Trip Start Aug 14, 2007
114Trip End May 23, 2008
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Before getting to Naples, the capital of the Italian south and our next and last stop in Italy, we had read that it was 'different', an utterly compelling city unlike anywhere else in the country. We had read that it was large, filthy, crime-ridden, and generally overbearing (don't worry, we made it out in one piece) and of course any guidebook will tell you that in all these things lies the city's 'charm' (ours did). We didn't heed much into it. After all, it's still Italy, right? Well, it may still be Italy in terms of geographical location, customs, language etc, but being here you have the feeling you could be, and should be, somewhere else. Somewhere, well... 'different'. Naples has everything we'd experienced in Italy so far - traffic, noise, people, dirt, graffiti - just here everything was exaggerated exponentially. All that aside, it also has two very good reasons for coming here, two reasons that easily allows you to overlook the 'different' aspect of the city; pizza and Pompeii. This is the birthplace of the worldwide phenomenon that is pizza and it's supposedly still the best place to try it. Pompeii, the ancient Roman city that was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD79, is a 40-minute train trip away around the bay of Naples. In light of those attractions we'd challenge anyone not to dive into the chaos that is Naples.
The Arrival & the escape
We arrived from Rome without any issue, the train trip being no different to our other pleasant Italian train experiences. But that's where the familiarities ended. We weren't long on the streets of Naples when we realised that things were indeed a bit 'different' here and that we'd have to keep a tighter grip on our bags on these streets. The areas surrounding most main train stations are usually more chaotic, more 'testing' (it's the same in most cities around the world). Well, here in Naples it was no different and it's typically the streets around the station, perhaps more so than any other part of the city, which puts people off Naples (first impressions, right?). The buildings aren't particularly distinguished, you'll be surrounded by street hawkers (mostly Africans owing to the growing African community in the area) selling anything from postcards to laptop computers (honest... "Sony VIAO Sir?") and you'll need all your wits about you to successfully negotiate the traffic. But the thing that immediately struck me, apart from the initial realisation about how different Naples is, was that maybe, just maybe, we had escaped the tourist trail. Yep, not a sign of flag-bearing, mic-wearing tour guide anywhere, and doubtful we'll be seeing one around here anytime soon. That folks was a very good feeling. So having finally managed, for now at least, to escape the gravitational pull of the tourist trail we plodded on through the throngs, managing to find our accommodation, but only after initially looking up and down the wrong street. My bad... sorry Meg.
We can pretty much sum up what we did for the 2 nights we stayed in Naples in less than 10 words. And that's exactly what we're going to do. This might even be the shortest paragraph we'll ever write in this Travelpod? So here goes - ate pizza, walked the streets and went to Pompeii. There, 9 words. Just like we said. Easy.
Day 22 to 24 Observations (September 4th to 6th 2007)
ˇ Weather different also
The day we arrived in Naples wasn't sunny. Shock, horror. It wasn't even warm. For some reason the sun had disappeared and the temperature had dropped a good few degrees, meaning Meg pulled her fleece out of the bag for the first time since we were in the Swiss Alps. We assumed the day was an anomaly and that the following day (the day we spent in Pompeii) would be warm, as warm as we'd expected it to be before arriving. But no... it seems like being on, or near, the coast, even this far south, changes things dramatically.
ˇ It could be Cuba
With the drop in temperature and general look of the city, Naples would be the last place we'd expect to see palm trees. But see them you will. Meg, displaying her well travelled past, says it reminds her of Cuba.
ˇ Wild East
So we've already said how Naples was different, and how we knew that before coming here. However, we never expected it to feel lawless, seedy and almost 3rd world like. Nor did we expect to encounter the sheer volumes of rubbish (garbage) we did on the streets. I'd never seen anything like it, even in places like India, China or South East Asia. It's as if the city services have been on strike for the past 20 years. Either that or the bin collectors died off with the Romans. You'll see bins on the streets alright, but you'd have a better chance of winning the lottery as finding one empty. You almost feel as if dropping litter is not only tolerated, but positively encouraged... not that we, the upstanding citizens of Mother Earth that we are, would ever do such a thing. If the speeding moped drivers don't hit you as they speed by, it's almost certain the swirling rubbish will.
There are stray dogs everywhere. It adds to the lawless, wild west feel of the place, and also means you have to watch your step, not just for cracks in the path (sidewalk).
ˇ Adds Character
We also commented in the last entry how Italians take parking to a new level. Well, that too is amplified here. But not only that, all cars here seem to have some sort of cosmetic defect, no doubt as a result of the reckless driving styles of Italians, again something that's taken to a new height here in Naples. Missing headlight, dented bumper, wing or door? No problem - adds character. How about a missing window, door or even boot (trunk)? No problem either, and nothing a roll of masking tape and a sturdy piece of cardboard won't fix... those who care for the look of their vehicle would use plastic, not cardboard, to replace a window and those who really care even paint the cardboard the same colour as the car itself when it's used to replace a missing panel. Classy.
ˇ Real Pizza
It goes without saying that the pizza here is amazing. There's always the chance that, in the home of pizza, one can expect too much and thus be disappointed with the reality. But not here. See the pictures for more.
ˇ No Outdoor Cafés
This is a common sight in the places we'd visited prior to getting to Naples. But trying to find one here will take you a while. We guess it's just not that sort of place, something that's plainly evident within minutes of arriving in the city.
ˇ Ghost Town
We went out at about 9:30pm to try to send a few e-mails home only to discover everything was closed. It's like the city hibernates when night falls. There's probably a good reason for that. Probably.
ˇ Knock, knock
When we arrived in the city and made our way to the B&B we had booked we discovered it uninhabited. Of course, having seen the streets of Naples on the way to the B&B all sorts of bad things were going through our head - they've run off with our deposit, they have our credit card details and maybe, the sign outside the door aside, they didn't exist at all. As it turned out they did exist, they just don't have staff onsite. Because we're so intelligent we managed to figure out what to do: we were to call the number posted on the door and inform whoever answered that we're in town. Having to do that without a word of Italian, or the desire to get acquainted with Italian payphones was, as you might imagine, rather inconvenient. So we came up with a plan and trudged back to the train station, asking the nice tourist information desk (thank God there was one) to call the number for us (didn't I say we were intelligent?). Shortly after we were in our room, wondering how a place like this is even in business operating such a way. BTW, doesn't 'B&B' mean 'Bed and Breakfast'? Obviously not in our B&B. While we got the bed part, the 'Breakfast is optional and costs €1.50 at a nearby café' signs posted in the B&B meant we started the mornings we had in the city at a café of our choosing, not one of our B&(optional)B's choosing.
ˇ Eyes off
Meg is getting quite a look from the Italian men, both on and off the street. It's something that has really only become noticeable here, off the well-worn tourist trail. The Italians are as obvious in their stares as they are unashamed. It has its benefits however - she got to see a 'behind the scenes' look at how pizza is made and it makes our café visits a bit more of an interesting experience as, the language barrier aside, we do get served quicker and always with a smile, a smile that is always replicated upon leaving... but only to Meg, of course.
Whatever Naples can be accused of being, expensive isn't one of them. €4.50 for a 'way-too-big-for-the-plate, made-there-and-then pizza' isn't bad. In fact it's great. And in Naples one gets the feeling the price of everything is gauged against pizza.
That's Italy folks. We spent yesterday, our second day here, visiting nearby Pompeii and we will, if you don't mind, dedicate a separate entry to that (it's next... and it's short, so don't worry, it won't keep you too long). But apart from that entry, the above observations and the pictures, that's all you'll be reading on Italy in this Travelogue (we are taking the train this afternoon to Bari on the west coast, from where we'll take the overnight ferry tonight to Durres, Albania). We've had a amazing time; we've seen so much graffiti, seen so many famous sights, works of art, ruins, masterpieces (be they buildings, painting or sculptures), pigeons, mopeds, litter, Smart cars, crazy parking scenarios, fellow tourists & Italians, visited so many churches, train stations, cafés and pharmacies, drank so much wine, so many cappuccinos and ate so much pizza, pasta & tiramisu that it's going to take a while, if at all, to forget Italy. And while, in our opinion, it may not be, picturesque wise, the 'il Bel Paese' (Beautiful Country) the Italians will tell you it is, its history, food and people will ensure we'll be back again... we might just be bringing ear plugs and soap with us however.