Naples in a nutshell: we thought we were going to get shot, but we also thought we would die happy because Neapolitan pizza is heaven. Cassandra and I had ZERO idea what we were getting ourselves into. We needed a city in which we could wile away three days before leaving for Croatia. From Rome, the cheapest train tickets were to Naples. Pennies, they were. We Google Image'd Naples, saw postcard pics of the seaside, and pressed 'book' simply to cross something off of our to do list.
As pizza lovers – never before in my life have I seen anyone love pizza as much as Cassandra does, and I'm an equal opportunist when it comes to all carbs – we were pretty pleased with ourselves. The birthplace of pizza. It'll be a pilgrimage! Oh, to be so dumb.
Our first clue that something was a little off came when we were in Florence. A family we met wine-tasting expressed a concerned "ohhhhh" with eyebrow raises when they heard that the two of us would be going to Naples. Alone. "Keep an eye on your luggage at ALL times," the young daughter warned knowingly. "And make sure you eat pizza any chance you get," the mom added.
Not long after, a friend's mom posted on Cassandra's Facebook, "the two of you are so brave for going to Naples by yourselves. Stay safe!!"
If you're ever going to Naples, never Google "how safe is Naples" hours before leaving. You will read horror stories of Canadian tourists caught in a storm of gunfire, of the strong mafia presence, of the sketchy train station. Not quite reassuring.
To be honest, Cassandra and I felt so nervous after reading about Naples that we discussed canceling that leg of the trip altogether. But knowing it'd be tricky arranging last minute accommodation in Rome during peak tourist season, we tucked the money belt holding passports, cash, and cards into some big girl pants, and went to Naples.
It didn't start off on a good note. In a flurry of confusion over whether or not we had to validate our tickets, a man came up to us in semi-official clothing, hurried us to the very last train car, tossed our luggage on the overhead rack, and demanded a tip. Flustered by the outright gip, we handed him one Euro coin after another until we finally showed him our wallet: no Euros left.
This was also the only time we had second-class train tickets. Y'all, the prices for second-class and first-class are comparable, but there is a huge difference in quality. There were so many sketchy characters in our car, it was dirty and uncomfortable, and the bathroom... was the pits. Literally.
We took the metro from the station to a museum near the apartment, and then sort of just stood there, lost and disoriented. Thankfully, an American exchange student saw us from afar and came over to point us in the right way. So as you can see, the road to Naples was definitely not without bumps. And frankly, Naples itself... well, it's gritty and dirty and rough around the edges, that's for sure. It was suffocatingly hot, and in an apartment with no A/C... I mean. We survived.
I sound like quite the drama queen here, and I'll tell you now that Naples really wasn't that bad. In fact, I love how authentic and unvarnished it was. It was like seeing what Italy might've been like before all the tourism. We did feel uneasy the entire time, likely because we had this preconceived notion that anyone could mug us, so we were extra alert. When we were walking in an empty alleyway (TO GET TO THE PIZZA), a man came out of nowhere and said hello, but was walking too close to us for comfort. I swore he was hiding a knife, that's how paranoid I was. This other time, we were hangin' out in the living room, trying to get some air from the open floor-to-ceiling windows. All of a sudden, we heard a long string of loud explosions and dove to the floor, crawling into the safety of our bathroom. Then, right as we peeked our heads out, it happened again. To this day, we don't know if we heard gunshots or firecrackers, but it is a memory that makes us laugh until our bellies ache. All's well that ends well, right?
Also, we did absolutely nothing in Naples except eat pizza, walk along the coast one day to try and see Vesuvius, and escape to Capri. One day we wanted to go see this famous theater, but were so exhausted and sweaty by the time we got close to it, that we ended up enjoying a Coke at a cafe, and then turning around and going back home.
^Clearly I hated everything.
No words. (OK, maybe a few.)
So the really famous joint is L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele. It's the one that Julia Roberts's character visits in Eat, Pray, Love. There's a long queue, so get there early. It's no-frills. You go in, order your pizza (only two kinds), a drink, down it all, and get out. The pizza's good. Very good. Thin, crispy at the bottom, artfully burnt just so, smothered in an almost soupy sauce. Terrific pizza, without a doubt.
But it was child's play compared to our favorite. Starita a Materdei. Around the corner from our apartment, it's more of a sit-down place compared to da Michele. The menu's heftier. The wine flows like water. (It became a habit to share a liter of ice cold house wine between the two of us because it was only, like, SIX EUROS.) And the pizza? One of the best things I have ever eaten in my whole life. I won't even try to describe it. Just know that it's out of this world. Fast and cheap, too. I think it was three euros for a pizza three times the size of my face? Plus, they look at you funny if you want to "share" a pizza. No. Don't be a baby. Order your own pizza, and finish it like a proper Italian. Starita also has delicious appetizers (we had fried zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta, and a 'salad' with arugula, cherry tomatoes, and fried pizza dough) and a ridiculous dessert that's fried pizza dough drenched in Nutella.
We loved it so much that we came back all three nights we were in town. And on the third night, one of the waiters mumbled a "see you tomorrow" as we left. Oh buddy, I wish.