**warning: long post ahead**
After one of our Saturday day trips for my class was unexpectedly cancelled, my friend asked us randomly if we would like to go to Naples. Then, when one class of two of my friends was randomly canceled on Thursday, it seemed like we were destined to go. We bought our tickets, packed our lunches for the three and a half hour train ride, got lots of food recommendations, booked our Airbnb, and hoped for warm weather. One friend almost read the train time and ended up running all the way to Bologna Centrale, but we all made it aboard with all the necessities.
I don’t think I’ll ever get used to traveling my train in Italy. One moment we’re speeding through some dark tunnel, and the next we emerge with rolling green hills spotted with red terracotta roofs of these beautiful homes straight from a movie. The amount of castles I saw peacefully sitting in the distance or beautiful streams cutting through the lush lands was insane. More than once my jaw actually dropped open, and I just sat there staring while the business man across from me in his perfectly pressed suit just smirked. But wow how lucky was I to be sitting here on a train speeding at 295 km and hour on a Thursday afternoon through the south of Italy?! People always say to enjoy the ride, and I think I truly embraced that statement.
When we emerged from the train station clutching our purses and staying very attentive thanks to the paranoia everyone imparted to us, we successfully navigated ourselves to our apartment in the historical center and climbed up four (extra long) flights. We’ve all stayed in nicer, cleaner places, but with enough beds, free Nutella & cookies, and a balcony with a view of the Mediterranean Sea, we really couldn’t complain about the seemingly safe, convenient and cost effective place. After resting for a few moments, we decided to buy some foods for breakfast and for a packed lunch for the next day from a nearby Conad (a chain we all know from Bologna). However, this Conad was incredibly different–small, a little sketchy, with produce that looked straight from the earth. Even the workers were stereotypical- the produce guy weighed all our items and picked out the produce for the other customers and the check out ladies were completely engrossed in a conversation that we seemed to be interrupting by paying for our items.
We then set off towards the sea just as the sun was setting with the old castles sitting on the sea and Mount Vesuvius looming in the distance. We topped the night off with pizza from a restaurant on the sea, where I ate half of margherita pizza and half of what was basically a margherita pizza folded in half with smoked cheese and topped with tomatoes. 10/10 recommend eating. 15/10 recommend friends like like going halfsies with you. (Oh actually we topped the night off with a babà’, which I personally doesn’t truly deserve a mention in this blog post except that it is a very hyped and overrated dessert typical of Naples).
The next morning we made our way to this special train to talk to Pompeii, where we were escorted through the fully armed carabinieri with a flick of a wrist from some woman after she asked us if we were looking for the train to Pompeii. There were only two other American tourists with us on the entire train. However, we arrived after 25 minutes to the full out land of tourists. While this was actually my second time at Pompeii since I went with my Latin class in high school about 4 years ago, I still loved being there and found everything still beautiful and interesting. I felt like I was transported into my Latin textbooks (which were based off of a family and the quotidian life in Pompeii leading up to, during, and after the explosion of Mount Vesuvius–you could say I’m still emotionally attached to all the characters who I feel were actually real people there). I was surprised by how much I remembered but also by how much I have absolutely zero recollection of seeing.
We decided to go to the archaeological museum in Naples since it is home to many frescoes and artifacts salvaged from Pompeii and Herculaneum. I was blown away by the intricate and huge mosaics that were in Roman homes so many years ago. In fact while admiring a sculpture, secret service type men came plowing towards me followed by some important looking man (who we later found out was the mayor of Naples) and many photographers trailing behind.
With our entire crew finally in Naples together that Friday afternoon, we set out to take in everything the city had to offer. After seeing the lights from the coastal buildings dance on the water, we headed into the maze of a city in search of a pizza fritta (a pizza folded in half and fried), where we ended up at a shop called del Maria, who unfortunately did not have la pizza fritta but as the kind, napoletana woman she was suggested fried spaghetti and had us taste a sampling of the other foods she cooks, which were all amazing but all the better since we were able to connect with her despite the thick napoletano accent. The rest of the night is a happy blur.
Finally found la pizza fritta in terra. Split the pizzas with mysterious ingredients inside and split them on some steps. Were saluted by a man with a kind smirk. Drank limoncello and aperol spritz for 1€ each on very crowded, hip street. Tried really hard and failed at being each others wing people. Met a very kind napoletana girl while waiting in line for a nasty bathroom (with as usual no seat or toilet paper). Got chased by a menacing big dog after someone drunkenly aggregated him. Danced in the street a lot. Asked for directions to a good gelateria. “Learned” napoleanto from a group of college students. Finally found an incredible gelateria. Found out way back after two phones died. Barely made it up all the stairs. And feel asleep ready for the next day of adventures.
The two women that work in the office of my study abroad program recommended Procida to us as an alternate to the other very popular tourist stops (Capri and Ischia) because it is a little smaller, closer, and a little more authentic in the sense that there are not as many tourists (however there were still quite a few considering the time of the year). After rushing to buy our tickets and boarding the ferry boat just in time, we made our way to the back of the boat where there was just a small opening from which we could see the city and the bay as we passed by on the open water. We started walking through the little streets up a slight hill when we finally saw a church and an opening that gave way to the expansive sea down below dotted with tiny fishing boats. We continued to climb up the hill to the side of the island when we finally reached a point that left us all speechless. It truly felt like a dream. All the colored houses on the hill side of the island were so beautiful, and even from way up high, we could so clearly see the rocky bottom under the crystal clear, blue water. I really had to restrain myself from attempting a perfect swan dive into the beckoning water from way up high. When we finally climbed down many, many stairs to the beach, the water was incredible and the sand almost black since the island formed from volcanic activity. Even thought it was the last weekend in September, the weather was still amazing but the beach was nearly deserted, perfect for a nice relaxing swim and nap under the sun.
We then followed our famished stomachs to a restaurant to eat pasta seafood straight from the sea (even as a vegetarian, how could we resist the freshness and uniqueness of this staple?). After lunch we tried a dessert that originates from Procida (lingue di suoccera) and because the other pastries looked incredible, we tried a bunch of other desserts as well with our afternoon coffees. We saw a shop filled with beautiful artwork and ended up talking to the artist for quite some time. He even read us some poetry he had written that just about moved me to tears (which wasn’t that hard given how perfect and beautiful the day was). I’m still not sure that our day spent in Procida wasn’t a dream, but I guess I have too many photos, a pumice stone from the beach, and a poster that was gifted to us from the artist to prove otherwise. Even the ferry ride home on the top deck with the wind blowing, the vivid sunset, Mount Vesuvius looming as always and some pretty great friends could not have been more perfect end to the day well spent in Procida.
Sabato sera is the most sacred night for Italian youth. We however are not Italians, but very, very tired American tourists/students, so instead of hitting up the very vibrant night scene in Napoli, we headed out in search of a pizza to take away and be in bed by 9 PM. However, we ended up getting side tracked by street tiramisu and a cone of fried food (we were told this was a Napoletano must by). Eventually we got a pizza down the street from the infamous Sorbillo’s with a massive crowd filling the filling the street as they waited to get a bite of pizza that I’ll just assume could not have been worth the wait. Our to go pizza in the Airbnb with the fresh Napolitano air pouring in through the open window with some pretty great people and a pomegranate for dessert straight from the tree seemed just about perfect. We topped the night off with freezing cold showers because apparently we ran out of hot water that left me feeling oh so slightly cleaner than before.
Because we went to bed so early, we decided to get our butts up and going at the break of dawn to watch the sun rise over Mount Vesuvius. I don’t remember the last time I went for a jog, but the thought of missing the sunrise was the best motivation to get us all JOGGING through Naples in our very non sporty clothes as we headed to the prime sunrise spot. Thankfully, we made it with plenty of time to peacefully watch the colors change over the sea while eating our granola and breakfast cookies. I’ve seen quite a few sunrises, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sun peeking from behind an actual volcano warming my face while Italian fisherman snorkeled beneath my feet. Followed by a quick dance session in an empty piazza to a middle school jam and a shakerato nocciola and delightful pastries.
We meandered through the Spanish Quarter as the Sunday was just beginning for the residents as we hoped to return to a shop of Maria whom we had met the a few nights prior, who had talked of some incredible food typical of Naples. We took some detours to finally explore the historical center like the Duomo, another church (because Italy), and a metro stop that truly is a work of art. Unfortunately, when the store finally opened, we didn’t have time to try the lunch specialties as we had a train to catch, so we opted for eating pizza on the train (which was truly a beautiful moment that I hope everyone can experience at some point).
I was truly pleasantly surprised by Naples, and after the people we met and this weekend, I felt moments of true love for the south of Italy and unbelievably thankful that I’m here learning a language that is opening so many opportunities for me by simply allowing me to communicate with people I never would have been able to before. This weekend reaffirmed why I’m here in Italy and why I’m putting in the work to do something many don’t understand. Naples, I’ll be back to take in more of your beauty, wackiness and unexpected surprises (oh and of course all the food).
9 maggio- Liberato
South- hippo campus
Down south- Jeremy Loops
Lip Gloss- Lil Mama
That’s Amore- Dean Martin
Benvenuto al Sud- for all the southern stereotypes
Eat, Pray, Love- the scene where Julia Roberts eats pizza is in Naples (Pizzeria de Michele)
Positano – filmed on the island on Procida
Pizza margherita Sorbillo sul mare
Panini mozzarella, pomodori e pesto
Frittata di pasta o fritatine
Pizza fritta “completa” e vino
Spritz e limoncello per 1€
Gelato di Mennella
Pasta alle frutti di mare
Lingue di suocera al limone
Sfogliatelle calde e caffè
Cornetto di cibi fritti su strada (polenta, patate, pane, riso, zucchine)
Melagrana (da Procida)
Pizza margherita sul treno