I really don't have a ton of great things to say about Naples, other than it's a great central location to visit Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast and even several islands such as Capri. The food is fantastic and the locals are sweet, though it is definitely a sketchy town with awfully dirty streets full of trash and graffiti. The traffic is fierce and the sites are few so looking back I would say Pompei would be a much nicer town to stay in, with views of Mt. Vesuvius and the ruins just below.
After visiting Pompeii, my first stop in Naples, of course, was to sit down and enjoy my first Italian meal. I had read just about enough reviews about all the fabulous pizza in Naples so that was the only option for me. I walked on and on and on until I finally found a coffee shop that looked like it would serve pizza. I have already noticed that Italians like to hang out in the doorways of their shops just because, and here stood a man who seemed nice enough to inquire. “Pizza?” He shook his head no but then followed up by asking “Pizza? Margherita Pizza?” I nodded with wide eyes and lots of enthusiasm. A huge smile broke out across his face and we both laughed at the language barrier that had been broken. He then charismatically pointed up the street and to the left and over and over again he said, “Pizza! Pizza!” I smiled, said “Gratzie” and happily walked in the direction he had led me to.
Sure enough after a few hundred meters I came to a nice outdoor seating area with pizza, liquor and cafe. I had previously read how Italians stand up to drink their coffee, at a bar, which is why the cafes here were all labeled “BAR.” Sure enough, here stood a true italian drinking his coffee standing up. He looked at me and said, “Preggo” as if to ask a question. I chuckled in a confused manner as I knew that was the Italian word for “your welcome.” I shrugged my shoulders and said “Yeah, preggo..okay.” He turned back towards the bar and continued to drink his coffee. I then turned to the barista and inquired, “pizza?” He nodded to a man standing a few feet away and then abruptly rattled off something in Italian. I stood patiently for a few seconds before the man approached me very kindly and asked me something far beyond my tiny Italian vocabulary. I laughed and just said, “pizza” and pointed to the seating outside. He too laughed and then pulled another man out from behind him. This guy spoke perfect English and asked if I wanted to dine in or carry out. I wondered if he was the secret ambassador for English speaking customers that they only used in emergency situations.
Once seated I told the man I wanted a large Margherita Pizza. He began to show me the menu but I repeated my order and so he nodded his head and briskly walked away. Within minutes I was presented with the most beautiful pizza I had ever seen in my life. I read that the margherita pizza was supposedly invented in Naples many moons ago, so that was the only flavor I needed to try.
As I bit into my first taste of Italy (and Naples) I immediately felt as though I had transcended back to the moment in time when I read about Elizabeth Gilbert's experience with Italian pizza in her book, Eat Pray, Love. She was absolutely right. Somehow, this pizza really was life changing. It was so moist and full of freshness. I couldn't even think of how to explain it other than it was just dripping with deliciousness. If American pizza was a peck on the cheek, then Napoli pizza was a passionate make-out session. I'm pretty sure my entire face was covered in olive oil and cheese by the time I had finished my first slice. Though I was originally intimidated by the size of the pizza, I soon realized I had ate the entire thing without so much as batting an eye.
When I finished making out with my lunch, I people-watched for a while before decided to walk down towards one of the castles. However, anyone who knows me knows that I rarely ever get to where I'm going without finding an alternative adventure that comes naturally from being perpetually terrible at directions. I never did find the castle, but instead I found a high-end shopping area that had everything from street sales to a Versace store. This was definitely a cleaner, classier area of Naples and it did good for me to see this part of the city. I walked on and on until the road finally turned into a bunch of alleys, so I turned around and walked back towards the hostel. It's funny, I thought. No one trusts me to drive them around anywhere in Oklahoma because they know I'll get lost, yet here I was alone in a foreign country, navigating myself through the pickpocket capital of Italy.
My next destination was to see the historical town center that houses a few different monuments that I was told were worth seeing. I walked through blocks of beautiful neighborhoods full of kids playing kickball and grannies cussing other grannies on their balconies. The people really were relaxed here. Everywhere I looked there were two or three gathered, just talking and laughing, watching people or sharing stories. Even the store owners would walk around and chat with their neighbors. All of this was great to watch and so I was surprised when I noticed a bright yellow building in front of me. It wasn't the historical district but it did look like some kind of museum so I went inside to find out.
Sure enough, I had wandered my way into the MADRE Museum of Contemporary Art. I had heard good things about this one and since I was honest about being lost and also interested in art, the front desk guy gave me a free ticket into the museum! I was so thrilled to walk around an entire museum without the company of anyone else rushing me or making fun of the art or asking stupid questions. Leisurely I strolled through four floors of exhibits and saw almost no one else the entire time I was there. What a great alternative destination!