“Naples, the great open air theatre of Europe”-Benjamin Taylor, Naples Declared
Naples is theatre with guts and you the visitor get thrown into a drama filled with very colorful characters. None of them will try to make sense of it for you but if there is a stage where you could just let yourself go, Naples is definitely one of them.
Napoli is where people applaud and cheer a broken plate at a restaurant and the waiter joyfully breaks a plate in response. Where big bowls of fruit are plopped on the table after a meal, where people get out of their cars in the middle of the street to have a conversation, where people do not care what language you speak, and where you can buy one euro aperol spritz served in a plastic cup by some dude in a makeshift store. Naples just IS.
Speaking of that Aperol bar, if you could call it that, my friend and I sat on barrels outside and surrendered to being able to laugh, talk at any volume we pleased. Napolitanos would pass us smiling and ciao-ing us in a “you get it” kind of a way.
It’s a place where you could say rules are suggestive; people make up their own, so get ready for some pretty brilliant improv. And, you adventurer, will have a role to play in all this.
Here are some things I love to do:
1. Go see some art:
Museo Archeologico Nazionale has a multo importante collection of paintings from Pompeii. If you want to see dirty ancient paintings, go into the door marked “the secret room” on your left as you’re walking up the main staircase and walk to the back. The Veiled Christ in the Museo Cappella Sansevero is one of my favorite pieces of sculpture. Campodimonte was a palace and now a museum with a noteworthy collection including the Flagellation by Caravaggio.
Speaking of Caravaggio (for you fellow art history buffs), go to Pio Monte della Misericordia around the corner from the famous Duomo. A sweet octagonal church, it houses the spectacular Seven Works of Mercy. Finally, as you’re walking down Via Toledo stop into main gallery of the Banca Intesa SaoPaolo and check out The Martyrdom of St Ursula.
2. Fare una passeggiata:
Grab a gelato (You’re in the birthplace of gelato so eat in plenty) at Gay-Odin and take a stroll or “fare una passeggiata” along the Lungomore (seafront promenade). You’ll spot lovers’ initials left on poles and, hey, you may even find yourself a lover too.
3. Discover underground Napoli:
Napoli sotterranea. It’s an immense labyrinth of ancient networks, sewer passages, caverns, catacombs, and aqueducts that once supplied water to the entire surrounding region. The tour is worth it. You learn something and at one point you get to walk through dark passages in candlelight. I also enjoyed imagining Nero making his theatrical debut in what is now called Nero’s Lost Theatre. Apparently, there was an earthquake during his song and he kept on going. After his bow, he thanked the gods for applauding.
4. Take a boat and visit an Island, for me, please:
Take a boat, it’s fun. Since rules are suggestions, departure times are too. I once bought a ticket at noon for a boat that was scheduled to leave…at noon. The guy selling me the ticket wasn’t in a hurry and neither was I. I gather we left about 25ish minutes later. As the boat pulls away from the dock, Naples begins to zoom out and that’s really beautiful.
Sorrento– The city across the bay where the sirens lured Odysseus with their song. My cousin usually picks me up and we eat at a restaurant on the marina grande called Zi’ ntonio a Mare. If you’re there in December, fare une passeggiata through the city during the annual Festival of Lights.
Capri: When you get off the boat, there is a stone inscribed with Caesars reaction upon visiting Capri for the first time. It’s along the lines of “God, this place is beautiful,” and he wasn’t exaggerating. It’s a very popular tourist spot so be prepared for that. The Blue Grotto, or Blue Cave of Capri is still etched in my brain. You take a very small and tippy boat into this cave flooded with fluorescent blue or emerald light. The water GLOWS. It’s heartstopping.
Ischia- It’s a volcanic island, so there are thermal spas and hot springs…and some scenes from The Talented Mr. Ripley were filmed here.
Procida- If you’re into nature, no people, and pretending like you are discovering a land for the first time, take the footbridge across to the small crescent-shaped, uninhabited, wild island of Vivara.
5. Drink a coffee:
It’s authentic, no frills and STRONG. Gran Caffe Gambrinus is the oldest and most famous cafe in Naples with ornate interiors. Anyone famous and/or important from mid-19th century onwards had their coffee there too. Intramoenia is the cool coffee shop and bookstore situated on Piazza Bellini.
6. Eat a pizza:
It’s the best (according to some). Sobrillo– The famous one. It’s worth the wait. Try Ettore (get the pagnottielli), Da Michele for great and really cheap pizza, or La Cantina di Donna’Elena to taste the pizza of a master.
7. Finish that off with a perfect pastery/Pasticceria:
You can’t go wrong. Sfogliatelle and Baba au Rhum are the ones but Ricotta e Pera is my favorite (Ricotta cheese whipped with poached pear sandwiched between hazelnut biscotti or sponge cake…it’s heaven).Check out: Scaturchio (the oldest pastry shop in Naples) and Gran Caffe Cimmino.
8. Find a moment of stillness:
The cloister garden in the Santa Ciara Monastery is exquisitely decorated with pillars and benches covered with majolica (tiles) adorned with motifs of green vines and citrus plants, freshly and brightly yellow set against a pale blue background. Majolica + the blue sky + the orange and lemon trees that surround you=a perfect moment.
9. Buy an umbrella:
Mario Talarico, the umbrella man. His family has been making umbrellas for 200 hundred years. He made the POPES’ umbrella (although who knew the pope would even need an umbrella?). All are hand-made with superb craftsmanship and they range in price. Feel free to be nosey: he’ll show you everything and tell you all about it. Afterwards, you can become his Facebook friend if you so wish. (I did).
10. Brush up on your history:
Naples is a city of contrast and that is a part of its seduction. Having some historical context will help put some of this into perspective. Naples is A LOT to take in. Originally Greek (Neapolis meaning “ew city”) and not Roman, it is one of the oldest, continuously inhabited cities in the world. They were over by the Romans – Hannibal even tried to get in there – and rumor has it that the apostles, Peter and Paul, preached there as well. It was also the most bombed city in Italy during World War II. Last, but certainly not least…you have Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii.
Have you ever been to Naples?