Naples – the madness of South Italy

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2 days in Naples and 1 day in Pompeii – why we will never forget this trip

Greeks founded Neapolis – “New city”. Naples was a flourishing city in the Roman times.

Naples can stun you with its contrasts. The truth is that I am not sure whether I like Naples, but I am sure that I am not indifferent to this city. Rush hour, terrible traffic, slums crammed with poor people, castles and palaces, mafia, pizza and lot of other things create the madness of Naples. It always surprises you.

Naples, Italy from above

My friends from North Italy thought that I was crazy to take the risk visiting Naples. The steward of the ferry was convinced that is not safe to visit Naples by car. This city is today more famous with the high crime rate than its history, but we survived there and then in Sicily.

Hotels in Naples.

 

The traffic in Naples

It is the first Neapolitan “attraction” if you visit the city by car. Driving there turned out to be a challenge even for skilled tourists like us, used to live in Bulgaria and with experience in the crazy traffic in Albania. On the Neapolitan streets is like driving in Tirana but multiplied by… hundreds. Navigation became useless when we entered the historical centre of the city. The route that we had to follow appeared to be a grid of narrow steep lanes but with a two-way traffic.

Along the wider streets you feel attacked by bikers flying from all sides and in all directions – two-wheel vehicles proved to be terribly popular in this city. Of course, there were also pedestrians. And all these road users were moving, of course, without following any rules.

After we arrived in the hostel (luckily there was a nice internal car parking) we started a small pre-night exploratory walk in the city. The first thing we noticed, walking on the street, were the cars. But it was not the chaotic parked cars that took our attention. It was actually the fact that there wasn’t a single undamaged car. Within the next two days we intensively looked for an undamaged one but without any success.

Now it’s time to have a look of the Neapolitan streets.

Via Dei Tribunali and where to eat Neapolitan pizza

You may try to imagine the colourful picture surrounding us. To be honest, the streets are not the cleanest in the world, clamorous Italians were everywhere on the crammed small streets. Dangerous scooters carrying up to three people whooshed around us.  It was our first time in the Historical Centre of Naples.

After a short walk we are standing in front of Sorbillo Pizzeria (located on Via Dei Tribunali, 32). It was recommended to us by the administrator in our hostel. Here you can have a very cheap and delicious original Neapolitan pizza. There is a long queue in front of the pizzeria. While standing and wondering how we could get inside, we hear a sound from an old speaker saying “Alfonso – 3”. It appeared that first you have to sign up and give your name and number of people to the administrator. About 20 minutes later your turn comes and they call you on the speaker. I sent my wife Maria to do this complicated job and 20 minutes later we heard “Maria – 2” and got in.

They gave us a small dark table in immediate closeness to the neighbouring table where they settled two Germans and a man from Switzerland. Happy to be inside, we were quickly served. I forgot to explain that in Naples (and most of South Italy) you can eat pizza only after 8 pm. If you want to eat pizza before dinner time it is almost impossible. So we ordered our pizzas. Because not trying pizza in Naples is like not trying a schnitzel in Vienna. People from Naples are proud to have invented the pizza and the pizzas were incredible, indeed.

Via dei Tribunali

Via Dei Tribunali itself is a strange street – narrow, noisy, crowded, with lots of bikers whooshing past us. The crossing streets are even narrower and scary looking. All of this has its own charm although it’s quite scary after sunset.

Via Dei Tribunali, Naples, Italy

Our walk in Naples is still accompanied by laundry hanged through the windows, by the walls, on the street itself. Narrow dark streets, tall old buildings almost touching each other – this is the Historical Centre of Naples.

Via Dei Tribunali, Naples, Italy

Creepy Via dei Tribunali

Via Dei Tribunali, Naples, Italy

Via Dei Tribunali, Naples, Italy

Via Dei Tribunali, Naples, Italy

Castel Sant’Elmo and panoramic Naples

It is time to leave the noisy city and climb a fortress located on a hilltop near the Certosa di San Martino, overlooking Naples – Castel Sant’Elmo. We reached the fortress walls with a lift and had a great walk enjoying the picturesque view from there. It was free because of the national holiday – May 1st.

Castel Sant’Elmo, Naples, Italy

View from Castel Sant’Elmo

Naples from Castel Sant’Elmo

Naples, Italy

Gulf of Naples

Naples, Italy

A view from Castel Sant’Elmo

A view ti Naples from Castel Sant’Elmo

Certosa e Museo di San Martino

A former Cartesian monastery, nowadays it is a museum, next to the fortress with a great view to the Neapolitan bay and Vesuvius (the scary volcano that last erupted in 1944). In the museum you can enjoy the carriages and boats from the times of Neapolitan kings.

Naples, Italy

Naples with Mount Vesuvius

Naples

Naples, Italy

Beautiful but scary – Mount Vesivius

Quartieri Spagnoli

From the certosa we took a path down by countless stairs. After a long and tiring descending we reached one of the poorest and crammed area of the city of Naples. The neighborhood is notorious for the crimes and the mafia syndicate Camorra (so famous that the check-spelling corrected me when I wrote the name incorrectly). Its old buildings hide the sun. The clotheslines full with laundry are standing above and around us

Spanish quarter, Naples, Italy

Spanish quarter, Naples

Spanish quarter, Naples, Italy

When you come down from the top of the hill and keep moving straight you reach the famous and crowded Toledo street…

Spanish quarter, Naples, Italy

Via Toledo

Via Toledo is one of the landmark streets in Naples, created by Spanish viceroy Pedro Álvarez de Toledo, 2nd Marquis of Villafranca in 1536. For centuries it has been a major artery, pumping the lifeblood of the city up and down its corridor. In this regard, it can be compared to Rome’s Via del Corso, Paris’ Avenue des Champs-Élysées, or London’s Bond Street.

Via Toledo on a non-working day, Naples Italy

Via Toledo on a non-working day

Nowadays Via Toledo is a main shopping street offering something for everyone – high-class shopping, street vendors offering cheap shoes and accessories, ice cream booths and cozy restaurants. When it is an official holiday, the street becomes crowded with slowly walking people. Toledo Street is long about 1.2 km.

Another interesting place located on the street is the famous Gallery Umberto I with its wonderful glass domes, built at 1887. Today a big shopping area, Gallery Umberto I is another landmark of Naples.

After our walk along the noisy streets we are going to visit some more palaces and castles.

Castel Nuovo and Palazzo Reale

The day is not long enough to visit all famous sites of Naples. We saw the “New Castle”- Castel Nuovo, built by Charles I of Naples (Charles of Anjou), the first king of Kingdom of Naples. However, it was closed for renovation and we could only enjoy its glory from the outside.

Castel Nuovo, Naples, Italy

Castel Nuovo , Naples

Castel Nuovo

Near this castle is the Royal Palace. Nowadays it is a museum with a lot of Neapolitan king’s symbols and other royal stuff from the times of Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, ruled by Bourbons.

Caspar van Wittel - he is becoming on of my favourite Dutch painters. The Royal Palace on the right, Saint Elmo on the top of the hill behind

Caspar van Wittel – he is becoming on of my favourite Dutch painters. The Royal Palace on the right, Saint Elmo on the top of the hill behind

Royal Palace, Naples, Italy - Palazzo Reale

The royal theatre in the Royal Palace – Palazzo Reale

The throne of the king, Naples, Italy - Palazzo Reale

Throne of the king

The throne of the queen, Naples, Italy - Palazzo Reale

The throne of the queen

Gulf of Naples

After the busy day we took some rest on the stony coast of the Gulf of Naples. There is another castle there – Castel dellÓvo. It is located on a former island, now a peninsula, but it was closed when we got there. However there are a lot of cafes and restaurants on the island and we enjoyed the sun, the Italian espresso and ice cream.

Naples, Italy

Although we spent there only 3 days, Naples is not a city for a short visit. It offers a lot to see if you have time and will to do it.

Naples, Italy - seaside restaurants

Seaside restaurants in Naples

A few words about the hostel

The best benefits of the place where we stayed were the inner yard with a nice café and its own parking where our precious family car took refuge from the terrible traffic outside. It was also close to the Historic Centre. If you go to Naples, I advise you to book your accommodation as early as possible because the good hostels are booked well in advance.

Hostel La Controra
Piazzetta Trinità alla Cesarea, 231
80135 Napoli

A day in Pompeii

Less than an hour drive south of Naples are located the remains of the glorious ancient city of Pompeii, buried by the eruption of Vesuvius volcano in 79 AD. The story of Pompeii has been an inspiration for numerous movies and books, for a reason.

Streets of ancient Pompeii

Streets of ancient Pompeii

The excavated city offers a snapshot of Roman life in the 1st century, frozen at the moment it was buried on 24 August AD 79. Under the deadly layers of lava, the city has been preserved almost intact for centuries before being rediscovered in the 18th century. The forum, the baths, many houses, and some out-of-town villas remain well preserved, as well as detail of the everyday life.

Attractions in Pompeii

Among the most interesting artefacts for us were the pedestrian crossings and the “pubs” that we saw in some houses. At first it took us a while to figure out what the huge stone blocks on the streets were used for. They proved to be the ancient pedestrian crossings. At those times the streets were used both as drainage channels so stepping on the road was not a very wise idea.

Sink-like formations in some of the houses attracted our interest, too. First we thought they were a part of a bath or something but later they proved to be a form of bars or pubs.

Andrey and Maria in Pompeii, Italy

Andrey and Maria in Pompeii

We have seen many fortresses and ancient cities, even recovered ones, but Pompeii was the most realistic one so far. Apart of showing what life looked like before the eruption, it also reminds of the great tragedy that occured there. The plaster casts of victims are exposed in the Garden of the Fugitives, representing the last moments of Pompeii’s inhabitants, trying to escape from the lava. It is believed that at the time of the eruption Pompeii had around 11 000 inhabitants.

Allow at least half a day if you want to see everything in Pompeii. The city is not small at all and you might find yourself tired between the numerous streets and villas.

Vineyards of Pompeii

Vineyards of Pompeii

Check the opening hours and more information at the official site www.pompeiisites.org/

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