It’s been a little hectic around here since we got back.
Our story thus far:
- Sarah flew down to Venice to meet up with our pal Rachel
- Cliff drove down to Piombino Dese to pick them up at the train station and eat and sleep at Ca’ de Memi
- The three of us drove to Siena and explored for a few days
- Then we made our way to Rome, where we walked A LOT and ate a lot
- After five days in Rome, planned a route through Gaeta, tried some tielle there, and braced ourselves for Neapolitan traffic
It. Was. Bad.
OK. We didn’t have any car accidents or stolen vehicles or anything serious like that, but think of all the European Driver stereotypes you’ve seen in popular culture. They’re based on Naples.
I updated our GPS just before the trip, but that didn’t catch all the detours and construction and recently-turned-one-way streets in the Vomero neighborhood. Combine that with the chaos of scooters whizzing by in all directions, pedestrians leaping out from sniper positions among the crosswalks, and the game of traffic jam chicken everyone knew about but me, and I was darn glad to find a paid parking lot down the street from our vacation apartment and breathe a little.
Our landlord Niki of Casa Michelangelo met us in a café up the street and then helped us move the car from the paid spot to the reserved parking in a cage across from the place. We made sure we got everything out of it first — it was a tight squeeze and I was certain we’d not be interested in driving again any time soon.
Niki gave us a walkthrough of the apartment (3BR, 2 full baths, big kitchen, fast WiFi, nice design) and then asked if we’d like a walking tour. He warned us that we’d have to be fast to keep up with him. He wasn’t kidding. We thought he would show us a restaurant in the neighborhood or two, or maybe explain the metro system. Instead, it was more of a two-hour sprint from Vomero, down the hill to the harbor via funicular, through the old city nooks and crannies, and back. He was so enthusiastic, laughing and gesturing at the cars swerving and honking at him as he danced backwards in traffic to tell us about the 17 times Naples had been conquered by outside forces, or how the layout of the city follows a pattern from classical antiquity, or how Naples is open to tourists, but is not especially focused on them, and therefore presents a more authentic feel. He sure was right about that.
I had my doubts about the Naples part of this trip. It was Rachel who suggested a visit to Pompeii as an itinerary point, so we included Naples. I’d heard about problems in the recent past with sanitation and, of course, Naples’ reputation for organized crime and corruption. But we saw none of that. Apart from the drive in, almost every bit of Naples was clean and pleasant and accessible. I regret that we only had a few days to spend there.
Sarah read up on Eccellenza Campane in advance, so we sought out that place specifically. It’s an obviously-pretty-new open-plan former-warehouse (or something) full of local producers’ goods: preserves, dried herbs, specialty seafood, pasta cuts we’d seen neither before nor since, and a big selection of restaurants selling food ready-to-eat. We went there looking to shop and eat and we were not disappointed. The rest of the clientele dining seemed to be office-type people on their lunch breaks. For such a big place with so much to offer, it was suprisingly hard to to get to. We had to take a subway into the central station and then hoof it a couple miles through some somewhat sketchy neighborhoods. Nothing that screamed “this is where tourists disappear!” at us — just some broken glass on the street and discarded furniture on the sidewalks in front of shabby buildings. But that Eccellenze Campane place was bright and bustling. I hope it encourages more renewal in that part of town.
Niki recommended two more places to eat dinner to us, and we are sure glad he did. We loved both the Pizzeria L’Angolo del Paradiso and the Pizzeria Gorizia. We didn’t have pizza at all of these restaurants, though the temptation was there. There were also excellent pastas. We mostly stuck to the primi, occasionally sharing an appetizer plate among the three of us as a warm-up.
Since the kitchen was pretty well equipped (even by vacation apartment standards), we hit a local supermarket and did a few meals at home, too.
Just take the Circumvesuviana train. It was so easy. We’d heard the drive is not worth the hassle, so we didn’t even consider that option. Get on at the Napoli Stazione Centrale (the Garibaldi stop on the metro), or — to guarantee a seat if the train is crowded — try the Porta Nolana station as a departure point. At Napoli Garibaldi, the long-distance platforms 1 and 3 are underground, set apart from the main area of the train station. There are ticket windows dedicated to the Circumvesuviana lines. Buy a ticket for the line headed towards Sorrento, climb aboard, and 25 minutes later you exit at Pompei Scavi. From the station to the entrance of the excavation site, it’s not even a minute’s walk.
Here’s a map showing the driving route; it’s pretty much the train route we took.
If you’re going to Pompeii, reserve the day for it. If you don’t use it all, you’ll appreciate a chance to cool off in the late afternoon upon your return. We sprang for the audio guides instead of a person-led tour, but quickly discovered it was overkill. We had more fun wandering the neighborhoods of Pompeii and admiring the remains of the architecture. It’s a good idea to establish a meeting point and time in case you get split up (especially if you’re not using a data plan on your smartphone while in Italy!). The site is bigger than you think. We wandered off in separate directions and found each other again only by chance.
It was moderately crowded while we were there with school groups of little kids and tourist groups of all ages. We were traveling between the Catholic holidays of Pentecost and Corpus Christi, but Pompeii is pretty famous — I get the impression it’s never deserted. Since nearly everything to see there is outdoors, be prepared for the sun to be brutal. We were pleased to find an AutoGrill on-site at Pompei Scavi and the food lived up to the (somewhat high) expectations from our travels down. Seating was limited and the lines were long, however.
I’m really glad Rachel pushed for Pompeii on this trip. Next time, I think I’d like to go even further south — I’d like to visit the Calabria, Basilicata, and Apuglia regions, and have heard the best way to do that is by car. Maybe we could fly into Naples, do some more exploring there again, ferry it out to an island like Capri or Ischia, and rent a car for the remainder of the trip.
Next up: two more stops on the way back to Regensburg