Posts Tagged With: napoli

Exploring Naples and the Amalfi Coast

Buongiorno a tutti!

I’ve been on holiday 🙂 A good friend of mine who used to live here for several years came for a long visit to Italy. We both have long lists of places that we’ve been wanting to visit and so we tried to incorporate them all. We had two “legs” to our holiday. We started off in Naples and headed down the Amalfi coast and then our second leg, a couple of weeks later, took us to the Ligurian coastline and Sardinia. In this post I’ll tell you about Leg 1!
Naples

I do love Naples. It was my second visit. You can read about my first one here. It’s so full of life and atmosphere. I drove from my house. It was about 4.5 hours to get to our apartment by the port, skirting around Naples as opposed to driving through the heart of it. That was stressful enough but then I made the mistake of listening to the sat nav to get to the airport to pick up my friend. I think I had more near death experiences in those 20 minutes than in my entire 38 years. People and motorbikes were coming at me from all angles like they were actively trying to get run over. It was like playing a real life game of Space Invaders, continuously having to take evasive action to avoid killing the suicidal Napolitanos that were trying to do death slides under the car. There were entire families balancing on scooters like they were involved in motorcycle circus events and all without helmets. I’ve decided that’s why there are so many churches in Naples (almost every other building!): it must be to cope with the excessive number of road deaths! My advice: Never, ever drive in central Naples.

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Naples is ‘unkemptly’ colourful

We discovered the underground world beneath the church San Lorenzo Maggiore entirely by accident really because we had wanted, and indeed thought, we were going to Naples Sotterranea (Naples Underground) which is another big tourist attraction. It wasn’t until I was writing this post that I realised we’d made a mistake! Anyway, it was an interesting tour all the same. Basically, Naples gets higher as the centuries pass! Archaeologists have dug down a few meters to reveal Greek ruins from the 5th Century BC. These were at some point covered in earth due to a mudslide/flooding and the next population (the Romans) built a market on top using them as a sort of foundation and nicking a bit of the original Greek stonework. After the next covering of mud, the Christians came to the party and built on top of that. I can’t help but think that if I dug down to discover several levels of ancient buildings which had been catastrophically covered in mud, I would reconsider the position of the thing I was building. Between that and the supervolcano all around Naples, I don’t know how they get house insurance.

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The tour also included things above ground including the chapels. One of the things that intrigues me about churches and religious buildings in Italy is how they ask people to cover their shoulders in order to go inside when the inside is often painted with scantily clad women with their breasts out and nude children. Clearly nobody mentioned the “no shoulder” policy to them.

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She doesn’t have a bag… Perhaps that’s where she keeps her keys.

Breasts covered but what about the shoulders!

We also tried a Napolitan delicacy which I’d never heard of before (though my mum has and has apparently made them!): the Rum Baba. Italian’s do a number of things very well, but in my opinion, cakes are not one of them. The cakes are generally dry and bland but oh no, not the Rum Baba! The Rum Baba drips with so much sugary rum that I think you could probably get drunk from eating a couple. It’s so unlike every other Italian cake and biscuit that you can even swallow it without having to dip it in your drink like the others. If you go to Naples, I thoroughly recommend giving one a go.

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This one must be a chocolate one – the traditional Baba’s are made with rum!

From Naples we drove to Sorrento to experience the Amalfi Coast. This will be controversial, but my lasting impression of the towns and landscape here is: dry and arid coastline dotted with the occasional town (not as colourful as one imagines) that are extortionate to park in (25 euros a day) with an unbearable number of tourists and where everything costs 5 times as much as it does everywhere else in Italy. I realise that I am perhaps the only person in the world that isn’t that impressed with the Amalfi coast so take my summary with a pinch of salt if you’re considering visiting!

There are good bits of course. If you ignore all of the above, Sorrento is lovely. There’s one main street with lots of little alleys off it with interesting shops.

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The views over the sea from Sorrento are gorgeous and overlook Vesuvius and Naples.

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We walked down to the harbour and had a nice meal on the seafront. Look at the amazing boat in the middle!

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I think the Cloister of San Francesco was my favourite thing in Sorrento, I even went back to paint there before we left.

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Perspective all wrong and it’s blurry but you get the gist!

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This was taken our first evening when the heavens opened just before a concert was due to start…

The other thing in Sorrento that I thought was quite interesting was this building which I guess must have been an old mill?

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The following day we took a tourist boat along the coast, stopping at Amalfi and Positano.

Amalfi was pretty, but even more bustling with tourists than Sorrento. If you’re thinking of having a swim there, don’t… Not unless you want to pay for a sunbed and umbrella as there are no “free” beaches apart from a thin sliver of pebbly beach and slipway between boats.

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I preferred Positano which seemed cleaner somehow and they had a slightly larger bit of beach, though it was so busy that you could touch your neighbouring beach-goers if you stretched your arms out. Alas, by the time I got to Positano I was too hot and bothered to take any pictures so here is a much nicer one than I could ever take from Pixabay…

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I think that about sums up Leg 1. I’ll report back on Leg 2 shortly.

Meanwhile, in other news, one of my walk reviews got published by Cicerone, you can read it here.

I hope you’re all well.

x

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Naples Part 3 – Pompeii & Herculaneum

Buongiorno,

Here’s Part 3 of the Naples trilogy 🙂 Although this blog post isn’t about the city itself, rather the surrounding areas. Naples is a great base for seeing lots of things – you can climb Vesuvius and visit a number of archaeological sites. If I had more time, I’d have done all of that and then worked my way down the Amalfi coast but alas, that’ll have to keep for another occasion. So limited on time, I decided to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum. I did both of these in one day which is just about doable, but exhausting both physically and emotionally (I have a heightened sense of sympathy for those in natural disasters these days!)! As ever this is my personal opinion – there are obviously many more comprehensive guides to check out before you go.

Everybody has heard of Pompeii. Fewer have heard of Herculaneum though it’s arguably more preserved. Both were ‘frozen’ in time when Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. Those that have seen both tend to recommend Herculaneum if you had to chose one or the other. I’m undecided. I’ll tell you about both and you can make your mind up.

Firstly, I’d just like to say how much I like the Romans! Wandering around Pompeii, you really get the feeling that the Romans knew how to live. Admittedly slavery probably wasn’t their greatest idea but generally I think they had it nailed back then. The lives of the elite seemed to revolve around lounging about all day on their chaise lounges being fed all manner of foods before relaxing in their saunas and pool, marveling all the while at the intricate mosaics  and murals surrounding them – and then having orgies! Homosexuality was so acceptable they even depicted it in pictures on some of their walls. How did such a liberal hedonistic ‘anything-goes’ society end up so… well, catholic?!

These pictures were in the “suburban baths” in Pompeii.

I can’t get over how advanced they were.  Vesuvius erupted 1938 years ago which seems an awfully long time ago but really, their lives back then seem remarkably similar (I’m tempted to say, perhaps better!). They had aqueducts and sewers. They ate similar foods, they had similar jobs, they had bakeries with brick ovens that look like the ones the Italians still use today for pizza, they had surgeries, launderettes and they had fantastic artists, sculptors and builders. They had sports halls (well, amphitheatres – much more glamorous than anything we manage today), takeaway restaurants serving an array of heated food (people didn’t have their own kitchens generally, eating out everyday instead), theatres, and brothels. It’s not hard to identify with the people of those times at all. Apart from all the infrastructure, they left their mark in other ways like graffiti and even in terms of leaving grooves in the roads where their carts travelled.

Pompeii

Pompeii is absolutely vast and that’s only the parts that have been excavated! The parts that are still buried really give you an idea of how much work is involved digging up meters of hardened ash without damaging the ruins underneath. The archaeologists must have endless patience; including sieving the contents of their sewers to work out what they used to eat.

I love the design of the well-to-do houses. Most had a large central area, partly covered with a roof angling into a hole in the middle where rain water would drip into a central pool which must have seemed like you had your very own waterfall.

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Here’s an example…

I would definitely recommend going on a guided tour. Unfortunately, I didn’t!  I got an audio guide but in my opinion, it’s almost impossible to use. It required you looking at a giant map trying to figure out which place was which and then putting in the appropriate two-part code. Some codes didn’t work. Many other codes worked but the rooms were physically closed off for visitors. The map had road names but the actual site doesn’t so pinpointing where you are is difficult. All rooms are physically numbered on the site itself, but these numbers differ from the numbers you need to press on the audio guide to hear the recording. Very rarely did an area have an information board, and even rarer still did it have an actual audio guide number on it.  I was left with a lot of questions that I would like to have posed to someone (though there were some excellent staff in some of the ‘special’ rooms who were able to answer questions).

In the main larger areas there are a number of sculptures (of recent times I might add!) that given the surroundings are thought-provoking and poignant.

In some areas you can see plaster casts of the people that were buried by the ash. The ash hardened around them and the archaeologists were able to inject plaster into the cavities where the bodies had decomposed to create a cast. You can see their expressions when they died, even the creases in their clothes. There are lots of toddlers. Even dogs. It’s very sad.

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I felt a bit disrespectful taking these pictures  – I spent a few moments apologising for the intrusion first!

 

Herculaneum

Herculaneum is Pompeii’s less famous sister site.  I’ve heard a few people that say that Herculaneum is “better” than Pompeii. It’s not at all, they’re just a bit different. Both were destroyed by the 79 AD eruption  but whereas Pompeii was covered in ash, Herculaneum was covered in 16 meters of lava. This difference resulted in the preservation of wood, fabric, plants etc. and interestingly, the upper floors of houses which you don’t see in Pompeii.

 

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This is a good example of a takeaway restaurant! There used to be food in these vats and if I got the right idea from the recordings, they were kept hot by a fire below (somewhere by that pile of bricks perhaps?!)

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And that little cubicle on the right hand side was a toilet! They didn’t have indoor plumbing but they had a seat with a chamber pot they could take out to the sewers outside.

Instead of plaster casts of bodies, there are skeletons; over 300 of them all crammed together in awful poses in the boat warehouses where they were presumably trying to escape. These boat warehouses which back then would have been on the shoreline, are now 400 meters away from the shore as the expanse of lava extended it. The Herculaneans couldn’t have escaped anyway even if they had got out to sea – there was a subsequent tsunami.  I feel so sorry for them – it must have seemed like the world was coming to an end and I guess, it was for them.

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Poor people 😦

There are still parts of Herculaneum buried under the town that towers above it but it is much smaller than Pompeii. It’s a much more compact and manageable site to view in a couple of hours. However, with Pompeii, you get a feeling of grandeur than you don’t get in Herculaneum (there are fewer columns and no massive forums and amphitheatres) so I think it would be a shame to miss out on that too. There are tickets that include both sites and another 3 archaeological sites in the area. If you’re there for longer than I was it would be quite nice to see all of them.

Something I would love to have done would have been to visit the underwater roman ruins in the Phlegraean Fields but I didn’t have the time or the diving qualification! If you’ve been, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below.

To get to both Pompeii and Herculaneum from Naples, the quickest and probably cheapest way is to take the Circumvesuviana train from the station at Piazza Garibaldi and go to the Pompeii Scavi Villa Misteri station for Pompeii and the Ercolano Scavi for Herculaneum.

After a day of viewing the destruction caused by Vesuvius, I must say, I really worry about Naples and its neighbouring towns and villages. Vesuvius isn’t the only volcano to worry about, there’s also the Phlegraean Fields ‘super-volcano’  which lies to the west of Naples. Hopefully though, Italy has had its fill of natural-disasters for now but still, I think it’s worth visiting this lovely part of the country sooner rather than later just in case, eh?!

If you’ve got any questions on Naples and the surrounding areas, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them 🙂

Happy visiting!

 

x

 

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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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