to see, especially when combined with a visit to Pompeii. Since it’s on the metro line, it’s fairly easy to get to from the train station. We spent about three hours, arriving at the blissfully quiet time of 9am.
Day trip to Pompeii
I’ve written about our afternoon in Pompeii in a separate post (to come).
Second evening in Naples
After a big afternoon at Pompeii, we didn’t go far to find some dinner, settling on O’Munaciello on Piazza del Gesù Nuovo. The service wasn’t great, the food took awhile to arrive but the were very generous with their wine! This is a glass of white compared to my beer!
I had a calzone, which is basically a full piazza flipped over to make a half moon shape. I figured after all the walking during the day, I deserved a calzone bigger than my head. And of course a beer (or two).
Wandering Naples’ Streets Take Two
We had one last morning in Naples and I was going to take the chance to explore a bit more of the Spanish District and the waterfront area. Maybe I could convince mom that Naples wasn’t the big, bad scary place we had seen the first night.
It didn’t hurt that our last chance to wander Naples happened to be a Monday and early morning which brought on a completely different feel compared to a bustling Saturday night during a long weekend.
We walked through the Pignasecca Market, a street lined with fish, vegetables and even a tripe shop. I had a fun chat with one of the men running a fruit shop and we had our picture taken together. Great fun when I asked him if the other lady in the shop was his wife and he said she wasn’t his wife, she was at home. This lady was his girlfriend!
The Spanish District is the Naples you see in movies, with the buildings rising up five storeys on both sides. The roads are very narrow, since the street plan is reminiscent of the Spanish Barracks dating back in the 1600s. Yes, there were kids riding scooters a bit too close for comfort, and it was a bit dark even in the middle of the day, but it didn’t feel unsafe. More so a bit claustrophobic with the high walls on each side.
Moving away from the grittiness, we headed towards the waterfront, and the famed Gran Caffè Gambrinus. As much as I would have loved sipping on a coffee or even better, a prosecco all afternoon watching the world pass by in the street side alfresco area, we had to keep moving to catch the ferry in the afternoon.
While in the area, we quickly walked through Piazza del Plebiscito, Palazzo Reale, Galleria Umberto I and Castel Nuovo (the new castle – though there’s nothing new looking about it). This whole areas was a stark contrast to the older area of town. It was pretty obvious a few cruise ships must have recently docked, given the number of vaguely confused looking tourists wandering around aimlessly in the area. This was also about the time when mom said “Naples can be pretty!”. The turquoise water, pretty scenery and pretty cafes tends to help.
With our whirlwind trip to the Piazza del Plebiscito area complete, it was a quick metro ride back to our B&B and then back down to the waterfront to catch a ferry over to Ischia.
By the time we left Naples did my mom like Naples? I like to think it grew on her a bit. Would she go back? Not any time soon. She has a long list of favourites throughout the country to visit first!