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You are Here: > > Naples - The good, the bad and the pizza!

Naples - The good, the bad and the pizza!

A pasta shop in Naples 
By Amanda Barnes
Naples … a city full of crime, traffic, dirt and fantastic memories! Notoriously one of the most dangerous cities in Italy where pick-pocketing and mafia control run rife however Naples remains a thriving city full of vigorous and passionate people and places that are well worth the trouble.

If you are in search of a quiet, picturesque and romantic Italian city — to be honest, Naples is not it. In Naples you will find chaos, pollution and a wonderful charm unique only to itself! Naples is one of those great cities that has art and culture pulsing through its veins so vibrantly and intensely that, despite the many great art galleries and museums in it, the best ‘cultural' activity is simply to sit back and observe the city in its splendour. Naples has the best pizza, the best coffee and arguably some of the most enchanting and entertaining people in Italy.

Down every narrow, cobbled street hangs colourful lines of laundry, luxurious shrines carved into every wall and crinkled old men teaching their grandsons how to play chess. It is not uncommon to walk down the street and see an Italian family sat on their table and chairs outside their front door crowding over a mobile phone to speak to cousin Antonio who is ‘off with this girl' in Greece — and it is not uncommon for them all to tell you all about! Naples is full of friendly families who all use the street outside their door as an extension to their house, so don't be alarmed to see old men playing cards, siblings arguing or lovers romanticising on the street outside their door, this is by all means treated as part of their property!

The streets of Naples are fascinating, not only for the people, but also for the random shops! Down Via S. Gregorio Armeno you will find shops back to back for the entire length of the road (and around the corner), selling tiny figures of people, clowns and chilli peppers. Before you worry about the strange idiosyncrasies and hobbies of a country that once ruled the world, it is a relief to find out that these are actually the Christmas decorations that Naples is famous for. I don't know how the shops can afford to, but they remain open all year and the moving figurines are always in full swing. Being Christmas decorations you would expect lots of crib scenes and angels, but the crib is actually a bit of a side line to the entire moving village that is set up around it! It would seem in Naples that the stable scene was located by a very large working village with lots of moving men chopping wood, women feeding chickens, ladies doing laundry and very bloody butchers carving! Although the dominant presences in these shops are red chilli peppers (an odd Italian obsession) and the figure of Pulcinella, the jester that represents Naples. For around €2 you can buy the ultimate souvenir, Pulcinella morphed into a chilli pepper, encompassing both Neapolitan representatives!

Naples is a city full of themed roads; there is a whole street dedicated to worn out old art books, there is one for lemoncello and biscotti, but best of all there is one dedicated to tripe and innards, fantastic! Along with the more ‘acquired taste' shopping there is plenty of commercial shops, the shoe shopping here is second to none and there is fantastically cheap clothes, jewellery and ornament shopping. However one type of shopping to avoid is buying electronics off the street — although you think you are getting an amazing deal on a digital camera, the box given to you is actually the most expensive can of coke you will probably buy in your life! However close you may look, don't be fooled — the camera is not going in the box, these touts could take David Blaine on a run for his money and a sucker for tourists!

Naples has a sweet tooth and the pastries here are awe inspiring and the ice-cream also deserves a mention, (especially the cinnamon chocolate or the chilli chocolate at the fantastic chocolatier ‘Odin-Gay'). Gelaterias stay open till very late and are a hotspot for trendy teens more than anyone else. However the main culinary attraction is without a doubt the pizza! The pizzas in Naples are enormous (fold your slice to save time when eating it) and ridiculously cheap, you can get a massive, fantastic pizza at ‘Sorbillos' on Via Tribunali for €2.80! The only thing Neapolitan pizzas aren't big on is the amount of toppings — although speak to an Italian and they will passionately argue that as the inventors of pizza, they know what they are doing and less is more, and I cannot argue with that!

Along with the food, the drinking culture in Naples is a lot of fun. Espresso bars are dotted along every street so you can get your caffeine fix anywhere, anytime of the day. Espresso's are dirt cheap, but to ensure you get served first you should slide a few centavos your bar tenders way! Bars and clubs are less common in Naples (and Italy in general) and there is a dominant street drinking culture. Buy a beer at the local café (I suggest ‘Sun, Moon' bar off Piazza Jesu Nuovo, a large beer for €1!) and swig it with the locals on various piazzas across the city. The most popular is Piazza Santa Maria del Nuovo which is always crammed with friendly young people, Italian and foreigners alike. Don't be surprised to be chatting away to a Brazilian one moment and the next talking to someone from Burkina Faso, Naples manages to attract people from all over the world. Piazza Jesu Nuovo is the cruising ground for young Italian men who drive around the monument in front of the church in their fiat punto's trying to pick up girls all night long. Street drinking is definitely the more authentic and much cheaper experience of Neapolitan night life!

Although Naples is a lot of fun at night, it can also be slightly dangerous — muggings do happen, believe me! Pick pocketing can happen to anyone day or night; however mugging is more likely to happen to women in the evening. Occasionally they take the direct approach where the mugger will jump out from the street and try to grab your bag, however it is much more common for a ‘drive by' where the mugger grabs your bag while riding by one the back of a moped. It is never worth struggling because you will get dragged along kicking and screaming! The best way to avoid being a target (and feeling like one) is to not take a bag out with you, just keep your change and keys in a pocket and avoid walking alone at night. If you cannot avoid taking a bag with you, and you are usually safe to — especially during the day, then make sure it is an across the chest bag.

Although being mugged and pick-pocketed can be a very frustrating and stressful experience, on the up side, the visit to the Naples Police Station almost makes up for it! It is just as you would expect an Italian police station to be shown as in a spoof film — papers are everywhere, all the officers smoke at their desks despite the walls being plastered with no smoking signs, every police man carries a large gun and there are many, many exaggerated shrugs and ‘Allora's'. The police station exudes all the typical Italian charm and the morning you will spend there (you are lucky to be in and out within two hours) is filled with hilarious moments to make it worth your time!

Naples has some fantastic architecture with bizarre looking churches (check out the spiky wall on the church of piazza Jesu Nouvo) and interesting well worn buildings. The ‘Duomo' Cathedral and Palace ‘Palazzo Reale' are along with the many gothic churches well worth your time and money however simply walking around the back streets also delivers a strong perspective of Naples. The wealthy neighbourhoods in Naples have long picturesque, tree lined avenues with grand white houses which stand in stark comparison to the colourful crumbling narrow flat blocks in the poorer areas.

Naples is a very large city and the best way to tour through it is on the back of a motorbike or moped. Ride to the hills on the edge of the city for a fantastic view over the city neighbourhoods and the glittering bay, this is especially worth viewing at night when you can see the lights of the Islands of Procida and Ischia beyond. Travelling by moped is the most authentic way of viewing Naples and it removes the ‘boxed' vision seen through a car window. However the roads of Naples are something else and are only to be attempted by very brave or very foolish! Motorbikes and mopeds rule the roost and cut up anything in their way, whether it is a van or a pedestrian! Despite the narrow nature of the streets in Naples, Italians will settle for no less than a car, three mopeds and an old man sat outside his front door being squeezed through the width of one street at any time! Traffic lights are signalling for the race to begin and dents and scratches are seen as adding ‘character'. Crossing the road in Naples returns you back to feeling like a vulnerable child and for the first few crossings it is necessary to follow an Italian's lead, it is no mean task and is especially challenging with 20kg rucksacks on!

Naples has plenty to see and do, including some of Italy's best archaeological museums, a number of beautiful churches, fantastic street markets and as for art, you only need to look as far as the walls of the metro! Transport links here are efficient and with its close vicinity to Pompeii and the Islands, Naples is a perfect base. There are plenty of good hotels and hostels all over the city, however I recommend Giovanni's Place on 43 Via della Sapienza. Here you will find a warm Italian welcome from Giovanni and if you arrive at lunch time, there is almost always fresh home made pasta or pizza and a good bottle of Italian red awaiting you!

Naples is a chaotic and colourful city full of fascinating places and memorable characters. Like every city there is the good and there certainly is the bad, but don't let anything put you off because this city which stirs up so much passion amongst Italians is well worth the all effort! Only in Naples do strangers on mopeds chat to each other in traffic jams, only in Naples are the pizzas bigger than the plates they are served on and only in Naples will you find a whole street dedicated to Christmas decorations in the middle of the august heat! Naples can be criticized for many things but its character and charm will always leave you wanting more.


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