If you want to learn how to be street tough, you have to go to Naples. Naples has a bad reputation for having high crime rate (albeit they tend to be the small crimes such as theft), high poverty, and just tough people that surround you. Quite possibly, it’s one of the worst cities I travelled to. Quite a contrast from having just been to Amsterdam, where I felt that I could be completely wasted and still be fine.
We must first begin with a story. While taking my flight from Amsterdam to Rome, I began reading a book called Travellers’ Tales ITALY, and the very first story was called The Fiume Runs Through It by Thom Elkjer. In this short but true story, the author, an American, recalls his experiences of being utterly confused by how Italy works. He wanted to go fishing, and was first told that there were no special laws for this, and proceeded to go get a fishing license. He was told to call the Department of Hunting and Fishing, who then directed him to go to the post office (I know right?), where a fishing license for three days costed more than a year’s license in California. When he tried fishing, there were signs posting everywhere saying no fishing. He went back home and asked his Italian friend/host to help out (he laughed when he heard the author got the fishing license from the post office), who introduced him to another friend to get him another license and drove him to go fishing. The author wanted to go up higher in the valley to fish, which the Italian friend said it requires special authorization.
The point of the story is, Italy in general is sloppy and confusing (Milan being perhaps the only exception). It’s the family and brothers, not the law, that governs how society works. The philosophy is as long as it’s done, it doesn’t matter how it’s done. Professionalism, in the sense of preciseness, is lacking. Maybe it’s the way of life or the culture, but as a person from a city where every minute is valuable, it feels frustrating sometimes.
Some examples I will go into more details in other posts include valet drivers taking spare change from the car (perhaps assuming it was their tip? It was €8 at least.), buses being 10-15 minutes late of schedule, all buses (and I’m not exaggerating) having the wrong time on the clock (some were even off by 8 hours), and upon arrival at Fiumicino Airport in Rome, having my luggage placed in the wrong baggage carousel (Carousel 15 was for Amsterdam, Carousel 14 was for Belgium, France, UK etc. after waiting a long time and about to ask the baggage enquiries counter, I spotted my baggage in the other carousel). The latter being the classic example of what it feels like how things work in Italy – the luggage got delivered, sure, but not precisely.
In a way, there is a sense of humor in it. Italians make some of the finest leathers, sometimes food, yachts, and cars. When it comes to these, they are superior in preciseness and quality. Even the way they dress is impeccable – besides Milan and Rome, wearing sneakers will make you feel like an outsider (thankfully I had my dress shoes on).
In both Naples and the Amalfi Coast, the Italians we encountered managed to be both polite and rude at the same time. They are polite in fashion and in manners, in being courteous, and always saying prego and such. Yet, you can sense a rudeness in their attitude and lifestyles, a sort of rough edge similar to that of Hong Kong. The word rude by the way isn’t used here as a derogatory term, but rather as a rough and aggressive sort of manner, which gives a city and its people character.
But there were a couple times where perhaps our apparent looks as a tourist, salespersons were always trying to sell us and present their sales pitches even though we were just browsing around. Maybe it’s my own frame of mind but I felt indignant at times perhaps because I felt I was being ripped off as a tourist, but I understand it may be because of my ignorance towards the way Italian culture works.
More on Naples
Anyway, upon arriving to the Napoli Centrale Railway Station, you immediately sense a sort of dangerous, dark, insecure vibe. The environment outside the Napoli Centrale station does that to you. Despite a 10 minute walk from our B&B, every minute felt like an hour of potential danger, especially given that we were evidently tourists with our huge luggages we had to carry around.
Also, in Naples, for many of the places we wanted to go to, we saw on Google Maps that walking and taking the public transportation had almost the same travel time, so we opted to walk pretty much everywhere in Naples.
We also had to rent our car from Naples as we were planning to drive it around Amalfi Coast. By the way, I will have a post specifically dedicated to driving in Amalfi Coast, explaining how difficult it is.
Even in Naples, walking and driving are both extremely difficult. In terms of walking, cars don’t really stop for you, there lack any red green lights, cars just keep coming, there are motorcycles as well zooming past you… it was tough. When driving in Naples, there are rarely any division lines between the lanes, you can’t really give way on a give way sign or else the person behind you will already be doing hand gestures (yes I wasn’t driving ‘Italian’ style where 3 cars should just try to squeeze into a lane for one second and the driver behind me was like doing the hand signal like wtf is wrong with this guy) and in roundabouts, people just squeeze into any lane possible. You have to be aggressive – when entering a minor road to a major road, you see three or four cars trying to squeeze into the major road, not one at a time. The driving there is extremely aggressive. Did I mention, Italians never use signal lights – I was pretty much one of the rare exceptions, although I’m not an Italian.
Even prior to driving a car, the process of renting a car is… misleading. I will probably make a reddit post about this sometime, but to make it short, basically I was renting a car from Avis for 6 days and on the website, it said I would get a BMW or something similar. We put a deposit for 7 days, including the car rental and the insurance. The car I ended up with was a CLIO car, so nothing similar to the BMW. On top of that, when returning the car, which we returned before even the 6 days was up, our final price was similar to the deposit we paid for the 7 days. We filled up the gas tank of the car, and yet when we saw the breakdown, the cost per day of the car went up as compared to the estimate! Very very misleading and deceiving.
Checking my Avis car to see any scratches prior to driving. It is typical for automobiles to have scratches in Naples due to its aggressive driving style and narrow roads. There were soooo many Fiat cars everywhere… no wonder why Fiat used to constitute about 10.2% of Italy’s GDP. Drive a cheap car and get all insurance, including roadside assistance for peace of mind. Above is a Clio car, first time driving this brand.
We stayed at this accommodation for both the first day we were at Naples, and upon returning from the Amalfi Coast.
The interior is great – spacious room, comfortable bed and bathroom, and toothbrush was provided. That said, because their elevator hasn’t worked for months, we had to carry our 23kg suitcases up three floors of stairs in order to get to VistaViva, and had to bring them down, only to do it once more upon our second time at VistaViva.
The hosts were extremely friendly and helpful, pointing out some of the best places to go to Naples and recommended a few restaurants to go even though we didn’t. They even helped us carrying our luggages when they were here! There was aircon available, and of course being a Bed and Breakfast, there of course was breakfast! Which included cereals, pastries, breads, yogurts etc. (no eggs or meats of that sort). The hosts were so nice that since we told them we had to leave early to get to the airport on the 2nd time we were there, they prepared breakfast for us in our rooms the night before.
If it wasn’t for the stairs and the sketchy exterior, it would have been quite fabulous. Still, this place was pretty good by all means.
Restaurants and Foods
L’Antica Pizzeria de Michele (website)
This was our first eat in Naples. Some regard this as the world’s best pizza, but in my case I found it overrated. You will know you are there when you see people waiting outside the restaurant. If you plan to eat there, you have to get a ticket from one of the staff members, otherwise you can ask for takeaway. Since we lived about 9 minutes away from here, we decided to do takeaway since it was faster that way. That said, if you can, it is much better to stay there to eat as by the time we did get back to VistaViva, the pizza was sort of cold.
There are only two types of pizzas you can get here – Marghertia and Marinara, the former with cheese and the latter without. This is classic Italian pizza style, soft thin base with chargrilled notes with slippery tomato sauce on it.
The pizza is cooked in the oven for like 10-30 seconds, then it’s taken out. The working style of the employees is quite funny – they operate in a sort of assembly line, with one person making the pizza, another spreading the tomato paste, another putting it in and out of the oven etc. then after a “session”, they sort of take a 5 minute work break, and then start again.
Mimi Alla Ferrovia (website)
It was both the best and the most disappointing restaurant of this Naples / Amalfi Coast overall trip. It was the best because the first time we tried it, the dishes were head over shoulders compared with any other restaurant we had for the rest of the trip. When we came back to Naples wanting for more, our second session with this restaurant was nowhere as good as the first time. Some of the “secret” dishes that other restaurant patrons had the first time around, when we tried to explain to the waiters we wanted to order that for the second time (it wasn’t on menu), they couldn’t understand what we were talking about. So I guess it really depends on your luck since it is inconsistent in quality. That said, the good time we had it was during lunch when it was less busy, whereas the second time we had it was during dinner.
We chose this restaurant once again due to its close proximity to VistaViva (2 mins walking distance!). This trattoria feels very home made style cooking famous for its pastas and seafood. The restaurant has been opened since 1943.
We ordered the tube pasta with meat sauce. A little too cheesy for me. For more on pasta shapes, you can go to Pasta Fits.
Pizzeria da Gaetano
Again we chose this pizzeria due to its close proximity to VistaViva (7 minutes walking distance). Not as popular as L’Antica, and much smaller, this Pizzeria da Gaetano feels old and very… like not up to date. It’s funny because three generations of the family owners are just sitting there.
Gran Cafe Pascucci (website)
On our second time back in Naples, we were trying to make our way to Castel Nuovo. Unfortunately, the weather became so bad (massive winds and rainy) that we stopped midtrack and didn’t even get to Castel Nuovo. We decided to wait out the stormy weather and stopped by this little café, which impressive had really good coffee and pastries.
Things to Do
Catacombs of San Gennaro (website)
Borrowing from the website and Google, this underground ‘tunnel’ displays “a millennial history that lives below the ground in Naples, a journey to discover the close bond of faith between the city and its patron saint, San Gennaro.” More of the history can be read up on the website. We had to do a 30 min walk from VistaViva to get here, with a little bit of upwards trekking.
I couldn’t understand completely our tour guide, who spoke English with a heavy Italian accent.
Castel Nuovo (Wikipedia)
This castle was an imposing castle located in Naples which stands out from all the rest of the architecture in the city, making it a notable landmark in the city. While only 25 minutes walk away from VistaViva, the pouring rain and wind that afternoon made us stop early from actually reaching Castel Nuovo. Instead, we just saw it from a distance.
Walking around Naples
While many have said Naples to be the unsafest city in Italy, and despite how uncomfortable and dangerous of the impression it gives you, most of the crimes are petty crimes if there were any at all. We ourselves did not get robbed or threatened or hollered at or anything, but the city does give off that vibe. I guess just like any tourist visiting a new country, zip your bags, place them at the front, don’t look too fancy and expensive, basically don’t make yourself an easy target.
During the down pouring of the rain. Before and during the rain, the wind was fierce – it was equivalent to a Typhoon signal no. 8 in Hong Kong, yet when we checked the weather forecast, it showed it was just another windy day. We thought we had it miserable, but days later we found out on the news that in Venice, Italy, the canals were so flooded that tourists were carrying their luggages on top of their heads since the water was almost knee deep. Some crazy weather going on in Italy.
Simply put, I have no desire to go to Naples for the rest of my life, despite it being the pizza capital of the world. Walking sucks, driving sucks, public transportation sucks, there’s not much to do, it feels unsafe with unlit areas and wet and dark alleyways, and when it has bad weather you really just don’t want to do anything.
Rest of my itinerary unmentioned from above:
- Visit Herculaneum
- (Restaurant) Sorbillo for pizza
- (Restaurant) Concenttina Ai Tre Santi for pizza
- Piazza Bellini for drinking
- (Museum) Museo d’Arte Contemporanea (MADRE)
- Naples National Archaelogical Museum
- (Church) Cappella Sansevero
- Castel dell’Ovo – seabound castle
- Piazza del Plebiscito – main square in Naples
- San Domenico Maggiore – decorated church
- Naples Cathedral
- Santa Lucia – local cafes, shops and restaurants
- Palazzo Reale – palace
- Just walk around the Historic Center
- (food to eat) Sfogliatelle
- (restaurant) Salumeria – small producers, local ingredients
- 50 Kalo – famous pizza
- Da Ettore – famous trattoria
- Bourbon Tunnel
- Gesu Nuovo Church
- Castle of the Egg
Last update: Nov. 5, 2018