I didn't do any research before I bought the ticket and flew to Napoli, so expectations were nonexistent (and thus, quickly surpassed).
My first 20 minutes in Napoli revealed some of the less-flattering aspects of the city. On my bus ride from the Napoli airport to the port, I'm fairly certain I witnessed a small drug sale and subsequent drug bust (or at least altercation) outside the train station, from my bus window.
For the second half of this short bus ride, I was fascinated with the traffic and driving—which is both insane and entertaining. In the center it's often gridlocked, but slowly moving. Cars side-by-side in different lanes are scarily close to one another—a mere inch or two. Then when people double-park on the side of the road, everyone's got to maneuver around. Not to mention the mopeds going in and out, all over.
Not long after we passed the train station, I heard an ambulance. The siren got louder and louder, it had to be right by us. It was two cars behind our bus, but again: gridlock. So everyone's gridlocked and this ambulance is trying to get down the street. No one can pull over to the side, because the side of the road is full of parked cars, not an inch to spare.
When exploring on foot later that day, I quickly learned that at pedestrian crosswalks (without lights) you simply must start walking into oncoming traffic (quickly) and trust that vehicles will slow down enough not to hit you. Otherwise you'll be standing at the side of the road all day waiting to cross. If you've just started to cross a one-way, multiple-lane street, cars will continue to drive down the other side of the street. Basically if you're not standing directly in front of a car, all the other traffic will continue to move as long as it can. So look carefully as a pedestrian, but if you wait for the cars to stop they never will.
PizzaOur hostel recommended the two best pizza places in town, which also happen to be two of the cheapest.
The first two days I got pizza for lunch at Di Matteo, which costs a mere 1.50 euros each and is served on a piece of paper, folded into fourths. (In the below pic, I'd unfolded half.)
It was good, and tasted unlike any pizza I've ever eaten. Here's what the front of the restaurant looks like:
You can line up and order from the glass case on the street to go, or go in around the corner to sit down. I've only ever gotten stuff from the window—and boy is it good and filling.
Went for Di Matteo pizza again on day 2 with hostel friends:
On day 3, I mixed it up and got a take-away pizza from Gino Sorbillo to compare it with Di Matteo's pizza. It was bigger, came in a box, and cost 3.80 euros. I ate half for lunch and the other half for dinner. (How's that for cheap eating?) Theirs was wetter, had more cheese, and was also delicious.
Sant'Elmo CastleWhen I checked in last Thursday, Sabrina mentioned that there's a hill with a castle on top which offers some awesome 360 views of the city. She'd mentioned an above-ground metro lift, but on my first day of wander walking I decided to try and walk to the top. I just kept walking towards that direction and looking for stairs.
These were promising:
They were also a nice example of why my friend Esther had equated Napoli with dirty:
From the top of all those steps I already had a pretty cool view:
But I could see that there were more houses and buildings higher, so I wandered around until I found another set of stairs. Along that way up there were signs showing that this long pathway of stairs was part of a UNESCO site.
Must go higher!
And then I found the castle and paid 5 euros to go in—and walk up—to the very top for a 360 view of Napoli.
While we're looking at this image, I'll admit that later in the day when I got back to my hostel, I asked Luca (another hostel worker) if you could go hiking "in those mountains."
"What mountains?" he asked.
"The two you can see just outside the city," I said.
"The volcano, Mount Vesuvius?"
Ahhhh, yeah. I quickly learned/was reminded that Mount Vesuvius is the still-active volcano that covered the Roman city of Pompeii in 79 AC. (I ended up visiting Pompeii on Sunday, when it was free—first Sunday of the month. Post to follow.)
Later I learned that the Mafia in this region (the Camorra) make tons of money through waste removal—except they don't dispose of it correctly. So they've been dumping toxic waste near the base of the volcano. Cancer rates have gone up 40-47% in towns where they're dumping.
The Camorra are also a big factor as to why there's no government money to put back into the city, you know, to clean things up. (Here's an hour-long documentary on the Camorra, if you're interested. I watched it one night at my hostel in Rome.) Everything's always more complex than it seems on the surface. I've heard that Napoli is home to both the best people of Italy and the worst, which makes for an interesting culture.
But for now I was still soaking up awesome views of Mount Vesuvius from Napoli.
This guy below was really freaking me out—he'd sat up on the top of the castle wall and was leaning over the edge:
And it was a loooong way down:
There was an art museum up at the top of the castle, which was a pleasant surprise. Lots of different pieces caught my eye, and I'm fairly sure every artist was from Napoli. Here's a little taste:
There weren't very many people visiting the castle (side note: traveling in February is awesome!), so it was extra fun to enjoy the views as I pleased. When sunset was not far off I headed back down the castle, in search of my hostel.
Wander WalkingHere are some things I stumbled upon while wandering around on my second day in the morning.
Free Walking Tour Napoli
That afternoon I took this free walking tour in the afternoon, which I'd definitely recommend if you visit Napoli.
Outside of the hostel they're excavating:
And below, here, is just random construction I'm pretty sure. I wanted to illustrate what the surroundings were like around the castle above.
Hanging at the Hostel
I've been staying at Hostel of the Sun, and couldn't recommend it enough. There's a reason it's the highest rated hostel in Napoli. Great, safe location, excellent staff, clean, free breakfast, awesome.
I also lucked out in that there were some really cool people staying here when I arrived, so it was fun to hang out and feel among friends in just a day.
I've been travel sketching as well! On Saturday, as part of February's Moment Catchers project, I sat out on my room's balcony and drew the cityscape as rain got nearer and nearer.
I lost my light as night came, so I did the painting part inside, out in the common room.
Here's where you can learn more about the Moment Catchers project, and here's a map made by Candace Rose Rardon of February's participants:
Madre MuseumToday, Monday, I visited the Madre Museum (of modern art). Admission is free on Mondays, plus it was raining today, so the timing was rather perfect.
You can't miss it on the street—there were bright yellow banners outside:
And bright colors inside, as well.
I'm really glad the visit was free, because I might doubted its worth had I paid the 7-euro regular admission price. There was just so much I didn't understand, even with the yellow info sheets in Italian and English for each artist. (Aka it was modern art.)
I did like the tiles in this room:
When you look closer, they're each made from recognizable objects/figures.
This reflective, gold piece on the wall served as an interesting way to take a selfie:
In this next one, I liked how the white stripe down the middle was sewed onto the canvas with some kind of thread/string.
A bird made from various colored wood scraps:
And then I grabbed a bite to-go from Di Matteo again. I kind of ordered this by mistake, but ate it anyways, as I had yet to try it. It's basically fried dough with some kind of cheese on the inside. Very heavy.
I'd been keeping my eyes open all weekend for a post box, but hadn't seen any. I asked at the front desk this morning, and Sabrina told me there aren't very many—but pointed out where the closest one was on a map.
After the museum I found it and mailed a postcard.
I got this Italian man nearby to take my picture of the happening—for my Global Snail Mailing project, which has been neglected for a while.
Tomorrow is my last full day here, and it's going to be sunny! I'm planning to train + bus to the Amalfi coast for some hiking (which I learned about after arrival, and just so happens to also be near Napoli—score).
Many people at the hostel were surprised when I told them I was staying in Napoli for six nights, but you could stay double and not get bored. Apparently there's a really cool underground tour, where you explore 2,400 years of history all found under the city—from ancient Greeks to bombs of WWII. You can also take ferries to many islands from here, day trip to Sorrento, etc. Napoli is a very cool, authentic city to visit in Italy! Certainly gets my recommendation.
On Wednesday I'll start heading north—first stop: Rome!