Naples – It’s More Than Meets The Eye

Next stop Napoli!

It’s reputation precedes it. So many stories to tell, lots that are negative and some that are positive. I always think you should decide for yourself, because quite often low expectations yield rewards; the only way is up!

We chose to catch the train from Spoleto back to Rome, then on to Naples, which has the largest historic centre in Europe and is also one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Culinary wise the city is synonymous with Pizza, because it’s here it was born!

Naples is also home to some of the most amazing art and sculpture.

Churches, dingy on the outside shelter magnificent mosaics, fabulous frescoes and stunning sculpture. The Bay of Naples and along the Amalfi Coast of Campania where its sited has a long and eventful history.

Cultural treasures abound and we are looking forward to seeing Pompeii, Herculaneum and also the seaside town of Positano, where houses cling perilously to the cliffs.

A great find was a brand new train station at Rome called Tiburtina, just one stop from Termini. How the trains look here certainly lives up to a deserving Italian reputation for being at the forefront of wizz ban design.

Here a privately owned, high speed train runs from Milan to Naples about six times a day. Booking ahead we saved around 40 euro each on our fares!

It was perfect! Just one tip, the station being so new had only one tabbacchi (on writing this) and the food was no great shakes. Grab a panini before you get there. Why do you need a tabbachi (tobacco shop)? It is a very important place for tourists in Italy, it is where you go to purchase tickets.

Our train was clean, comfortable (even free wifi) and had very helpful conductors who all speak English. About 1 hour 5 min later we were pulling into Napoli Centrale. This station is very large, and yes, dodgy (like a lot of central stations around the world), but be sure to have a plan before getting off, like knowing the direction you are going in, will hold you in good stead. Do try hard not to look like a hapless tourist, which almost guarantees you as a moving target!

We had an apartment booked in the old town through AirBnB. It was an easy walk from the station, so no taxi for us. Marco, our host, was there waiting. I must admit to being a little concerned with security, but I needn’t have worried. The place was like Fort Knox! Marco gave us lots of tips on what to see and do, and a great restaurant for dinner. After we settled in it was time to explore!

The Museo Cappella Sansevero located in Via Francesco De Sanctis, Napoli,  houses some of the most beautiful marble work I have ever seen. The sculpture of  “The Veiled Christ” is truly breathtaking, words failed. I cannot really describe the beauty of this work so I asked Carolyn would she please write it up in her new piece about famous works of Sculpture.

I can well understand the mixed feelings people have about this city. In many places it is dark and dirty, with rubbish strewn though out the streets, but scratch the surface and discover the heart of gold beating within.

Yes you have to have your wits about you, but that is the case in most big cities I have traveled too. The people are brash, but mostly friendly and definitely hot blooded, but that’s Italy! Some of the cheapest and best food is to be had in Naples.  Birthplace of the pizza, Margherita being the first style conceived, I would insist that it has to be tried. On the recommendation of our host, we ate at “I Decumani” on Via Tribunali.

We chose a Margherita (what else) and a “Bella Napoli”. The former mozzarella, tomato and basil, the colours of the Italian flag. The latter was topped with tomato,mozzarella and provolone cheeses, rocket and proscuttio crudo, crudo meaning raw. This is the ham that most of us are used to seeing on an anti pasta plate and proscuttio cotto (meaning cooked) is the style we would add to a ham sandwich. Two beers and 1/2 bottle of local vino Rossi (red wine), and at 23 euro for two, we were more than satisfied. My happy hubby declared it THE best pizza he had ever eaten, and let me tell you he is a connoisseur! Content, we both sauntered home feeling the spell of Napoli falling over us.

Next morning it was off to Pompeii and Herculaneum. This is easily achieved by train from Naples Centrale.

Just look for the “Circumvesuviana” to Pompeii and buy a return ticket. This will get you to both sites.

It takes around 30 mins to get there. After alighting the train, don’t be fooled by the “ticket office” and touts you will immediately see. Continue on and you will find the official entrance. A ticket for both sites is easy and will save money (if you want to visit them both ).

If you wish to have a guided tour in a group, just look for the guides wearing the official lariettes. Or if like us, you like to wander at your own pace, grab a free map and rent and audio guide for around 6.50 euro. You will need photo ID for this.

Pompeii is on a grand scale, where Herculaneum is smaller and better preserved.

We both agreed that we enjoyed Herculaneum far more than Pompeii, which was quite a surprise. Still, to be standing on either spot where, in AD 79 one of the worlds worst natural disasters occurred, is completely mind-blowing.

I couldn’t help but draw parallels, there we were, swarms of tourists milling around the MAIN SQUARE, just as the ancient Roman citizens would have done! Life doesn’t change much! They certainly enjoyed their take away food from the corner shop just like we do. Romans have been ‘eating out’ for a long time.

We caught the train to Ercolano, which is the modern town built basically on top of ancient Herculaneum, which has caused a great many problems with excavating the site. There is a tour office just outside the station, that will drop you for 3 euro return.

They also take groups up to Mount Vesuvius. The mighty volcano stands silent, keeping a watchful eye over the region. It last erupted in 1944 and so it makes you wonder when it will awaken next, hopefully when you are not there or climbing up its face!

Another tip, the tour operators will tell you it will be a hour between buses, when in fact they just wait till they have enough punters to fill the seats. So if there are a few people waiting you will find that you leave sooner. Also, the walk up to the crater itself shuts at 5pm, but they will still sell you a ticket at say 4pm. This means you can only get to the carpark and that’s about it, so be warned of impending disaster!!!

It was lucky we looked it up and didn’t get caught out! Unfortunately it also meant that we weren’t able to climb the mighty monster itself.

One more thing to note, Naples basically shuts down on a Sunday (church anyone?). We hadn’t realized Italians still observe a holiday on the sabbath. It was a little tricky finding a good restaurant for dinner.

On the whole we found Naples to be fascinating city. Maybe it is not for everyone, but certainly for me!

Jo Bayley
Fashion Editor The Culture Concept Circle 2012

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