A Summary of my Family’s trip to Naples, Italy in 2010. Photos, stories, and bucket list successes Summer 2010
Napoli, or “Naples” as us Americaners call it, was my least favorite city in Italy. Now, don’t get me wrong: I was in love with every single second of it. I just happened to like all the other places more. The city itself was very urban in comparison to Rome, Venice, or Florence. The buildings were packed tightly together, clotheslines draped between windows. Boys played soccer in alley ways and stray cats and dogs roamed the streets. I felt like I had been transported to the 1800s at some points, expecting to see children playing “stick and hoop”. Overall, it was beautiful. Tightly packed, but beautiful.
One of the biggest reasons I wouldn’t recommend staying in Naples for more than a few days is the haze. Of all the places I’ve gone, Naples is the haziest. Soon my trip to Hong Kong will surely change that, but for now Naples holds the record. The haze is truly a shame, since it makes it impossible to take decent pictures of the city, hence this post being relatively blank. With the haze comes an overwhelming scent of sulfur. This is not caused by pollution, but rather the volcano itself. So hey, beautiful scents of nature, right? It was slightly unpleasant, but not unbearable.
I wish I could have taken some better pictures of the city, though, because it really does look impressive: a sea of sprawling buildings with burnt orange shingle rooftops making a network of dots, all framed by the looming volcano in the background.
Museo Archeologico Nazional
Naples National Archeological Museum
In many of my accounts about my adventures in popular cities around the world, I tend to disregard museums or pass over their descriptions. Sometimes I’ll use statements like, “after a long exhausting walk through the museum of such-and-such.” Don’t get me wrong, I love museums. Being able to see famous pieces of art from around the world is terribly exciting, while equally being therapeutic. I’ve spent a day in the Smithsonian and ran through the corridors of The Louvre. I pride myself on the fact that, at one point in time, I was the closest person in the world to Botticelli’s “Birth Of Venus” in Florence. However, of all of the museums I’ve been to, none have had quite as nice of a vibe as Museo Archeologico Nazional.
It’s a bit hard to describe. I just have a very prominent memory of the way I felt walking through the halls of the museum. It was relatively empty, and sometimes we were the only ones in the rooms. Sunlight streamed through windows, and a woman dressed in simple clothing played a violin somewhere within the hallways. Whether she had been hired to perform, or had simply chosen this place to practice, I did not know. The casualness of the music added to the general mood. It held a certain magic of simplicity and age.
If you’ve ever been anywhere in Italy you know that the hustle and bustle of traffic seems insane compared to America. It’s shocking to see the tiny little smart cars darting through streets with road rage enough to match that of a monster truck driver. Even more (perspectively) reckless are the motorcycles and scooters (no helmets? gasp!). The crazy driving is like this everywhere I saw in Italy, but Naples took it to the next level. At one point, it was the hottest time of the day and we were sick of walking around museums so we just sat in a grassy area and watched a particular hectic intersection. It was as entertaining as any museum. The scariest thing to see was a family of three packed on a motorcycle, with a small daughter riding in the middle of her parents. Only the father had a helmet.
San Francesco Di Paola
We also visited the square in front of San Francesco Di Paola, and enjoyed the building’s shade as we watched pigeons peck between the cobblestones.
One of my favorite memories of Italy was in this square. It was a particularly hot, particularly humid day, and we had spent most of it walking through the city and perusing museums. Needless to say, we were all exhausted, and getting grumpier by the minute. Around 5:45pm, we were also terribly hungry. Unfortunately, dinner in Italy doesn’t start until late. While restaurants in America might open their doors at 4:00, many Italian restaurants won’t even begin prepping until 6:00 or 7:00pm. Even knowing this, we were hungry enough to ask the restaurant we had reservations at if we could come in early. No luck. Instead we popped in to the first food-selling place we could find: a little chain patissery with neon orange and blue walls. It looked a bit tacky, all things considered, but the little pastries behind the glass were beautiful and simple. My mom bought a pastry for my little brother: a ball of dough rolled in sugar and filled with a creamy filling I believe was ricotta cheese. The man working the cash register couldn’t speak much english, so really the only thing we communicated was to make sure nothing had potential nut contents. We grabbed some napkins and went back to the shade of the square.
The pastry was amazing. One of the best things I’ve ever tasted. I only had two bites, but I still remember it vividly. If anyone is reading my poor description of the mystery pastry and has some sort of idea as to what it is: PLEASE. ENLIGHTEN ME. I must find it again!
The Restaurant Where Pizza Was Invented
After wasting another half hour or so, entertaining each other by being grumpy and throwing around complaints, it was time to go to our reservations at…drumroll… the restaurant at which pizza was invented!
Now, let me clear this up before you start preaching at me telling me I’m wrong: Yes, early forms of pizza have been around since the dawn of civilization, with flatbread used as plates to hold various vegetables. However, the restaurant I’m talking about is the one that Queen Margherita of Savoy was presented with when she came to Napoli in 1889. According to the story, the queen was presented with three “pizzas” when she arrived at the restaurant: one of which had colors representing the Italian flag, basil for green, mozzarella for white, and tomatoes for red. She was so enthralled with the dish that it soon gained widespread popularity. Now almost every form of pizza has these three ingredients. The restaurant claims to still use the same pizza oven, which I believe, since the entire city of Naples seems to be using the same buildings and streets that were around during the Roman empire. We were seated in an outdoor patio as the sun made its final decent below the tops of the buildings. Initially, we were relieved, and we ordered our pizzas as soon as we caught sight of a waiter. However, the pizzas didn’t arrive until extremely late in the night (from our tired and hungry perspective).
The wait wasn’t terribly agonizing. The restaurant was snugly situated in between two rows of old buildings, and we could catch glimpses of the kitchen through the open door. We even had some entertainment! Two Italian musicians came by and took requests. At the time, I was part of a summer high school musical production of The Wizard Of Oz, so we had them play a modified instrumental version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” It was fantastic, and although I’m glad that I was experiencing it 100% in–the–moment, I wish I would have recorded it. Our pizza finally arrived, and it was the some of the best pizza we had the entire time we were in Italy. Bragging rights for having pizza where it was invented is definitely a plus, but I came away with a prominent memory of a long wait and rude waiters. All in all, I’m just glad I got to cross another item off my bucket list!
That brings me to my next topic:
Climbing Mount Vesuvius
This portion of our Naples stay made the trip worthwhile, and it was nice to spend an entire day away from the bustling city. Bucket list item? You bet! The picture at the top of the page depicts the road to the edge of the hiking trail. Making the drive (I believe we rented a van guide) was just as fun as the hike itself. The volcanic ash truly served its purpose as an effective fertilizer. Tomato vines and olive trees grew liberally across the hillsides. The area was green and lush, and the air smelled quintessentially of summer (mixed with sulfur…).
The mountain side was covered with a yellow-flowered tree. The guide told us this flower was a specie of ginestra, and it instantly became one of my favorite flowers. The floral scent was enough to cancel out a good portion of the sulfur, and the bright yellow petals surrounded us like runway lights as we headed toward our destination. Soon, though, we made it above the clouds, and the green gave way to dirt and rocks.
The closer to the summit, the cooler it became. Clouds danced through us and gave us a refreshing chill. Finally, we made it to the craggly top and got to see the steam rising from the vents
At the top, I purchased a little frog figurine made from lava rock. It still sits on my dresser today.
We also had an amazing opportunity to visit the pristinely preserved ancient city of Pompeii. The buildings and streets were exceedingly intact, especially compared to some of the other landmarks we had seen.
The people of Pompeii proved their excellent use of engineering to us long after their demise. Raised walkways allowed for easy transportation even in an event of a flood, and water fountains were designed to also give dogs a place to rehydrate.
We also got to see the pottery, statues, and bodies that were all preserved by the volcanic eruption
Overall, I’m glad I got to experience all that Napoli has to offer.