The night before we went to Naples, Mark and I were sitting on the terrace in the Foreigners’ Club in Sorrento, looking out as the sun set over the glorious Bay of Naples, enjoying an aperitif. Suddenly, Mark announced that he didn’t want to go to Naples, and spent some considerable time trying to talk me out of the trip. We had done a lot of reading about Naples, and talked to a lot of people who had been there, and heard all the usual things: crime rate, mafia, rubbish crisis, poverty… Also, an hour each way on the Circumvesuviana train (remember that from going to Pompeii?) in 40 degree heat was not an enormously appealing prospect.
But when I travel, I like to see a slice of real life. Also, I had had two Aperol spritzes and became quite strident, and so it came to pass that at 8.30am the following morning we were boarding the Circumvesuviana to Naples.
The main thing I wanted to do in Naples was visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, which contains the majority of the archeological artefacts taken from the ruins of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other ancient Roman sites. So this was where we headed first, after a relatively straightforward trip on the metro across the city from the main station.
The archeological museum is a pleasingly cool, calm space of white marble in the middle of the city. Aside from Pompeiian finds there are a good range of other antiquities, including the Farnese Marbles, an assemblage of ancient Roman copies of ancient Greek sculptures. Some of these are absolutely, staggeringly massive, such as the so-called Farnese Bull, which towers above you:
We then headed up to the Pompeii collection, which is as amazing as you might expect. The mosaics are so incredibly detailed and artistic.
There is also a special room full of rude things found in Pompeii. The Pompeiians loved rude things. This is Pan and a goat. Pan was half-goat so it’s not quite as inappropriate as you might be thinking. Probably.
After the Museum, it was time for a wander through Naples in search of some lunch.
Our first glimpse of Naples was back when we first arrived in Italy, as the coach from the airport wound its way through the suburbs before heading off down the coast. It was, to be perfectly honest, a bit of a shock. The standard of living certainly did not seem to be what you would expect of a large, Western European city. We saw the same again on the way into Naples on the train, grungy suburbs proving quite an eye-opening experience.
The centre of Naples was in many ways in line with these initial impressions. Walking into the Centro Storico through narrow streets, past run-down, graffiti-covered buildings, we did wonder a little what we were walking into. But by the time we left, I grew to love it. Naples is lively, bustling, and full of people who, nobly or otherwise, just seem to be trying to have a good life in what are perhaps not the easiest of surroundings.
And what enhances life more than good food? I would argue very little, and then just to round off I would argue that you would struggle to find better food than in Naples. We headed, predictably, for pizza, bypassing the queues at Sorbillo to seek a table at I Decumani. What followed was one of the greatest meals of my life: never has pizza tasted so glorious. We both opted for cheese-less pizzas (I love cheese but melted and in large quantities? Not so much.), Mark for a classic marinara (€3, tomato, olive oil, oregano, garlic) and I went for the Siciliana (€5, tomato, anchovies, olives, capers and basil). They were staggeringly good.
After our pizzas, we ambled through Naples a while longer, stopping at a cafe where we found the promised land of the €.90 espresso (90 cents!) and then a bakery for pastries (50 cents!). Then before too long it was time to return to board the Circumvesuviana back to Sorrento, happily full of wonderful food, excellent memories, and the sort of deep elation it is only possible to feel after spending a day in close proximity to one of the world’s most powerful mafia organisations and coming out unscathed. Win.