The plane to Naples was short and cheap. As such, you can’t really expect much and should pack your sandwich. This is the eternal rule of budget traveling—always bring your own sandwich. In the airport, it’s always best to never buy a sandwich from a restaurant, those cost some fifteen times the price of a regular sandwich. Luckily in Prague, there is a place called Relay, and also Costa, and they sell prepackaged sandwiches at prepackaged prices. Still probably a bit more than what you should be paying for a soggy piece of bread and some old lettuce, but at least you’re not hungry.
When we got off at Naples, we immediately went to the tourist counter. There supposedly was our transit pass, the Arte Card, would be waiting. The pass for the transit was really quite a deal. 32 euros for three days on any train in Campania, the entry to the first two museums for free, and all the others half off. Not a bad find and for the museum goer, easily pays itself back.
“That job belongs to my colleague,” the guy at the desk explained. “She comes at 9:00.”
“Erm. What time is it now?” I asked.
A quick glance to my wife. “How much is the bus?”
“5 euro. Over there. You can also get an Arte Card at the train station if you don’t want to wait.”
We left the airport, fumbled out some cash, and made it to the bus. The ride to the main station only took about 15 minutes, and there wasn’t much to see. Just a lot of concrete buildings with balconies, sights that brought me back to the Black Sea riviera. Georgians are often comparing themselves to Italians and here I was beginning to think that maybe the comparison was accurate. Especially as we stepped out at the train station.
“This really does look like the Georgian train station too,” my wife said as we looked around, trying to orient ourselves. From what I remembered of the map, the hotel should be over there, past what appeared to be Little Africa, composed of tables and tables of cheap stuff for sale. The buildings were the color of Italian brand cigarette smoke and the traffic was moving about wildly and with little direction from road signs and paint.
I always knew Italy was a bit annoying on the driving side. So that wasn’t a surprise. Maybe this nagging feeling, this feeling of vague regret at coming here, was only because it was 8 in the morning, we got up at 4, and I played a show the night before. Or maybe it was because this part of Naples was just that ugly.
I shrugged. “I’m sure it’s not all like this. Ah, maybe that desk is open and we can get the card?”
We found the tourist desk at the train station. “That job belongs to my colleague. And they come at 9:00.”
“Erm. What time is it?”
We went to find the hotel.
It wasn’t far from the train station, which is to say, it wasn’t far enough from the train station. Two guys were discussing some situation in low tones, standing outside our door, sharing cigarettes. We passed them. The door was metal, there were buzzers on one end, a stack of concrete sacks just inside the door. We had to enter the elevator and pay 10 euro cents to get to the 6th floor. As we slid the coin into the slot, I said, “Dang, you’re right, this really is like Georgia.” I wondered just how many lifts in Naples operated like this, with coin slots.
The hotel at least, the B&B Sweet Sleep, was a pleasant surprise. The man checked us in and offered us breakfast, which was a nice buffet of all sorts of omelettes, muffins, and most importantly, coffee. We then went over and looked at the terrace, which had a really magnificent view of the city, with church domes towering up from the apartment blocks in every direction. I looked at my wife. We both quickly agreed that this would have to be taken advantage of, wine would be had at night up here.
perfect spot for a bottle of wine
“Where’s the jacuzzi?” my wife asked about the advertised bonus in the hotel. We looked at the blue tiled tub with a fountain in the middle of the terrace. I shrugged. “Is it hot?” she asked.
I dipped my fingers in. It was icey. “Yes, it’s scalding. We’ll definitely be sitting in here tonight.”
First order of business then. As our room wouldn’t be ready until afternoon, it was time to get the Arte Card and walk. We could come back to the hotel when it was time to check-in and maybe take a nap to freshen up.
When we went back to the train station, the Arte Card colleague was finally there. We picked up our little paper tickets and followed the instructions of their use.
“You only have to validate it once,” she said. “And it’s good for everything.” She pronounced every single syllable plus one in that comical, musical Italian way. “Ev-er-y-thing-uh”.
It was time to wander around in the generally correct direction and find the street, Via dei Tribunali and then continue on what seemed like a plan of sorts. To walk there, then walk back, check in and have a nap.
Via dei Tribunali
The dei Tribunali is on of the main avenues for the old town, stretching frm Castel Capuano to the Via S. Sebastiano, which then continues, with some twists and turns, into the sea. The area around the Castel Capuano is not so impressive. Mainly more modern looking concrete blocks, though modern in the Neapolitan sense meant about 200 years old. The Castel itself seemed pretty bland and we opted not to go inside.
The Castel is probably the oldest thing in the neighborhood. The castle was built back in the 12th century and once was connected to the city walls, and was built as a palace for the son of the first King of Naples, Roger II of Sicily. Now serving as the first historical monument from the train station, it kind of fails to impress. It only further made us wonder what we were doing there.
“Pompeii,” I reminded my wife. “And pizza.” Yes, pizza was from Naples, we couldn’t forget that.
a wide street in Naples's old town
The via is wide enough to be a comfortable one way road, but it was a two way road, and as the main road in the old town, also was filled with pedestrians. The buildings on either side were five or six storey and served as walls themselves, huge, looming, and dark. Even when there was still plenty of daylight left, it would be dark in the city by just afternoon. But then, I suppose that was by design. We were there in January and it wasn’t at all cold. I couldn’t imagine summer, when those tall buildings with narrow streets served as shade and air conditioning.
Like in all Italian cities, you have to be quick. Those zooming little scooters and smart cars wait for no man and apparently have the complete right of way. If you don’t move fast enough, you will be the target of a string of curses spat off by some young hipster guinea on a Vespa, cigarette hanging out, talking on his smartphone, cursing at you in-between sentences to his mother. “Mama, pauso, hey figlio di puttana, outta my way, cabbage!”
a square on the Tribunali
Pio Monte della Misericordia
We made it to our first sight to see, the Pio Monte della Misericordia. This was when I realized I hadn’t brought a card for my camera. “There must be a shop somewhere that has them, we’ll look later, let’s go in.” 7 euros to enter the church, but we had our little arte card, which made it “free”. I started checking off the euros we had “saved”. As long as we got over 32, we were justified.
On the outside of it, there wasn’t much to see of the church. Squeezed inbetween two buildings on either side, and with only a few steps until you’re on the other side of the road, and of course dodging scooters all the while, you couldn’t really take in the place or know how big it was.
The 17th century chapel was connected to a larger building, which was a Hospital for the Incurables, not a place you wanted to end up in medieval Naples. Now it’s an art museum, famous for Caravaggio’s 7 Works of Mercy hanging over the main altar. On the side is an infinitely more interesting frieze of Caravaggio’s 7 Works of Mercy. If I were Caravaggio, I would be a bit miffed that someone one upped me with my own work.
Caravaggio's 7 Plague Bearers
The brothers who ran the little hospital wanted a fine piece of work to represent what they did. What they got was some real piece of darkness, which looks less like divine works of mercy, and more like people running in fear from plague bearers. But I suppose all art is up for interpretation.
Upstairs was a bit more interesting, full of works by a bunch of really talented guys I’ve never heard of. Walking around was nice itself, because those brothers had some really nice administration offices, with a beautiful view of a little piazza on some lost side of the building. How big was the complex? There was no telling, but it seemed fairly large, and either it was like the TARDIS or many of the buildings around that looked different were actually part of it.
interrupting a bit of a gathering
When we first stepped in, there was some sort of gathering going on. People in suits standing around, along with a smattering of tourists, listening to a person translating French speakers for the Italian audience. Then a person played violin, which made for the perfect ambience.
Less money mo problems
We decided maybe somewhere on this street would be an electronics shop.
We found one. They only took cash. I only had card. But there was an ATM right down the street.
The ATM was broken.
So was the next one we found. And the next. Naples: the City of Broken ATMs.
Finally, after walking down a street with dozens of musical instrument shops, we found a bank. The bank had three ATMs. One was broken. The Italians kept making fun of the broken ATM. I assume, because they were pointing at it, talking, and laughing.
But whatever, I finally had some cash, and we decided on a change of course. Since we were already pretty far from going back to the hotel, we decided to see a few more things in the neighborhood and then head on towards the coast.
We headed over to the much more pedestrian friendly Via San Biagio Dei Librai, which is equally as monument filled as the Via dei Tribunali.
Piazza del Gesu Nuovo
The crown jewel of the piazza of course is the church for which its named. Though on the square itself, one might not even realize they're looking at a church when they're looking at it. It's not that big from the front, and has a weird, flat, unadorned look to it. But again, like so many other buildings along the narrow streets of Naples, it has the TARDIS effect going for it.
the interior is not at all opulent
It got that weird facade since when it was being built, it was originally being built as a palace. But due to corruption charges of the family building it, they had to sell it off at a discounted rate to the Jesuits, who built their church, but used the original facade.
the outside of the church
As soon as you pass through its doors, you pass into an illustrious chamber of gold and celestial heights. Seriously, you can step out of the building, and back in, several times and not even be really sure how the architecture is working there, as the ceiling seems far higher up than what the outside cues you into.
a view of the piazza outside
We ended up taking quite some time. It certainly beat the church down the street with the sign, "Church not for tourists".
Eventually, our wanderings took us to this pedestrian street packed with high dollar restaurants and dining options. We came to realize that Naples wasn't all dirty walls and falling apart buildings, only the best part was.
don't forget sunglasses in Naples
Here all the fashionistas strut around in-between hooligans and tourists, dodging stoic policemen with heavy duty vehicles and assault rifles. The reality of the refugee and terrorist situation was at full force at this outdoor mall. But the feeling wasn't too oppressive, the policemen smiled and seemed friendly enough, with the occasional tourist snapping a pic with them.
Next to the via Toleda is the Quartier Spagnoli, which is what every tour book says is the heart of residential Naples, with laundry hanging over the streets and scooters going by. That's an utter load, and we didn't really know what we were looking at, so wandered by it. If it is a residential quarter, I can't imagine what the residents feel like seeing yet another guy with a camera walking around taking pictures of their laundry.
past those flags are laundry lines
Interesting story behind it though, it was settled to house the Spanish garrisons in the 16th century. As they were foreigners, they could be cruel and brutal to the local populace without feeling bad. Until recently, it was known as the place to go to for hookers and thugs, but now it's just big for hipsters and tourists looking for "the real Naples".
definitely more "castle" than most
From there, we went down to Castel Nuovo, a 13th century castle that basically is the epitome of what every American thinks of when they hear the word "castle". I was excited to take the tour of the interior, where they explain the defenses of the castle, but we were stopped by a police in dress uniform saying, "No enter." And he pointed to some nicely dressed people coming out. Oh, there must be a delegation.
there was a draw bridge there
We waited. And waited. And waited.
Finally, I asked, "Is it going to be open at all today?"
"No, no open todaya," he said.
"Oh," I said.
So we left and got on a boat instead.
Tune back in next week when we see some castles and discover a seemingly abandoned island.