Vedi Napoli e poi mouri! (See Naples and die!) remarks the old Italian proverb, in atypical dramatic fashion. HOT, filthy, noisy, sultry, chaotic, HOT, intense, pulsating, vivacious; a blast for all your senses, but never dull! Naples is the gateway to so many fascinating and beautiful places that for that reason I find myself drawn here time and time again, each time with a nervous dual sense of anticipation and excitement. This time round I think I finally identified what it is that stresses me out most about the city. Not the reckless drivers, dodgy tassistas, real or perceived threat of crime, the piles of rubbish stacked up on the streets, wonky trip-inducing pavements, or even the huge menacing and all too omipresent Vesuvio lurking intimidatingly across the bay. Nope. The thing that really irks me is the constant, deafening and anxiety-provoking noise. From the main thoroughfare of the congested Via Toledo (which makes London’s Oxford Street feel like a stroll in the Cotswolds) to the side alleys frequented by raging scooters and the shouting of neighbours (Neopolitans are like their former Spanish rulers – they can’t just talk, they shout!), you’d be hard pressed to get a moment’s peace and relaxation in this city. Still, the upside to all this is the lack of tourists and good value for money – even in peak season you can visit some fascinating cultural and historial sights and experience these almost to yourself.
I arrived in Naples in the evening and stayed in a local Air B&B. After being dumped by a taxi driver in an unfamiliar non- too salubrious looking neighbourhood, I found my way to the narrow alley where my apartment was located with the help of some friendly, helpful neighbours (thank goodness I speak some Italian!) I was relieved to get inside my apartment, which was surprisingly spacious, light and very homely with a large terrace and filled with interesting artifacts. The owner was on vacation and her neighbour, a friendly Ukrainian lady, gave me the grand tour all in Italian before engaging in some chit-chat and then, it being late, I retreated to bed. I was called out of my room again just before midnight to translate for another late-arriving English guest who’d also battled to find the place, but I really didn’t mind as my room backed on to a back-alleyway frequented by insanely noisy mopeds, so it really was impossible to get any sleep in any event. In fact, whilst I lay awake listening to the roar, it occurred to me whether anyone actually had to go to work on a Friday morning in this city!
Terraza at my Air B&B, Naples
Naples doesn’t feel like being in a European city; gritty, working class, superstitious and and sometimes a tad sinister, it feels too otherwordly to be of the developed world. The vivacity and pace of life here is like a strong hit of adrenelin – stress-invoking, disorientating yet midly intoxicating. It couldn’t be further from the elegant, picture-perfect streets of Rome or the opulent sophistication of Firenze. It’s the black sheep of the family – defiant and rebellious, a real wild child! Like a exotic stranger with beautiful striking features but uncouth and unrefined – you’re not sure if you want to get involved, yet can’t quite stop yourself from having a dabble. I’m keen to neither discredit or, on the other hand, glamorise this city, as despite encompassing such a fascinating concoction of rich culture and heritage, the modern city is beset with issues that are extremely frustrating, as a fellow European citizen, to witness. The effect of corruption and evident lack of funding into basic infrastructure we take for granted can be seen everywhere – from the state of the roads and pavements, to rubbish piling up in the streets and the visible poverty seen down many of the side streets. Italy is one of the richest countries in the world with some of its greatest cities – you can’t help but think that it just isn’t good enough, that the people of this city deserve better, and wonder why on earth people aren’t out protesting in the street about it all. I guess it’s something that as a Brit is difficult to fully understand and accept – corruption is so entrenched here and what difference does protest make in a place where even people who should have the power to change things are desempowered?
Neopolitans, like many who’ve struggled with adversity, are seriously proud people – I’ve heard several times over the years the very same thing from the people I’ve met in Campania; There are three great romantic cities in the world – Paris, Rome and Naples. The first time I heard this my reaction was how odd! Who would put Paris and Naples in the same league? Whilst it probably would not feature in most people’s list of romantic destinations, it is testament to how passionate the natives here feel about their city despite all its evident shortcomings. The more you see of Naples though, the more beauty you find concealed amidst the chaos, and the more you understand how easy it is to fall under its unconventional and beguiling spell. It might lack the conventional beauty of a city like Paris, but it makes up for it with an abundance of vitality and spirit. Not forgetting, of course, the distinguishable panoramic beauty looking out towards the glistening blue sea, the sleeping beauty of Vesuvio, and the dreamy islands of Procida, Ischia and Capri.
Naples has some fantastic things to see and I’ve barely touched the surface of what it has to offer. The National Archeological Museum is one of the best museums I’ve visited featuring many original pieces of art and artefacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum as well as the (in)famous “Gabinetto Segreto”, a room exhibiting of some of the more risque collections found during the excavation of these two towns destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius back in 79AD, previously locked away and not opened to the public until 2000. On this occasion, however, upon a personal recommendation, I visited the Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) and what a gem of a find that was -a palace on par with some of Europe’s finest and barely a soul to be seen inside even in peak season! Unfortunately the gardens were under construction (yes, no peace to be had here even in an empty palace!) but the palace was a real steal at just 4 Euros. Here are some snaps.
The Palazzo Reale looks out on to Piazza Plebiscito
Another really enjoyable way to spend my day was taking the funicular train up to Vomero, one of the city’s upmarket hilltop neighbourhoods, and visiting Castel Sant’Elmo. My, what a delight walking the graceful tree-lined streets of this district when contrasted with the noise and congestion down town! Castel Sant’Elmo overlooks the whole city and I was gifted with some fantastic views. It was a relaxing trip with only about a dozen or so visitors at the top.
Perfect weather, great view, no wonder I’m smiling! Me and the mightly Vesuvio lurking in the background.
Panorama of the city
Some shots taken back downtown in the Quartieri Spagnoli (Spanish Quarter),a rather run down looking part of the city with lots of narrow alleyways brightly decorated with flags.
This final photo is a picture of the famous Pulcinella, found in the historic quarter of the city (a UNESCO heritage site and well worth checking out). He is a classical character that originated in the commedia dell’arte of the 17th century and became a famous character in Neapolitan puppetry. I thoroughly recommend you check out here this traditional Neopolitan folk tune about the character (in local dialect of course!).
I only stayed in Naples one day and two nights before catching a boat to the stunning volcanic island of Ischia (hey, it’s summer, and far too hot to stay in the city long!), and that will be the destination of my next post. Arrivederci!