Naples and Campania: Places to Explore

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Photo: Angela Sorrentino/iStockphoto

Naples

"Built like a great amphitheater around her beautiful bay, Naples is an eternally unfolding play acted by a million of the best actors in the world," Herbert Kubly observed in his American in Italy. "The comedy is broad, the tragedy violent. The curtain never rings down." Is it a sense of doom from living in the shadow of Vesuvius that makes some Neapolitans so volatile, so blind to everything but the pain or pleasure of the moment?

A huge zest for living and crowded conditions are the more probable causes. But whatever the reason, Naples remains the most vibrant city in Italy—a steaming, bubbling, reverberating minestrone in which each block is a small village, every street the setting for a Punch-and-Judy show, and everything seems to be a backdrop for an opera not yet composed.

It's said that northern Italians vacation here to remind themselves of the time when Italy was molto Italiana—really Italian. In this respect, Naples—Napoli in Italian—doesn't disappoint: Neapolitan rainbows of laundry wave in the wind over alleyways open-windowed with friendliness; mothers caress children; men break out into impromptu arias at sidewalk cafés; and street scenes offer Fellini-esque slices of life. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Spaccanapoli district, everywhere contrasting elements of faded gilt and romance, rust and calamity, grandeur and squalor form a pageant of pure Italianità—Italy at its most Italian.

In most of the city you need a good sense of humor and a firm grip on your pocketbook and camera. Expect to do a lot of walking (take care crossing the chaotic streets); buses are crowded, and taxis often get held up in traffic. Use the funiculars or the metro Line 1 to get up and down the hills, and take the quick—but erratic—metro Line 2 (the city's older subway system) when crossing the city between Piazza Garibaldi and Pozzuoli.

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