Confession: Naples might be my favourite place in the whole world. I fell head over heels in love with the city almost immediately. I tell everybody how great it was, and I get angry when they say they’ve already been and didn’t enjoy it. Be warned.
Getting off the train
Arriving in Naples is pretty terrifying. They are doing building works in the Piazza Garibaldi, which means everyone is funnelled up two narrow streets on either side of the square. These streets are crowded, busy, and filled with street hawkers, noise and mess. Everything you’ve ever heard about Naples comes into mind (Mafia, murder, robbery, theft) and you hold your bag a little closer to your chest.
You walk up the Via Carbonara (you memorised the street names on the train because you don’t want to get your phone out in public (Mafia, murder, robbery, theft)), and cut across the old town. The streets get quieter, but also more narrow, and the emptiness becomes intimidating, worrying (Mafia, murder, robbery, theft). You realise that you are lost and surreptitiously check your phone. Apparently you are near to the hostel, but none of the streets have names and everything looks the same.
Then you are in front of an iron gate, and ‘Giovannis’ is written on the intercom. You buzz, a crackled voice says something indistinct, you enter. At this point it is clear that you are definitely going to die.
Home sweet home
And then, everything changes. Giovanni appears in your life.
This hostel is everything a small hostel should be. There are less than 20 guests, with a kitchen, wifi and a terrace. There is a room for chilling but why sit outside when you can look out over the rooftops of Naples? The beds are comfortable enough and, although there aren’t enough plugs and the showers can be a bit dodgy, it feels safe.
What really makes the difference is Giovanni himself. What a man! Every guest gets a map of Naples upon arrival, showing what areas are safe and what areas are not. He marks the best pizza places, and tells you what to say to get the discount he has organised. He draws a suggested walking tour, pointing out all the best churches, shops and streets. He has pictures and statistics all lined up on his computer to answer any question you could possibly imagine.
It’s like living with a tour guide.
Even better, he is as generous with his home as he is with his knowledge. He cooked dinner most nights, and found gluten-free beer and pasta for the coeliac girl who was staying. I wake up early and he made me coffee while we discussed my plans for the day. Thanks to Giovanni I discovered that my problem with coffee wasn’t the coffee, it was the milk. No milk, plenty of sugar – that’s the way to go! He also knew when to make himself scarce, leaving the guests to talk about their days and make new friends.
It was great.
Into the unknown
Armed with Giovanni’s map, I set out into Naples. It was only recently that they allowed people to build outside the city walls, and so the tourist area is very well contained. I wandered happily, popping into churches and shops, snacking on pastries and taking in the sights.
I also picked up a Campania artecard from the archeological museum but (and this is important) I didn’t activate it until the next day. It’s only good for 72-hours and I had big plans for this baby! I could have got it at the station, which would have been more convenient.
When I got back, I met this adorable couple from Canada. We got drunk and chatted for hours, it was delightful.
Museo Cappella Sansevero
In this church lies one of the most famous statues in the world: the Veiled Christ. It costs €5 to enter if you’re a student or if you have the artecard already. They’re very strict about photos and either way images don’t really do it justice. In person, the statue glows and you can really understand everything they say about the veil accentuating his nakedness and frailty.
If you want to go, the ticket office is across the street from the church. It’s not super clear where it is but when I was there a helpful tramp pointed it out, which was very kind.
There are quite a few underground tours offered in Naples. A city with such a dense history obviously has many layers and its great to get to see them. The tour I chose was mostly because it was only €8 with Giovanni’s discount. You get to see an old Greek aquaduct, as well as the remains of an old theatre and some weird models. The first part of the tour is easily the best, you get to squeeze through narrow gaps in the rocks and some parts are lit only by candles.
I don’t have any good photos but you can check out the website to see. It’s really good.
My only regret from this day is that I didn’t head down to the castle by the harbour. It is a bit out of the way but I had the time, if not the energy. Also, it would have been nice to stroll along the harbour in the early evening. The castle is free entry so I would definitely recommend checking it out. I never even saw it from the outside!
In fact, looking back through the guidebook I got with my artecard, there’s so much stuff I would have loved to see. There’s always more…
I had big plans for the next day though: Paesrum, Pompeii and Herculaneum, all in one go!
Until next time, check out this song x