Sappho. Frescoe. Naples Archaeological Museum, Italy.
So, you are going to Naples? The first thing you will know preparing for your journey is that there are at least two Naples in the world: one is in the south of Italy, another is in Florida, U.S.A. Sun, sea, and palm trees are the things these cities have in common, but nothing more. Naples in Florida is a respectable resort for millionaires, Naples in Italy is another matter completely.
There are many unkind tales and anecdotes about the latter. From the Italians themselves, you can hear absolutely anything and everything about Naples. For example, Africa begins south of Tuscany,” or a day for the Neapolitan was wasted if he could not cheat someone. Northern Italians don’t forget that Camorra, one of the oldest and largest criminal organizations in Italy dating back to the 16th century, originated in the region of Campania and its capital, Naples.
People talk about visitors to Naples: if you spent a week in the motherland of the best pizza and were not offended or robbed, you will be able to survive in any other city of the world. Of course, we went to Italy for two reasons: Italian Naples is much closer to us, and what is most important, in Naples, Florida, you will not find a totally unique Naples National Archaeological Museum. However, we did not want to push our luck and reserved only 48 hours for this visit of Italian Naples.
We arrived in Naples by train from Rome in the early morning. Neapolitan housewives had already hung freshly washed clothes on their balconies, narrow alleys were filled with scooters, Fiats, and tourists trying to dodge from these crazy vehicles. It seems that very few people obey traffic rules here. Many cars had scratches and dents; however we did not see any serious accidents over the next two days. Maybe Neapolitan drivers are very skilled?
We took a taxi at Stazione Centrale. Having read all the warnings in the Internet, we were surprised that the taxi driver did not deceive us. He took the standard fee of 11 Euros, gave us a receipt (what is more, he did it BEFORE the start of the trip), loaded and unloaded our luggage, and wished us a good holiday. Hmm … Strange. The first “disappointment” in Naples, because we expected fraud.
Our hotel, located almost in the old town on the Piazza Bellini, proudly boasted four stars. It had rooms without windows, but with doors to a shared balcony (simultaneously it was a corridor with the doors to the rooms) with a view of the garden (which is a rarity in the center of Naples). We immediately called it a four-star hostel. Probably in Rome, this hotel would have three stars, in Venice two, in Bruges, Belgium, not one.
A wine from Vesuvius, burrata cheese, and fruits.
We did not go to try the best-pizza-in-Naples-in-Italy-and-in-the-whole-world despite the recommendations of the receptionist who advised us of at least four pizzerias that must definitely be visited. Getting acquainted with the district, we passed one of them. Already an hour before opening, we saw a crowded queue of 50 tourists near its closed door. Note: there was not a single local resident among them. An hour later, we had a wonderful lunch at a small cafe nearby, where the owner served the food for us, and handmade pasta was cooked by his wife. No queues, but the food was superb. Once again, we confirmed the old advice for travelers: eat far away from tourist quarters.
The old district of Naples has many churches and cathedrals whose decoration any museum in the world could envy. For a few minutes, we looked into the Cattedrale di San Gennaro which houses the most revered Neapolitan relic—clotted blood of Saint Januarius.
How this blood is preserved to this day is not clear since Januarius died under Diocletian, i.e., about 305 years before Nativity. However, the day of St. Januarius is vigorously celebrated in Naples, Italy, every year on the first Saturday of May and on September 19th. A vessel with blood, sealed 17 centuries ago, is taken out from the Naples Cathedral and shown to numerous believers. After fervent prayers, a holy substance suddenly boils and becomes liquid again. People rejoice, gun salutes rattle from the walls of the ancient fortress, and general merriment lasts several days. Cheerful city.
A lion and a kid near the entrance to Naples Cathedral.
Is it really scary and dirty in Naples? In some places. The atmosphere there is very peculiar. It is not very clean on the streets and probably not safe at night. In the evening, policemen on the streets of the city were supplemented by soldiers. As Al Capone said, “You can go a long way with a smile, but you can go a lot farther with a smile and a gun.” The city is not very favorable for relaxation and peaceful contemplation. You are always a little wary there.
For example, we were surprised by the warning in our hotel that on the streets of Naples, it is better not to wear jewelry in the ears and on the neck, because thieves can grab it and run away (or flee on a motor scooter). Before going for a walk, my wife Irina and I removed all our jewelry and tried to dress as if our weekly income was 20 Euros between us. I am not sure we were successful in it. At least, we took off our rings, earrings, necklaces, tiaras, crowns, etc. Later we noticed that very few women on the streets of Naples wore jewelry. Perhaps they were also warned at their hotels. Can you imagine something like that in Naples in Florida, in the U.S.A.?
However, many of those unbejeweled women fearlessly flaunted their “golden” IPhone 6.
Early in the morning, the city streets look like the aftermath of Oktoberfest: piles of garbage, paper, cigarette butts, whole and broken bottles; however, the population evolves into insane movement everywhere. All the cars are in a hurry accompanied by the mad tooting of horns. It feels like every inhabitant of Naples is driving to a job. While waiting for the opening of the Napoli Museo Archeologico at the table in a cafe with a cup of coffee (the coffee was bad, which is non-typical for Italy) and watching the traffic Armageddon around us, we thought: if they are in such a hurry to work, where are the results of such an incredible labor? At least, street cleaners do their work badly here.
Neapolitans don’t even try to make excuses. Their city invites idleness. It is overpopulated and there is not enough work. Morning Naples reminded me of the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, Spain: early morning, syringes and fragments of bottles also crunched under foots there (although it should be noted that in Barcelona they were quickly removed). Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his “Italian Journey” wrote something like this:
Naples is fun, free, and alive. Countless numbers of people hang around streets, the king is hunting, the queen is in a particular condition… In short, everything is fine.
Apparently, little has changed in 200 years.
Fontana della Immacolatella
Piazza dei Martiri
Finally, it is the long awaited ten o’clock, and Naples National Archaeological Museum opens. We would see a collection of antique sculptures and mosaics found during archaeological excavations in Pompeii, and original frescoes from Pompeii, Stabiae, and Herculaneum. It was surprising to see half-empty halls of the museum whose sculpture collection is in no way worse than the finest collections of other museums of the world. Seems that in Naples, few people are interested in ancient statues, frescoes, and mosaics of the 1st-2nd century AD which was preserved for us when the Vesuvius volcano killed thousands of people. But there are long lines to pizzerias.
M.Nonius Balbus. Herculaneum, Forum Area, donated by the inhabitants of Nuceria.
We have not succumbed to the general hype and have not tried the best-pizza-in-the-world. I have already mentioned one reason, but do you want to know the second one? If you pass a pizzeria and don’t feel the magical flavor of the Italian cuisine, then this is a mediocre pizzeria, pizzeria for tourists. Look for the flavor! In Naples, we found this magic and very familiar flavor only once.
Italian Naples is not so big, and in 48 hours, you can inspect both the Napoli Museo Archeologico, Castel dell’Ovo, Toledo metro station, and several other attractions which any guide will inform you about. You can even visit the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The city of Naples can be loved or hated, it combines good and bad, beauty and decay, but it certainly knew better times. Even now, the city has all the conditions for prosperity, but it is strongly mutilated by its modern inhabitants.
This is a state lyceum of Naples.
A corner of Piazza Bellini.
An unexpected piece of art in a dirty dead end.
If you live in Europe, a trip to Naples will not bankrupt you. But if you live in the United States, think carefully where to fly, to Naples, Italy, or to Naples, Florida. In the latter you will find the same natural beauty as in Italy: sun, sea, palm trees, and beautiful weather, but you will be living comfortably among beautiful buildings, streets, parks, and well-dressed people.
I even think that a pizza there will be not worse than in Naples, Italy. By the way, according to this poll, the healthiest eaters in the US live in Naples. In Florida, there is only one thing you will not find: one of the best archaeological museums in the world. For that alone, it is worth it to fly to Italy even from the U.S.A.
In conclusion, Italian anecdote about the Neapolitans.
Dante and Antonio, who came from Naples to Milan, spent all their money and then wondered how to get money for the trip home. They decided to split up and beg. An hour later, the friends met and reported the results.
Antonio: I pretended to be blind and poor, hung a sign, “Give to the poor and blind for a piece of bread” on my neck, sat near Duomo, and earned only 11 Euros. These Milanese are so cold and heartless! What did you get?
Dante: I stood near the train station with a sign, “Poor Southerner wants to go home.” I collected 3,000 Euros in an hour.
Toledo metro station in Naples, Italy.