10.05.2012 – 13.05.2012
My Lonely Planet just does not give this city any justice whatsoever, I had originally booked in for 2 nights, so that I could spend one day exploring the city then another doing Pompeii etc, I totally underestimated this wonderful city and have now booked in for 4 nights.
Navigated my way through the streets of the Old City to arrive at Giovanni’s Home Hostel, up the 3 flights of stairs of which the stairs gradually increased in height I was greeted with a huge ‘Ciao Samantha!’ as I walked through the door, and from that moment on my stay here in Napoli got better and better.
I met the gorgeous Emilie from Kentucky who was staying at Giovanni’s for a few days before heading down to Lecce to do a 1 week cooking course as she has just graduated from a Degree in Culinary Arts. The three of us then proceeded to make Asparagus Risotto, there was a very socially awkward man from the US that hung around too, who had never seen risotto before and wanted to comment on anything and everything that was happening in an attempt to try and show his intelligence but in fact came across very weird.
Anyway, we all sat down in the courtyard 3 stories above the streets of Napoli and enjoyed this awesome meal Giovanni welcomed me with.
Giovanni then sat me down with a map, and about 5 different coloured highlighters, and told me in orange the route to take through the city to see everything, in green were the sights to stop and see, purple was a no go zone and blue was other random places of interest.
He told me about the history of Napoli and how to get everywhere, what time the trains leave and arrive and then went through personal safety in Napoli. He showed me youtube clips of pickpocketing in Milan, and showed me the crime statistics of Napoli in comparison to other cities and it is one of the lowest here due to the mafia.
He said that in 2006 there were 87 murders, 84 of them were mafia. In his whole time in Napoli he has only ever heard of one sexual crime, and said that a woman travelling on her own is safer here than a woman traveling with one or 5 men cause no one will harm a woman here.
He did ban me from wearing my satchel and made sure that I only took my backpack with me cause no one will touch a backpack, and made sure my passports were kept safe in the hostel and not in my bag.
And on that note he sent Emilie and me out the door to go check out the city, not before walking us to the local coffee shop where he shouted us an espresso and some of the local pastries.
Emilie and I walked down through the city and checked out some of the churches, we did manage to get lost once which isn’t hard to do in these narrow winding streets but we soon got back on track.
One thing I have noticed here that is different from Rome, well I have noticed numerous things different from Rome, but the people here are just wonderful. People come up to you on the street and ask if they can help without any other motive other than actually wanting to help you, in Rome if someone asks if they can point you in the right direction they then want money for it. So we were a bit taken back when men would want to help, but after a while we became comfortable with the people and realised they are nothing like those in Rome.
The streets in this city are chaos, there are scooters everywhere, you can’t really get around on anything else although many try to navigate these streets with cars but unless you have a smart car, which many do. Any cars bigger have scratches and dents all down the sides of them from trying to squeeze through these streets, the scooters do not give way to pedestrians, and there are no footpaths. So its everyman for themselves, and scooters seem to have the right of way over everyone, all they do is warn you they are coming at you by tooting their horn and it’s your fault if you don’t get out of the way.
We arrived at one of the city’s highlights, the underground cave/reservoir system that was built yonks ago, 50m below the ground we were taken through a cave system built by slaves to provide each house with its own water reservoir that they would then access through wells in their homes. The caves were later used as bomb shelters in the second world war.
We kept walking through the city and it slowly became a bit more modern and wealthy, piazzas and plaza’s, opera houses and castles.
We eventually made it to the waterfront and there in front of us across the bay was the magnificent Mt Vesuvius towering above the city, it’s a beautiful mountain, perfect volcano shape and we were very excited to be climbing that the next day.
Tired and hungry we made our way back to Giovanni’s and headed out for the very famous Gino’s, Giovanni told us that it is the best pizza in Napoli therefore the best pizza in the world. When you first arrive at Gino’s you are not quite sure what is happening, spilling outside on the streets are crowds of people all drinking wine from plastic cups, however soon realised that they are all waiting for a table and then over the loud speaker an Italian womans voice shouts ‘Maria Due’ and 2 out of the crowd would walk up the stairs.
We went up the stairs and put our names on the list then went and waited back outside, the bar across the road was selling red & white wine for 1 euro a glass to the people waiting outside, so we joined in of course.
Eventually our name was called and we were ushered to a table where we had about 2 minutes to decide what we wanted to get, we took the 2 recommended by Giovanni – an eggplant one and a spicy salami one. Within 10 minutes the pizza was on our table and I then ate the best pizza of my life, we couldn’t work out why it was so good, then we narrowed it down to that it must be the base. The base you could easily and very gladly eat on its own, it was so good, but as far as working out why the base was so good is still a mystery.
Stuffed & happy, we slowly walked up the hill to Giovanni’s and into bed, what an awesome day.
The next day we set off early towards the 3 sights of the day, sight 1 – Encoda, sight 2 – Mt Vesuvius & sight 3 – Pompeii.
Ercolano is a town that was buried by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius at the same time that Pompei was destroyed, however Ercolano is much better preserved as it was hit slightly differently to Pompei.
Ercolano is a lot smaller than the ruins of Pompei so it doesn’t take too much to walk around but it is stunning, the mosaics there are still perfect, the paintings on the walls of the houses are still as they were back then, there are still the street numbers on the outside of the houses and the street signs still look as though they were placed there yesterday however this occurred 2000 years ago.
Next stop was Mt Vesuvius, we caught a shuttle bus near to the top, took ages to get up there as the road was super windy and a big bus on the narrow roads takes a while to get anywhere. Once at the top, we then had to walk the rest of the way, the advertisement says that is it a ‘Gradual Up-hill walk for 15 minutes’ to get to the crater, I think gradual in Italy may mean something different cause it was a pretty steep climb on very slippery gravel but we just kept thinking about the pizza we needed to burn off.
Cracked up when I saw a girl walking in bare feet and in her partners hands was a pair of heels, I’m not quite sure what she was expecting that day in climbing a volcano but her shoe choice was not ideal. Even people that were wearing chucks were struggling to grip, Emilie and I had our mcawesome shoes on so we were fine.
The view from up there was incredible, we were over 1000m in the air above Naples and could see forever, we were probably up there at the hottest part of the day but the breeze made it seem heaps cooler. We walked around the edge of the crater and looked in at this seemingly innocent landscape, trying to imagine the force required to have blown the top of this off and cause the destruction that it did.
Starving, we went to a local restaurant and got ourselves a caprisi salad and some toasted sandwiches, the mozzarella was amazing.
Pompei was next on the agenda, it was much more destroyed than Ercolano but the size of the place was ginormous, the streets had grooves from where the chariots would ride, there were large stepping stones that would go across the streets so that when they flooded the streets to clean then people could still get to where they were going, the chariots would just weave in between them.
There were water fountains everywhere like in Rome, so we stopped to fill them and have some official Pompeii water, it tasted a bit chalky or sandy, but it worked.
It’s an incredible sight to see, however after a while we started to get super tired and it all became ruins are ruins are ruins and we decided to get out of there before we stopped enjoying it and it became a chore.
Outside, there were lemonade stands with lemons like I have never seen before, they are literally the size of soccer balls, I don’t know how they do it but they are huge.
Glad to be back home at the end of the day, Giovanni made us dinner, Fava bean pasta, was so good and didn’t take us long to then creep to bed.
Another early start to the day, this time heading to Paestum – where the ruins of the ancient city of Herculaneum stands, Greek ruins from 2500 years ago, huge temples and amphitheatre ruins as well as houses.
The only unfortunate thing about this place is the lack of trains to the next place we were heading, there was only one at 11am, and we only got there at 10.30am, or one at 2pm. We were finished at Herculaneum at 12.45pm, so with over an hour to kill we went walking through the countryside, Herculaneum is in the middle of nowhere surrounded by agricultural farming (I am still yet to see one cow or sheep here in Italy).
We followed the city wall around and then checked out the stalls of souvenirs, that included lighters with American flags on them, t-shirts with American flags on them and Simpsons merchandise. In amongst the junk that clearly had a) nothing to do with Herculaneum and b) nothing to do with Italy there was some of the classic merchandise, I got myself an Italian patch for my pack.
At 2pm we caught the train to Salerno where we then were to catch a bus along the Amalfi Coast to Sorrento, however again the transport wasn’t that regular and we had to wait till 3.30pm for the bus. A gelato and walk along the waterfront later, we caught the bus along the very long and winding road of the Amalfi Coast.
Poor Emilie who is from a flat state with straight roads surrounded by cornfields felt the effects of the turns and began to turn a little green around the gills. The Amalfi coast is so stunning, cliff faces with gorgeous building clinging on to the side of them, towering above the towns were wispy cloud covered mountains and the bright blue ocean below had super yachts and fishermen enjoying the early summer.
Lemons were everywhere, terraces climbing the cliff faces held these lemon farms which the yellow bursts created a pretty contrast to the green of the hills.
We stopped for a break in the town of Amalfi, only for about 30mins then carried on with the next bus to Sorrento. We only had enough time to grab a quick espresso before the train to Napoli, but although beautiful Sorrento was just a giant glamorous shopping mall and with us both being unable to shop we were glad to get out of the torture.
It was a really long day, and we didn’t really get to see much apart from out the window of the bus or train, however we thought we would treat ourselves to Gino’s to cheer us up.
Not considering that it was a Saturday night, we cruised there straight from the train station, it was around 9pm, the crowds were huge so we quickly raced upstairs to put our names on the list and then we waited, and waited. We got a glass of wine and soon we heard ‘Emilia Due’, we were so excited Emily didn’t get a chance to finish her wine but we were half way up the stairs when the Mamma running the show looked down on us and just shook her head and finger saying that it wasn’t us just yet.
So we waited and waited yet again, nearly 2 hours later we were seated, now I know 2 hours seems a bit extreme to wait for pizza but you just won’t understand until you have this pizza why it was all worth it.
We got a prosciutto & rocket one and a mushroomy bit of everything one, once again it did not disappoint, AMAZING!!
As it was nearly midnight, we thought that maybe Giovanni would be worried, and then he rung to check up on us to make sure we were ok cause the last train from Sorrento left at 9.30pm and we should have been home by now.
With our tummies full, feeling very happy we headed home and to bed.
One more day in Napoli, and I decided to not bother going to the super-volcano and instead see the sights in Napoli that I didn’t get to the other day.
I got up early cause everyone else did, said goodbye to Emilie and then started to plan my day. Then Giovanni told me to quickly get ready and he took me on a tour of Napoli on his motorbike! We went right up into the suburbs and around the water front, got to see the supervolcano from a distance, magnificent by the way, took a few videos of riding through the streets and got to see a whole new side of the city I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
He took me for coffee at his favourite place and tried the Napoli famous pastry called Sfogliatella, pastry with sweet ricotta cheese inside, so yum. I asked Giovanni if this was what Italians normally have for breakfast and he said ‘I have coffee for breakfast, I’m Italian!’.
Once back at the hostel I took a walk down to see the Veil of Christ statue, google that, it’s unreal, possibly the most beautiful piece of art I have ever seen, I’m not an arty person by any means but this was just incredible.
After that I headed to the Archaeological Museum, heaps of statues, huge statues of roman gods and all sorts, there was a section dedicated to Pompei however I didn’t realise that it was the Pompei exhibit until I was on my way out and I asked where the Pompei stuff was and they directed me back to where I was. Not sure what I expected, but there was just a heap of mosaics and an paintings, a few statues but not many and was disappointed there wasn’t any of the casts from where people were laying when it hit..
Back at Giovanni’s to make some time to catch up on this and to have lunch, Giovanni is making mushroom pasta, YUM!
So I headed out after lunch on a walk around the city, went down along the waterfront and back, about 2 hours worth. Trying to get used to the amount of PDA in this country, it’s pretty gross sometimes, there is just some stuff that others don’t need to bear witness to!
Later that evening Giovanni whipped up some basil pesto pasta for anyone that was staying there and wanted some, there was a really rude Australian guy who had rubbed Giovanni up the wrong way since he arrived, when Giovanni asked if he would like some dinner he just grunted back ‘I’ve got my own’. We both just looked at him, we must have had the same look on our faces cause he then said ‘No….thankyou’.
We all sat down in the living room and had to listen to the guy from the US that had everyone rolling their eyes at, the hostel was pretty much full too so there were a bunch of people I hadn’t really spoken to before.
I had to say goodbye to Giovanni that night as I was leaving at 6am the next day, I had such a wicked time in Napoli, by far the best place I have been so far, staying at Giovanni’s was a major part of that and I would totally go back there again.