Leaving behind the lemon-drenched streets of Sorrento, we hopped on the ferry bound for a day trip to Naples. Costing only a few Euro’s, our thirty-minute ferry ride awarded us with beautiful views of a cloud-covered Mount Vesuvius, the sweeping coastlines along the Bay of Naples and little Capri, sitting quietly on the azure-hued horizon.
It was a bit windy, and I believe we both got sunburned, but neither of us wanted to go inside the ferry’s stuffy cabin for protection from the elements. Who would hide from views like this?
So, why visit Naples? Naples certainly has a PR problem and there is really no way to sugar coat it. Given the city’s reputation for pickpockets, Mafia activity and general uncomfortable frenzy and dirtiness, many travelers question whether the city is even worth visiting. Naples certainly isn’t as popular as Rome, Florence and Venice after all.
However, as we soon discovered, even though Naples is gritty, crowded and chaotic, the chaos is actually really beautiful. The blend of noisy markets, faded facades and Vespa-choked streets felt like we were walking through the real Italy, not the prettied up version created to please tourists. Plus, we had to visit Naples on our mission to find The World’s Best Pizza.
So here we were. And I must say that we both enjoyed out Naples’ outing immensely. Perhaps our favorite part was simply strolling through the alleys and side streets where we caught glimpses of day-to-day life.
Similar to my love of photographing bicycles, wooden-shuttered windows and rustic doors, I also love capturing photos of laundry. Capturing moments of fluttering work shirts, striped sheets, soccer socks and lacy bras draped on a rope across an alleyway or hanging across a terrace’s rail seemed like a small peek into one’s personal life, and I treasure these small moments of beauty.
We paid a short visit to the Church of San Francesco di Paola, a gorgeous monstrosity boasting massive columns that perches on top of Naples’ largest piazza. The church was constructed as an imitation to the Pantheon in Roma and was built as a tribute to Napoleon. The sprawling concrete lawn in front of the church is home to impromptu soccer and volleyball matches, a idyllic area where teenagers lay heads on loved ones laps, elders stretched in the sun and couples passionately embraces atop steps.
Eating in Naples: Well, after stuffing ourselves with The Best Pizza to be Found in Italy, we needed an apéritif, of course. It was time to try the dangerously good pastries in Naples. Due to Naples’ mixed heritage of French, Spanish, Austrians, and Bourbons, its pastries are influenced by some of the best foreign secrets of sweets making. Traveler’s tales especially told of the mouthwatering sfogliatelle, created in Campania. This layered pastry is almost a study in contradictions – layers of flaky crust on the outside and a semi-sweet rich, slightly tangy ricotta filling. Yes, it was as delicious as the picture looks!
And then there was the visit to the gelateria. During our Italy trip, treats of creamy gelato took place on an almost daily basis. Most gelateria offer a bewildering array of flavors that includes both the crema (creamy) versions and the frutta (fruity) versions. From chocolate and lemon to nocciola (hazelnut) and stracciatella (plain ice-cream with fragments of crunchy chocolate), the choices are endless and mind-numbing. I usually hemmed and hawed for several minutes before finally asking the gelato scooper to just make a choice for me. These experts are the most qualified at picking combinations that compliment one another – like pistachio and strawberry. Oh my!
With fully bellies and only a few more hours left to roam Naples, we chose to simply wander through its streets and absorb the rustic, faded glamour. The storico antico of Naples is a densely populated area where the locals don’t pay much attention to tourists. Men – young and old – sit in alleys with their kitchen chairs talking soccer or politics and storefronts spill out into the streets. As we plodded along, taking photos of flapping laundry and crumbling, ice-cream colored architecture, many locals stopped to chat or greeted us with a simple, “ciao.”
Our conversations with new friends revealed that the locals were passionate and charming. I remember reading this quote from a fellow blogger, “Napoli is like a woman you fall in love with by mistake. First, it attracts you by its magnetic passionate force, but once you experience the bad manners of the Neapolitans, you cool off.”
I luckily didn’t experience any bad manners, and I was truly charmed by the bustling city. I’m not sure I can imagine spending an extended period of time hanging out in Naples, but my mom and I thoroughly enjoyed our day trip. Scraping below the surface of Naples revealed another layer of Naples, not often seen by the common tourist.