On last Sunday, September 11th I came back home from my summer vacations. I have spent 12 fantastic days in Italy, in 6 different locations – with a chance to see many interesting places, to eat a whole bunch of Italian pasta, pizza and ice-cream & with a possibility to feel a little bit like a local person thanks to staying at places found at AirBnB instead of picking expensive hotels. I’m happy to share with you my travel experience, hence what I did in Italy is not a secret.
Sleepless nights in Naples
The very first stop on my trip across Italy was Naples. As I was preparing for my trip I managed to find direct flights to get there but since they were not fitting in my calendar (the flights were only twice a week) I decided to take a different route. I booked a flight to Rome. From Warsaw – so I had to get there from Poznań first. I took a train & that one arrived on time, giving me a lot enough time to get to the airport and go through all necessary stuff. Upon arrival my nerves were put to the test. They made us wait 40 minutes before our baggage appeared on one of the lines.
I was all stressed because I had a shuttle bus and train ticket booked. When I collected my suitcase I was already late for the bus and I was almost certain I’m going to miss the train as well. They let me board the next shuttle to Roma Termini train station that was in schedule. I just kept checking the clock all the time as I saw that my train from Roma Termini to Napoli Centrale will depart any minute. I don’t know how did this happen but there was no traffic on our way – the bus arrived 5 minutes prior to my train departure. I grabbed my suitcase and with all the strength in my legs I rushed to find the right platform. I made it! Just in time. The train started moving as soon as I found my seat… Phew, that was a close one. It was the most stressful part of the entire journey.
Now that I was onboard of a correct train I could calm down as I was getting closer to Naples. Approximately 1 hour later the train arrived at its final destination. From the station I took a walk – guided by a map printed from Google with the easiest way marked on it – I ventured to find my AirBnB place. With just a tiny bit of trouble I found it and was able to accommodate in the room I was given. The day was already getting closer to an end, not to mention that I was tired – I only went out to have a pizza and a drink. It was a tough Wednesday but I was in Naples, only that mattered.
The next day after having a local breakfast served by my AirBnB host I ventured into the city. As I was going towards the coast I found myself on a huge roundabout with a big statue of Vittorio Emanuele II in the center. A short walk further was Piazza Municipio with a lovely fountain on it. From there I could easily see Castel Nuovo & I directed my steps there. As I went through the huge front gate of the castle I learned that the old building only hosts a museum and there is no possibility to explore castle walls or climb on one of its towers to see the views. I skipped the museum and decided to go further. I didn’t have to look much to find another attraction.
Few minutes away Teatro di San Carlo was situated. I have never been to a full-fledged theater like this one so I decided it’s worth to pay a little entrance fee for a visit (with a guide, which was even better). The interior was in perfect condition, with many elements being original. The place still holds operas and performances, during my visit the theater was in the middle of a summer break. You could feel the specific atmosphere of a place with velvet seats, gold ornaments that was only brightened by the light of candles. Felt like mystery is in the air.
After going outside of Teatro di San Carlo I found myself on Piazza del Plebiscito. On it there was a monumental Basilica San Francesco di Paola, with a design reminiscent of Greek Pantheon. On the opposite end of the square there was Palazzo Reale, a royal palace. After resting a few minutes in the shade on this hot day I was shortly in the coastal area of Naples. I kept walking along the water until I reached Castel dell’Ovo. Now that’s the thing I was looking for. Can you believe the entry was for free and you could visit different terraces within this old building in order to admire panoramic view over the city and the shore? The views were breathtaking and even good photos don’t do this place justice. Seeing it with your own eyes makes best impression.
After leaving Castel dell’Ovo behind I continued my walk in the same direction as earlier. At some point I reached Piazza Vittoria and Villa Comunale (city park/garden) – I wanted to visit the aquarium there but it seemed closed so I had to skip that part. I was not bothered as admiring Napoli from Castel dell’Ovo I localized another place I wanted to visit. It was another castle, located on top of the hill (Naples is not a flat city!) According to map it was Castel Sant’Elmo. Since there was no designated path to get there and there were no signs for tourists about it, I took a risk and decided – if I keep going up the hill, I will get there… Eventually… Little did I know. Going up was not enough. In the meantime I got lost a couple of times and got caught by a heavy rain.
After realizing that I must be somewhere close I just tried to ask for directions. That’s when my lessons of Italian language started to come in handy. I was explained that I can either chose stairway or go by some up-hill tram. I walked that far so I decided to use own foot. Those stairs were a torture. In the heat of 38*C and even higher humidity after the rain earlier I was all so wet and exhausted. But I climbed up (it took long, trust me!) and reached Castel Sant’Elmo. All I can say is – the toil was worth it. The castle being probably one of the highest situated places in Napoli gave magnificent view over the entire city and the harbour. Panoramic photos I took there are fabulous. Going down was much easier (and faster) as I have found the stairs leading all the way down to the city. I would probably use them if I wasn’t starting up a hill from a different place. But getting lost and finding a way to get to somewhere are a great way to discover the city.
Then I jest went through a couple of main, busy streets to find my way to some familar place. I had luck by my side as I returned to the area of San Carlo theater. I was tired so decided to call it a day. After getting some rest I went downstairs to a nearby ristorante. This time I treated myself to some traditional pasta napoletana and a glass of cold prosecco. I deserved it after wandering around Naples for 9 hours. If only I was able to sleep well…
The next day (Friday) I decided to leave Napoli behind for a while. Fascinated by an ancient times I decided to take a side trip to Pompei in order to discover ancient ruins of a city once buried under a thick layers of ash after Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. I got to this historical place using a special rail line called Circumvesuviana. Not exactly stylish or new and with many warnings about pickpockets if you read about it online, I arrived at Pompei Scavi – Villa dei Misteri station. Just outside the station were travel agents encouraging tourists to join of their guided trips. Since I realized entering ancient Pompei and staring at the old walls without knowing what they were would make no sense so I decided to go on a guided tour. There were many tourists from abroad so we quickly formed an international team and got a guide who could speak a really nice English.
As she (the guide) kept showing us various corridors and rooms she was recalling various situations, rituals or anecdotes from the lives of people who lived there in the past. In the amphitheater made of stones everyone could check how great acoustics it had. You could clap your hands or sing (if you were brave enough) so notice how well the sound was spreading. We were also shown the remains of ancient shops and even street restaurants (compared by the guide to archaic McDonalds). Then we reached gymnasion where gymnasts used to train. Right next to it were ancient bathtubs. I was especially impressed by those as the entire ceiling was decorated with beautiful reliefs. It’s unbelievable that they managed to survive through ages.
Forum Romanum was the last stop of the trip. From the square you could clearly see Vesuvius as well as partially destroyed columns or stone arcs. There was also a section kept behind bars, with numerous clay vases and vessels, all found during the Pompei excavations. There were even some plaster casts of animals or people who died – as explained by a guide, when their bodies started to de-compose, the ash was hard enough that it formed a hollow, which was later filled by archeologists with plaster in order to find out who/what was buried in this place. I found this visit to Pompei an extremely fascinating one & a great lesson of history as well.
I came back to Napoli in mid-afternoon. I have seen all the castles the day before so decided I will just continue with a peaceful stroll and that I’ll try to visit some churches or smaller castles. I found Castel Capuano, that I could only see from the outside. Then I walked into Via dei Tribunali and at the crossroads with Via Duomo I turned into that street to see Duomo di Napoli. The church was enormous and so rich inside – with so many paintings, sculptures, ornaments and frescos. It was beautiful. A rock throw away were churches of San Paolo Maggiore and San Lorenzo Maggiore. Getting a bit off-road made me find a Corpo di Napoli monument, a bearded man with a cornucopia.
Just walking straight ahead as the road was leading me I found a couple more churches. The biggest one was Gesu Nuovo Church with a facade decorated with stud-like, flat pyramid-shaped stones. As the afternoon was getting more advanced (and time was passing quickly) I was getting tired but there was one more place I wanted to see. Luckily it was on my way, so I decided to have a ride on a metro. But I had to take it a this certain station – Toledo. Claimed as the most beautiful metro station in Europe it welcomes you with a blue/white/silverish mosaic as you descent using automatic stairs to reach the platform. The impression is as if you have taken a dive into an icy water or as if you were transported to some cosmic center in the outer space. It’s one of those things that made me go wow. I took a metro ride for a few stops to take off at Piazza Garibaldi (in front of Napoli Centrale train station) from where I walked back to my room.
I will remember Naples as a city of contrasts. There are beautiful buildings and there are such that are falling into ruin. There are streets that are clean and there are streets where thrash is piling up. There are places where it smells of fresh laundry and places where it stinks. You know this saying – “see Naples and die” – there definitely is an element of truth in it because the city provided breathtaking views if you know where to search for them. Most of all I will remember this city (in kind of ironic way) as a city of sleepless nights. I spent 3 nights there and I barely slept on any of those due to incredibly high humidity and temperature which I think didn’t drop below 26*C at night.
Then Saturday morning came & I was ready for departure to Venice. To be continued… in part 2.