Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mediterranean Adventures - Part 5 (Napels Italy)

Reading about Napels is nothing like actually being in Napels. All the travel books warned me about pick pockets, knifing in the streets, thieves around every corner, etc. I was expecting to be assaulted straight off the boat. Well we did have to go through a gauntlet of taxi drives at the port entrance, but that was about as much hassle we experienced the whole day. The town was gorgeous. A real beautiful coastal down. Our first stop was Castel dell’ Ovo. This 12th century fortress was built by the ancient Romans and has the most spectacular view of the harbor. Granted, getting to that view involved walking uphill in 90 degree temperatures…at 8:30am!
While at the Castle, we acquired two friends…dogs. These were strays that apparently would follow anyone for no particular reason at all. Seriously, we didn’t acknowledge the dogs, pet them, give them food…we just walked by and they decided to follow us for almost the entire day. We would walk, they would pace behind us. We stop, they would stop. You get the picture. Our little buddies. The funny thing is when we entered buildings, the dogs would wait for us until we exited. One time we tried to give them the slip through a side door, but they smelled us out…dogs, go figure. They were in heaven when we reached the Piazza del Plebiscito because it was filled with pigeons. Hundreds of them! It gave the dogs no greater joy to run into a flock of sitting birds over and over and over again. I actually enjoyed watching them live it up.

On one side of the Piazza was the Royal Palace of the Bourbon and Savoy Kings. The cost of admission was 6 Euros and we got serious attitude from the ticket taker by handing her a 10 Euro bill. She asked Dana in a condescending voice if she had anything smaller than a 10E but then a 5E wouldn’t even cover the admission. The palace rooms had painted ornate ceilings and a grand staircase out of some MGM movie.

There were artifacts of Pompeii on loan from the Archeology Museum. I took a ton of pictures and later as I was assigning captions to them, I found the most hilarious picture. At first glance I thought “vase with horse”, on second glance I was like “wait, is that a bucket hanging from his…wiener?” Ah ha ha ha. I heard stories about Pompeii being the Las Vegas of ancient Rome…but now I am starting to think it was more like Tijuana.

We actually tried to break into the other wing that was closed off, but our efforts were fruitless and we were in danger of landing in an Italian jail. Across from the palace was the Church of San Francesco di Paola. Although it was a huge church, it wasn’t on the map. Actually a lot of things weren’t labeled on the map…like the streets. Napels is a typical rustic old town with streets going every which way. A regular labyrinth. It also has a lot of historic places tucked in the most hidden places. We had two maps, and even combined, only knew half the streets. This made it very interesting since some places were listed with two different addresses.
Near the Piazza was Napels version of 5th Avenue. Well actually, it was their main shopping street, and instead of high end designers, it was like the Italian versions of Strawberry or Deb. After we viewed all the shops on the main street, we picked a random side street to see if we could stumble across a place to eat. The side street made a turn and then started going up…straight up. This hill rivaled the best in San Francisco. I think we ventured into the area locals call home because clothing and trinket shops turned into tiny grocery and hardware stores. It also turned infinitely shadier. I read plenty of warnings in travel books about venturing off the main paths. We telling each other we would get off the street ASAP, but every street offshoot looked scarier than the one we were on. After walking for 15 minutes and seeing some graffiti telling us where to suck it, we decided to turn around and walk all the way back.
We made our way to Via Toledo (we think…no street signs) which is one main artery of the town. I was ready to gnaw my arm off I was so hungry, so we stopped at some alley café near the Spanish Quarter. It was literally two folding tables and those cheap plastic chairs. Napels I am told is home to fabulous pizza, so naturally we ordered some for lunch. We unknowingly ordered a pizza each for 3E. For that price, we figured it would be just a giant slice. Nope, an entire pizza. That would explain why the proprietor gave us funny looks when we ordered. I also ordered a Lemonchello (lemon based liquor Napels is also known for) and Italy’s version of Gatorade (because walking straight uphill for four hours in 90+ temp kicked my ass). Although the liquor was more like sugary rubbing alcohol, the pizzas were amazing! Seriously, the best pizza I have ever had. I felt bad not eating all three square feet of it.

After lunch, we hoped back on to Via Toledo, which turned into Via Roma, which turned into Teresa Pessina (all the same street). We were busy looking for the side street that would take us to our next planned destination. Of course our maps were not labeled, or even to scale, so we had no idea which street was right, so we kept walking. Walking uphill (everything was uphill) sweating like beasts. The cool thing is we stumbled across some really interesting places…not shown on the map. Dana accidently flashed a crowd in Dante’s Piazza when a gust of wind blew up her skirt and it took her a while to wrestle it back down.
We kept walking, and eventually ended at the National Archaeological Museum which was not our intended stop. Our poor legs. We overshot the unmarked turn by about a mile…uphill. Normally finding the Museum would be serendipitous but we had already seen artifacts at the Palace. Turning around we finally found our way into the Santa Chiara district which is basically the church area. Every other building was a church..and an old one at that. Sometimes there were churches on top of churches. Sometimes a church was in the process of being torn down to make room for a new church. The narrow alley-like streets were full of nuns, pious old ladies, and men with mustaches selling crucifixes. Some of the streets passed through buildings like abbeys and under windows with giant shutters and ancient women beating rugs. Trust me, it is hard to describe…something out of a movie, like the Godfather.
We were on a mission to find the Cathedral of San Gennaro which houses vials of the Saint’s blood. Of course the map shows it as a giant blob that could intersect a number of unnamed streets. We saw 50 odd churches before attempting to get directions. Dana would try Spanish with the locals (hey it worked well enough in Rome) and they would just wave us off like gnats (DENIED!). Finally we found a British couple who had a kick ass map with every street labeled (and to scale, whooo hooo). Thirty minutes later, we finally found St. Gennaro’s church. Too bad it was closed. I know, God was mocking us.
Exhausted, we got back to the ship. While waiting for our dinner appointment, we watched one of the movies on demand, Nick and Nora’s adventure thing. The movie as a whole was meh, but the drunk girl totally stole the show. If you have seen the movie, you know who I am talking about. She was seriously hilarious. I mean she said “hi” to a sandwich and claimed “this tree is drunk”. The whole gum running joke thing and hitting her head while being carried, almost made me pee my pants.
Overall, Napels was a beast of a walking workout. It is much more laid back than Rome and has the most awesome pizza. Unless you are a total idiot who flashes giant wads of cash, I wouldn’t worry one bit about pick pockets or thieves. Not once were we even remotely encroached on (in fact the locals were more likely to avoid us than approach us).
Next stop…Greece.


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