One description of Naples told us to always remember its ancient roots. It has the most intact street plan of any surviving Greek or Roman city. So think of it as Pompeii before the volcano – shops on the main floors, and private homes above – as it is just as old. That was so helpful, because if you try to look at Naples as a modern city, it just won’t work.
We began our day headed to the National Archaeological Museum, eager to see the artifacts of ancient times. But we ran into a bit of a problem when we saw that most of the galleries we planned to visit were closed today. When asked if they would be open tomorrow, the ticket seller gave a very typical Italian response: “Is possible.” This is always accompanied by a slight shrug. We are gambling on tomorrow.
Left to our own devices, we chose a walking tour of the city, which led us into some interesting areas.
Take the Piazza Bellini, for instance. It has always been one of the major intellectual hangouts of the city because it is surrounded by numerous universities and very close to the Academy of Fine Arts and the Conservatory where important composer Vincenzo Bellini studied.
The square is surrounded by monumental Renaissance and Baroque XVI and XVII century buildings.
On the western side, there are some remains of the walls of the original Greek city, Neapolis – the new city. And that is where ancient and modern Naples come together. On Sunday morning, it was taking three workers to clean up the debris of Saturday night. No respect for age, it seems.
While some of the churches we wanted to see were closed on a Sunday, many of the markets were open. The fish was so fresh there was hardly a whiff to be had when walking by. And the produce was very nice – especially those strawberries.
Special note must be made of the Fascist architecture that dots the city. We were particularly not taken with our Metro stop – Municipio – through which we traveled not seeing one person or picture this morning. There was nothing to mar or enhance any of the many yards we walked to get to our train. Certainly made us yearn for London. I’m a big fan of clean urban spaces, but this was ominously sterile.
Perhaps it was the contrast that made it so bizarre. Everywhere else in Naples – and that includes churches and people who stand still too long – is covered with graffiti. They say the locals can ignore it. But we tourists can’t help but think how nice some areas would look if spray paint cans were banned. Yes, I know it’s an art form, but the artworks in Naples need some curating…
The small side streets where life is lived were truly amazing, with a seeming contrast between the public and private. We saw so many young people dressed in style, groomed to the hilt, riding the best scooters, yet going home to buildings that were a bit off-putting in comparison. Oh well, must be a lively life.
All in all, it is a busy alive city, where everyone seems to have an opinion about everything – and a hand gesture to match. Nothing dull about Sunday in Naples.
Don’s Food Corner
The food highlight of the day was stopping at the hole-in-the-wall bakery Pintauro on the Via Toledo where Naples’ famed sfogliatelle pastry was invented. Whether that is true or not, the version they serve there comes hot out of the oven and the pastry couldn’t have been flakier; the ricotta filling couldn’t have been richer or creamier (plus, bits of candied citrus was folded inside). There is no where to sit in the bakery and no counter to stand at. You just hover in the street and devour, letting the powdered sugar that is sprinkled on top at the last second spray all over. That’s the best way we’ve found to spend 2 euros in Naples.
Then, there was lunch. All of the famed pizzerias are closed on Sundays. So were all of the restaurants on our to-try list. Lunchtime came as we were strolling the narrow streets of the “Spanish Quarter” where several small restaurants proclaimed “Cucina tipica Napolitano.” We settled on one that looked cozy and authentic. How can you tell?
It turned out to be a decidedly mixed bag, starting with the curious delivery of the bread in an actual closed paper bag. As an American on the next table told us: “You open that bag and you’ve bought the bread.” We opened it. The delicious bread was worth it.
Then we moved onto a plate of lemon risotto. There were some bits of seafood in there. Shrimp? Not the greatest risotto we’ve ever had, but it was creamy, flavorful and the portion was big.
For our main course, I had my sights set on calamari after passing by some fine specimens in the fish market earlier in our stroll. It was a whole squid, grilled. Very nicely done. Simple, with just a lemon wedge to provide some flavoring and a tiny side salad. Jo ordered her signature scallopine, this time with a Marsala sauce. Very tender and flavorful. We shared a side of grilled strips of zucchini, which was served cold and swimming in olive oil. It was just OK.
The service, however, was quite abrupt. It was like they didn’t really want us there. They kept removing the plates as fast as possible. Mostly the waiter stood around watching a soccer match on the huge TV screen that faced us. So much for the warm hospitality of the south.
Tomorrow, we are determined to hit one of the REAL pizzerias of Naples.