With Rome and The Vatican conquered, I traveled to Naples, the birth place of pizza! The only reason I chose Naples was for the pizza and Pompeii. Outside of that, I knew nothing of Naples. I was in for a surprise. When I reached Naples, this is what I saw:
Naples was the dirtiest city I’ve been to on this trip. I’ve never seen so much trash. The image above showed a relatively small amount of trash compared to other parts of the street. Every dumpster I walked pass had trash overflowing into the streets. The smell was horrible. I wanted to leave Naples the minute I stepped outside of the train station! It was sad.
I was also told to be careful in Naples because of the crime. From the minute I talked about leaving Rome for Naples and taking my first steps in Naples all the news was bad news.
To top it all off, I started to pick up a sore throat. As I walked around the Naples train station, and around Naples in general, I inhaled metric tons of second hand smoke. This lead to a cold which lasted most of Naples.
Not a very good start.
I booked a hostel called Giovanni’s Home. The directions I received from HostelWorld were horrible. I walked around Giovanni’s Home for twenty minutes before Gionvanni called down from above. He was on the third floor of the building and he sounded like a bird. He was calling my name, but I could barely make it out with his accent. Nevertheless, he pointed to a door around the corner from where I stood. This was not where the directions were suppose to lead me, so no wonder I was lost.
Giovanni’s Home was on the third floor. There was no elevator in the building (I later found out that the downtown area of Naples was a UNESCO world heritage site so buildings in the area could not be renovated). I was carrying a 30 pound backpack and I was wearing my jacket in the heat. It was hot and I was sweaty.
When I entered Giovanni’s house, he told me to put my bags down and he gave me a cup of water. I looked around and this place was literally his home. There were three bedrooms with four bunk beds in each of them. Giovanni lived in another two rooms away from the guests near the kitchen. There was a patio out back, a living room with a bunch of tables, and the reception area where I was standing. This is literally his house!
Giovanni’s Home was highly recommended to me by an Aussie I met in Madrid. He told me he had a blast here. Like Naples, Giovanni’s place wasn’t all that nice to look at. It felt like many humans have passed through the place. Thats the best way I could describe it.
As I finished my cup of water, Giovanni told me he had to run some errands and figured I was hungry – it was noon. So instead of checking in immediately, he sent me down to the best pizza place – his recommendation – in Naples called Gino’s. I ordered a pizza with artichokes, mozzarella, proscuito, mushrooms, and tomato sauce. I thought I was geting a slice of pizza, like in the U.S., and I told the waiter I wanted two. He looked at me funny and only punched in one order of pizza. At first, I was a bit angry, and then I was shocked because the order came as a full size pizza. I took the pizza back to the hostel and ate there while Giovanni ran some errands. This pizza was the best damn pizza I have ever had. Even when the pizza cooled down, which it did quickly, it was still awesome.
Just as I finished my pizza, Giovanni appeared and asked if I wanted some of the pasta he was making. I couldn’t say no to home cooking! Home cooked pasta after the best pizza I’ve ever had? Hell yes! The pasta was extremely simple. It had olive oil, basil, and tomatos. The basil and tomatos were fresh from the market. I was a happy man after this dish. I was also about to pass out from the self induced food coma.
So after an hour of eating, Giovanni sat me down and gave me a big map with interesting points that I should see. At the same time, he was talking about Naples in a positive light, which was great after my initial experience. He talked about Pompeii and the lesser known Herculean – another preserved city like Pompeii, but in much better condition. He talked about a few spots that the Odyssey mentions like the sirens that Odysseus hears. He debunked the myth about Naples being an unsafe city by showing me statistics from years past. For instance, a few years ago, the number of people killed in Naples was 84, but 80 of those who died were from the mafia. As he said, compared to other citys like Rome, Milan, and Florence, four people is nothing. He also gave me a card that gave me a 1 euro discount for a taxi ride up to Mt. Vesuvius and the underground tour of Naples. Giovanni has some weight in this town.
It was wonderful to hear him talk about wealth and richness of history Naples had to offer. He was very passionate about being from Naples. Of course, even with his crime stats, I still thought Naples was a shady city. :)
By the time he finished talking to me, which was a good 40 minutes, he had finished three cigarettes. This didn’t really help the cleanliness factor of the place nor my sore throat. Just as we finished a couple walked through the door looking to check in. He talked to them while I went to unpack. When I came back to the reception area, he told the same spiel to the couple as he had done to me. That’s another 40 minutes of talking! He does this for every new guest. I’m pretty sure he has the whole thing memorized by now.
As Giovanni talked to the newcomers, I walked around the city as I do with any new city I visit. I took some pictures, saw some trash, walked into a large parade that ended up being a protest, and saw some more trash. It was a good day! It was getting dark so I went back and searched for Gino’s so I could grab another pizza.
When I reached the restaurant I was saddened to find it closed! I thought it would be open since it was only 5:30 in the evening. At this point, I was extremely hungry, and I’m not sure how I managed to digest the pizza from three hours ago. Before reaching Naples, I made a vow that I would only eat pizza. Well, I was hungry and I broke that vow. I ate a hotdog from a stand next to the pizza shop. Alright, alright, I ate two hot dogs! Leave me alone!
After dinner, I just hung out with travellers in the hostel for a few hours. At 9 p.m. I fell asleep. The sore throat I picked up earlier now became a cold. I had a headache, so I decided to go to bed early to rest.
I woke up early the next day and caught a train down the Ercolan. I happened to run across the couple that came in after me the previous day, and they had the same idea I had – visit Mt. Vesuvius, Herculean, and Pompeii! So, we decided to do it together.
As I mentioned, Ercolan was our first stop. Outside of the train station there was a shuttle that would take us up to Mt. Vesuvius, or close to the top. The shuttle driver was insane. He never left first and second gear, and the minute he caught up with any car in front of us he would immediately find a way to over take them. Now, with the small cars of Europe this was easy, but you would think that if the driver came up to a camper van he would just trail behind it. You would be wrong. The road leading to the top was a typical mountain road – two lanes, skinny, and extremely windy. This didn’t stop the driver from over taking other cars. He stepped on the gas and over took the camper van. It was definitely a squeeze. The next thing in his way was a huge tour bus. Did this stop him? Nah, he squeezed passed the bus as if he were driving a small car! Everyone was scared for their lives.
We came to a stop near the top alive. The rest of the way was a hike up a trail. At the entrance to the trail, there was and old man handing out walking sticks for free. We took sticks because walking sticks are awesome. We hiked up for twenty minutes and came to a gift shop so we stopped for a water break. After five minutes we stood up and walked the rest of the way up the mountain, which was ten feet after the gift shop. Hilarious. We had no idea we were at the top when we reached the gift shop, but as we turned the corner of the shop, we looked straight down into the crater.
And inside the crater.
Fun little mountain to climb with free walking sticks. Wait, did I say free? Hah, how silly were we to think that these walking sticks were free?! As we reached the bottom of the trail, the old man’s younter partner took our sticks and asked for tips! Sneaky little devils. We were tricked!
Anyways, the three of us grudgingly walked back to the shuttle bus. The same driver that took us up took us down. We thought the ride up was scary, but the ride down was sickening. The driver didn’t need to press on the gas, but he did anyways!
Back at Ercolan, we walked over to Hurculean, a small village that was also destroyed by Vesuvius. We were expecting a fairly large area, but we found an area roughly four square blocks in size. Completely underwhelming. Not only was it small, but we had to pay 11 euros to enter! We decided to skip this site and head straight for Pompeii.
We arrived at the Pompeii train station within thirty minutes. As we walked to the entrance of the ruins, I heard someone talking with an American accent. I turned to look and to my surprise it was Steven and his sister Ceci! I met these two in Barcelona, stayed in the same hostel in Rome, and arrived to Pompeii on the exact same train. Freaking weird and awesome. We said hello, and parted as they were grabbing some food and we went straight for the entrance of the ruins.
Along with the entrance pass I bought the audio guide. The audio guide had a tour that would last six hours! Luckily, it also had four hour and two hour tours. I opted for the four hour tour, which I did in roughly three and a half hours. Although, the first half hour was spent listening and seeing everything in my sights. It wasn’t until after the 17th site that I realized there were suggested tours on the back of the map that I received with the audio guide.
Pompeii was fantastic. My highlights of the tour were the bakery, the brothel, the greek theatres.
And more ovens? I’m not quite sure.
Hard beds in these brothels
In case you didn’t know what position to take in the brothel
The big theatre!
Pompeii also had an an amphiteatre, which would have been a highlight if I were able to walk into it. Unfortunately, it was closed off.
Intersting side note: the ruins of Pompeii covered roughly 35 acres of land, but the area seen by tourists is ony 12 acres. This was mind blowing because what I saw was huge. It was four hours worth of walking, and it was only 35% of the area!
We finished Pompeii and headed back to the hostel. As we waited at the train station, we met up with Steven and Ceci again! Not only did we meet these two, but we ran into two swiss guys that were staying at our hotel. They also visited Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. Their names were Adrian and Marcel. Little did I know, I would become great friends with these two and later spend time in Florence with them as well!
So we all hopped the train together and booked it back to Naples. We then went out to dinner together with a few other people from the hostel. This was great! I met so many people that night. During dinner, I found out Adrian was a front end web programmer. We geeked it out for several hours during and after dinner. This was the beginning of our awesome friendship.
After dinner we went back to the hotel and had some wine and sang songs. I mentioned that I played a little guitar so everyone wanted me to play a song. Sadly, I couldn’t sing and play at the same time, so I opted to play just random riffs from different songs I picked up over the years. This held off the crowd until Giovanni walked in with his own guitar. Giovanni could sing and play, so I played backup. It was a great drunken night!
This night was why I loved visiting Naples. The city and hostel were dirty, but the people were amazing and made up for all the flaws. Outside of the swiss guys, I met an older lady who decided to travel the world after her youngest daughter finished high school. I met Aussies (of course), South Africans, French, Americans, French Canadians, and an Irish dude. Everyone had a different story to tell. This was truly an amazing night!
The next day, Adrian, Marcel and I walked around Naples. Giovanni suggested we take a tram up the mountain so that we could see all of Naples. Here’s what I shot at the top:
As we hung out, I learned Marcel was a java programmer! Hard. Core. He moved away from programming and into project management a few years back. But now, both Marcel and Adrian are in school in Italy working for their masters in computer science. I’ve met many people traveling, but I have not come across anyone that knows what I do for a living, much less done it themselves. It was awesome to find these two!
In the evening, we took the underground tour of Naples. Naples, like many cities in Italy, was built on top of old Roman cities. Beneath a part of Naples was a Roman theater and aqueducts. The tour took us down the theatre first. The portion we saw was roughly 15% of the original theatre. It was the back stage area. This part wasn’t as interesting.
The interesting part was the aqueducts. It was 40 meters below ground level. Here’s a few shots from down below.
During WWII, they used the aqueducts to escape the bombings. Some kids left their toys down here. :(
That’s it for Naples. I took a train back to Rome the next day to relax and see the Coliseum from the inside. But as usual, here’s a few more shots from Naples!
Plants in the aqueducts. There is so much water in the air down in the aqueducts that these plants grew without the need for watering.
Little door inside a big door!
From the top of Vesuvius
Sign at the top of Vesuvius
One of three gift shops at the top of Vesuvius
Wall paintings inside of a Pompeii house
Plaster cast of a victim from Pompeii. The archeologist working the ruins of Pompeii in the late 1800s came across a bone of a Pompeii victim. Instead of digging up the bones, he poured a plaster mix down into the cavity left behind. Due to this, you can see the clothes people wore back in Roman times!
Pompeii street. I love how they used large boulders to pave the streets!
Funny way to tow a car in Naples
A Naples pizza oven