Monthly Archives: February 2017

Naples Part 2: Top 10 Things to Do

Buongiorno!

There are so many other things in Naples that I would love to have seen had I had more time. I definitely want to go back. There’s a whole world below the streets of Naples that I would have liked to explore – catacombs and caves. I only touched the surface as it were! If you’ve been to Naples and got any thoughts on what to see next, please do drop me a line in the comments below. Meanwhile, my top 10 favourite things to do are:

1. Sunset walk from Castel dell’Ovo (Castle of the Egg! More on that below) to Mergellina  (a coastal suburb) along the sea-front. Naples has a very Mediterranean coastline with beige, orangey and pinky buildings that, from a distance, seem to grow out of the sea. From Mergellina you can see lots of Naples, Castel dell’Ova and Vesuvius all bathed in a warm glow. There are lots of cats roaming about the marina here – presumably the fisherman let them have a few fish when they come in. Someone had even built them a little house on the rocks.

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Look at this cat box in Mergellina 🙂

2. Check-out Castel dell’Ovo. Legend has it the great Roman poet Virgil put an egg into the foundations – if it breaks, disaster will strike. Now the castle is used as offices and exhibition halls but it still has it’s old charm.  It’s free and interesting to wander around. It’s set on a little islet, connected to the seafront by a bridge. At the base of the castle there’s a collection of nice looking  restaurants facing onto the harbour. There are some nice views when you get to the top. This month there is a contemporary art exhibition by Lello Bavenni – it wasn’t ‘my cup of tea’ but it’s free and it’s set in a cave which is always good!

3. Get lost in the area called Santa Lucia to the left of Via Toledo (one of the main shopping streets in Naples). It’s maze of streets are interesting to walk around during the day and you get the feeling this is the ‘real’ Naples. In the evening it’s positively bustling and full of places to have an aperitivo. If you keep walking up as high as you can go, you get to a nice panorama of the city alongside an old abandoned military barracks.

4. Explore the old town around ‘Spaccanapoli‘ (‘Divides Naples’) which is where the majority of shops are. Many are dedicated to selling tourist stuff like ‘portafortuna’ (good luck charms), primarily of the red “corna” or horn variety. If it’s not a shop selling those, then it’s selling models for “presepe” (nativity scenes) the making of which is a big tradition in Naples. They sometimes apply mechanics to the models so they move. I took pictures of my favourites less religious models (below): a dentist leaning repetitively into the mouth of this poor bloodied man and even George Michael and Prince (and someone else familiar I can’t put my finger on!).  There are lots of food and drink places here too and a heavy smattering of churches.

5. Watch people try and walk through the two horses in Piazza Plebiscito blind folded. Apparently it’s a tradition (to do it, rather than watch it).

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My favourite thing about Piazza Plebiscito are the sculptures of past Kings on the Royal Palace which borders the piazza, particularly this one…

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I imagine he was captured mid-conversation after someone asked him why he had a chicken on his head. “Who? Moi?”

5. Check out Galleria Umberto, near Piazza Plebiscito. It’s absolutely stunning with its glass ceilings. It’s a shopping mall so free to get in.

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6. Walk up to Certosa di San Martino. It’s a very elegant building on top of the hill. You can get a funicular train for only 1 euro but it was shut when I tried. Alternatively, you can walk up there from the main road using the ‘Pedantina’ (this word means basically ‘nice pretty little walkway’ but in my opinion it was a ‘Pedantaccio’ (‘horrible walkway’) which seemed to go on forever and was covered in broken glass which I can only assume is the result of the youth  launching bottles from the top piazza to the path below. The Certosa is 11 euros including an audio guide. Unless you’re an absolute art aficionado, the audio guide probably doesn’t add a lot. There’s impressive murals and veneered artwork and other interesting permanent exhibitions like the presepe (nativity scenes which Naples is known for), carts and boats which are all interesting to see. However, for me the views from the terraces and garden were well worth the price of the ticket.

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And just look at this ‘presepe’ complete with flying angels!!!

My favourite picture in the Certosa was:

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I think the artist has perfectly captured the  ‘exhausted mother expression’ showing us no parent is exempt: “No I don’t want to play ball, perhaps if you let me have a wink of sleep this last week I wouldn’t be quite so exhausted”.

7. Visit the Santa Chiara monastery. It’s 6 euros to get in. There’s a museum element to the building but it’s worth paying just to have a few minutes relaxing amidst the orange trees and sit in the shade of the cloister. The decor is vibrant in the square to say the least, a little bit like a tacky seaside resort but it actually rather works I think!

8. Marvel at photo’s of the renown Veiled Christ marble sculpture on your laptop comfortably in your hotel room. Alternatively, spend 7 euros at Cappella di Sansevero queuing to see it, have your view blocked by tourists (pesky tourists) and then leave 5 minutes later (because there’s nothing much else to do there) without even being allowed to even take a photo.  The statue is very impressive indeed, a real work of genius by Giuseppe Sanmartino in 1753, but in my opinion you can view it in more detail and get the same, indeed more of, a sense of awe from photos when you’re not surrounded by loads of other people. On the other hand, thousands of people on TripAdvisor have judged it the top thing to do out of hundreds of things to do in Naples so what do I know!

9. Have a sit down and relax in the Gesu’ Nuovo church. It’s pretty ugly on the outside but lovely, spacious and cool on the inside! There’s lots of other churches to see too and it’s worth popping into them to have a look when you go past one.

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10. Whilst you’re in Naples, it’s important to try some traditional Napoletano delicacies!

  • Margherita Pizza. I had mine at Acquolina on the coast at Castel dell’Ovo. Neapolitan pizza is doughy and soft; thin in the middle and bready and thick at the edges. Ask for Mozzarella di Buffalo which is the more superior mozzarella – you can really taste the difference. I’ve always preferred thin and crispy pizza’s but I could be converted by the one I had here. Great service too. I got two complimentary glasses of prosecco and a limoncello!
  • Espresso Naples style. Have this at the Gran Caffe’ Gambrinus on the corner of Piazza Plebiscito. The woman at the till was horridly grumpy (you have to pay at the till first and then take your receipt to the bar to get your drink) but the barmen more than made up for it. You have to ask for a “caffe” and try not to feel short-changed that you’re getting about 3 millimeters of coffee in a cup that will burn the skin off your lips. Apart from being scalding, it really was a good espresso – not bitter at all. AND it came with a refreshing glass of fizzy water (which I assumed was to take the taste away of the coffee but it seems to be used as a palate cleanser before it).
  • Sfogliatelle. These are traditional flakey pastry delights with a creamy centre. Mmmm.
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Not the best photo of a traditional margherita pizza but I was trying to be quick before I was seen!

On a slightly separate but related note; watch out for the waiters weaving in and out of traffic wielding cups of coffee. Good coffee seems such an important thing here people order it in rather than just making a cup in their office kitchen!

If you’ve seen Naples or have anything to add please do leave a comment…

Tune in for Part 3: Pompeii & Herculaneum.

x

 

 

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Naples Part 1: Seeing Naples and Dying

Buongiorno!

I’ve been to Naples! I had 3 days or so there this week and I can confirm, the city has my seal of approval 🙂  Its chaotic, vibrant, dirty, spectacular and fun all at the same time.  What it lacks in cleanliness it makes up for in atmosphere. It has hills, coast, amazing architecture and great food. I’ve written up my little trip in three parts. This, Part 1, is a general summary. Part 2 covers things to do in the city if you visit yourself. In Part 3 I’ll tell you about my visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum.

There is a really nice vibe about Naples. It has the most depressing apartment blocks I’ve ever seen (so ugly and unkempt they’re picturesque), just seconds away from swish hotels with doormen outside. Almost all of the apartment blocks look worse for wear sporting a ‘never been painted’ look with clumps of building missing. Rubbish litters the confetti sprinkled streets (confetti is used here for lots of celebrations, not just weddings so it’s literally everywhere!).

 

That said the Neapolitans, making the best of a bad job, do what they can to make their space as nice as they can by putting the occasional plant out on the balconies. And despite graffiti stretching up to head-height, it’s generally soppy rather than offensive; “I only want you”, “You are in my dreams” etc. (also “don’t park here on pain of death” but let’s gloss over that one!). There’s even a Banksy!

The city very clearly has a past and its character is etched into the fabric of every building. Washing is hung up and sprawled across cobbled streets (I can’t help but think that it’ll end up dirtier than when it started).

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The bottom part of each palazzo often seems to have been turned into a shop of some sort, particularly around ‘Spaccanapoli’ – a road running through the centre of Naples’ old town. Neapolitans are a very holy lot; there are churches everywhere and where there isn’t a church there’s a shrine embedded into the wall.

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One of the many, many shrines.

I can see why there’s such a need to feel like there’s some higher being looking down on you. Aside from the constant threat of volcanoes, to get anywhere by foot, one must step into speeding traffic and blindly hope you won’t be run over. I don’t think this is what is meant by the “see Naples and die” phrase though! However, you can manage to get around to see the main sites on foot. I wouldn’t recommend driving (car or vespa – it’s manic and once you park, someone will block you in) but other options are the metro which only costs a euro, trams and buses. Sightseeing buses are 22 euros but they can’t access many of the the narrow streets that make up much of Naples.

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I couldn’t get the hang of crossing the road at all. I often waited at the side of the road and then sidled across with someone that looked like they knew what they were doing. If I could have held their hands, I’d have felt better still. This photo is not representative of the sheer amount of traffic but I quite liked it anyway for some reason!

 

So yes, it’s certainly chaotic but charmingly so.  I found the people to be generally quite friendly.  There were people that seemed quite obviously fed up with tourists but nobody was rude, just direct. Even the grumpy ones seemed to warm up – one guy let me off paying extra to “eat in” because I was nice (he said this without once breaking out of his grimace). A guy at the train station gave me a cheap ticket because I only had a credit card and they didn’t take them (can you imagine someone in the UK doing that?!) A waiter at a fish restaurant gave me a note to give to the manager of the pizzeria up the road to give me a good service, despite me having complained to him for implying vegetarians eat fish (THEY DON’T! You can’t arbitrarily decide what animal is OK to eat. That just makes you a fussy meat-eater).

There’s none of this anonymity like you get in other cities where eye-contact is something that is avoided like the plague. People yell across at balconies to their mates, old ladies walk arm in arm, men fist-bump each other on their scooters, they beep at their friends and even the school kids seem to greet each other by hugging and kissing.

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You’re not held to dress-code rules here either – you can chose what you wear based on temperature rather than the month like you are in other parts of Italy.

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They’re so unlike ‘normal’ Italians – some guys actually stripped off and jumped into the water. I mean, it was a nice day but it’s February and the water is surely a little chilly?! An Italian in Le Marche wouldn’t be able to compute that at all assuming they were committing suicide!

Eavesdropping is difficult. Neapolitans speak in an accent and dialect so strong and odd that it could be a foreign language. They do speak “Italian” though too when needs must and lots speak English.

As with many cities, there are a lot of beggars and homeless folk (mostly all with fancier smart phones than I have curiously). Naples also has a terrible reputation for thieves. I almost didn’t bring my camera just in case it got stolen.  However, I think it’s pretty much like London. You just need to be careful – don’t leave your stuff unattended, maybe use a backpack rather than a handbag…  I didn’t feel too unsafe anywhere. I’m not sure whether it’s comforting or the opposite but there seem to be police riot vans and army vehicles around every corner.

If you’re a man coming to Naples and you want to fit in, you must leer at women as they walk past and tell them they’re beautiful. If you’re a woman, you must ignore them. How the men escape these daily interactions with their self-esteem intact, I’ll never know.

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This is a terrible photo (but one that makes me laugh) of a handsome chappy that has absolutely nailed his “leer”. He can be found in the Certosa di San Martino.

 

Staying in Naples

I stayed in a nice hotel called Hotel Rex. It’s on the seafront and therefore marginally out of the hustle and bustle of the main town, particularly at this time of year. However, after 5 minutes walking, you’re in Piazza Plebiscito which is a very grand open space surrounded by majestic buildings and then after a further few minutes walk and you’re in the ‘old town’. I really enjoyed escaping the chaos and coming back to the hotel at the end of the day. The staff were all very friendly and the breakfast offered a good range of food.

I think that about sums up Part 1 of the trilogy! Tune in for Part 2 to see what sights Naples has to offer…

I hope you’re all having a great weekend!

x

 

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Snow shoes, navigating the Italian health system and kitties

Buongiorno!

How is everyone? Well what a few weeks!

2017 hasn’t got off to the glowing start I had hoped! We have had unbelievable amounts of snow blocking people in their houses for up to two weeks, often without electricity. If that wasn’t bad enough, there were four strong quakes and where can you go when the roads are all closed and your car is buried under a couple of meters of snow?! And then the heartbreaking avalanche that buried Hotel Rigopiano killing 29 people, and a helicopter that was attempting to rescue a mountain climber crashed killing everyone on board. Central Italy just can’t get a break at the moment.

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My neighbour took his photo of our poor abandoned house in Sarnano when she eventually managed to get through the snow to reach it!

Thankfully the snow on the particular ridge and valley where I am temporarily living was only a foot deep and the snowplow came and dug us out that night even up the drive – but the ridges and valleys on either side of us had over a meter of snow and lots of power issues. The damage from the earthquakes this time seems to be minimal (surprising given the additional stress on the houses that the snow added) but the damage from the snow itself has been quite widespread mainly in terms of damaging barns and there doesn’t seem to be a tree in Le Marche that has been left unscathed!

Meanwhile, I’ve been suffering with awful headaches every night (any of my readers suffer from cluster headaches?) so it’s been an interesting week testing out the Italian health system.

Unfortunately if you don’t have a ‘proper’ job and you’re not registered as unemployed, you have to pay about 380 euros for a “tessera sanitaria” (a health card) to be able to access Italy’s national health service. Although if it’s an emergency they’ll see you anyway. You pay for a calendar year, running from January to December, regardless if you’ve paid the full amount in November the previous year. I had a very exasperating visit to ASUR (Azienda Sanitaria Unica Regionale), the administration side the health service to try and get my card renewed. Frustratingly the office workers didn’t seem to know they were responsible for providing this service. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I can confirm if you burst into tears of frustration, stuff gets done! When it seemed I would leave with nothing, I left with a health card, free drugs and an appointment with the neurologist 5 days later.

On a slightly related note, purchasing medicine in Italy is odd: prescription-only drugs in the UK can be purchased over the counter in Italy (albeit at an eye-watering price, unless they’re antibiotics in which case they’re really cheap and freely available!), and basic painkillers which cost a pittance in the UK cost a lot here. If the UK and Italy teamed up, I think we’d have quite a good health service and drug provision.

Meanwhile, it hasn’t all been bad. I went  for an organised ‘Ciaspolata’ (snow shoe walk) with a group called Con in faccia un po’ di Sole at the weekend in Bolognola (in the Sibillini’s). It was an absolutely stunning day for the walk and though I’ve walked in those mountains quite a bit now, it’s totally different when everything is so snowy! The guide was excellent too and was able to identify which animals had made the various tracks in the snow.

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This photo taken by our guides was our Ciaspolata group – a colourful lot!

In other good news, I have two kittens staying with me at the moment! Batfink has been distinctly unimpressed but yesterday marked a breakthrough – I came in to find them all in a tangled cuddly heap. Those who have followed this blog know that I don’t have much luck with kittens and cats – they pretty much all get run over, poisoned or die of flu. So in order to keep my expectations in check, I’ve dubbed the kittens Doomed and Fated. In fact, to illustrate my point, they did have a sweet little sister. I’ve retrospectively called her Mauled. You’ll never guess what happened to her 😦

This year, I decided I was going to try and become a ‘professional’ artist. I thought the easiest and most pleasant way to do this would be to get portrait commissions as I really like painting them. I have about 4 commissions and each one is driving me insane! I think a less stressful strategy  is to just paint stuff, and then if people like it they can buy it. So that shall be the plan going forward! Still, I bought some mounts in nice cellophane wrapping – it’s amazing how that kind of things gives everything a much more professional feel. Check out the latest pics here.

I think that’s about it from me. I hope you’re all having a good week.

A presto,

x

 

 

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