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Bruce and Marija go to Naples, Alba, Neive, Turin, Florence and Paris

Bruce and Marija go to Naples, Alba, Neive, Turin, Florence and Paris

Oct 24th, 2010, 01:49 PM
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Bruce and Marija go to Naples, Alba, Neive, Turin, Florence and Paris

I've always wanted to start a thread announcing that on the afternoon of April 12th, 2031 we're flying to the southermost tip of Yurgovia and I need recommendations for the best place to savor zargovs, the local delicacy made with yarmala, a unique blend of svea and svots, lovingly described in Zamara's out-of-print guide to Yurga cuisine. Unfortunately, careful planning and a tidy desk are out of my reach. We used to prioritize destinations but abandoned that in defeat since our actual trips didn't match our wish list. Who wants to admit that they can't even follow their own dreams?!

This was once again supposed to be a trip to Southeast Asia. Our first trip to Southeast Asia morphed into a trip to Zielona Gora, Vilnius, and Rome, the second into a trip to Brazil. Our third trip to Southeast Asia was derailed by Bruce's announcement that he wanted to attend a conference in Florence in October. Florence, while not my favorite Italian city, is a substantial improvement over Zielona Gora, a mushroom sized city in Poland where the tourist brochure outlines "15 Highlights " that can be covered in less than hour and where by the end of a week I knew every crack in the sidewalks.

With Florence as an anchor, all I had to do was figure out what else to add in to make it a worthy vacation. We had signed up for the infamous 100,000 free miles and 2 for 1 frequent flyer trips offered by the BA credit card deal, so it made sense to increase our stash of miles by flying BA. That meant we could stopover in London and visit a friend in Derbyshire. Naples wasn't featuring a garbage strike, so it seemed like an excellent time for a visit and we could fly there from London Gatwick on BA without increasing the cost of the tickets. The next issue was deciding where to return from. There was a long-running thread here on getting to Naples from Paris and, being highly suggestible, I embraced the idea with a slight modification. Why not go from Naples to Paris? Five weeks seemed like a reasonable amount of time so I booked us into Naples and back from Paris. We'd figure out the details later.
Marija is online now  
Oct 24th, 2010, 02:38 PM
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Sounds like this will be a good one. Great start. Looking forward to the rest. I sympathize with the problems of finding decent Yurga cuisine these days. Sometimes you just can't go home again.
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Oct 24th, 2010, 03:27 PM
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Great start--give us more !
bobthenavigator is offline  
Oct 26th, 2010, 07:27 AM
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Looking forward to this!
chickenlittle is offline  
Oct 26th, 2010, 08:25 AM
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a cliffhanger already?
HunyBadger is offline  
Oct 26th, 2010, 05:09 PM
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In and out of London

It was at the airport en route to London that we unexpectedly faced the first of many difficult gastronomic decisions-- to eat dinner before boarding the plane or on board. As we stared at each other, paralyzed with indecision, since there is a good case to be made for both strategies, I timidly enquired whether we could do both. Problem solved. We didn't quite stick to our agreement to just snack a tiny bit in the lounge and had to modify it to "don't eat too much. " After two ample dinners each, and accompanying spirits, sleep came easily.

Our flight arrived into London a little early and we headed off for the arrivals lounge to have some breakfast. We briefly discussed taking showers but decided that we would defer them until we arrived at our B&B near Derby. After all London is a big city and we'd just get dusty all over again by the time we arrived in Derby. Our first destination was the St. Pancras train station, from where we would catch a train.

Before leaving I had reserved train tickets to Derby on the East Midland trains:
I was amazed at the big difference in cost between advance booking a ticket on a particular train for a given day or booking an anytime ticket good for a month. Even with advance booking the more flexible ticket was more than twice as expensive. The difference in cost was large enough for us to select an outbound train on the day of our arrival into London and take the chance that we'd have to scrap the ticket if we were delayed and would have to buy a much more expensive one. Derby is only a little over an hour from St. Pancras but the train fare is quite expensive. An anytime second class roundtrip ticket would have been 140 pounds for two, while we paid 70 pounds for a first class specific-train ticket for two.

Before leaving I wisely consulted the Tube schedule on http://www.tfl.gov.uk and noted that work was planned between Heathrow and Kings Cross that morning and we'd have to take a free shuttle bus to Acton Town and catch the Tube there. Since we were traveling only with carryon bags the transfers were not much a problem, especially since it was Saturday morning and there was plenty of room. At Acton Town we made a quick stop for some espresso at the corner diner, since Bruce was complaining of a headache which I attributed to not enough coffee in the system. Although the coffee was poor, it was a strong enough placebo to cure Bruce.

At St. Pancras we had no trouble retrieving our reserved train tickets from a machine. The problem was in figuring out what the seven tickets corresponded to. Once we sorted out that some were reservations, some tickets, and one receipt, we were ready to board, although our conservatively selected train didn't leave for another three hours. But we had a plan-- the British Library is across the street from St. Pancras. I knew there was luggage storage at the train station but I didn't realize it costs eight pounds a bag. That seemed a ridiculous amount to pay for someone to tend our well-behaved bags. We decided that they could accompany us to the British Library since there's bag storage there as well and it's free to visitors. The only disadvantage to this strategy was the security check at the door. My checker settled on just a quick peek in my purse. Bruce had to unlock his bag but it wasn't searched.

The British Library is a worthy destination for an hour or two, even for people with no immediate scholarly aspirations. We amused ourselves by checking out the special exhibit on maps, the permanent collection, the book stacks, and of course, both cafes. Fortunately we remembered to retrieve our luggage from the lockers and returned to the mega-mall at St. Pancras for a light lunch at Le Pain Quotidien. That took care of the remaining time before departure to Derby.

(I'll skip our three-night stay visiting friends. The tourist highlights were: spending a day on a canal boat, seeing Joseph Wright's "The Philosopher and the Orrery" in the Derby art gallery, and visiting the cathedral and Samuel Johnson's house and museum in Lichfield. http://www.samueljohnsonbirthplace.org.uk )
Marija is online now  
Oct 27th, 2010, 06:12 AM
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Hadn't heard from you in some time -- glad you're back!
indianapearl is offline  
Oct 27th, 2010, 09:57 AM
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Me, too!
ekscrunchy is online now  
Oct 28th, 2010, 04:38 AM
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Thanks for the encouragment. Julie and eks--thanks for all the great info you posted on Piedmont. I made great use of it, although I did feel guility, like a kid copying "the brain's" homework.

Back to London

Our return train trip from Derby went smoothly. From the Kings Cross stop we caught the Victoria line to Victoria station and walked over to our hotel, the Park Plaza Victoria http://www.parkplaza.com. Since we were only spending two nights in London and had to catch an early flight from Gatwick bound for Naples I wanted a hotel close to Victoria Station from where the Gatwick Express leaves.

I had started checking prices for London hotels shortly after we bought the plane tickets. Prices seemed much higher than for previous trips so I kept delaying booking a hotel, anticipating the last minute price drop which never came. Despite attempts at priceline and a variety of last-minute sites that people here recommended I couldn't find a well priced decent centrally located 4* hotel. I even looked at well-located and -reviewed B&Bs but they were full. The news that London was preparing not only for our arrival but the Pope's as well, made me realize that I was out of luck trying to find a deal. We ended up booking the Park Plaza on its website since none of the discount sites had lower prices. It turned out to be a clean, well-operated chain hotel with free Wi-Fi in the lobby but much too expensive for what it delivered. That's London.

Quite out of character, Bruce had researched various possibilities and made dinner reservations at About Thyme, not far from our hotel http://www.aboutthyme.co.uk. It was an excellent choice. To accompany our wine we had octopus, piquillo peppers with smoked paprika and red pepper sauce, and the special of roast pig. The food and service were great and the prices were reasonable for London. On the way back from dinner we picked up some mineral water and headed back to the hotel, albeit initially in the wrong direction.

Our overpriced hotel reservations didn't include breakfast so we went across the street to Pret a Manger where we made a breakfast of muffins and egg sandwiches. London was getting ready for the Pope, who had been visiting the Queen in Scotland, and the papers were full of negative stories. It didn't help that one of the cardinals was quoted as saying that stepping off the plane at LHR was like entering a third-world country...

Bruce was determined to continue his visitation of Joseph Wright (of Derby) paintings so we set off for the National Gallery to admire his An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump. (Historians of science have their quirks... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Expe...n_the_Air_Pump ) Of course we had to revisit another old favorite, Holbein's The Ambassadors, as well. I was very impressed by how well the staff knew their holdings. Without consulting her computer the woman at the information desk was able to tell us exactly where to find the paintings of interest.

After leaving the National Gallery, a leisurely stroll through Covent Gardens led us to the Palm Court Brasserie where we stopped for a light, but expensive, lunch of wine, oysters and brie. We don't buy into the "light lunch" propaganda but today we knew we would have an early dinner at North Sea after our visit to the British Museum. (We're not early dinner fans either, but since North Sea is in the vicinity of the British Museum it was geographically prudent to go to dinner after the museum instead of retracing our steps back to the hotel and then heading out again.) Numerous visits to the British Museum haven't diminished our enthusiasm so we spent a good part of the afternoon visiting old favorites and poking around to see the fate of the scientific instruments that had been on display previously.

I wanted to buy a good guide book to Turin, one of our upcoming stops, so between the Museum and dinner we unsuccessfully searched local book stores. My theory that the guidebook selection would be better in London than in the USA because London is closer to Turin was firmly disproved. Several bookstores yielded the same slim guide. They didn't even carry the Cadogan guide which was traveling with us and no doubt eager to finally actually be in Piedmont.

Who knows where the "best" fish and chips are dished out in London but we've grown fond of North Sea and enjoy their haddock and chips dinners http://www.northseafishrestaurant.co.uk. After debating whether we should get one large fish platter and split it or get two regular ones, we ordered individual platters with a bottle of Chardonnay. Once again they delivered a tasty meal for two. (No doubt part of our loyalty to North Sea can be attributed to our ability to find it easily on return visits.)

Since we had to catch an early flight to Naples we decided to take the Tube back to the hotel. Well, maybe we would walk just a little. Just a little turned into all of the way back to the hotel on foot. Turns out that three miles, especially if you can stop off at a pub on the way back, isn't really that long, although our feet were beginning to rebel. This wasn't going to be much of a vacation for feet and stomaches.

Early the next morning we walked over to Victoria Station, bought our tickets for the Gatwick Express, took it to Gatwick, and sat down in the B.A. lounge to wait for our delayed flight to Naples to depart. Unlike Heathrow there wasn't a hot breakfast available. But breakfast didn't matter--we were on our way to Naples to witness the regularly scheduled miracle of St. Gennaro.
Marija is online now  
Oct 28th, 2010, 11:38 AM
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When we were in England in the '70s, we lived on steak and kidney pies, pork pies, chocolate bars, and cheap wine (starving students). I loved the pies and made them often after we returned home. On recent transits through London, I'm sad to say the pies aren't like they once were -- pre-made crusts with tasteless filling. I'm wondering if Mad Cow has restricted the use of kidneys since they're so close to the spinal column -- or is it the case that You Can't Go Home Again??
indianapearl is offline  
Oct 29th, 2010, 07:35 AM
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Why Naples?

I’d like to write that we went to Naples because we’ve always dreamt of seeing the Archaeological Museum, or because we seek out obscure artistic treasures, or because we needed to witness a miracle, but that would be a lie. We headed to Naples because it was the major Italian city that we hadn't yet been to. Twice on our way to the Amalfi coast we caught a glimpse of the mayhem on roads surrounding Naples but we were much too timid to even consider plunging into the city.

Despite its elegant seaside location with Vesuvius standing guard or, perhaps, ready to attack, Naples is hardly a beacon for tourists. The light always shines on garbage, camorristas, pickpockets and pizzas, with an occasional wave to “hidden treasures”. Since we didn’t have a vision for what to do or see in Naples we had no idea how long to stay. The first plan was to book a couple of nights somewhere in Naples and then to stay longer if we liked it or head down the Amalfi coast or to Capri if we didn’t. The disadvantage was that if we did want to stay longer we might be booted out of our hotel and forced to relocate. It also made it too easy to flee if our initial take on the city was negative. We finally decided to just book a week and give Naples a fair chance. We’ve survived, and enjoyed, Delhi so we were confident that we could deal with anything Naples would fling our way...
Marija is online now  
Nov 1st, 2010, 08:30 AM
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Settling into Naples

I read enough scary stuff about Naples that I even wore a money belt for arrival. (The thread about pick pocketing by seniors gave me pause.) In hopes of avoiding all the petty criminals we paid 20E for a prearranged airport pickup, something we seldom do. The Naples airport was a disappointment--clean, modern and, except for baggage pickup, no more chaotic than most airports we've passed through. Even though we were an hour late our driver was waiting to take us to our B&B.

I dismissed the idea of renting an apartment in Naples since we didn't want to take turns staying up all night and protecting our meager assets from the marauding bands of thieves or take the chance that, in our absence, our apartment would be annexed as a garbage dump. The owner of our local Neapolitan pizzeria, aptly named Spaccanapoli (it's the pizzeria that's Spaccanapoli, not the pizzaiolo) trained in Naples so we decided to seek his advice. Before heading out I checked the website and found his blog describing his last visit to Naples and the B&B he considers home when in Naples.

We never did make it to the pizzeria for an in person discussion but settled for the online recommendation and booked a week at the B&B Donna Regina: http://www.discovernaples.net . Including breakfast the rate was 85E per night. (Would you believe that at checkout the credit card machine was temporarily not working?) We're not B&B fans and had never stayed in one in Europe but the fuzzy notion of having a local show us the ropes was appealing. In retrospect I think we would have done just as well on our own in an apartment.

The Donna Regina is on the fourth floor of what was once a convent and now is apartments, a school, an art gallery and who knows what else. Much is made of the scruffy entrance but since we knew not to expect elegantly clad doormen it wasn't an issue. The small elevator, which always worked while we were there, deposits you a few steps from the door of the B&B. The apartment, which has five or so rooms for guests, belongs to a family of artists and their work is on display and available for purchase. The common areas (which I never saw being used by guests) are beautifully decorated and large but the entire apartment, except for the kitchen, is quite dark.

The son of the owners welcomed us, showed us our room (the red room) and then invited us back into the living room for an overview of Naples. He inspected my purse and deemed it unfit for the streets of Naples since the strap was too short to go across the chest. Besides jacking up the fear factor, it meant that I had to get a new purse since I wasn't going anywhere without all my essentials and cramming them into Bruce's pockets didn't strike me as a particularly wise alternative. The other directive was to carry only the amount of money needed for that day.

The host quickly marked the location of some restaurants on a rather poor map and mentioned some of the highlights of the city. If I hadn't done some homework on restaurants I don't think I could have deciphered what he was writing and I certainly wouldn't have been able to remember his commentary. After that we were left on our own, although the host was available to answer questions or make suggestions if asked. (I won't hold it against him that twice he recommended places that were closed that day. We ignored his advice not to make reservations but just go early.) On the second day we enquired about Wi-Fi and were given a password. I don't know why this is a "secret" feature.

Breakfast was served in the beautiful kitchen at 8:30 and never varied: a small omelet to be shared by however many guests there were, bruschetta, cornetti, bread and spreads, coffee, tea and juice. We particularly liked the tomato bruschetta and probably ate more than our share at the first breakfast where no one else showed up at opening time. From then on a small plate with four pieces was placed by our plates!

Our room was comfortable and clean, although my vision of unpacking was quickly shattered since there was only a small armoire without any shelves. We had to continue living out of our suitcases. The bathroom was reasonably large with a stand alone curtained shower. Some of the rooms have bathrooms in the hall or on a different level so we made sure to indicate when booking that we wanted an attached bathroom on the same level. The room featured killer iron bed ornaments which repeatedly attacked us until we figured out how to rig the decorative bed pillows on them for protection. Of course every morning before leaving we had to remember to undecorate the posts so the cleaning person wouldn't think us barbarians. In September we didn't need air conditioning but slept with open windows. There's a surprising amount of street noise but you can totally shut it out if you close the windows.

According to google directions, which don't take into account the number of fellow walkers, the B&B is located 4 minutes from the Duomo. The Archaeological Museum is 15 minute, Piazza Plebiscito is close to an hour walk. As a pedestrian, you don't move fast on the sidewalks of Naples--it's a different story on the streets where cars and motorcycles are accountable only to their very forgiving collective conscience. Although we walked almost everywhere, taking a taxi only for the airport and one restaurant, a more central location would have been kinder to our feet.
Marija is online now  
Nov 1st, 2010, 08:49 AM
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Love it. We're heading to Naples this winter for a week -- our first time visit, too. Keep it coming!
NanBug is offline  
Nov 1st, 2010, 09:26 AM
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Great report, thanks!

We also stayed at the Donna Regina about five years ago, but just for three nights (not long enough for us in Naples).

Is the pizzeria Spaccanapoli you mentioned the one in Chicago? I've been meaning to go there for a long time, but we never seem to get up to that area. Someday...

Looking forward to more.
ms_go is online now  
Nov 1st, 2010, 12:03 PM
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Really enjoying your report. Thanks!
jmct714 is offline  
Nov 1st, 2010, 12:09 PM
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Fantastic writing!

To the terrors of Naples we can now add dastardly metal bed ornaments and bruschetta snatchers that work in pairs!
ekscrunchy is online now  
Nov 1st, 2010, 04:33 PM
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Thanks for reading. Ms_go, Spaccanapoli is the pizzeria in Ravenswood: http://spaccanapolipizzeria.com Give it a try.
eks--we are terrors wherever we land...
Marija is online now  
Nov 4th, 2010, 04:29 AM
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Surviving on the streets of Naples--Day 1

With four massive keys safely stowed away and money belt securely fastened, we’re ready to escape our cocoon and venture on foot into the streets of Naples. Our first mission is to buy a disposable purse that will voluntarily remain in Naples after we‘ve gone, since there’s no space for extra purses when you‘re traveling with carryon only for five weeks. The B&B is very close to Via Duomo, on which perches not only the Duomo itself but also many shops and businesses. The very first store with an inexpensive purse with a long strap gets my 6E and I now have a purse I’ll be happy to leave behind. (We’re poor shoppers...) Next up is buying a SIM card. This time we’re not so lucky since, for unknown reasons, my newly unlocked dual band cell phone chokes on the card. The clerk diagnoses it as “Not unlocked for Europe, ” whatever that means. We don’t see any other phone stores around so we decide to admit defeat and try again tomorrow.

After a stop at the B&B to load up my new purse, we set out again, this time for dinner. (A quick glimpse in the mirror reminds me that buying the first purse you see may not always be a good strategy. What was I thinking?!) Although we have firm plans to sample as many pizzas as we can, and I even have a list and map of pizzerias crammed into my new purse, we decide to postpone our first visit to a dedicated pizzeria and instead have a leisurely dinner sitting outdoors.

We head down via dei Tribunali toward Piazza Dante, stopping en route at Friggitoria Di Matteo to pick up 5 pieces of frittura (fried goodies, 1E) for the walk. Naples is littered with all types of eating establishments, among them friggitoria which are just places that fry stuff--anything from tripe to zucchini and zeppole. You stand in line at a window, order and pay, and then eat your purchases, usually from a brown bag, as you walk. Bruce didn’t think it particularly wise to start eating street food on the way to dinner but I recognized the name and got into line. We both enjoyed the little fried vegetables.

Via dei Tribunali, the main east west street from ancient times (decumanus maximus), is home to many acclaimed pizzerias and soon we were in front of Sorbillo 32, currently one of the most popular establishments. The sign on the door proclaimed that due to some insults and disagreements with civic authorities Sorbillo would be closed. As we were reading the notice potential customers were arriving and leaving, despondent at their poor timing. Our hope was that it would reopen at some point during our stay. In fact, it was bustling when we walked by it after dinner. I guess some insults are quickly forgotten when there's dough at stake.

Since our plane was delayed and we hadn't had a proper lunch, our dinner reservations at Ristorante e Pizzeria Bellini were at the unfashionably early hour of 8. We arrived even earlier so we sat down outside at Intra Moenia on the lovely Piazza Bellini for a drink. Intra Moenia considers itself a literary cafe and even has its own publishing house. Inside there are small rooms, some of which have books for sale. It’s a pleasant place to sit and watch activities on the square.

Ristorante e Pizzeria Bellini http://www.ilbelliniristorante.it
was at one time a Slow Food selection, although I don’t know its current status since my copy of the book is undoubtedly a collector's edition by now. We ordered a pizza capricciosa, linguini with seafood cooked in a bag, and fish soup. The pizza was OK, not memorable by any means. The other two dishes were good but also not noteworthy. Given the early hour most customers were tourists but locals appeared as the evening progressed. Since we weren’t impressed by the offerings we decided to quit after these first courses. Of course we didn’t really quit, we just figured we should finish off the meal elsewhere. Winding our way back on Via dei Tribunali we stopped for espresso and our first real pastry, baba au rhum, at Pasticceria Mazzaro , (Via dei Tribunali 359; ; www.pasticceriamazzaro.it ) Both were excellent. Bruce pronounced the espresso one of the best he's ever had. Since we were staying in Naples for a week it made sense to stock our own after dinner drinks, so we returned to the Donna Regina accompanied by amaro and limoncello.
Marija is online now  
Nov 4th, 2010, 05:54 AM
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Very enjoyable. I loved your remarks about security. We were warned from as far away as Palermo of the pickpockets we wound encounter in the Naples train station! After we secreted all that we owned, we found more police there than anything else there!

Amazing Italy, eh?
TDudette is offline  
Nov 4th, 2010, 06:10 AM
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You've had me hooked from the first sentence. Onward!
Fra_Diavolo is online now  

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