I recently was encouraged (and financed) by a couple of friends to finally get to Southern Italy. So, I reached out to a few Italian friends for advice on planning an impromptu trip to Napoli and a couple of the surrounding areas.
Keep in mind that I live in Northern Italy, specifically in an area that only 100 years ago was part of the Austrian Empire. For many people people in the North, they view the south as wild insanity. I have been warned of the chaos, the crime, the dense population and the filth. But I have also been told of the rich historical and cultural presence, the simplicity and the freshness of the food, and of the treasures (the islands and the coasts) that dot the region. I was excited and terrified – but, giddy up! I was off on another adventure.
I didn’t realise how much I had missed popping about the country to explore new cities. But now, having been in Italy now for nearly three years, the language wasn’t going to be too much of a problem. Public transportation however is always a gamble.
Napoli is a large city of around a million inhabitants. When I exited the train station, I was struck immediately by the animatedly vocal taxi drivers and the color – of people. There is a large African* diaspora in the south, much to the dissension of Italians in general. I had a hotel booked close to the train station, and it was right in the heart of an African neighbourhood. I had no problems, even when coming back at 11pm. Aside from one man asking to spend the night with me – at 5pm as I walked by – I had nothing but pleasant interactions (and even that one was amusing). The hardest part for me was the trash. There were parts of the city that had piles of trash. It was heartbreaking.
The hotel staff told me the temperatures are usually warm (30C/88F degrees), but the humidity was unusual. Being that Napoli is a seaside city, I would think the humidity is normal. Apparently I am mistaken. I stayed at a little hotel (5 rooms) called Victoria Hotel BnB on Via Firenze. The prices were great, it was super clean, and the staff is lovely. I highly recommend it.
I am not a huge museum-goer; I much prefer see how people live and act. As soon as I checked into the hotel, I headed back out in the city to get a lay of the land. Covid still had many tourists offices and services closed, so I had to improvise. I knew I wanted to visit an island or two, see the famous Amalfi Coast, and maybe go to Pompei. With the tourists offices closed, I was going to have to do more research when I got back to the hotel. So, I wandered around to see where things were – where is the port? Where is the Duomo? Where is City Center? I found all of the places.I was surprised to see countless stores of souvenirs, many handmade. But they were all the same things. I don’t know what I was expecting, but i was not expecting so many souvenir shops. The Duomo was beautiful, as expected. I made many mental notes so I could return to some locations.
That evening I decided I would do the required Napoli Pizza consumption. A lady I met on the train told me where to go. After a hot day, and 6 miles of walking, I decided an early dinner was required, as I still had to research the other things I wanted to do. Turns out, the place that was recommended was the pizzeria in Eat, Pray, Love. I was giddy! They offered 5 pizza options, one size, each 5 euros. I ordered the Margherita and it was delicious! By the time I left there was a crowd waiting outside.
The following day I went to the train station to get tickets to Positano (Amalfi Coast). Then I went to the Naples Dock to buy my ferry tickets to Procida, one of the wee islands. I finished up my trip planning by buying a city map and I was off. I went to the neighbourhood of Vomero atop the city. It was a lovely spot with tree-lined streets. There are three funiculars to and from the lower city. The Funiculare Centrale took me straight down to the main shopping drag, Toledo Street. I’m not a shopper, so I got lost in the back streets where alley-sized streets wind all over and laundry hanging on balconies is part of the charm. Small, Vespa-like bikes were everywhere, navigating the narrow passages and dodging pedestrians. I was taken with main windows looking directly onto the “streets” and neighbours stopping to chat through open windows. It was bustling at one moment and serene and the next.
This island is tiny and on the map you can see it looks almost connected to the far side of the Naples coast. It takes about an hour on the ferry and the ride gives you a beautiful view of the cascading city of Napoli, and castles! I was surprised to see so many castles in such a “small” space.
But back to Procida. It is a small fishing island with a few beaches for play. Apparently the famous Italian movie, Il Postino was filmed here, as well as a scene from The Talented Mr Ripley, amongst other movies. The “houses” are painted in pastels, and like the island of Burano in Venice, the colors were originally to help the fishermen find their way back to their house in the fog. I absolutely loved this island and the people. I will be going back here. Keep in mind, I don’t like crowds so this was a great place to have a relatively quiet beach experience as well as a seafood dinner.
The train ticket included and hour and a half boat ride from Salerno to Positano! Naples and back for 42 Euros. We saw dolphins on the way and I was giddy! The coastline was stunning. It did not disappoint. Positano, as well, was stunning. I wandered around the lower part of the town and then stopped for lunch. Afterward, I crashed a private beach and enjoyed a lounge chair close to the water. The views were amazing but it was more that feeling of, “OMG, I’m here!” after only having seen pictures. I was thrilled to have gone, played in the water, and sunned myself a bit, but I was happy to leave. Despite there not being heaps of seasonal tourists, it was still too busy and somewhat pretentious for my liking. As I mentioned, I prefer more low-key places; more authentic experiences.
The next day I headed to the famed Archeological Museum. It was already hot and humid by 10am. I had an appointment at the museum at 9:30am (and was late, which wasn’t a big deal at all). As I was marvelling at all of the relics and statues, the wave of exhaustion overcame me. I did too much, too fast, after months of doing nearly nothing. I didn’t want to lower my immunities, particularly with Covid still rampant, so after the museum, I picked up some Senegalese food and returned to the hotel. I enjoyed my lunch in air-conditioned quiet and slept.
I returned to Trento the next day. It was a fabulous trip and so blessed to have friends finance it. I still hope to get to Sardinia and Sicily, but it may not be while I’m still here.
Sadly, I will have to return to the States. Covid has been hard on many; for me it simply means my dream life is coming to a (temporary) end. More on this soon.
* I use the reference to Africa loosely as Africa is a massive continent with over 50 countries. From which countries the diaspora hails is unknown. I know Libya, Senegal, and Morocco are a few of the countries represented.