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tjhome1 Feb 19th, 2017 04:17 AM

A few days in Naples - what a great city
There were few trip reports on Naples when I was researching for our latest trip so, having returned from 3 nights there at the beginning of February here are my thoughts.

First some context - we've spent time in Milan, Venice, Florence but not Rome yet and were visiting Naples so we can see partner's son who is currently 100 miles east of Naples teaching English as a foreign language while he tries to learn Italian. Travel for us is a mix of cheap and expensive so our Michelin dinner was bookended by pizzas both other nights.

As we were there for just there nights we concentrated on the city and decided to leave Pompeii and Herculaneum for another trip.

We try using Airbnb when we can and so had booked a lovely apartment for the three of us towards the southern end of the old Spanish Quarter just off the main street Via Toledo - we found this a great location close enough to all the main sites.

We fly cheaply and so flew Dublin to Rome with Ryanair and then got a very fast train down to Naples. The train took just 70 minutes and flew along at almost 190mph and while it was more expensive than flying direct it was an experience and we were glad we did it. Of course the tickets could have been bought in advance much cheaper but we would have been limited to a fixed train so we didn't mind the extra expense.

The taxi from the station was a little chaotic - no lines, you are just directly towards one of the several taxis that seem to be at the front of the 4 car deep queue. Even though we had the address printed there was much discussion with the driver and the guys directing people to the next taxis. When we arrive we understand why - the streets in the Spanish Quarter are very narrow and just about take a car, turning a corner looks a serious challenge.

As we arrive late Joshua has found a late night pizza place close by and we get a takeout. His simple margherita is definitely the best.

I'd researched a place nearby for breakfast and it doesn't disappoint - great coffee and excellent croissant (cornetto) filled with runny chocolate - gorgeous probably one of my favourite breakfasts in the world - a great cappuccino and a white chocolate filled mignon (a mini cornetto).

Ready for the day, we're close to Castel Nuovo and so just take a quick look close up at the amazing triumphal entrance that dates from the 15th century - the detail of the stone carving is amazing but our destination is Castel dell'Ovo, built in the 12th century. On our way we book a tour of the San Carlo theatre and then visit the royal palace - Fodor's guidebook describes it as overblown imperial and it turns out to be as fabulous as billed - the free audioguide is very good. Then the few minutes back to the theatre - one of the world's most famous opera houses for a 45 minute tour that is well worth doing. We stop off at the famous Caffe Gambrinus where Oscar Wilde drank and where Mussolini shut some of the rooms to keep out left-wing intellectuals. We drink our coffees at the bar - they are more than 3 times more expensive if you sit at a table.

We continue down to Castel dell'Ovo, which looks incredibly old, as indeed it is. It has the advantage of being free and the views from the top out over the harbour and towards Vesuvius are excellent. Even in February the weather is plenty warm enough - 60 degrees. Joshua was here in the summer as describes it as unbearably hot. As with Venice, which we visited out of season, Naples seems to be so much nicer without the crowds and the heat. The lack of crowds means we get a table for lunch right by the waters edge at little harbour at the foot of the castle - simple seafood, lovely white wine, Vesuvius in the background - perfect. We then go and ruin the perfection by asking for tiramisu which is still a little frozen in the middle.

Our destination for the afternoon is a gallery/shop in Chiaia that our Time Out guide says is where Andy Warhol met Joseph Beuys (when the building was in use as a club). When we get there it's not a shop or a gallery but instead a workers coop but we are greeted and shown round - a lovely reception that I doubt would be given in many other places. It's typical though of our stay - at no point did we ever get a response that was anything less than positive - helped I'm sure by Joshua's surprising semi-fluency in Italian - such a contrast to the monosyllabic teenager of some past European holidays.

We wander back along Via dei Mille and Via Chaiai, both interesting shopping streets where the best chain stores are located - very upmarket and a contrast to the less cared for parts of the city. There seems to be much scaffolding about though and there does seem to be an effort to improve the appearance of the place.

Dinner tonight is outside the city, a €50 taxi drive away (we have to pay for his return to the city) at the area's only Michelin two-star restaurant Taverna Estia - a lovely evening, especially for Josh who has lived on pasta and beans for many months as he doesn't get paid until the end of his contract in May.

Concluding part soon.

annhig Feb 19th, 2017 04:29 AM

What a great start, tjhome - my exposure to Naples has been two half days approximate 30 years apart so I'm very interested to read about a longer stay there. The last time I was there was about 3 years ago, also in February, and it rained heavily all day - by the time we got back to the station we were drenched. We too encountered only friendliness from people, including the lovely shopkeeper who as he was locking up his shop found himself being accosted by me and my friends asking for the way back to the station - he went beyond the call of duty and escorted us to a spot where we could see it, and then another kind neapolitan helped us to get across the junction to the station itself. [what is it with some italians that they are so charming in person and so lethal behind the wheel?]

Anyway, I have very much enjoyed reading about your first day, and I'm looking forward to the second.

Treesa Feb 19th, 2017 05:22 AM

Fun report, TJ. Thanks for sharing. I've always enjoyed Naples, grit and all.

Waldo Feb 19th, 2017 05:42 AM

Having visited Naples every year for at least twenty years (my wife's family lives there), I can say that Naples is the greatest city in this world. I have so many great stories which can only happen in Naples, that I can recall them, and reminisce for many years.

annhig Feb 19th, 2017 06:00 AM

go on then Waldo, you can't leave us dangling like that!

HappyTrvlr Feb 19th, 2017 06:24 AM

Yes, Waldo, please share some of them.

WoinParis Feb 19th, 2017 06:29 AM

Great start and a much deserved trip report for a fascinating city.

tjhome1 Feb 19th, 2017 07:49 AM

Thanks everyone - it definitely does seem to be a city that divides people - even today there is a post on here asking about sketchy neighbourhoods. If ever a city seemed to suffer from false impressions then it is Naples -I've read enough to know that the garbage problem was big but it doesn't exist now - I remember when we had a garbage problem in Bath when I was a kid. Every city has sketchy areas but for tourists today to be genuinely concerned about Naples seems to be a case of listening to fake news - people will be thinking Sweden is unsafe soon.

Leely2 Feb 19th, 2017 08:31 AM

Looking forward to more of your report. I spent five very full days in Naples last summer. Could have used another three! What a fascinating city, and such good food.

annhig Feb 19th, 2017 08:56 AM

it definitely does seem to be a city that divides people - even today there is a post on here asking about sketchy neighbourhoods>>

We have friends [not inexperienced travellers] who once spent a week in Naples. They never stirred from their hotel during the hours of darkness as they were in what they felt was a very dodgy neighbourhood indeed [somewhere near the station, not sure where]. Personally if it were that bad I would have found somewhere else to stay and written off the cost to experience but somehow they stuck it out. I would not have them down as "nervous nellies" but they are not particularly adventurous as their experience in Naples proves.

As for the danger of going to Sweden, have you seen all those programmes about murders there? there seems to be a new one on our TV every week. The cops don't seem too bright either, to judge from that cop, you know, Wallander.

Adelaidean Feb 19th, 2017 09:20 AM

I have long wanted to visit Naples (and Palermo, both get a fair bit of bad press). So I'll be using your TR when it comes time to convince the man of the house :)

Waldo Feb 19th, 2017 09:54 AM

I'll start with this story (as I said, I have a bunch of them). Every day I was there, I used to take a long walk all over Naples, and I honestly believe no one knows Naples like I do, In any event, this one day, I walked from my sister in laws home to the San Carlo Opera House. I decided to go in and take a look. That night, they were performing Turandot, with Luciano, (boy, I really love that name, it's great), Pavarotti. As I was poking around the lobby, a security guard came over and asked what I wanted there. I told him I would like to see the inside, since I heard so much about it.By the way, I speak perfect Italian, with no accent at all. The guard said I could come back tomorrow,with a tour. Just then, a gent came over and wanted to know what was going on. He turned out to be the manager, or whatever they call him, of the place. I told him that I wanted to see the place, and falsely told him I couldn't come tomorrow because I was going home to the US. He asked where I was from, and I told him Brooklyn, New York. His face lit up and he said that last week, he got back from Brooklyn, visiting his nephew, who lived on Corso Diciotto. I blurted out "18th Avenue". That got him. He asked if I knew his nephew, and I said no, but I know the neighborhood well. We then had a conversation about the neighborhood and his family. Finally, he told the security guard to show me around the Opera House. HE told the guard we were friends now. They were rehearsing Turandot, but Luciano ( LOVE THAT NAME), wasn't rehearsing. I got a private fantastic tour of the place, which I will never forget. ONLY IN NAPOLI!

sundriedtopepo Feb 19th, 2017 01:09 PM

Yep interesting city. Someone said on that other thread that Naples does have sketchy neighborhoods on the outskirts, and I have no doubt of that. But I think I was more scared of the traffic than of the crime in the areas where we walked.

Thanks for the TR, looking forward to some more.

annhig Feb 20th, 2017 06:19 AM

Great first story, Waldo - keep them coming.

[BTW we got a free ad hoc tour of the opera house in Oamaru in NZ, and we don't even speak italian!]

But I think I was more scared of the traffic than of the crime in the areas where we walked.>>

sundried - after the kind gentleman I referred to above had deposited us within sight of the station, we faced the problem of how to get across the junction to get to the station itself, and only managed it with the help of a local lady which shepherded us across like so many sheep. Our only obstacle then was getting across the road just in front of the station so we headed for the zebra crossing, only to see the person ahead of us in the press of people nearly mown down by a taxi. I am no stranger to difficult traffic [I worked in central London for 20 years] but this was truly something else!

tjhome1 Feb 20th, 2017 10:00 AM

Excellent story Waldo.

One of the most memorable aspects of Naples was the traffic - the amazing way that those scooters charged down the narrow streets of the Quartieri Spagnoli beeping and weaving to avoid whatever obstacle lay in front. And the near misses we saw!! Almost as good as watching the traffic from the top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

For our last full day we take the metro (the stations are art installations in themselves and have to be seen to be believed) up to the national archaeology museum - this really is one of Naples best claims to fame and is the home to some of the most amazing archaeological finds in Europe - Fodors guide describes some of the content as unique in the world and the quality as being unmatched. We could have spent far longer here and it definitely shouldn't be missed - it's worth a few hours as a minimum - inevitably the infamous statue of Pan and his goat sticks in the memory.

After a huge culture fix we walk up Via Tribunali to the Duomo, sadly we are turned away as a service is on and so, resisting the temptation to pop next door to a museum that advertises its treasures as being "unique in the world, higher than the Queen of England" we make our way to the Pio Monte della Misericordia, a tiny octagonal church that is home of one of Caravaggio's most famous paintings - the seven acts of mercy - that remains in the place for which it was intended - the church was built by a charitable foundation established in 1601 with the aim of carrying out acts of charity - feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, nursing the sick, sheltering pilgrims, visiting prisoners, freeing slaves and burying the dead. It is an absolutely stunning work made so much better by being in its original setting. Upstairs there is a gallery and a room that offers another view of the painting - its wonderful to think of all the people through the ages that have sat and admired Caravaggio's work from this very spot.

We walk the length of Spaccanapoli - the street that splits Naples. It is amazing to think that it follows the line of one of the ancient Greco-Roman roads that made up the city of Neapolis - I love that there is such a broad mix of buildings and uses ranging from the mundane tourist tatt to butchers and hardware stores to the most spectacular old churches - it feels hugely vibrant. We stop for a late lunch of quick local fried food at Decumano 31 on Spaccanapoli

Our final visit for the day is the Museo Cappella Sansevero which houses the famous sculpture of the veiled Christ - it is wonderful to see the work close up and it's impossible not to be in awe of the talent and artistry of the sculptor.

After a rest we embark out for pre-dinner drinks. Joshua remembers some good bars up in Vomero but we can't locate them so we head back via the metro toward the Centro Storico and to Sorbillo's pizzeria on Spaccanapoli. There is a large throng of people outside and we add a name to the list of hopeful diners. Luckily there is a wine store next door that sells plastic glasses of beer, wine and prosecco and we spend a very enjoyable three rounds (about 45 minutes) out on the street drinking and chatting - it felt like a long wait even so, but it is a Friday night. It's hard to imagine what it must be like on a Saturday night when there are far more tourists here. The restaurant has a fantastic buzz to it and our pizzas are excellent - though maybe not as memorable as those on my first trip to Italy when I was 16 on a school ski trip.

The night is still young though and this time Joshua does find a few of his favorite bars from his previous visits - one in particular has a fantastic location adjacent to a huge old building - I forget exactly what it was but the setting was lovely and its so nice to be able to drink outside on the street.

There will be a concluding part but I wanted to get this posted.

Leely2 Feb 20th, 2017 10:14 AM

The Cristo Velato is astonishing. So many artistic treasures in Naples, and it seems you were able to see quite a few in your short visit. Che energia!

Waldo Feb 20th, 2017 12:19 PM

The Cristo Velato is indeed fantastic, but one thing that goes unnoticed is the sculpture close to it which shows a fish net. Do you realize that the net is sculptured in marble. All those fiber like strands are rock hard stone. I can't imagine the patience and skill that went into that sculpture.

Waldo Feb 20th, 2017 12:38 PM

Next story---One day, after my usual long walk, I decided to take a bus back home from Colli Aminei. I got on the bus, and shortly, there was a heated argument on the bus. The buses in Naples have certain spots reserved for seating seniors and war veterans. A young high school girl was obviously taking the bus home, as were other youngsters. This gal was seated in one of the reserved seats, and an older gent requested her to get her ass off the seat, in no uncertain terms. They argued real bad and loud. The bus driver tried to calm them down, with no luck. The driver then pulled off a genius move. He pulled the bus to the side, near a policeman. The cop came aboard and loudly asked everyone to produce their bus tickets. There was a MASS exodus from the bus in a split second. I was the only one left on the bus, and we three (the cop, driver and I had a great laugh. I don't know if they have that crazy policy nowadays in Naples that you buy a ticket in a tobacco shop and punch it in the machine on board the bus, with no conformation. People did not used to buy tickets, because the bus rides would turn out to be free. I was the jerk that bought a ticket and punched it.

sundriedtopepo Feb 20th, 2017 12:41 PM

That IS a great story, Waldo :)

cheska15 Feb 20th, 2017 06:05 PM

Thank you for the great trip report and Waldo your tales make me smile. We have seven days planned for July and while I would have preferred another time that's what we have. I have been surprised by people's reactions when told we will be visiting Naples. The reactions have been 'You are what! expect to get robbed, and What are you going there for'.
Luckily we are confident about visiting and I have researched a lot so my expectations are in check. This post reinforces why we want to visit.

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