Outings | Stories

Naples for beginners – shady, scruffy and magical

April 11, 2019

It is embarrassing to admit. This year in February, for the first time in my life, together with girl-friend we booked tickets and just went for a “city-break”. I have never done that before; don’t ask me why, I have no idea.

“Just” is also a bit of an overstatement in that sentence. It took us over a day of searching possible destinations, hotels, checking the weather. We nearly went for a weekend in Berlin but then decided for Naples. I can try to sound intellectual and tell you that Naples gave the world opera buffa and also transvestitism as a form of art. Not many could push away its charm. Virgil, Bocaccio, Stendahl – they were all victims of Napoli Love. But it was obviously all about pizza and espresso.

This is not a guide

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a definite guide. I’ve spent far too little time in Naples to say that I know the city. I don’t even know Vienna yet, and I’ve been here for the past two years. Still, I thought sharing our little successes and fails can be beneficial. Maybe you are as lost as I was? Maybe you just want something to start with and then explore further. Be my guest, by any means. Choose what you like, abandon what is not yours. Have fun. On the very first day we were sure our key to the main door is not working. The host lady huffed and puffed and said that of course it is working. She took us downstairs and started wriggling the key in the door. More or less on every second or third attempt the door opened. She ordered me to try. I could not open the door. She said “you have to do it with courage!” It felt so ridiculous at this moment, not even 12 hours after she told us 10 times within 5 minutes to be careful on the street, that it could only become our mantra for the weekend. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and start from the beginning.

This is an adventure

We arrived to Naples on Thursday evening. It was raining, obviously. After about 10 minutes we already befriended another couple who was with us on a plane and together we found a bus that took us to the centre. While waiting for the bus we got to know a charming lady that could not resist to tell us what a dangerous city Naples is and how stupid it is that all stores in Vienna are closed on a Sunday. Some people can’t be helped.

After getting off the bus we began the search of the hotel. It was not easy with heavy rain and every other person asking us for money. There were also a lot of drug users and people standing in shady corners. All this plus complete darkness did not help the first impression. What also did not help was Monika fixating on looking for a hotel that was supposed to be our hotel in Berlin so none of the images in her head matched what we could see on the street.

Eventually we found our hotel, although the entry door looked like it was going to fall apart any second. Let’s say we were ambiguous about getting in. However we did, a lady greeted us and as I mentioned before within first 5 minutes told us at least 10 times to “be careful” or “to be careful on the street”. When I asked her about a nice pizza place and she suggested she would order us pizza on the phone and bring it to our room. Yay.
We were not to be scared that easily or that’s what we decided to tell ourselves. There was a pizza place literally a stone-throw from our building. So we  did what any sensible person would do and left all the jewellery hidden under the potpourri in a vase, camera stuck in a hat and hat hidden behind a picture frame, laptops under the mattress, my engagement ring stuck in the tiniest pocket of my jeans and so on and so on. We felt ridiculous and probably were, but I blame the lady. I also know that these were the most obvious spots. Oh well, we were hungry and tired. Constrained by darkness and warning from the landlady we found:

Ristorante Maraucci

We run to the place like two mad girls. This still did not protect us from getting splashed with water from a puddle by a passing bus. On the little square by the restaurant we saw at least 3 police cars and some groups smoking weed hiding in surrounding passages. We went inside the restaurant and life was good again. Pizza was fantastic, house wine was tasty and staff friendly. I would not say it is a must when you come to Naples, but if you are in the area and want a decent meal in fair price – you can easily come here.
There were some guests watching football and atmosphere in general was very homey. Prices are decent and affordable even if you order three carafes of wine. We checked.

Pizza @Maraucci

Day 1

Stroll through the tiny streets

After previous night’s stress we started off fairly wearily and were gaining confidence with time. As we were in Naples we had to begin our day with espresso. Our first source for it was Dolce AmaroCaffee we just stumbled upon on our way to the old part of the city. There is something magical about coffee in here. I am not a fan of espresso in general but in Naples it tastes as they have put all the coffee essence in those couple of drops you are getting in your mini espresso cup. It was not too bitter, too sticky, nothing like I remembered it. Wherever we had coffee, it was purely excellent, including the airport where I had three and ended up with coffee shakes. The further north from Naples you go, the worse the espresso will be (yet the Prosecco will get better and better). However south from Naples it always is at least decent. Giorgio Bocca wrote apparently perfect espresso for all the Sicilians is a black drop containing super-concentrate of all the caffeine of the world.

coffee break!

After some walking around we stopped for yet another coffee, this time accompanied by Sfogliatella. Be aware, that in most of the bars the espresso is cheaper if you drink it by the bar. If you sit down the price can as much as double. Sfogliatella, known as lobster tail is an absolutely magical delicacy. Can be soft or crispy, both versions are worth sinning for. Its structure resembles stacked leaves. Filled with ricotta mixed with candied orange / lemon zest one bite brings you straight on a cloud nine. Fillings can be different, so feel free to experiment, but start with a classic. I would be happy to eat nothing but Sfogliatella for my breakfasts. Then I would probably roll around, as they are little but very sneaky calorie bombs. Still, Sfogliatella itself is enough to bring me back to Naples.

This is how much pleasure you get form one small Sfogliatella

Archeological museum

After coffee and sweets we had energy to continue our exploration. Don’t run away just because you saw “museum” mentioned in the paragraph. Usually I am not much of a museum person. Bear with me though. Museo Archeologico has something called Gabinetto Segreto, a room full of erotic art from excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum. It is surprising to see how much citizens of Pompei (Roman Empire in general we can assume) were interested in all things penis-related. There is also plenty of boobs. For each their own, according to preferences.

How did the cabinet start?

Naples were under Bourbon’s control when Ferdinand’s son, Francis I, visited with his wife and young daughter in 1819. He was apparently shocked by the explicit imagery and ordered all items of a sexual nature be removed from view and locked in a secret cabinet, where access could be restricted to scholars (and male visitors willing to bribe the staff).

Surprise, surprise. All this fuss just made the collection more popular and seeing it became a rite of passage for young men. Seems quite fitting that we chose Naples for my bachelorette trip. Among dozens of stone penises, phallic wind chimes, and naughty mosaics, one item became the most famous: The Goat. This piece de resistance is a detailed carving of a satyr having intercourse with a female goat, her cloven feet pressed up against his chest as she gazes back at him with something you could probably describe as fondness.

In 1849, the collection was bricked off and remained off limits to the general public. For a century and a half the collection remained out of sight, on view only during brief liberal periods under Garibaldi and again in the 1960s. The Gabinetto Segreto was finally opened to the public in 2000 and moved into a separate gallery in 2005.

Obviously we have also seen all other exhibitions. They are interesting but, oh well, nothing beats the Gabineto. Although taking a Selfie with Sokrates was also quite fun.

Sorbillo pizza

We were famished after a couple of hours in the museum. So we opted for the best in the area: pizza. It is one of the two famous places. Don’t get fooled though, there are two Sorbillo pizzerias. They are located next to each other, separated with a wine bar. But in front of one there is always a swarm of people while the other remains empty. We did not go to the empty one this time but maybe I will check it next time, just too see if the difference is really that stark. We put our names down for the popular one and went next door to get a glass of Prosecco. When they call your name you can come in with your drink, so don’t worry and order yourself another one while waiting. Be prepared to feel a bit overwhelmed, as the menu is really long. Long story short:
Pizza is thin as paper, in the middle it is hard to notice any dough.
Place is open till lunch break and then again in the evening.
Spicy is not really spicy – we had Diavola and I felt nothing..

The “real” Sorbillo

Castell dell Ovo

With fully loaded batteries it was time for some more exploring. We decided for a walk through Quartieri Spagnoli and along the harbor to see the Castell dell Ovo. It’s a beautiful castle practically in the sea. It used to be an island, now it is a peninsula. The walk along the harbor is picturesque and refreshing. View from the castle is amazing; you see a beautiful part of the city on the hill and how it overlooks the sea. Definitely worth paying a visit, even if you are not a big fan of castles. It is also quite a romantic place. It had enough of a vibe to make Monika and I follow all the couples there and take a selfie. Or seven.

Aware of everything our lady told us we were home by the time it got dark. Equipped with wine we watched Italian Idol and some other Italian TV. We fell asleep like two dead bodies within minutes. Such fun.

Day 2

Museum of the modern art – MADRE

We decided to go, as there was a retrospective exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe’s works. Museum itself is already stunning from the outside, very easy to spot with its bright colours.
Exhibition… Not even in a porn movie you will see this many bizarre acts, and so many penises of all shapes, sizes and colours. You start with an ouverture, where Patti Smith and Samuel Wagstaff Jr. appear. Then we move on to the five opening rooms and finish with six rooms. It is thrilling to see how Mapplethorpe weaved taking portraits of Susan Sontag or David Hockney with pictures from BDSM clubs. Third section taking place in central room is preceded by a dressing room. Right next to it you will find X (Dark) Room, which is forbidden to minors, as it displays some hardcore photography. Definitely worth paying a visit, especially if you have some interest in this time and part of art. Other parts present an interesting mix of contemporary art. If you have any interest in that you will be happy. Don’t miss the opportunity to get on a roof – the view is spectacular and they have incorporated some art in the surroundings in a creative and fun way.

Da Michele

Seeing a solid portion of pornography as well as again conquering three floors of more daytime friendly art it was time for some food. Even before we landed in Naples I knew we would have to wait in line. I even knew it might be quite a while to get my hands on the best pizza. But never in my life had I expected I would be standing in front of a pizza place for over two hours just to have pizza. Call me crazy.

The experience is absolutely worth it though. First you get a number from a guy standing in the door. Then you can go to a nearby bar to get a glass of something. You start talking to people, even if you don’t really know Italian. Someone offers to sell you their dog, someone else (ok, same person) offers to sell you their ticket so you can get the pizza faster. In the meantime you see how the crowd is changing. Some people are being let in, some people leave, some people take their pizza to go. Once you get in you get seated and asked what do you want to drink. There is no menu; you choose whether you want water, coke or beer. Then you decide on a pizza: Marinara or Margharita. Nothing else, their whole business is based on two options, but brought to an absolute perfection and food orgasm. I like rants of pizza in general but here I was ready to devour them. Pizza is thin, soft, and a bit chewy in a best possible way. Oh. Had I only had three stomachs I would have eaten more. This time I waived the white flag after one delicious marinara. Monika promised to eat three pizzas before we were served but also finished only one.

After our pizza experience it had already started to get dark so we slowly started going direction flat in search for some ice cream. We failed miserably though. Whenever we saw a sign “Gelateria” it turned out that of course, they have a fridge, but it is filled with chocolate rather than ice cream. So we went home with more wine to watch some ridiculous Italian TV.
Our flight back was early on a Sunday so there wasn’t much we could do. Still, on our way out of the apartment in the morning we managed to stumble upon a pile of maybe 30 men collecting their camping mats and mattresses.

Take me back

Naples is a bizarre city. Its mild, sultry and moist climate provokes a state where your main concern is food and waiting for the next day without any kind of certainty or expectation. I know there were probably more homeless people than usually as it was winter so a lot of people from the north traveled south for some warmth. We also stayed in the train station area, which wasn’t the smartest idea and we realised this one a bit too late.

It is however an incredible city with a lot of character. By no means it is an advertisement folder. Naples escapes all definitions. It makes you feel on edge but also like this is a place where you can fully feel joy. Corners feel dodgy but inviting. You want to stroll through all those tiny streets, in between the big old buildings and just take endless pictures of washing drying on lines between them or fish stands on nearly every corner. Sometimes you will hear a homeless guy yelling at the tourist taking pictures of the Duomo. It is all part of the city’s charm.

I want to go back.


How to get there:

If you are on a budget Easy Jet flies between Naples and Vienna regularly. The tickets can be as cheap as 20 euro per direction.

Getting from the Airport to the city:
There is a bus a bit outside the airport. You can buy a ticket in the Arrivals hallway, but also directly by the driver. It takes about 20 minutes to get you to Piazza Garibaldi (first stop). The ticket costs 5 euro.

Where not to sleep:
Avoid Piazza Garibaldi. Seriously. Unless you are traveling with a man or you don’t care at all. I felt creepy couple of times and Monika would not even let me go buy tampons on my own.

What to eat: pizza.


Hints for the future visit

As a sort of P.S., a list of places we didn’t get to see yet are worth seeing/eating at and I have them saved for the next trip:

  • Breakfast at Gran Caffè Gambrinus
  • Funicolare Centrale
  • Caffè nocciolato at Il Vero Bar del Professore
  • Trattoria da Nennella and their pasta con patate
  • Vesuvio of course if you have an extra day, and while there also Pompeii or Herculaneum
  • San Gennaro catacombs
  • Underground Fontanelle cemetery
  • Via San Gregorio Armeno – if you peer through their open-doors you can see craftsmen at work – creating statuettes and
  • scenery for the famous Neapolitan nativity scenes
  • Chocolate at Gay odin
  • Drinks in piazza bellini
  • Coffee Mexico
  • Stroll along the Lungomare
  • Breakfast at Scaturchio – pastier or baba
  • Tandem – pasta rage – you pay by minute
  • Di Matteo pizza
  • Pizza in Locanda del Grifo
  • Pasqualino by Piazza Garibaldi
  • Ice cream at Casa infante
  • Santa Lucia district