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Trip Report Trip Report: Naples, Venice, Florence, +

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I just came back from an amazing 18 days in Italy. I think it would take me ages to write a comprehensive trip report, so I'll stick to the highlights & flesh it out later.


THE ROUTE
Naples - six nights (including one overnight in Salerno)
Padova - two nights
Venice - five nights
Verona - two nights
Florence - three nights (I'd been there a week last year)

I was solo for the first ten days, met four friends half way through my stay in Venice, and our group grew to seven by the time we reached Florence.

TRIP PREPARATION and RESOURCES
1. I received great advice here on Fodor's, especially regarding Naples.
2. I put in a fair amount of time with Italian language programs over the past year,averaging about thirty minutes a day. This really payed off; even though my skills were limited I'd estimate that 75% of the people switched to Italian with me as soon they realized I understood some. Pimsleur, Assimil, and Living Language were the core of my studies.
3. Michela Scibilia's TapVenice app was invaluable in finding local places to eat in Venice, and her recommendations and assessments were always spot on. For other cities I relied on TripAdvisor and Google reviews, seeking out the best-rated local spots. The only average / below average food I had was when I didn't do this.
4. Philip Daileader's The Middle Ages series on audible.com was fascinating.
5. Benjamin and Adam Ashwell's Talking History (Italian Unification) podcast had a fantastic section on Venetian and Renaissance history.
6. Goethe's Italian Journey. This is his diary from a trip he took in the 1780's. His writing is fantastic: "Naples is a paradise; everyone lives in a state of intoxicated self-forgetfulness, myself included. I seem to be a completely different person whom I hardly recognise. Yesterday I thought to myself: Either you were mad before, or you are mad now."
7. I never found the perfect history book on Naples or Venice. I looked, but wasn't impressed with any I checked out of the library.

THE BEST of THE BEST - Worth a trip in and of themselves:
1. Naples in general. This was a fun and exciting city. I loved the energy. The old quarter felt more alive, more like a living city, than any other medieval quarter I've visited in Europe.
2. Venice in general. I stayed a 20" walk from S. Marco (an hour if I got lost), and it was awesome staying away from the cruise ship day trippers. I didn't enjoy the center so much, but loved everything else.
3. The opera at Verona. We say Nabucco, and it was absolutely epic.
4. Pompeii. It was far more interesting than I had even imagined. I entered in the back, by the amphitheater, and so was walking counter flow to the masses - though most people didn't seem to wander too far from the main entry.
5. Paestum temples and museum. A beautiful half-day in the country; this shouldn't be missed.

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS - There were oh so many. I'll keep it to 15.
1. The Roman market under San Lorenzo Maggiore, Naples
2. The Veiled Christ at Musello Cappella Sansevero was surreal. I wish I had gone early in the morning, rather than midday when the church was packed.
3. Seeing the Caravaggio at Pio Monte della Misericordia. Art always seems more powerful to me when I see it in context rather than at a museum.
4. Salerno was a spur of the moment overnight; I spent the night rather than taking the train back from Paestum to Naples. It was a good choice; the old town is nice, the Duomo fantastic, and walking through the Gardens of Minerva (the herbal medical garden from one of Europe's oldest universities) made for a pleasant evening.
5. The Museo di Storia della Medicina in Padova was one of the best science museums I have ever seen, and it's not even highlighted on most tourist maps. In 1414 the first modern hospital was founded here, and the museum is an interactive walk through six centuries of western medicine. I went into geek love overdrive here.
6. The tour of the Clock Tower in Venice should not be missed.
7. As many have stated, the views from the clock tower on San Giorgio Maggiore is incredible. This should be a mandatory stop for any Venetian travelers.
8. The ninety-minute rowing lesson through Row Venice through the canals at dusk was magic.
9. The end-of-season sales were incredible, in both Venice (surprise!) and Naples. I wish I had budgeted to do more shopping, but I did come back with a nice jacket and some leather shoes for a ridiculously low price.
10. The Secret Passages tour at Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, was fascinating. It was a good blend of history and art, as well as a fun look behind the scenes at the Medici's private rooms.
11. The Bargello, with its Michelangelos and Donatellos, is one of my favorite museums in Florence and is strangely under visited.
12. Imagine a Roman Villa with 98 rooms open to explore. Imaging that the walls are still covered in their original frescoes. And imagine that you are the only one exploring the villa. It doesn't make sense, yet there it was. Villa Poppaea was one of the more incredible sites I've seen, and it was empty. I went here after Pompeii, and it was a perfect combination; I'd strongly argue that it makes a richer day than the standard Pompeii+Herculaneum that most people recommended.
13. I felt very chic attending the opera in Venice, even though we had the cheap tickets way up at the back. It was still a fun night.
14. The views from San Miniato al Monte in Florence are the best. I dragged everyone up to hear the Gregorian mass, but sadly it was only the normal mass when we got there.
15. The Accademia del Buon Gusto in Panzano in Chianti was the best and most fun wine tasting / wine class I have ever attended - and I do to a lot of wine tastings. Stefano Salvatori only stocks wines from a 35 km radius from his house, and presents his highly personal take on Chianti, which is refreshingly different from the standard Robert P. take on wine.

NOT QUITE WHAT I WAS EXPECTING
1. Underground Naples. It was kind of cool, but at the end of the day it's hard to make an aqueduct interesting. A twenty-minute tour would have been perfect; the hour tour was too long.
2. The Secret Itinerary's Tour at the Palazzo Ducale, Venice, was awful. Or at least, our unpleasant guide made it awful. It was more tiring than interesting, barring one amusing anecdote about Casanova and an explanation of Venetian torture. I would have rather spent the time exploring the palace itself.
3. Florence in peak season was a shock. I had been there at Easter, and I thought that was peak. Not even close. The city seemed to lose some of it's magic for me this trip, though perhaps it was the challenge of being there with seven people.
4. A long day trip driving to San Gimgiano, Monteriggioni, and Chianti was tiring, and left everyone a bit grumpy. We had a great lunch, the towns were pretty, and the Accademia in Panzano was awesome ... but I'm more inclined to slow lazy days than jam-packed tourist days.
5. I could have skipped walking up a hot dusty trail with 1000 other travelers to the Vesuvius summit.
6. Aperitivo in Florence weren't too exciting, though perhaps we just chose the wrong places.
7. The "art" at the Venice biennale was awful. It was so awful that I actually enjoyed myself. There were a few nice exhibits, but far too many where the art was a pair of shoes on a box, or a white room. Literally. I counted three country pavilions where the exhibit was simple just a white room. Though technically, France had a white room with a buzzing sound, so there was some variety.


GOOD EATS - I'll follow up later with some restaurant recommendations. General highlights:
1. Pizzeta in Napoli. 1 euro. So basic, and so good.
2. Pizza in Venice - a surprising runner up to pizza in Naples.
3. Mozzerella di Bufala, fresh from the farm. I never knew mozarella could taste like this.
4. Pasta. pasta. pasta. In all it's wonderful forms.
5. Nero di seppia - pasta or rice with cuttlefish ink. I see tins for sale on Amazon; I'm not sure if it would taste the same, but I'm tempted to order some and try the dish at home.
6. Truffles on everything, Florence. I did bring back some truffle paste and am planning to have a party, if anyone is in town ...
6. Crema di balsamico di Modena - so much richer than the "balsamic vinegar" I find at the stores at home, and tastes great drizzled over tomatoes. I also brought some of this back.
7, Provola cheese friend between lemon leaves. I might be able to recreate this one!
8. An afternoon spritz. I don't know if this is just a summer drink, or if it's the new trendy drink in Italy - I don't recall these from my last trip - but every bar served them, and they were great and refreshing.
9. Chin8 - a soda made with bitter orange.
10. Cicchetti in Dorsoduro, Venice. A great way to close out an afternoon.


RANDOM THOUGHTS
- Naples and Salerno felt alive in August, and some locals told me it was the best month to visit ('all the right people stay, and all the wrong people go on vacation.'). It was hot, everyone was drenched in sweat, but it was fun. The northern cities all felt eerily empty outside the tourist centers.
- Padova was an unexpected center of gay life for Northern Italy. I went to some of the bars, and met guys from all over the region.
- Solo is fun. Five people is fun. Seven people might be too large a group.
- People say that Naples is a different country from the rest of Italy, but so was the Veneto region. This is the first trip where I realized just how big the regional differences are.
- I'm already fantasizing about Sicily for next year.

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    Time to get to work!

    SATURDAY, 22 AUGUST

    I used miles to upgrade, so arrived in Rome feeling good after a 24-hour voyage. First class is such a wonderful way to travel. I wish I could travel like this all the time. Even more, I wish there was some middle ground behind cattle-class and high-end.

    It was an easy ride to Termini train station, then a pleasant trip to Naples. I was excited to finally be in Naples; I've dreamed of visiting the city for so long.

    There are so many horror stories about the neighborhood near the train station. I was prepared: I had my passport and some cards in a pouch tucked into my jeans, I had other cards and back-up cash stashed in my toilet kit & buried deep in my sack, I made sure that there was nothing of value in any outside pocket on my bags, I studied the maps ahead of time so that I could walk through scary Piazza Garibaldi and into the safety of the Centro Storico. I exited the train station trying to project a false confidence ...

    and nothing happened. No chaos. No beggars or con artists or sketchy characters approached me. There was no vibe of danger. It was just a pleasant walk through the urban sunshine to my b&b.

    I had a room at La Dimora della Regina, a new 3 bedroom b&b that is part of a Palazzo from the 1500's. Luigi, my host, met me out front at a small coffee shop. We chatted a bit over an espresso, then went in to see the place.

    The Palazzo has been subdivided into a couple of different residences, shops, and b&b. It was up some steep stairs, which was the norm for this trip - I developed some quads of steel after this trip. I had the single room with shared bath. It was large and sunlit, with windows and a small balcony looking out over Spaccanapoli (Via Vicaria Vecchio).

    I showered (and made a complete mess of the bathroom, getting water all over - I can't figure out Italian showers), napped longer than I meant to, and it was late afternoon when I finally ventured out to explore the neighborhood.

    I liked the center immediately. It was a good thing, too - I made a leap of faith in committing to a week in a city that has such a mixed reputation. The narrow streets were full of people, and like I mentioned before it was a living city, not a living museum. The center proved easy to navigate, too - most of it is a grid, with two main drags cutting through it. I stopped for more coffee, I stopped for a drink, & I grabbed a delicious pizzaretta Margherita from the window of Di Matteo.

    And again, I felt totally comfortable wandering aimlessly. I have a pretty heightened sense of danger, which I have earned the hard way, and I felt nothing here. And I saw women walking solo at night, which is always a sign for me that a city street is safe.

    I decided to wander towards the coast to check out the bay at night. I didn't really know where I was going, and ended up near the port area. It wasn't interesting, and there were no good views. It was getting close to midnight, and it was time for bed.

    A note on noise: the center has narrow streets lined with stone buildings, and voices echo. I was worried that there would be Cairo-levels of traffic noise at night, but all I head were people talking (often at full volume) and the occasional scooter. For me it was peaceful background noise for sleeping, but people who need quiet at night might choose a room further that doesn't open onto the street.

    FIRST FACEBOOK POST


    It's myth busting time. #1: Naples is dangerous. People I talk to say that was true fifteen years ago. Tonight the streets were full of people of all ages. I saw zero drunks, zero crazy, and zero thugs. It was all pretty mellow. I felt no tension in the streets at all. #2: Italian cities close down in August and there are only tourists left. Not even close to true tonight. #3: Naples is dirty. This is mixed. There's lots of graffiti, and more litter than I'm used to. However, it smelled clean, unlike SF (stale piss) or Waikiki (unwashed homeless). It's a toss-up.

    True Facts: the pizza really is that good. We don't even come close. Also: one pizzaretta Margherita will fill you up and costs all of €1.50. Add €2 for a big bottle of Peroni & you have the best budget meal ever.

    It's still early, but I like the city so far. It's got a vibe a little like Istanbul, and a little like Rio. It's a good combo!

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    SUNDAY 23 AUGUST

    Breakfast at La Dimora was yogurt, pastries filled with cream and chocolate, and espresso. The only other guest was a Japanese woman who was in town for the night. Her plan for the day was to rent a car, drive the Amalfi coast, and stop by Pompeii. She told me that in Japan the two Italian cities that people dream of visiting are Rome and Naples.

    I napped again after eating, and headed out around 10 a.m.

    The city was quiet. And hot. So so hot. I was drenched in sweat within minutes of walking out the door, but so was everyone else.

    My uniform for the week would be nice shorts (not baggy cargo shorts!), and a light collared shirt or fitted t-shirt. This seemed to be the standard uniform for all the men, even in the churches. I blended, which always feels good.

    My first task was to get a pack of smokes, which is a challenge on Sundays. The tabaccherie are closed, and the vending machines mostly empty. You also need an i.d. card to use the vending machines, so I had to rely on passers-by to even use them. It took a fair amount of wandering to finally buy a pack. I like using little tasks like this as a means for exploring a city, but I learned to plan ahead for future Sundays.

    I bought the Artecard for seven days, which offers a discount on most sites but doesn't include transportation. The trains were so affordable that this wasn't an issue. I thought that some sites were free with the card, but most had a five euro charge for "exhibits."

    My first stop was the archaeology museum. A lot of rooms were closed, including the ones with the Pompeii frescoes and the "secret room" with all the sexual objects. The statues and mosaics were incredible, so it was a worthwhile visit even though I would have really liked to see the full museum.

    I grabbed a sandwich and spritz at an outdoor cafe in the Piazza Berlini, which was a pleasant respite from all my walking. It was peaceful in the afternoon; at night it would be totally packed with students and young people hanging out in the bars and sidewalks.

    I wandered through more of the center that evening, just enjoying the vibe and the people watching. The restaurants were small, and crowded, and often had lines, so I ended up grabbing more street food. This time it was a beer and mista terra, a paper cone filled with deep fried "croechè, zeppoline, frittatine, riesttine, polenta, & verdure." It was huge, and I thought it must have been for two people to share, but everyone else on the street was buying one per person.

    SECOND FACEBOOK POST

    The shocking truth about the Mediterranean diet: breakfast is cream and chocolate pastries (one of each, the second so full of chocolate it oozes all over your plate with every bite), lunch is some version of a ham and cheese sandwich, a snack is mista terra, dinner is pizza, and the drink of choice is white wine mixed with aperol and soda, on the rocks.

    There are no greens sautéed in olive oil in sight. We've been lied to.

    And they're still skinnier than us.

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    MONDAY 24 AUGUST

    It's time to be a tourist. Today was all about the art, architecture, and churches of the Centro Storico.

    I saw more day trippers today, coming in off the cruise ships or on buses from Sorrento. There weren't many; the center remained 80% or more local. And there were none of the large packs following their leader site to site. Most of the people I saw walking with maps in hand, in fact, were other Italians.

    I'm really glad I'm staying in the center; the streets are starting to feel familiar to me, and in a strange way I feel like I'm 'home' when I leave the main city and enter the quarter again. It's interesting how a city starts to come in to focus the more you walk its streets. We start the first day a bit overwhelmed, and end the week feeling like we are on familiar ground.

    And I love the mornings and early evenings here.

    I touched on my favorite sites in the first post. I started at Pio Monte della Misericordia to view the Caravaggio paintings, then explored the underground Roman market at San Lorenzo Maggiore, and ended the morning at the Museo Capella Sansevero.

    Sansevero was small, and crowded with visitors when I arrived. I think it would be better to try and visit this one earlier or later in the day.

    After lunch (pizzaretta, again) I wandered down the shopping street of Via Toledo. And If I had budgeted differently I would have spent the day shopping for clothes here - and I hate shopping. A cruise ship was in port, and I heard my first American accents of the trip. People seem to be enjoying their afternoon, which isn't always the case with other port cities.

    Seriously, I do not understand this city's bad reputation. It has been nothing but pleasant so far, and other visitors I see are in a good mood.

    A lot of the buildings near the Piazza del Plebiscito are covered in scaffolding, including much of Galleria Umberto I. I'm not sure if this is a sign of economic progress (investment coming in) or decay (buildings falling apart). I hope it's a sign of money coming in.

    I wanted to tour San Carlo Theater, but the tours don't start for another hour and I want to keep moving. I decide to take the funicular up to the Certosa de San Martino. It takes me a long time to actually find the funicular; I think I walked by it four times before I found it. It wasn't very clear how to buy tokens or tickets once I did find it.

    It was nice at the Certosa. I had enough time to explore the monastery and admire the views, then had to head back down to make my tour at Napoli Sotteranea. In retrospect, I would have spent a couple more hours on the hill and skipped the underground tour.

    Dinner was a challenge. The small restaurants in the Centro all had lines, Piazza Bellini was party central, and the big cafés on Piazza del Gesù felt too generic for my tastes. I just wanted a quiet table outside where I could chill and watch the world, and I ended up grabbing a Turkish sandwich in one of the piazza.

    I think that there were a lot of good options in the area along Via Toledo between the Dante and Toledo stations, but I didn't think I would find them just blind wandering. I resolved to plan better for the rest of my time here.

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    Such a great report Michael, thank you. Naples is high on my wishlist.
    Friends of ours just finished a Med cruise, said they stopped in Naples and went straight to Pompeii and didn't like what they saw of Naples. I always thought of it as a city that would grow on you, what a shame those cruise ship trips leave people with such unfair impressions.

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    Thanks everyone! These are fun to write.

    I wonder if the cruise ship people just see the city from the drive to Pompeii. The port area wasn't an amazing place, but it was far nicer than other port areas I've been to. Sometimes I wonder if people aren't projecting what they've heard onto the actual city in front of them.

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    TUESDAY 25 AUGUST - Road Trip!

    This was going to be my first big adventure, with a road trip to Paestum the first day and Pompeii the next.

    The train station in Naples can be confusing; Trenitalia occupies the ground floor, while the Circumvesuviana trains are below ground. There are even two different names for the stations: Napoli Centrale and Napoli Garibaldi. I didn't know this, of course, and wasted some time trying to figure out the Trenitalia schedules.

    Once I did it was an easy trip to PAESTUM.

    From my notes: The Greeks founded the city in 600 b.c. The Lucani took over 200 years later, and the Romans conquered the city in 273 b.c. By the 4th century a.d. deforestation led to the rivers silting up, and the area became an abandoned malarial wasteland. In 1963 Jason and the Argonauts battled the harpies here.

    I had read great reviews of the site, but still wasn't completely convinced that three Greek temples in a field would be terribly exciting. But it was. It was great to be in the country after a couple days in the city, and the temples are magnificent. I'm scrolling through my photos now, and they way they are set against the mountains on one side and open sky on the other is beautiful. The small museum was also enjoyable, and shouldn't be missed.

    It was hot, again. I brought a hiking umbrella on this trip, but left it back in Naples. It was a stupid macho moment: I didn't want to be a dude carrying a parasol. I wish I had brought it; the sun in Campania is intense! Who knows, maybe I could have started a new style trend. Men in Japan are starting to carry parasols, and with climate change on us the rest of the world might not be too far behind.

    Afterwards I walked towards town, aiming for the Barlotti mozzarella di Bufala farm. It's the only one I could find within walking distance of the ruins. It wasn't far, but I was walking on the shoulder of the road for most of the time. They are building a new sidewalk / bike path, so this might be a real pleasant walk soon.

    I was hoping that there'd be guided tours of the farm. Instead, you are allowed to walk out and see the buffalo, there is a tasting room, and a room to buy fresh products from the farm.

    Barlotti makes magical things like fiore di latte gelato (delicious), and fiore di fragola gelato (also delicious), and cannoli filled with fresh buffalo milk ricotta (oh so good), and panne to top your espresso with. I only meant to do a tasting, but this turned into the most decadent second breakfast ever.

    I bought a 1/4 kilo ball of mozarella, freshly made that morning, and headed to the beach. Farm to Table is for amateurs; I'm was cutting out the table and going Farm to Mouth this trip. I also bought a loaf of bread, and headed to the beach for lunch.

    I knew once I opened the bag I'd have to eat it all - and so lunch was 1/2 pound of cheese. The bread was just for show.

    The taste was completely unexpected - it was slightly salty and a little tart, like raw milk mixed with freshly made sour cream. I always thought of mozzarella as a neutral cheese, but this had a definite flavor. The texture was kind of like string cheese, but every chew would release bursts of cream into your mouth.

    The fresh cheese can't be refrigerated, and only lasts a couple days, so - the only way to have it is to visit Campania.

    At this point I think I'm about to pass out & I'm not sure I can make it back to the station.

    As for the beach: skip it. The public area was only a small alley way between private beach clubs. I wasn't comfortable leaving my bag onshore, so didn't go into the water.

    I decided to spend the night in SALERNO rather than backtrack to Naples. Rooms were affordable enough that I didn't mind paying for two b&b for one night. I stayed at B&B La Mela, a short walk from the station and about a ten minute walk from the old town. This is another new B&B, in a modern apartment building hosted by a young and pleasant couple, Antonio and Eleonara.

    A side note about my hotels this trip: There seems to have been a shift since my last trip to Europe. The B&Bs that I reserved on booking.com reminded me more of what you'd find on Air B&B - they tended to be rooms in people's houses or apartments. And the rooms we reserved on Air B&B were more like vacation rentals; we never met the actual hosts, only their agents.

    Salerno was a pleasant interlude. There is enough in the city to fill a pleasant afternoon. The old town isn't as dramatic as Naples' center, but is in better condition and has wider streets. The Duomo was beautiful, and the Gardens of Minerva a nice place to watch the sunset from.

    And I finally had a proper meal! I was told to stick to the restaurants on the east end of the old quarter, as the ones further to the west catered to the package tourists from the hotel zone. I took an outdoor table at Angolo Masuccio, and made some random choices - the menu was handwritten and hard to read, and I was trying to order in Italian even though I only understood about 2/3 of what anyone was saying. Zuppetta a Cozze turned out to be mussels in a spicy broth, and Spaghetti alla Nerano was pasta with fried zucchini. The flavors were good, though the pasta was somewhat under cooked. Not al dente, mind you, but actually under cooked.

    That, plus a few glasses of a local red, and a finishing shot of amaro, and I was a happy camper.

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    AUGUST 26 - POMPEII and VILLA POPPEA

    Pompeii was more incredible than I expected.

    The train from Salerno drops you off in town, not at the Villa of Mysteries stop, and it's a pleasant fifteen walk to the entry near the amphitheater. There was one other tourist couple on the train, and when they asked for directions they were directed to a bus to enter from the main gate.

    I tried to just wander freely, but always seemed to end up on long empty streets without any significant sites, or people. It was cool, but all I could think was, "there must be more than this."

    I eventually dug a map out of my bag that I had printed, and I was able to locate which houses were actually open with this. I had to count the streets to keep my bearings (turn left, count three streets, look for the house on the left, etc.), but it worked.

    http://www.nccgoldservice.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/pompei.jpg

    Around mid day I hit the masses of tourists coming from the other direction, though most didn't stray too far from the main square. I am extremely happy that I entered from the back gate; I think it made my day much more enjoyable.

    It was hot, and I missed my umbrella.

    Lunch at the cafe was poor. I was looking forward to a short siesta and a glass of wine, but the cafeteria was small and crowded and not a place to relax. By 2 pm (after four hours on site) I was done. I found myself entering 'tourist mode' - I'd enter a house, snap a picture, then head to the next house. I enjoyed my semi-solitary morning immensely, and decided that I had had a full day.

    I took the train one stop to Torre Annunziata to visit Villa Poppea (Oplontis). This was an absolutely amazing counterpart to my day in Pompeii.

    Oplontis was a wealthy suburb of Pompei, and was destroyed in the same 79 a.d. eruption. "Villa A" is a sprawling maritime patrician residence. The first phase was built circa 50 BCE, remodeled circa 1 CE, and remodeled two or three times after 45.

    Nero's wife Poppea is said to have lived here. The villa was abandoned after the earthquake of 62, which cut off its water supply. It was empty when Vesuvius erupted.

    A lot of the frescos survived - making it one of the richest sites of Roman painting.

    Strangely, it is off the tourist circuit. 98 rooms and spaces have been excavated, but I only saw six other people there. For the most part I had the whole villa to myself to explore.

    There wasn't much else in town - not even an overpriced tourist shack to grab lunch. I headed back to Naples for pizza.

    It was hot again, and for once I envied the tourists in Sorrento with their ocean breezes and air conditioned rooms. I'm much more of a city person than a resort person, but I wouldn't have minded sitting by a hotel pool and drinking the rest of the night.

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    THURSDAY AUGUST 27 - Last day in Naples.

    I had a lot of options for my last day. Let's start with what I didn't do:

    CAPRI - I don't think a day trip would've been enough for me, and every local told me that it was a wonderful place - but not in August.

    CAPODIMONTE - Would have been my first choice, but most of the museum is closed now due to structural issues.

    BIKING or KAYAKING - This would have been wonderful, but I didn't trust myself to be able to arrive on time for any tour using public transportation, and I didn't want to splurge on a long taxi ride to the meeting points.

    CAMPI FLEGREI and POZZOULI - Some said go, some said there were better options. In retrospect this would have been a better choice.

    AMALFI COAST - I have friends who are horrified that I was here six days and didn't drive the Amalfi Coast. Maybe I missed out, but a day in a car didn't sound that appealing to me.

    CASERTA - A couple locals strongly recommended Caserta, saying that it was like an Italian Versaille. I might be the only person on earth who didn't enjoy Versaille, and so I passed on this one.

    In the end, I chose VESUVIUS and ERCOLANO.

    I had already received a couple emails along the lines of "dude, you've got to go to Vesuvius!" and "Don't miss Ercolano it's the best!"

    And so I went, and ... well, I can check these off my list. Vesuvius didn't turn out to be as dramatic as I thought. You take a bus most of the way up, then join a line of thousands of people on a dusty trail for the last thirty minutes. I walk fast, and had just enough time to walk to the end, have some wine, and walk back to the bus. I don't think anyone else from the bus even made it to the farthest look out.

    I'm used to volcanoes that spit and burp and fart, so Vesuvius felt a bit anticlimactic- it's just dust and rocks at the moment. It didn't turn out to be the nature day I was hoping for.

    I was in the neighborhood, so dropped by Ercolano. It was an interesting counterpoint to Pompeii. It's more compact, and more vertical - the flows here preserved the second and third floors of the buildings.

    Only 25% of the town has been excavated, and as at the other sites adventurers and Bourbon royalty and museum collectors have removed most of the marble and bronze, as well as some of the frescos.

    It was great, and would be a major site anywhere else in the world - but it cannot compare to Pompeii, Paestum, and Villa Poppea.

    I was determined to have a great meal in Naples that wasn't pizza, and chose Al 53 in the Piazza Dante based on Trip Adviser reviews.

    I ordered a 5€ glass of wine, and had my first shock of the night: it wasn't 5€ a glass. It was 5€ for the whole bottle. Mamma mia, I was in trouble. I had a bottle of Aglianico Beneventano all to myself. Aglianico is a black grape first raised by the Phoenicians in Greece, & is one of the oldest known wine varietals.

    It was followed by an amazing pasta dish: Paccheri with tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, and basil. Big hunking blobs of mozzarella. I'm looking at a photo of it now, and I can only dream in vain of finding pasta like this in my town.

    For my main I had a grilled pork sausage. It was too salty too finish. And I had a second shock with my insalata mista - it was just iceberg lettuce with a few shreds of carrot and a few leaves of radicchio. I had just assumed that salads in Italy would be better. I could buy this at any basic supermarket.

    My experience over the next two weeks was that the antipasti and primi (pasta or rice) were almost always amazing, while the secondi and contorni were often disappointing. There were only a few, somewhat higher end, restaurants were the meats were as good as the pasta.

    Lucky for me I like pasta. A lot.

    FINAL FACEBOOK POST

    Final thoughts.

    Naples is definitely ready to get back on the circuit - if you like urban areas. I saw none of the horrors I'd heard about, people were cool, and the number of sights and sounds is mind boggling.

    No gay vibe that I found. I tried to go to the only bar in the center, but you needed a membership on top of the cover & the bouncer said there were only three people inside.

    I didn't do so well with restaurants, surprisingly. The pizza and pastries were great, espresso shops were on every corner, and drinks were insanely cheap - and that was it. I had a hard time finding the small family owned trattorias that I've loved in other cities. I had one amazing pasta dish, one good appetizer, and lots of average meals.

    The old men are cracking jokes with me about other American passengers on the train. I can barely understand them. Here's a pattern I found: if I wear a tight t-shirt and put product in my hair everyone speaks to me in Italian (I understand the basics), or even Neapolitan (I understand nothing). No product, and they speak English.

    NEXT STOP: THE VENETO

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    Great report. Love how you grouped your observations.

    I too love Naples and have been several times. It is a beautiful, exciting city with friendly people, great art and architecture, and good food.

    The Veiled Christ is absolutely amazing. You never forget it!

    Agree about wanting to shop. The beautiful fashions and high end clothing still made to order in Naples are a surprise.

    We have always had vegetables and greens served, perhaps not sautéed greens, but sautéed asparagus and green beans, salads and other vegetables like carrots and grilled eggplant, but not at pizza places.

    I don't think you can blame the negative opinions on cruise ship travelers. They mostly take tours to the AC, Pompeii or Capri., and Naples had a bad rep long before cruisers started stopping there. When I was living in Europe 40 years ago, most tourists got close to Naples only to go to Pompeii. Of course, all the talk of crime did not help. Even the rest of Italy denigrated Naples.

    The first time I went many years ago, beside some trash, the smell of carts of vegetables being pushed around in the July heat permeated the streets by the end of the day. All the smells of cooking melted together since all windows were open because of heat. There was lots of smoking. Children ran around everywhere and old people, everybody who could, sat out because inside spaces were small and hot. Add the noise of vespas and free form traffic and it was chaotic. Life was lived on the streets and I loved every bit of it!

    The last time I was there, it was November and seemed almost sanitized by comparison. Maybe I need to go back in summer.

    People are discovering Naples. Don't know if that is good or bad. When I went the first time, DH and I were the only ones in the whole chapel to see the Veiled Christ in mid-afternoon.

    Thanks for bring back memories of Naples.

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    I just found this trip report too. I was traveling in southern Italy for most of the time you were posting, so I missed it. I think it is a wonderful portrait of Napoli and its surroundings, and interacting with Italian culture off the resoort-track.

    Just so you know you were only half-lied to, the "Mediterranean diet" of olive oil and veg/seafood does exist in Italy, mainly along the Italian Riviera once you are north of Tuscany and on a curve toward France. There the traditional local cuisine has a minimum of cheese and meat, and even the pasta sauce is green. Sicily too has quite a lot of classic dishes that are centered around veg, nuts, fish -- not cheese and meaet -- if you get out of the tourist areas.

    Hope you wil continue and you certainly got from Italy a key insight: the regional differences are dramatic, profound and delightful. Sicily is another world in many ways. Hope you get to see the whole boot sometime. Hope too that you get back to Naples and have some wonderful food experiences beyond pizza. Napoli and its nearby towns comprise one of Italy's greatest pasta centers, and also has fantastic dishes from the sea. TripAdvisor is not a great place to go looking for food recommendations. Try the Slow Food books, Fred Plotkin and Arthur Schwartz and the Italian blog Luciano Pignataro.

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    Michael,

    So enjoyed your Naples segment! I only visited for 1 day, but would love to go back for a longer visit. You really have a talent for travel writing. I like your sense of humor! Tight tee shirt and product in the hair = Italian speaking. True and funny.

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    Those "bad raps" for Naples are sad but funny. All that travelpod person saw was the road from the outskirts to the train station, and the train station. I have no idea at all what was "creepy" about the train station.

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