So, first of all, what is Naples? Naples is a collection of grid-like streets, planned and overwritten with graffiti spray, pocketed with decaying books and oozing tomatoes.
The drill of mopeds connects the Neapolitans and rattles tourists, everything is always a prelude to some form of mozzarella’d pause.
“See non ora quando?” sums it up, “If not now when?”. Say it! Do it! Eat it! Move it! As the horns line up and drop like dominos. As the bee-like cars buzz busily in queues, wishing they were mopeds.
Pizza pizza pasta pizza pizza
The guide books claim to know which pizzerias to go to, wildly recommending this top five or that top 11. In fact, the more time you spend in any Italian city, the more clear you are on the enormity and impossibility of classifying ‘the best’ pizzeria.
In Naples, a pizza is like a person and all have the essential DNA. The tongue-twisting question of which pizzeria was the best would involve testing every pizza that pizzeria has ever made and then comparing that to all the pizzas ever made in all the pizzerias since the first pizza was made, since well over a hundred years ago!
No. Much better to simply head out and eat and get ready for good and possibly great pizza in any pizzeria that has survived the demands of hungry Neapolitans for more than a decade, say.
Life after pizza
But there is much more to Naples. There’s art inside churches and outside, in between the writings on the walls. There’s bits of Pompeii in the Museo Archeologico – egg poachers and colanders and bowls for figs, wondering why they haven’t been used for 2000 years.
And then there’s the sea, there’s always the sea, the only thing that cannot be stained with graffiti or tomato blood. Look out to the islands and bobbing mussel baskets from to the top of Castel dell’Ovo, so named after the poet laureate of ancient Rome, Virgil, left an egg there. It must still be in tact, for when it cracks Naples yolk will be washed away forever….
…Then walk down to the harbour that skirts the castle, a lovely, tranquil place to catch your breath and eat fish, at a stage in your trip when you’re too bloated with pizza to eat any more until suppertime.
Many tourists do Naples the injustice of treating it as a mere comma in a sentence about Pompeii. But having given it just a fraction of the love it deserves, we found ourselves heading nearer to Vesuvius with the heard, an hour down the coast, pretty sure, but not absolutely certain, about the current state of mind of perhaps the most devastatingly capricious volcano the human race has ever seen.
Do it like a Roman
The best bit of Pompeii + Vesuvius turned out to be the 6 cubicles of the ‘red light district’ where so-called ‘Lupanar’ (House of the Wof-Bitches) served a full menu of options, with every cupboard-like room offering its own signature dish, if the paintings above the various doors are to be taken at face value 😉
Having sampled these, the Pompeian middle classed homini would, no doubt be hungry and maybe a little bit sweaty. Conveniently, there were and are a string of fast food counters, much like a plastic-free Soho, lining the road to the jaw dropping public baths. Here, whether you’re in hot, cold or tepidarium, every wall is frescoed and all the water was cleaned with a mindbogglingly innovative Roman hydraulic filter mechanism evident through bits of exposed piping here and there.
Although Pompeii’s definitely worth the trip, be warned – several of the villas and the main circus seemed to be under restoration in March 2019, a fact that’s hard to find on the web, probably to protect the tour operators. Remember also, that it’s worth checking the weather and even giving the ticket office at Vesuvius a call before setting out on a climb. We were taken there only to find that the peak was shrouded in fog…
But nonetheless, tick tick tick, we had been to Vesuvius and Pompeii and seen the lucky penises (or should I say phalli?) graffitied on the walls. We were informed that, to the lusty Pompeians, the phallus held no taboo. It was, and still is, a universal symbol of health and wealth. You may wonder why, in modern Naples and the surrounding Campania, there are bunches of ‘chillies’ hanging up everywhere. They are, in fact, pointed phalli, shaved into chillies by the prudish Holy Roman Catholic church in the 6th century….
Back to Naples for afternoon treats
And so we let Naples have us again and filled out stomachs and eyes and ears with more ‘soddisfazione’ than we thought possible. The city has a way of making you somehow forever hungry and forever full at the same time – making you moan in protest before sweetening your outrage into sensuously carefree joy at everything – a gorgeous church or the heavenly, infinite layers of crispy pastry that hold the soft, sweet ricotta heart of any sfogliatella.
Where to stay?
Anywhere, near the centro-storico, somewhere near the Piazza Dante – where it’s chilled and relatively chic, yet gritty and fascinating – that washed out timeless elegance that Naples does best.