16 July 2014

Viaggo Italiano: Napoli

From Lecce, we headed to Naples! But before I tell you how, let me explain why. Naples is supposed to be dirty and dangerous, and so I found myself asking in the days leading up to our trip: Why on earth had I thought it was a good idea to go to Naples?!

Well. Neither Mr. P nor I had been there, for one. We like the adventure of seeing new cities. Second of all, we really wanted to go to Pompeii, and it’s quite close to Naples. And third, it’s cheap. I mean, in some ways that’s a red flag, but we thought it was still more reasonable to pay half as much per night in Naples than in Sorrento, or Rome. And the food is cheap, too!

So that’s why. But how we went to Naples is more interesting.

We didn’t buy our train tickets to Naples from Lecce far in advance because... well, we never needed to do that before. So we were a bit surprised to learn that the mid-afternoon high-speed train we’d hoped to take to Naples was completely sold out. Apparently high-speed train tickets are two-for-one on Saturdays, which causes them to fill up! So instead, Mr. P booked us on a high-speed that left Lecce at nearly 5pm... and arrived in Naples at 11pm. On a Saturday night. At which point we’d have to take the metro, armed with our suitcases, and find our hotel a block inside the Spanish quarter.

Needless to say, this plan seemed unwise in like eighteen different ways.

But! Thanks to studying maps, locking our bags, walking with a purpose, and likely some sheer dumb luck, we got straight to our hotel without a hitch. It was then that I realized... while the warnings about Naples aren’t unfounded, we do know how to walk around a city whilst watching our backs. After all, we routinely walk around a city that tops the lists of most dangerous in this country. We’re either much more street smart than the average tourist, or we’re good at tempting fate and winning.

So we made it safe and sound! But I don’t have a lot of photos to show for it because, well, I was busy exercising caution. So let’s skip ahead to the next day, when we went to Pompeii!

Actually, let’s back up and talk about crime for one more hot second, because the one time we actually were targeted was just before we boarded our very crowded train to Pompeii. A man was standing entirely too close to me on the train platform – close enough for me to seriously suspect he was a pickpocket. I wasn’t carrying anything valuable on me (all locked up in Mr. P’s backpack, because we are smart tourists), but he was still all up in my personal space. So, I put him off by turning and staring straight at him. Straight at his face. He gazed in the distance until I made him so uncomfortable that he wandered away. Take-home message: ballsiness goes a long way as a tourist in Naples!

Once we were in the safe haven of Pompeii – free the day we visited, woohoo! – I could break out my fancy camera and snap away!

That’s Vesuvius there in the distance! Hmmm. I think. There’s a lot of mountains around here.

Here’s something I never knew about Pompeii: we’re looking at the ruins of a twice-ravaged city. Pompeii was actually hit by a big earthquake about a decade before Vesuvius erupted, and the city was still in the process of rebuilding. So those half-built columns in the former basilica up there? Those weren’t knocked over in the eruption – that’s all that was there when the eruption hit!

Because of that, I learned a lot about ancient Roman building techniques. You know how we imagine all the gleaming marble columns? Apparently, the middle of the columns were brick, and they just coated it with a layer of finely ground marble turned to plaster.

This blew my mind. I thought we took shortcuts on craftsmanship today, but apparently it’s been the practice for millennia!

As usual, I fell hard for the anything painted.

In the foreground are plaster casts of victims. Many were buried alive in the meters of dust that landed on the city, and when the excavation teams came in nearly two thousand years later, they’d realize that the hollow spots were where one’s body had been trapped (and subsequently decayed). The plaster was poured in the hollow space to capture the victims’ positions.

One of the neatest buildings was the bathhouse, for which the roof is still intact in many places.

Another point to marvel at Roman engineering: the grooves in the ceiling were designed so that the condensation that collected above would trickle down the walls rather than drip from the ceiling. Smart!

Across the street from that was a fast food joint. The pots were placed in the stone to keep the pre-made hot items hot and cold items cold! Again, not so different from today.

There were also several largely intact homes. The second photo below is the dining room (with painted, pretend windows to a prettier outside world), but the one after that is kitchen! I guess that’s why ancient Romans got take-out a lot.

We also explored one of Pompeii’s mansions. It took up one full square city block and contained multiple courtyards as well as some incredible mosaic floors (replicas are shown here).

There was so much more we saw – many houses, several temples, a mill, the water fountains, the aqueducts, and of course, the amphitheatre with gladiator barracks behind.

But let’s keep things moving and head back to Naples... where we saw the rest of Pompeii. Turns out, the best riches from the city (like the original mosaics in the mansion floors) are kept in the archaeological museum there!

Several rooms were filled with the some of the artifacts from Pompeii, including the original mosaic floor of the replica shown above.

Apparently it was found in perfect condition; all the damage came from moving it! Sigh. At least we know what it was supposed to be, thanks to a painting of it from before it was moved.

We also had a chance to enter the museum’s “secret room”. Ooh!

Why so secret? Penises. Lots and lots of penises. And lots of depictions of sex acts, some deviant. Here’s a very small sample (and by “small”, I mean... not small at all).

My favorite were the suspended bronze penises with wings, which made Mr. P quip, “Look, it’s flying f---s!” I’m not gonna lie, I gleefully giggled nonstop in this place and took way more photos than was probably appropriate... because I secretly/not-so-secretly have the sense of humor of a thirteen-year-old boy.

But let’s keep the blog clean and move on! There was so much to see here, for a museum I’d never heard about. Paintings, sculptures, historical artifacts, and of course the giant ballroom at the top. If you ever find yourself in Naples, it’s well worth a trip!

However, the one thing we knew we must do in Naples was eat pizza. So at the end of our long day, we wandered a ways from our hotel to find one of the oldest and most famous pizza joints in Naples. (Sorry for the photo quality; I relied on my iPhone rather than carry my fancy camera around Naples!)

It was indeed as good as anticipated! Not to mention relatively cheap for Italy – seven euros for each of our giant pizzas!

As if that wasn’t enough, we finished our busy Neopolitan day with a shared gelato.

And with that, we took very-much-needed showers and called it a night!

So... was it worth it, going to Naples, rather than just traveling to Pompeii from Rome? For the museum alone, it’s worth a day trip. Plus, we saw enough of city life in Naples – things I can’t show in photos, because I couldn’t stop to take photos – that I understand why it’s so charming for so many. It is a city all its own, and for me, that made it worth seeing. But I’m also glad we didn’t try to visit four years ago on our honeymoon, because we would’ve had to cut something I would have appreciated more.

Apparently there’s a saying that you cry twice when you visit Naples: once when you arrive, and once when you leave. But the opposite was true for me. I was glad to arrive (especially given that we arrived safely in not-ideal conditions!), and I was glad to see it, and I was glad when it was time to leave. Especially because our next stop was Rome! Stay tuned!


Mary Beth said...

Enjoying your recaps of Italy! Alan and I are headed to Rome on October 10 and plan to tour the Amalfi coast. Keep the recommendations coming!