During our time in Naples I called back to the States and spoke with a relative who said “Naples, what are you doing there? It’s the worst city in Italy.” This person has never been to Italy, proving it’s worldwide reputation. While I have not been to all of Italy (or even close), I wouldn’t at all be surprised if it is the dirtiest and least-maintained city. It is, however, very old and full of history and delicious food.
We had a sneak peek at Naples on our way to Sorrento from Rome when we switched trains and walked between their respective stations. It appeared very dirty and falling apart. I had chalked that up to only having seen 2 blocks near the main train station, which is often a scruffy area in many cities. It turns out it was very indicative of the rest of city, however.
Upon our arrival from Sorrento we walked to our rented apartment from the main station through construction, trash and completely dilapidated, but bustling, shops, small restaurants, and apartments. It felt very un-touristy. It turns out the ubiquitous international double-decker tourist bus tours go down that street. The streets are all like that. Oops.
Upon arriving at our rented apartment, we were met by an awaiting host couple, about 70 years old. The husband luckily spoke about 15 words of English, his wife none.
Across the globe we we are usually met with young, hipster English-majors, so this was a big surprise.
Luckily he seemed to understand if I spoke Spanish alongside the 15 words of Italian I know (thanks Duolingo) and I managed to get the high-level gist of what he said in slow Italian along with some hand gestures. Normally talking to the host doesn’t much matter anyway. (Many places we never see a host).
We arrived at lunch time and found a place near us that had good reviews. What did we eat? Well pizza of course! Naples is the home of pizza and it did NOT disappoint. The hole in the wall (which did ask us to write a TripAdvisor review so not stuck in time 😉 was sublime. No it was divine. Adding to the ambiance were the local priests (3!) eating at a table across from us. Surely they know where to find the best food in town!
An added bonus is was that it was super cheap. Win.
The rest of the first night was uneventful, until about 10:30, when the power went out. Not the power in the city, or our block, or the building, it was just out in our apartment. The breakers were readily accessible but did nothing, until we managed to turn on lights to just our bedroom. Hmmm. It magically all worked in the morning so chalked it up to old building wiring.
But it happened again. I sent the owner a message (thanks google translate) and the couple came right over. After a systematic switching of many breakers and switches he narrowed it down to the hot water heater. (Remember now that we are communicating in Italian, which Steve and I don’t speak ;). We gather from him it is late Saturday afternoon so things are closed for the weekend and that he will try to sort out when he can. Well he comes back a bit later and proceeds to drain the hot water heater hung high up on the wall and replace the broken part, that he’s magically procured. His wife helped. Not sure how two old people were physically able to manage all that, nor how he got a replacement part. I’m not complaining, we had hot water and power the rest of our stay! Grazie!
So besides pizza, for which Naples is justifiably famous, the big sites are the old part of town “Centro storico”, the archeological museum, Pompeii (which we visited from Sorrento), and Herculaneum, another town buried at the same eruption.
We had recently discovered free walking tours from noted tourist and PBS host Rick Steves. We used this as a guide for a walking tour of the center, where we learned a lot. (We had used the app for Pompeii, St. Peter’s, the Vatican museums, and Pantheon, too). I highly recommend them for Europe and wished we’d discovered it earlier. Not only are they free (audioguides rarely are) but they are funny, and highly curated to keep it as “best of” which is particularly helpful with kids! Note they aren’t for young kids, (relevant) penis jokes abound in certain tours. For those curious of logistics, we all have headphones and phones (only 1 has regular cell service, though. Tours are downloadable for offline use). We probably look ridiculous walking around cities each with our own earphones though!
Another day we took the same train that goes to Sorrento and Pompeii, again (we are pros by now!) to Herculaneum, another town destroyed by Vesuvius. It is a smaller town, and less excavated, than Pompeii but generally better preserved for a variety of reasons. It can all be seen in a couple of hours.
It is also home of the very morbid set of remains at the boathouses. The theory is people ran to the waterfront to escape the gas and lava and died there, en masse. These boathouses are now about 1/2 mile from the water, also due to the eruption expanding land from lava/ash etc.
The last main site is the large archeological museum in Naples. It is home to the best frescoes and mosaics from Pompeii. The frescoes are a unique attraction as not many remain from that era, since they are so fragile.
So pairing the visit of the museum and Pompeii is ideal.
Overall I was surprised by Naples. It was more diverse than I predicted with many African and Muslim (North African) residents. It was indeed dingier than I had expected, even given its reputation. However it didn’t feel unsafe, though they say pickpocketing isn’t rare. Of course nor is it rare in Rome or Paris and it certainly seemed safe enough. The pizza dough, in particular, was amazing. I didn’t really think it would be that noticeably different than “good” pizza elsewhere. Hopefully they can clean up a bit, and bring in even more tourists to this interesting place.
And there ended our time in Italy. What a wonderful country. We definitely need to return to see Florence/Tuscany and Sicily some day (at minimum!).