I did not fall in love with Naples. It was the scooter madness, the omnipresent cigarette smoke, the unreliable public transport and the general roughness and loudness of it. This is not to say that I would discourage anyone from vising and experiencing it for themselves. After all we all have different tastes. And judging by the amount of tourists and positive feedback you can find on internet, I just might be in the minority.
We went to Italy at the end of May for a long overdue holiday break. Since our ‘Big Trip’ we haven’t really gone anywhere – we were too busy relocating, finding jobs and buying our first house. It was time to go somewhere, to see something, to be a tourist.
Naples looked like a good spot – big enough city with plenty of options for if the weather wasn’t great and also a good base for day trips to the surrounding attractions.
The hotel we stayed in was a quirky little thing – one of those places that just isn’t great, yet you can’t complain about too many things, unless you’re really picky of course. We ended up with a bathroom that was disabled friendly, but in the process not very comfortable for others. But since it was clean I decided to overlook the other aspect. Besides we got our breakfast delivered to our room daily – always the same (sweet pastry, very strong coffee, hot chocolate, juice and a basket of little rusks with jams and butter) and always 10 minutes before the specified time. There was free wifi, but the signal didn’t penetrate the walls and could only be used in the common area or on the staircase. We switched on the tv only twice – on the first day to find out there was nothing to watch and on the day of the UEFA Champions League final. Good detox from media.
And it was only a short walk from the Centro Istorico and the main train/bus station, yet in a quiet enough alley off the busier streets, plus, plus and plus.
We did a good bit of walking, as we always do when faced with a new city. But is there a better way of discovering what the place is all about, then to go for a walk, with your map in a pocket (alternatively, for the younger or more technically advanced crowed, with a GPS in your phone), just in case you get totally lost and need to actually find your way back to the hotel? Because getting lost is very much recommended – taking a random turn into a random street to pass a woman hanging her washing or a man sitting by his window, with a cat on his lap, watching the world go by?
We didn’t visit any museums, catacombs, churches or galleries. We’ve researched ‘Things to do in Naples’ and a good few people recommended visiting some of them but what we tend to do is to read the reviews and then not do what most people say.
What we enjoyed the most was the walk along the waterfront, where the joggers and walkers don’t need to fear for their lives as moped traffic is not allowed. With magnificent Vesuvius on the horizon, noble tall buildings in the Santa Lucia district, charming Castle dell’Ovo and multitude of bars and restaurants tempting with cold Prosecco it really is a pleasant, relaxing stroll.
If you fancy bit of a climb up to the Castle Sant Elmo, you’d be rewarded with amazing views of the city and the bay. What’s more – you’d be able to soak it all in, in peace and quiet as this location doesn’t seem to be on most tourists’ agenda.
We also visited the Botanical Garden, which although quite far off the beaten track, was really quite nice – the cacti collection was truly amazing. And if that isn’t a quiet enough space for you (school trips do happen), then head for the Museo di Capodimonte – the surrounding gardens are perfectly manicured and very pleasantly quiet. The museum itself has quite a collection of artwork – including Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael and Botticelli to name just a few. And surprisingly no crowds.
Not that we strayed away from the famous Centro Istorico – in fact we went there every single day. Getting lost in those little alleys overhung with still dripping laundry is a must, just to emerge back on the busy Via Tribunali or San Biagio dei Librai where again you need to watch for those mad moped drivers! Another little alleyway you cannot possibly miss is Via Gregorio Armeno – it’s basically one ‘so – called’ souvenir shop after another, but good luck finding something you would like to bring home with you. It’s famous for its nativity scenes but you’ll find all sorts of rural life scenes of very tacky quality. Fascinating! The place is full of old buildings and many beautiful churches and you can’t walk a few paces without passing a little café, cosy trattoria or pizzeria or a gelato stand.
You have to eat pizza while in Naples – this is a law. Never in my life have I ordered a simple margherita before. But I did here and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact you can’t go wrong with any pizza in any place, although we have tried the fried calzone (from Di Mateo as recommended) and we were not impressed. But any other pizza and occasional pasta we had were simply amazing. For dessert or as a cool down snack we had the delicious Gelato and the prised selection in Gay Odin did not fail to excite our taste buds. I am not a chocolate flavour fan but I tried a few of their concoctions (chocolate with cinnamon and sacher torte) and got converted. So I would urge anyone to give them a go; but don’t neglect other flavours either – the pineapple sorbet was pretty spectacular too! And last but not least – the pastries! Pasticcerias are dotted all over the narrow streets with selection of all sorts of tempting sweets. The ones that you must try are Baba (it’s a spongy thing soaked in rum flavoured syrup – I found it ok, Geoff was done after one bite), Sfogliatelle (my favourite – crispy flaky pastry filled with sweet ricotta with a hint of apple and cinnamon – yum!) and Cannoli (it’s not typically Neapolitan sweet but Geoff’s favourite so I had to mention it too).
As I mentioned earlier Naples for us was a city break/base for other day trips. It has plenty of bus, train and ferry connections to many interesting and beautiful places around. Next post will be about where we went and what we saw (or not as the case might be)…