We spent four days in Naples as the starting point for our two weeks in Italy, and were almost about to skip it altogether. If your future plans include a trip to southern Italy, whatever you do - don't skip Naples. It is worth every moment you have.
Our flight into Naples, Italy flew from Dulles in Washington DC to Munich, Germany, landing in Munich airport at 7:30am, leaving us with over an hour to kill before our connection to Naples. We should have followed the lead of almost everyone there and had a liter of beer with our breakfast, but I would have passed out before the day started! Munich has to be one of the cleanest airports I've been in, and the smoking lounges sponsored by Winston and Camel are, uh, interesting. Beer and cigarettes? We're not in the US anymore, Dorothy.
Our connecting flight into Naples flew right over the Alps which was spectacular, and then into the warmth and green of Naples flying right over Mt. Vesuvius! It was a special feeling flying in. I thought of how my family started their journey a hundred years ago by leaving Naples, on the steam ship Madonna. I wonder if they ever thought about their future generations ever coming back.
Our hotel, the Grand Vesuvio, sat right on the Bay of Naples overlooking the Castle d'Ovo in the Santa Lucia neighborhood. Though it sits on the water, the hotel is very centrally located to several historic piazzas, and other historic monuments, catherdrals, and museums are within easy walking distance.
The stately Grand Vesuvius is well appointed yet approachable, and the staff were extremely knowledgable and helpful in rounding out our travel plans. We settled in, then went for lunch for our first pizza Margarita and a bottle of chianti at Ettore restaurant.
After an afternoon of light sightseeing and dozens of ‘laundry on balconies’ photos, we stopped for espresso at the historic Gran Caffé Gambrinus, then came back for a three hour nap.
DInner tonight was at Antonio e Antonio - homemade fusilli with fresh cherry tomatoes and basil, and our first homemade limoncello. I think we gave Nino the best tip he had all night, which led to a second limoncello on the house. So far, I love Naples! It's unpolished and not at all manicured, which I love. And if the food is any indication of what Naples and Italy has to offer, this is going to be a great trip.
Lots of activity today and my feet were killing me. So much was going on in the streets and neighborhoods of Naples, and it didn't slow down...and still going strong at midnight!
A few highlights of the day - the Duomo, the Museo Cappella Sansevero, the Naples Archeological Museum, and we still managed to squeeze in a late pizza at Pizzeria Da Michele (if you remember, this was the place Julia Roberts ate her pizza in Eat Pray Love, and renounced any guilt she was feeling about her "muffin top"). She was right. Not only was the pizza the absolute best I’ve ever eaten - EVER - but I would gladly buy bigger jeans to accommodate the extra pizza pounds. We waited an hour for the pizza, thankfully beating the tour group of women right behind us, who I believe were doing their own Eat Pray Love tour. The pizza was absolute perfection.
A side note about the pizza:
Neapolitan pizza is unique to Naples. Virtually a food group all its own, pizza is one of those subjects of great debate, like the Philly cheesesteak, Canon vs. Nikon, you know what I mean…everyone thinks their guy is the best. But here’s what makes the Neapolitan pizza so special, and in my opinion, pizza as it should be. Far different from pizza you get in the US or elsewhere, the star of the Naples pizza is in fact, the dough. It is always wood fired, with the crust light in texture and beautifully oven-toasted. The center is slightly gooey, and oh so tomato-y, like a pillowy wet blanket of soft dough and sauce. Generally, there are no ’toppings’ other than a good red sauce, a few thin slices or shreds of mozzarella (but it doesn’t cover the entire pizza), and two or three fresh basil leaves, left whole and melted into the sauce. Hungry yet? Finally, it’s not sliced up in eight even pie slices. It’s not sliced at all! You have your own pie, and dive in with a fork and a knife. At Pizzeria da Michele, there are two kinds of pizza - Margherita and Marinara - blissfully washed down with a Coke, Fanta, or bolttle of cold beer. It’s the original standard for the current hip foodie mantra that simple food with fresh ingredients is all it takes to be great food.
I've never seen antiquities and artifacts like those I saw in Italy, that date back to the 1st century. Our visit to the Museo Cappella Sansevero where the "Veiled Christ" lay, was one of the most spectacular sculptures I've ever seen. The sculpture, depicting the body of Christ under a thin veil or shroud draped over his entire body, was carved from a single piece of marble. So beautiful and delicate, the statue retains it's original 18th century patina. The Museo is tucked down a narrow side street in a residential neighborhood, the exterior looking just as likely to house a corner grocery market as this priceless piece of art. Download a map from the internet ahead of time to help with finding it, but locals will steer you in the right direction in case you get lost.
One good museum deserves another, and we headed to the Naples Archeological Museum for the next round of history. Much of the artwork here includes mosaics and artwork excavated from Pompeii, and this is a Must See on your trip to Naples. Try and get in to see the "Secret Room", the erotic artwork that was uncovered from Pompeii and Herculaneum in the early 19th century!
Dinner that night was seafood pasta, fried zucchini flowers, and more wine and limoncello. The seafront was alive with locals partying, lovers simultaneously arguing and kissing, single women parading their hot new fashions, and little kids running around playing futbol (soccer), at midnight!
It's disappointing to think how many people recommended we not spend time in Naples. "It's dangerous”, “watch out for pickpockets”, “hide your jewelry”, “roving gangs of thieves are everywhere!"
I'm so glad we didn't give in to fear and decided to linger for a while, because we honestly felt very safe, even with a backpack full of camera equipment on me the entire time. I even carried my large camera openly, and though I felt people watching me take photos, I never once felt threatened or self-conscious. Granted, we stayed mainly in the historic district near Santa Lucia and Piazza del Plebiscito, but our days found us wandering the streets far from our starting point, off the beaten path a bit to see the good stuff.
If you're looking for an authentic slice of everyday Italian life, don't count out Naples. As more than one local proudly told us in the few days we were there, "southern Italy is the real Italy".