See Naples and Die

The title of this post is actually the motto of Napoli.  They mean that once you see the beauty you can die happy, but I think that phrase was created many ,many years ago, and these days it takes on a more literal meaning.  As in it’s so sketchy there’s a good chance that upon visiting the city, you will in fact die.

We just arrived home yesterday morning from our five day trip to Southern Italy, and it turned out to be quite an interesting experience.  The program organizes this trip essentially as our “fall break,” but it’s pretty much just a week long field trip, full of required tours, with a little bit of free time sprinkled in here and there.  Our tours took us to several different areas but we stayed each night at a hotel in Napoli.  Going into the week I’d heard a variety of things about the city, ranging from good things (mostly just Dean Martin in That’s Amore, but I felt if it was worthy of him singing about it, it must be good) to very bad things.  The majority of people who are familiar with Napoli had the same reaction of shock and confusion about their decision to send us to a city that apparently runs rampant with crime, and is the home of the Italian mafia.  Needless to say, I was a little nervous about what I would find, and the stories didn’t disappoint.  As we drove through the city it became clear that Naples is a far cry from Rome.  While Rome is by no means an extremely clean city, Naples was filthy … there were piles of trash and poop everywhere.  Gross.  Although our hotel wasn’t incredible and certainly was not in a good area of town, it was nice enough, seemed fairly clean, and I got to room with Kristin and Bethany, which was great!  The best way I can describe the feeling I got from Naples is that it looked and felt like how I would imagine communist Russia would have felt.  Somehow, even with some brightly colored buildings it still felt very cold, and dingy, and just like an altogether rough place.

Walking the streets of Napoli, even in the daytime, was a little unnerving.  It was a melting pot of just about every type of person and culture, and everywhere we went there were people who looked just out of their minds on drugs, not to mention the massive amounts of transvestites and prostitutes.  Even the legitimate Italians we saw were very different from the Italians we’ve seen in Rome, Florence, and elsewhere.  They were pretty rough around the edges, and there were a whole lot of men with hair slicked back like you wouldn’t believe.  We had been told to really watch our purses and not wear anything valuable, so we followed that advice and didn’t run into any trouble with pickpockets thankfully.  Still the whole situation, and the looks we were receiving as we walked down the streets were really weird.  The traffic was unreal, and combined with a complete lack of traffic laws or order, the streets were a madhouse with cars and scooters going every way possible.  At one point my friends and I were walking back from dinner, and I was in the street to avoid some of the trash on the sidewalk, when  a man on a vespa came zooming up behind us.  I scooted to the side a little bit, but seeing as I’m not as wide as an entire street lane, and he was on a tiny vespa I assumed he had ample room to get past me.  Apparently he disagreed, because as he drove past me he reached out and punched me in the stomach.  Really nice. Typical Naples.

My tour group at Pompeii

On our first day we took a trip to Pompeii which was really cool.  It was so much larger than I expected, and there was a surprising amount of the city that was uncovered for us to walk through.  It’s really strange to see the ancient city, especially the bodies that were frozen in time when the volcano erupted.  As you walk through the streets of Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius is ever present, looming in the hazy distance.  It creates an eerie feeling as it looks so peaceful, but knowing that at any time history could repeat itself.  I was surprised to see that there were tons of wild dogs all throughout the city.  Mostly they just mind their own business, sleeping in the ruins, but a few exceptionally friendly ones seemed to really like all of the people.  One in particular followed our group as we walked around, stopping when we stopped to look at different things, and then running along with us as we walked from place to place.  It was adorable.

The next day we were set to go to the Archeological Museum, but it was closed for a holiday, so instead we made our quick trip up to Cumae, an ancient city referenced in Virgil’s The Aeneid.  We listened to a few presentations, then went into the cave of the Sybil, before hiking up the mountain to take in the incredible views of the coast.  After spending a little time there, we hopped back on our bus and they drove us back to town through the “5th Avenue of Naples.”  I was stunned to see that there actually was a very nice area of the city.  They dropped us off down at the waterfront, about a 45 minute walk from our hotel, so we could spend the day exploring the ritzier part of town.  I’m so glad they did that because it made me realize that not all of Naples was disgusting and dirty.  It was still a bit seedy if you wandered off the main streets, but it was a stark contrast to the Naples we’d seen up to this point.  It looked exactly how you would imagine a coastal Italian city to look, with its fancy hotels lining the waterfront, and pretty multicolored homes and shops lining the hills as far as the eye could see.  We went out to Castel Dell’Ovo, a really cool castle that sits out a little ways into the water.  Once again, as always, I found myself lost in the beauty of the views from the top.  We stayed up there for quite some time, taking in the cool breeze off the ocean before continuing on our walk towards the hotel.

View from the top of the Castel Dell'Ovo

After our day of exploring the coast we were ready to find some food.  Napoli is famous for its pizza, and having eaten only the cheap stuff up until this point (which was still pretty delicious), Mary, Kaitlyn, Alex, and I set off to find a good restaurant.  We strolled down what seems to be one of the main streets in the city since it seemed to be a little safer, however there weren’t any real restaurants, mostly just clothing stores.  So after about 15 minutes of walking we ventured down a side street that didn’t look too sketchy, and seeing a pretty generic pizzeria sign, decided to investigate what seemed to be just a hole in the wall place.  It just so happened that the restaurant we wandered into by chance was L’Antica Pizzeria “Da Michele,” the restaurant where Julia Roberts eats in the movie Eat, Pray, Love, during the “I’m having a relationship with my pizza” scene.  We were so excited, and they seated us at the table where they filmed it!  After about 50 photos with the restaurant workers, of the photo of Julia eating in that exact spot, and re-enacting the moment itself, it was time to see what this pizza was all about. First and foremost, it was awesome from word go because an entire pizza was only 4 euro.  To put that into perspective, in Rome you can get a single slice of nasty pizza for the same price.  Second, BEST. PIZZA. EVER.  We ended up splitting three pizzas between the four of us, and it took self control like you wouldn’t believe to not order a fourth.  All the workers were super friendly, and made me realize that there are some very normal, very nice people living in Naples, they’re just few and far between.  After this life altering meal, we took a leisurely stroll back to the hotel, stopping for gelato on the way.  Because naturally, the only way to finish off your evening when you’ve had three pizzas is to top it off with some gelato.  So Italian.

Friday was my friend Chelsea’s 21st birthday so we headed back to Da Michele so she and the others who had missed out on the first night of heavenly pizza could experience it too.  This time the group of eight of us split six pizzas, and Bethany, Kristin, and I ordered one to go.  Being there with such a fun group of girls, eating fantastic food made for a wonderful night, and I imagine it was a spectacular way to spend a 21st birthday.  Later that night, as my roommates and I sat in our little hotel room, stuffed beyond belief, with an entire pizza left to be eaten, we kind of questioned our judgement in ordering another to go.  But you only live once, and with luck, you’re only in Naples once, so in hindsight it was actually a very wise decision.  We polished off the last delicious pizza, and headed to bed to rest up for our final day in Naples.

Naples at night

We were warned the night before that our planned trip to the Isle of Capri may not happen as they were expecting serious storms to hit the coast.  So we left the hotel bright and early to head down to the port to find out if our boat tour and day of playing in the Mediterranean Sea would be able to happen.  Unfortunately they were expecting things to get really bad and decided to shut down the port, so we weren’t able to end up going out to the island.  While I’m bummed out about the fact that we weren’t able to go to Capri, which I’ve heard is absolutely gorgeous, I can’t say it was all bad.  I was in desperate need of some time in Rome to get my life reorganized after a crazy couple of weeks, so it wasn’t all bad.  As we pulled up to the our home in Rome, the Hotel Tiziano, I was so relieved to be back.  The trip to Naples was nice, and it was cool to see a different part of Italy, but it made me realize just how much I love Rome.  It can be hectic and crowded, but I feel safe walking around here, and it really feels like home now.  This morning I woke up early and beat the crowds to go sit on the porch of the Pantheon, where I wrote some of this blog, soaking up the crisp fall weather, and sunshine.  As it started getting busier I came over to one of my new favorite places.  It’s called La Feltrinelli, and it’s essentially a Barnes and Noble … kind of lame that in such a city as Rome this would be a favorite place, but it’s a quiet place to study and work on things alone, which is a hard thing to find here.  I have the whole day to  myself, and I’m not quite sure how I’ll spend it, but I’d really like to go explore somewhere new.  It’s a beautiful day in Rome, and I don’t have too much longer here so I want to make sure I soak up every second of it.

Also, I’m finally caught up on my blog now! SUCCESS. Unless something extremely exciting happens this week, my next one will probably be about my trip to Paris!! I’m excited beyond words for this trip!

Until next time, Ciao!

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