It has been a while since I’ve posted and I’ve been meaning to recall my trip to Napoli. So here it goes:
I took a train from Rome to Naples (Napoli) around noon on Tuesday. I was so excited to get to use my new heavy duty backpack with all its pockets and cords. The train ride was only about an hour and a half, and upon approaching the station you could see Mt. Vesuvius in the distance. It was incredible.
I jumped on the metro for one stop and arrived at the center. My hostel was located a few streets away. I followed the directions until I arrived at a small side street lined with apartments. Scanning the numbers I couldn’t find the right one. I phoned Giovanni (hostel owner) who promptly appeared on a balcony about 100 feet away and called down to me. It led me to a large iron gate with a door bell. I was buzzed in and then climbed 5 flights of marble stairs through an apartment building that contained balconies on the inside littered with kids toys, furniture, and clothes lines. I came to a set of large steel doors where Giovanni greeted me while I sweated all over the floor. The humidity was unbearable and I had just walked about a mile in the heat with a 10 pound backpack. He noticed my condition right away and told me just a moment, and returned with a giant glass of water. He then invited me to sit with a couple from Turkey who had just arrived so that he could check us all in at once.
After an hour long info session about where to go, what to see and how to stay safe, Giovanni led me to my room. The hostel is an entire fourth floor apartment with two balconies that Giovanni has converted and installed 4 bathrooms as well. He runs it completely alone and has done so for 20+ years. The building’s structure was left over from ancient roman times and he even had pieces of roman ruins laying around in the hostel. He came in a short time later and asked if I was hungry. He presented with a plate of gnocchi and pesto.
The first thing I did was follow an Australian couple (25 & 26, teachers based in London) who had just arrived at the hostel, to Napoli Underground. On our way there, while looking like complete tourists with our maps and cameras out rushing down cobblestone side streets, the australian woman stumbled over a fallen stone pole used to separate the sidewalk and road. She fell flat on her face, and bloodied her hands and knees. After helping her stand up, she said she needed to sit down. Her boyfriend and I were standing by when a gaggle of shopowners, waiters and nosy old women came over to see. One man brought her a bottle of water, another woman began fussing over her cuts and a man who had been standing outside of what I assume was his restaurant in an apron and smoking a cigar came over with a bucket of water and linen napkins to help clean her up. They were asking me things in italian and talking to each other, while she looked completely embarrassed and insisted she was fine. Her boyfriend laughed and kept apologizing to me as I stood by with the bucket of water and trying to explain to the onlookers what happened in broken italian. It was like a scene from a movie. About 10 minutes later, she got up, and we thanked the 10 people that stood around. The boyfriend tried to pay the owner for the water and he refused and patted the woman on the back and said goodbye.
After our mishap, we went to Napoli underground which toured the remains from ancient rome that remained underneath the city. It also held wells for the town and later, served as bomb shelters. Napoli’s houses and buildings all nearly are built on or around the ruins, with one home whose wine cellar goes directly into the ancient theatre that is still intact.
Later that evening, I took a walk around the town and saw the massive churches that reside on nearly every corner, wandered through the side streets and made my way down to the historical center and the harbor and walked along the bay of naples.
The next day I awoke at 7 am and boarded the train at 8:15 for Pompeii.
For those of you that don’t know about this city, it was covered by the explosion of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD with ash. Only the rich were able to escape by boat, while the majority of the population was suffocated and then buried by the ash which was 25 meters thick. This caused everything that it covered to be encased and preserved until it was rediscovered and began being excavated in the 1700s. The ruins, mosaics, pottery and body cases are so tragically beautiful. I took a 2 hour guided tour that only covered about 25 percent of the entire town. About 60 percent is closed off due to it still being excavated. The streets are still in pristine (what would be pristine in 79 AD) condition. There is still a layer of ash that lies over them and the ruins. We toured houses, shops, baths, and brothels. It was surreal to be there as I’ve studied Pompeii and watched every documentary about it since the 7th grade.
After this, I took the train two stops to where Mt. Vesuvius was. On the way I met a New Zealand couple and a recent Princeton grad. We took to forming a group and spent the rest of the day together. We took a shuttle about halfway up the mountain and then hiked (see: died) 30 minutes to the top. It wasn’t as easy as the guide had promised. But it was worth it. Looking out over the bay of naples, pompeii and Capri in the distance was astounding and to be on top of such a destructive force was mind blowing.
That evening, I met another girl from Australia who was staying at my hostel. She was 20 and spending her holiday traveling Europe. We decided to get dinner down by the sea. We wandered till we came upon a castle that jetted out into the bay and was surrounded by all kinds of little restaurants and bars. We were greeted by an extremely friendly (and attractive) italian man who promised us free wine if we ate at his restaurant. I mean, how could you resist that? So we enjoyed a nice bottle of wine, and some real Napoleon pizza while next to a castle. We topped it off with some Nutella and Pistachio gelato on our walk home.
My last full day there was Thursday. I decided that I would go to the Isle of Capri (the island in the Odyssey where muses cause the ship to crash and Odysseus to remain there for multiple years.) As I was getting ready, Giovanni told me that a woman named Elizabeth was traveling to Capri that day as well if I wanted company. I found her and we headed off. Elizabeth was in her 60s, originally from France but was now a professor of Psychology outside of London. She was a widower with one grown son, and was currently taking care of a dying friend. She needed a weeks get away to keep her sanity and decided Napoli would be it. We got breakfast and headed to the pier while she told me about her travels. She had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, rode on a camel’s back through the Arabian desert for 10 days, held at knife point in India and once (at first unknowingly) had breakfast with Prince Harry in a hostel in Russia. She was a fascinating woman. We boarded the hour long ferry to Capri and talked some more. When we stepped off the ship onto the dock, the view was breathtaking. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so pretty in my entire life. The water was crystal blue, and colorful villas were stacked up the cliff side. We decided to take a 2 hour boat cruise around the island. The longboat held about 20 people. We whisked around the Isle, going under rock arches and into caves, and viewing castles that had been carved into the cliffs. The water was so clear you could see straight down to the bottom. Massive cruise ships and house boats cluttered around the island while people swam and lounged, taking in the islands beauty. We went to the opening of the Blue Grotto, a famous tourist attraction there, but the line was nearly an hour long wait in the hot sun. The driver of the boat said that his boat would be staying and waiting while the one that was near us would be heading back to port. Not wanting to waste what time we had waiting in line, we requested to get on the other boat, as did about 10 others. This was made possible by the two boats pulling directly against each other and people jumping from one boat to the next over a foot opening in the middle of the ocean. The people on the other boats were both confused and amused at watching us do this.
After arriving back to our port, we wandered around the beach side village and then climbed the 400 plus squares to the top where the main square was. This area overlooked the North side of Capri. It also was home to its own version of Rodeo Drive (which is why the island is known for being a playground for the rich). Gucci, Prada, Oscar De La Renta, Manolo Blahnik all lined the cobblestone streets.
We grabbed some street food (ham and potato sandwich, rice cakes, and lemon slushies) and then headed back to Napoli.
After a very long day, I decided all I wanted to do was grab a pizza and hang out on the giant porch at the hostel. My new Australian friend and I, headed down to a place called Di Matteos, which Giovanni claimed made the BEST Napoleon pizza and was registered with the Napoli Pizza Association (yes this is a real thing). We wandered around trying to find it till we came upon a corner shop with about 50 people waiting around outside. The front of the shop was a kitchen, with a giant woodburning oven and 5 italian men frantically running around. We obviously looked like lost tourists, and this man standing off to the side asked to help us. We just said we wanted two pizzas to go. He told us to follow him, and took us straight to the kitchen where he told them we wanted two pies. We asked if we were cutting and he said no, that the people standing around were waiting for tables and the wait was approx 2 hours at 9pm on a Thursday. It wasn’t 10 minutes later that two giant pizzas were handed to us for only 3 euros a piece. We took our pizzas and headed back to the hostel. We sat outside on the deck, listening to a italian music play from a bar down the street and ate the best pizza we’ve ever had. The next morning I headed back to Trevignano.
The last few weeks have been mild here. The usual: lake, movie, roam around town, eat at the restaurant. Two nights ago we went to a festival called San Fellippo. We parked on a side street, went up a hill through a bunch of apartments till we came to a clearing in the middle of a bunch of houses. There were about 400 people sitting around on picnic tables and under terraces, dancing, karaokeing, and chatting and tables set up filled with all you can eat pasta. Men were carrying around shots and bottle of tequila. Everything was so lively and exactly like you would imagine a festival in Italy to be like.
Italy has been so good to me. It is a completely different culture than what I am used to (completely open, laid back, very “free” if you will but still full of tradition and history) and I’ve loved every second of it.
It’s my last weekend here and I plan to enjoy it. Tuesday I am London bound. I’ll update when I get on the road. Ciao!PS: GO CATS!!!!! Kick some hilltopper butt tonight.