Thursday, September 4, 2014

Naples

Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples
I spent two short days in Naples, and it was surprising, as the streets were fairly empty, with the Neapolitans spending their last weekend of the summer at the beach. So I missed out on the chaos and madness that is usually associated with Naples. I'd found a lovely B&B in the historic center, across the street from the Duomo. The place was aptly called Bruno's Historic Home, and had only been open three months. Though it was in a 600 - year - old building, the B&B had modern furnishings, which were more like an upscale hotel, and Vincenzo was an attentive host.

The Cloister of Santa Chiara
I visited a few of the nearby sites, including the Cloister of Santa Chiara, with its majolica tile decorations. It was a cool and quiet spot to relax on a hot Saturday afternoon.

a Gino Sorbillo pizza: mozzarella, artichokes, tomatoes and basil
That evening, I went looking for real Neapolitan pizza, and joined a crowd standing outside Gino Sorbillo's Pizzeria. I was lucky to be among the first wave of people allowed into the pizzeria when it opened at 7 pm. After that, there was a long waiting line the rest of the night. I asked two Japanese girls if I could share a table, as I was worried the waiters would frown on a single person taking up a table for four. They quickly agreed, and we had a nice chat over our pizzas about their travels on holiday from college. Sorbillo had recently won a regional championship for the best pizza, and had banners proclaiming his victory outside the restaurant. Even more amazing, he is one of 21 siblings who are pizza makers in Naples.

Mussels for sale on the street
One place I was eager to see in Naples was the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which has many of the mosaics, frescoes, silver, and other objects found in Pompeii. Since I'd been to Pompeii last year, I wanted to see these displays, especially the mosaics.

A mosaic panel from Pompeii, Museo Archeologico

A close-up of the mosaic, showing the tiny tesserae.
A fresco painting from a wall in Pompeii, Museo Archeologico

Silver items from Pompeii, Museo Archeologico
There were also several statues taken from the Baths of Caracalla, which I had visited in Rome a few days before coming to Naples. The large and impressive Farnese Hercules is one of the most famous sculptures of antiquity, made in the early 3rd century.

Farnese Hercules, Museo Archeologico






Besides pizza, Naples is also famous for other food, including special types of pastry. I found the renowned pasticceria Scaturchio in the well-known shopping area called Spaccanapoli, and bought a few of the gems, including sfogliatelle, babà and il ministeriale.  

Sfogliatelle, Babà, and a ministeriale.

Sfogliatelle means many layers and they resemble leaves stacked on top of each other. They look like seashells when baked. The pastries are then filled with a sweetened ricotta cream and candied orange bits. Babà = is a small cake saturated in rum and sometimes filled with cream. (I got a small version: the usual one is the size of a fist!) The ministeriale is a chocolate medallion filled with chocolate cream and liquor. I also tried arancini (stuffed rice balls which are coated with breadcrumbs and deep fat fried), and potato croquettes for a snack one day. Neapolitans seem to love many types of fried foods. They have places there called a friggitoria (frying place) that I haven't seen elsewhere in Italy.

Presepe items on Spaccanapoli
Another speciality that Naples is famous for is their presepi, referring to a crib or Nativity scene. Many stores are devoted to selling items for creating elaborate presepi. On via San Gregorio Armeno, located in the centro storico, or historic district of Naples, there are hundreds of shops featuring hand-made presepi.

On my last day in Naples, I rode one of the four funiculars (cable railway)  that operate in Naples, taking me high above the city to the Vomero area, where there are panoramic vistas of Naples, Mount Vesuvius, and the Bay of Naples. I headed for Castel Sant'Elmo, which looms high above the city and has spectacular views from every direction.

The Bay of Naples, taken from Castel Sant'Elmo
It was raining the morning that I left Naples, and Vincenzo gave me a ride to the Beverello Port, to catch a hydrofoil boat to the island of Ischia. He drove like a madman through the tiny streets, then weaved in and out of traffic to get me there on time. Otherwise, I'd have a 90 - minute wait for the next hydrofoil. He made it there with a few minutes to spare, helped me with my luggage, and tore off again into traffic. Ciao Napoli!

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