The city of Naples is gritty and rough and absolutely pure. I fondly keep referring to it as the Bronx on steroids. The place I stayed (and I'll go more into it in my next post) was down a little alleyway right off of the city centre and the Piazza Garibaldi. From the balcony you could hear the constant buzzing of daily life around you. Wait, did I say buzzing? I meant buzz saw! You've got people screaming to each other from across balconies or from their apartments down into the street, throwing dirty wash water off of their balconies without a care for who is below, a motor bike roars by and idols as a guy screams the most eloquent stream of Italian at a woman on her 5th floor balcony above. An old woman from across the alley drops a wicker basket by a string from her 3rd story balcony to an old man, who places a fresh raw fish into it before she hauls it back up hand over hand. Working girls are on the corner at 9AM sharp with their skin tight mini skirts and high heels trying to pick men up at the Cafe across the street, as a woman I assume is their madam looks on from her folding chair. The way they've mastered walking the cobblestone streets in 4-inch heels is astounding. Right around the corner there is a street market with all of the amazing foods you come to expect from Italy, fish, cheese, meats, and bread. The wine is sold in reused bottles with the labels scratched off for only €1.50, and it's good! As I walk down the street I pass this adorable little girl of maybe 7 or 8, and she yells "bella, bella, bella!" When I turn around she shoots me the most winning smile and then turns and runs to catch up with her mother. My heart melts. The men, and especially the old men, are overly affectionate but in most cases endearing. As I walk along the bay as the sun sets on my first day and as the heat of the day gives way to a cool dusk I am completely taken by my first view of Mt. Vesuvius looming big and beautiful across the water. There is music playing in one of the posh restaurants that line the water as I settle in with my €1.50 bottle of Peroni at a little cluster of street side vendors. The old man comes out from behind his stand to make sure I am comfortable and urges me to stay as long as I like, and I do stay, sipping my beer as I watch the sun dip behind Vesuvius and the first stars appear in the sky.
This is my first taste of Naples, and I am so happy to have experienced the true spirit of this city. Did I feel at all threatened or unsafe...not once!
If the above seems a bit too gritty for you consider this. Naples has the most churches of any other city on the world, and while I only saw 3 I'm sure they are all equally as stunning. It also has and underground city to explore and one of the greatest collections of artifacts in its National Archeology Museum.
The food is just out of this world; fresh seafood and homemade pasta and sauces and breads, and in case you didn't know, Naples is the home of the pizza. Let me tell you about the pizza! There is a place called Pizzaria Da Michele, which is featured in the book/movie Eat, Pray, Love and the pizza is to die for, literally the best thing you've ever put in your mouth! The crust is thin but soft, doughy, and perfectly savory. The sauce is fresh and thick, but also smooth and a touch sweet. They use cheese sparingly but it is also fresh and melty, and to top it off a sprig of basil is baked into the center of the pie. You only get two choices of pizza, marinara or margarita, and you don't order by the slice, full pies only. There is one brick oven and a handful of cooks filling the orders, shoveling pies in and out with precision. The facade of this place is so unassuming, but the word has gotten around and people literally line up for hours, and the place is always packed. I went two days in a row and I'm still thinking about making my way back to Naples even now for a third go.
So many people are warned not to stay in Naples, just to go for the day, grab a slice of pizza, hold onto your purse and leave before nightfall, but I hope this post goes viral and changes people's mind, because regardless of my horrific couchsurfing experience, which I will get into in my next post, I really enjoyed experiencing and exploring this city.