Naples, Italy is not for the faint of heart. Infact, if you are looking to take a deep breath any time before you lay your head on the pillow each night, Naples might not be the best choice of destinations. However, I love Naples. Napoli is so full of character, Italian vivaciousness, and of course amazing Southern Italian food. Over the New Years holiday "Capodanno" I spent a full week immersing myself in the very vibrant life of Naples. I was travelling with my parents which made things a little more interesting.
We barely passed through the British authorities at the airport in London (or just avoided jail according to my mother), as my father was forced to relinquish his passport temporarily since he was carrying a menacing looking knife through security. Truthfully, like any good Italian, he only carries it on him at all times so that he is well prepared to slice into a salami, a hunk of fresh cheese or a loaf of crusty bread, but try explaining that to the British. After getting his passport back just in time to catch our flight, my mother claimed she was not planning to give up our week planned in Napoli, if he caused himself to get stuck in a London prison.
Our arrival in Napoli, was perfectly Neapolitan. To begin, our cab driver overcharged us. Even though we knew the fixed price that we were supposed to pay, he assured us that there were other added tariffs that we did not know about. He told us that it would be fine, and just to get in. My mother seemed to think this was fine as well, so she shooed us into the cab and proceeded to chit-chat with him, in Italian, about life in Napoli. The cab driver was nice and friendly, but also managed to offer us a "special" guided tour of Pompeii and the coast, if we were looking for a driver/tour guide. (This would be the first of many enterprising offers...I cant say I don't admire his ambition).
As we completed our third circle of the "Centro Storico" historic center of the city, where our hotel was located, our cab driver pulled over and told us that we were very close but that he could not get down the narrow street to our hotel, so we had to exit the car here and now. (And here began our trek to the hotel.) He managed to drop us in the absolute MOST crowded street in ALL of Naples.
Dragging our suitcases behind us, we inched along down a narrow cobbled street where masses of people were crowded along to look at all of the "Presepe" sellers (nativity scenes). This was my lesson (and lesson learned!) about how enthralled Naples is with creating their personal nativity scenes. But this was not just any crowded street, we were literally stuck in a swarm of people and could... not... move. People that were coming up the street could not go up, and people going down could not go down. The only person that actually somehow managed to get through was a crazy man swinging a metal container of incense coals and blessing us all.
So after 20 minutes of checking for my wallet, then inching another foot, then trying to understand what was just yelled in Italian, then smelling the incense coals being swung above my head for the third time and meanwhile fighting off fits of claustrophobia, we made it to the hotel. There, we realized the cab driver just really did not know where the hotel was, as it was perfectly reachable by car (noted by all of the cars parked outside of it).
After our arrival we were perfectly primed for the rest that Naples had to offer. On New Years Eve we dodged fire crackers that were thrown by the lovely, sweet, Italian boys that can do no wrong in their mothers eyes. My father was offered a special price if he would buy out an entire shop of pianos, and we learned that a bottle of wine on a restaurant menu can come in any size or price, the details of which will of course not be listed on the menu, nor told to you.
In fact, not half of what a restaurant serves will be listed on the menu. This all actually made lunch quite interesting, almost a game of roulette.. Ask for a bottle of red and see how much they charge us... Ask for a plate of fish and see what arrives...Ask for the vegetable of the day... and then later see that someone else at another table got something much better.
To supplement our dining roulette, my mother and I carried out a pastry and pizza tasting. Throughout the week, we tasted the offerings of 4 pizzerias and about 7 pastry shops. My father whole-heartedly gave up early on, after only two pizzas, referring to the chewy soft Neapolitan pizza dough as similar to a "slightly soggy pancake".
While we did not get through all of the pastries in the city, our very scientific summary is that we can also do without the Neapolitan pizza, but the pastries are absolutely not to be missed. If you are headed to the area any time soon, send me a note and I can give you all of my recommendations for great food, and don't worry the Presepe street should be walk-able until next December.
Before we could part with Naples we got to experience one good bout of Italian bureaucracy. As we boarded the plane, the British pilot mentioned that the Italian gas man did not fill our tank enough so he would have to quickly return to do so, then we would be off. Easy, right? No.
After 20 minutes, the pilot returned to tell us that it is Italian law for there to be a fire truck on guard when the gas tank is filled with passengers on board, so the fire truck is on its way. Then we can fill and go.
20 minutes later, the pilot is exasperated. He says that the fire truck can not come to this area of the airport (well it is a good thing that we are not actually on fire), so we will have to move to where they can reach us. Then the fire truck will come, and the tank will be filled, and then we can go.
20 minutes later, we have moved, the fire truck shows up, the gas man shows up, and the tank is filled in 10 minutes. We finally depart, leaving the Bay of Naples and all of its lovely nonsense until next time.
Other Non-food pictures
The Bay of Naples and Mt.Vesuvius
The Lungo Mare (The Seaside Walk)
Above the city
View from the hills
My mother was lucky enough to find a secret admirer ("Rita ti amo!")