Pizza! Music! Vibrance! Passion! Creativity! The ocean! What more could you want….?!
OK so I was getting more and more fraught with worry about going to Naples, especially as it was to be my last stop before leaving Italy and I didn’t want anything to spoil my amazing experience here so far. I’d heard lots about pickpockets, muggings and murders (!) but not just via word of mouth, it came straight from those who it had happened to. To make matters worse, the hostel in Rome gave us the unfortunate news that the two girls who had shared our dorm room and gone on to Naples the day before had been involved in an attempted mugging by a couple of guys on scooters. Fortunately they didn’t lose their belongings, but what is perhaps even worse, is that one of them got dragged to the ground and hurt her arms and legs quite badly. I can only imagine how frightening something like that can be, and how extra vulnerable and distrusting one would become after such an event. I felt awful for her. I too had my handbag snatched one evening when I lived in Bristol, again by a gang who followed me in a car…. it took me years to feel ok about walking in the dark alone again, even if it was still early evening. It’s a horrible thing to happen, makes you feel like you are susceptible to the worst possible things that can possibly happen in life and it turns everything on it’s head making you feel that you no longer have control over your own your own life or can do anything independently because you fear the worse. I hope she recovers well and can enjoy the rest of her travels and it doesn’t ruin her experience of Italy.
However…..! Despite the chaotic, noisy and manic reception I was greeted with as I came out of the train station (where for a brief moment I confirmed in my head I was nuts for coming here) I turned into the main road where my bed & breakfast is located and passed by a side street on my left which was totally the most typical Napoleon street you could ever imagine – just like you see in the movies! Except there it was in real life! I could not believe the scene it literally took my breath away. The sun was perfectly over the street casting a golden glow and I wish wish WISH I had the nerve to stop and take out my camera and capture it right there and then. But I didn’t. I still had The Fear. I had all my luggage with me and felt like an obvious newcomer, a tourist – someone worth mugging! So I told myself I would return later and sneak some photos. Well, I tried this several times but it never quite had the same impact and I feel my photos unfortunately reflect this. But the memory of the scene hitting me with full whack in the face, and in the heart, will remain forever, and for that I am grateful. It is those moments in life, when travelling, with loved-ones etc, that sometimes can never be captured in a frame anyway. They are the ones worth storing in our busy fuddled brains, to pull up whenever we need to be cheered up, reminded of the great things, people and places we’ve been lucky enough to encounter in our short, wonderful lives. They are life’s gifts.
So my impression of Naples was quickly improving. Sounds of samba music, the constant beeps from scooters and cars on the busy roads, the amount of what appeared to be local people rather than hoards of other tourists all seemed to make me feel like I had somehow found another place that could be considered ‘home’. It was gritty, chaotic, colourful, confusing and hot. But it was alive and brilliant and intriguing, all the ingredients that make discovering a new area liberating and exciting – and also provide more opportunities to learn more about oneself and others.
My bed and breakfast accommodation was slightly indulgent, which I felt was justified as I had a long journey to India ahead. It was a peaceful haven in amongst the chaos, right on Piazza Nicola Amore, fairly close to the train station and not too far from the port. The port was somewhere I was anxious to get to – I was in desperate need of seeing the sea! So after checking in I attempted to find food (there are a few vegan options in Naples, thankfully) and walk to the port to see the sea and smell the fresh sea air.
The food conundrum was simple. One of the oldest and best pizzerias in Naples, which had also come highly recommended by some other travellers, was just a short 4 minute walk from where I was staying. Seeing as it offers a vegan pizza (there are only two topping options, the marinara is vegan) and also featured in Eat Pray Love, it went without saying that a visit was in order. One thing I wasn’t prepared for though, even at 3pm on a Monday afternoon, was queuing for 1.5hrs…. and this was spent standing outside in the street in a crowd, often moving out of the way for impatient but skilfully driven scooters hooting their way through. I was hungry when I arrived. Starving by the time my number was called. As it is a sit-wherever-seats-become-available kind of place, I had to hijack the table of a couple who had been glued to each other’s faces in the queue outside, thereby no doubt ruining their romantic experience. But she wished me a good afternoon when she left with a friendly wave, so I guess they knew the score and maybe even…. ewwwwwww felt sorry for me dining alone! Oh god. Apparently it is considered as odd here in Italy, a sorry scene even, to be dining as a woman alone. Oh well. Am used to it now! But visiting the pizzeria was an experience, one that had to be done before I left Naples and I’d done it within a few hours of arriving. Happy days.
From here I needed to walk a bit, walk off the lump of dough sitting in my happy but heavy belly and so I attempted to walk to the port. It was getting on a bit and despite feeling a little bit better about the town I was still going to heed the advice of not walking around after dark, so time was limited. I spent most of the following hour trying to reach the sea…. the whole area seemed to be big busy roads and dead ends leading to massive cruise ships so I couldn’t get to the sea! Defeated, I went back to the B&B, happy that the next day I would be meeting up with one of the girls from my Rome dorm for a day trip to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. The weather forecast was not great but it would be better navigating the rather confusing and complex journey by public transport to the sights with a friend rather than alone.
Unfortunately, she messaged the next morning to say she wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t face the long journey (she’d opted for the cheapest but therefore longest train from Rome to Naples, which would have taken about 3 hours!) and therefore wouldn’t be joining me. Which was such a shame, poor thing, as she had already been to Naples once and missed out on going to Pompeii then too. It was her dream to go, she had told me. But this also left me with a difficult situation as it was by then too late to join a tour in order to still see the two sights, and I did not feel confident about going alone on public transport. Again, the bad stories were plaguing my mind and keeping me locked in the safe and secure B&B bedroom, away from any potential risks and hazards!
I took a moment to breathe. To accept and acknowledge that I only had one whole day in Naples, which was also to be my last day in Italy, and I really didn’t want to let it go to waste. I was almost glad in a way that Pompeii and Vesuvius were off the menu as I had really wanted to see more of Naples and now the opportunity had presented itself. So I (mentally) pulled on my Big Girls Pants and got a grip on myself and started looking at local walking tours or some kind of guided tour and found a golden nugget. A tour of old Naples and the port, with a guide and a car – and it was affordable and didn’t start until 13:30 so I had plenty of time to book, confirm and get ready! It also meant I could be back in time for dinner somewhere before dark. Everything was working out fine. It was all going to be ok.
And so I met the guide at a nearby hotel and we got in a Mercedes to pick up a couple who would also be joining the tour from their very posh hotel in the port area. It was nice it being a small group with just the three of us and the guide (and driver). Made it more intimate and personal plus we had more choice over where we wanted to go. The guide was excellent too. A lovely local lady of similar age to me, who had had a similar recent burning desire inside to change her life up recently which led her back to her home town after some years away. She was very knowledgable about the area, the history and had lots of interesting quirky facts and it made for quite an entertaining experience, especially as the couple (from America and Australia) were both in the travel business and seemed to ask very interesting questions that brought even more intrigue to the town and it’s culture. But the best bit was getting up close to the sea, and then driving up the hill to get an amazing view of the town and bay. Blue sky and blue sea stretched for miles. Open space, nature, fresh air. It was a beautiful day and we marked the end of the tour with some vegan gelatos by the ocean. Perfect.
That evening I went in search of some vegan food, and was met with typical European time issues…. the first place was due to close at 7pm, and when I got there at 6:30pm it was already closed… the second place was meant to open at 6:30pm but when I got there 10 mins later they were still opening up and told me the kitchen would be open about half an hour later…. but by then I was in the thick of the back streets, meandering with Googlemaps as my guide as this was definitely the kind of place you could get lost and I wasn’t sure how I felt about the environment. It seemed very much a locals place, tiny little bars and shops peeping out of the darkened small streets and they seemed a little bit interested in me walking about as well. So a quick review of the situation and finding somewhere else on HappyCow to try, I found myself walking along a route we had done on the tour earlier that day, which was nice as it was familiar to me (which is always reassuring in a new place where you’re not entirely sure where you’re going) and even more of a bonus, it led me to one of those amazing pedestrianised streets where everyone is walking, shopping, eating, drinking, chatting – the place to be. I love it when this kind of thing happens!
Here I found Shanti Art & Music Bar, which looked amazing but was very busy so I earmarked it as somewhere to come and chill out for a few hours the next day whilst waiting for the train back to Rome in the afternoon, and walked a few doors down a side street to Tandem, which not only offered vegan options but also had outside seats available. Bonus! The guys there took good care of me and served up some delicious food and I even opted for a non-alcoholic beer. Which is a new experience for me! Tasted good – in fact it tasted even better knowing there would be no repercussions from drinking it!
It was dark by the time I had to make my way back and I have to say sticking to the main busier streets and roads is the way to go. Feeling familiar with the route also helps, so maybe after a few days of getting to know the area, marking out territories that need to be avoided, if only because of how you feel when you’re in them, certainly helps you enjoy the town and feel confident with being out and about. Same goes for any town/city really. The other great thing is the city is cheap. Everything was way cheaper than say Florence or Siena, even Rome.
The next day was my final day in Italy (boooooooo) and I had a bit of a wait in Naples before boarding the train to Rome airport so I did what I planned to do, sit in Shanti Art & Musik bar eating a bit of brunch and chilling out as much as possible. It was the perfect location as it was very quiet, and the place was decorated with lots of India-inspired hippie cushions, throws, bunting and art, getting me in the mood for my upcoming trip to India and getting in the mindset for finding peace and spirituality!