Home > Blogs > Robert Study Abroad, Spring 2007 > 1, 2, & 3 July 2007 - Naples, Italy

1, 2, & 3 July 2007 - Naples, Italy

Posted by admin on July 3, 2007

My visit to Napoli (Naples) didn't actually start until the evening of the first since I arrived in Napoli in the late afternoon. My first task was to find my hostel, "Giovanni's House". The directions provided by hostelworld were excellent, but I still walked right past the place on my first attempt at finding it. The hostel's front door was on a small, narrow side street (which is quite normal for Napoli) and the inner courtyard was filled with construction materials. I didn't see the buzzer by the front door on my first pass, so I didn't realize that I had to buzz Giovanni in order to find out where to go once I got to his address.

As I was searching for the hostel I ran into a couple Canadian girls who were also searching for the same place. They also missed the buzzer the first time by the building. On our second pass we got it, though, and found out that we had to go up to the 3rd floor (4th floor by American convention). The steps up were an awkward size...these Italians need to discover the "Rule of 17", which I guess would be something like the "Rule of 40" in the metric system.

The hostel's name, Giovanni's House, was quite accurate. It was literally Giovanni's house. He had converted several of the rooms into sleeping dorms and he said that he has 44 beds on the property. Upon arrival we (the Canadians and I) were pretty hot and breaking quite a sweat. Giovanni gave us some cool water and some rice salad. The rice salad was simply some rice with tomatoes, mini onions, and olives. It was amazing (not to mention free/not extra)!

Giovanni also sat down with us and marked a map of Napoli with the major sights in and around the city. He drew a path for us to follow that would take us by the most important sights and he had a metro map on the back that detailed getting to destinations outside Napoli (such as Vesuvius and Pompei). Giovanni also marked out the shady areas of town so that we could minimize our chances of having any problems. Napoli is known for pizza and crime, but I only dealt with the former. It sounds as if the only way to get murdered in Napoli is to become involved with the Mafia, but Giovanni said that there are about 14,000 robberies a year in the city. Giovanni did mark one specific pizza place on our maps: Gino Sorbillo's. This is the birthplace of the calzone and the current owner is the son of the man who invented the calzone. Gino's is supposed to have the best pizza in Napoli, which puts it near (or possibly at) the top of the list for best in the world.

After spending the entire day traveling I was ready to just relax so I spent the evening relaxing on the hostel's terrace out back. Over the course of my three nights on the terrace I was able to meet and have some good conversations with travelers (most of them students) from at least 5 other countries.

The next morning (July 2nd) the two Canadian girls and I went to Pompei in the morning. As the train was leaving Napoli I could see a yellowish haze over the city. I'm not sure if I've ever seen true smog before this, and it was pretty nasty. The haze seemed to have disappeared by later that day, so I'm not sure if it was truly smog. Seeing the haze reminded me of a recent "Ask A Ninja" episode where someone asks, "What's wrong with the pollution in London?" The ninja's response was something along the lines of, "There is nothing wrong with the pollution in London. That pollution is doing just fine. It's like a big smog-ninja hanging over the city."

Pompei, like nearly all sights I've been to in Italy (this includes Roma, I'll write about that later), had different prices depending upon nationality. Usually I can get a student discount, but here the discount was only available for EU residents. I tried to pass off my Dutch residency permit but the lady recognized that I was American, so I had to pay full price.

The ruins were amazing, though. I loved being able to see all of the frescoes on the walls and the pottery that had been preserved in the rubble. It was also very interesting to see the plaster casts of victims of the eruption. Some of the victims had died in their sleep and were thus in very peaceful positions. Others could be seen as trying to cover themselves from the impending disaster. The only thing that I didn't like about Pompei is that so many of the frescoes have been removed. It ruins the feel when you're walking through an old room and see a square cutout from the wall where a fresco had been. It's great that the frescoes can be better preserved in a museum, but it does take away from the ruins experience.

After Pompei the Candians and I split up. They were heading back into Napoli to see the sights recommended by Giovanni and I was stopping at Il Vesuvio (Mount Vesuvius) on my way back to the city. Getting to the summit of Vesuvio was quite the experience. For starters I had to take a shuttle bus from the Ercolano train station to just below the crater. I then had a 20 minute walk to the rim. When I heard that I only had to walk for 20 minutes my first thought was, "this'll be cake". I was wrong.

Getting to the crater did involve a 20 minute walk...but it was uphill (duh)...in ash. Walking in ash is just like walking in sand, which made the trek up quite difficult. To make me feel even worse, as I was panting my way up the mountain I saw a girl coming down who was on a pair of crutches and had a knee brace on.

Once I was at the top the view was awesome! From 1200 meters (3/4 of a mile) above the Mediterranean I could see much of the surrounding countryside. The clouds and haze from earlier in the day had cleared up and I had an unobstructed view of Napoli. I tried to see Pompei from the crater, but the best I could do was make out the tree-filled area in the middle of the urban sprawl.

Going down from the crater was much easier than climbing up. Since the ground was so soft I could just drop my weight on my heels and create steps in the ash. Once I got back down to the shuttle bus I had a really fun experience careening down the mountain's roads. The driver drove this Mercedes-Benz van (like an Astro Van) as if it were an F1 car. The driver behind us (driving another shuttle from the same company) squealed the tires a couple times as he made the corners. The drivers also had to sound their horns at all of the switchback corners and blind city corners so that there were no collisions resulting from another driver popping out of nowhere. I made it back to the Ercolano station well enough, though, and returned to Giovanni's house.

Back at the hostel I met a group of Norwegians who were just about to head out to Gino's for some of the legendary pizza. I joined them, and it turned out that we had gone to the wrong place. This was also a "Sorbillo" place, but it wasn't Gino's. We corrected this mistake the next night. The pizza we did have was pretty good, though. I'm not used to the Italian style pizza. The crust is so thin and there are also fewer toppings on it.

On my second day in Napoli (July 3rd) I followed the route that Giovanni had laid out on his map. I saw a lot of cool churches and some interesting streets. Many of the streets I was on were pretty narrow and lined with shops selling...um, junk, for lack of a better term. Basically they were selling little cliche items that everyone always thinks would make a great souvenir, but no one likes to receive.

The coolest thing that I saw that day was at the end of my walk. I visited the Castel d'Ovo. Legend has it that an egg was placed within its walls and when the egg was crushed the city was doomed. Regardless of the mysticism supposedly behind the castle, it had a great view of the coast surrounding Napoli. As I was walking through it I kept expecting to come across a ticket booth or a ticket-required area. Instead, the entire castle was open and I could wander throughout the entire thing without having to pay a cent. Pretty sweet deal.

This walking tour of Napoli took most of the day, and by the time I was done with that I just wanted to get back to Giovanni's to get a shower and relax. This night the Norwegians, a Finnish guy (my first time meeting a Fin!), and I went to the correct pizza place. I had a calzone. I figured that I had to since this was the birthplace of the darned thing. The pizza was just as good as the other place from the night before, but it was a little more expensive. Still, Napoli isn't an expensive city so the prices weren't too bad.

I spent the first part of my July 4th sleeping in and having a relaxing start to my day. After getting my things packed I left the hostel late in the morning and made my way to the train station. Thankfully my train to Roma left on time (it seems as if most trains are running a little late in Italy) and I was on my way to Roma without any hassles. I sat across from a Columbian couple on the train, so I got a chance to practice a little bit of my Spanish. After two years of not using Spanish at all it was pretty rusty. The lady is originally from Roma and she gave me a list of sights to see as I tour the city. Having a recommendation list was a great help for planning my sightseeing.

My train even arrived into Roma Termini station nearly on time (within a couple minutes) and I got on the metro to get to my hostel in Roma. My hostel has a shuttle that runs between it and the metro station right next to the Vatican, so my plan was to jump on that shuttle and have a worry-free ride to the hostel. After a little bit of confusion as to where my shuttle was supposed to be I found it and was on my way.