Why does off exploring always put my pictures sideways?
My first day in Naples, I really wasn’t sure. My flight had landed an hour late at Napoli airport then it took me an hour to navigate the bus and Metro system to get to my accommodation. I had rented an entire apartment for five nights, which turned out to be in one of those wonderful old Italian buildings with a small central courtyard open to the sky and flats all around the edges. It doesn’t sound anything special when I write it like that but do not imagine a housing estate in East London, imagine great, classical architecture, marble staircases in the courtyard, High ceilings, big heavy doors and I really dodgy lift that I had to go up in on account of my suitcase but was completely terrified would break down with me in it (it didn't). So many of these blocks have internal courtyards, sometimes people drive right into them on their scooters.
Naples is dirty, messy and smelly, there is rubbish and litter everywhere. Smells = drains, pizza, exhaust fumes. Tiny cars and scooters with up to 3 people on, often not wearing helmets, dash along the cobbled streets, beeping to get pedestrians of the way and not stopping for traffic lights. All motorists completely ignore zebra crossings and often don't stop even for red lights. It took me a while of standing wating on the pavement to realise the only way to make them stop is to step out in front of a vehicle, to have any chance of crossing.
The buildings are crumbling, aircon units leak water into all sorts of containers on balconies, collecting it for who knows what. Washing flutters in front of balconies, tiny dogs yap and big hairy ones pant in 30C heat. Dark brown tanned Italians wear jeans in 30C. In contrast to the UK where people hide behind net curtains, Neopolitan residents have their ground floor windows open to the street so when walking past you can look in and see families sat around tables or watching TV; many sit on chairs actually out in the streets in front of their houses, calling to each other and chatting with passers by. People call down from balconies to others they know in the street. Napoli has a real bustling community vibe. It took a few days to feel it but it has a distinctive vibe unlike any other Italian city I have visited.
Naples is not great for the information. Train maps use abbreviations that cannot be interpreted if you're not familiar with the place names. Shops don't have opening times advertised. Prices and opening times differ from websites, ticket barriers at train stations don't accept the ticket that is advertised to include travel so you have to ask to be let through every time. Websites don't work properly or take forever to load.
People stand on both sides of the escalators so you can't walk up or down them. They smoke in the train stations and drop cigarette butts onto the tracks. They drop litter in the street which I guess I can kind of understand, when there's so much litter everywhere anyway, why bother looking for a bin.
My first full day I did the obligatory round of free churches. The Duomo was fantastic, beautiful and impressive, as were several other churches I stepped into. I had been expecting to pay €6 to enter Palazzo Reale, but it turned out to be free on account of half of it not being open. I enjoyed visiting it; I do love all free attractions particularly those with ceiling frescoes. I loved the view from Castel d'Ovo and wandering along the waterfront strip of Lungomare, looking out over the Bay of Naples to Mt. Vesuvius, the Sorrento peninsula and Capri.
Day 2 was Pompeii, which was every bit as incredible as I had been expecting. It is on a huge scale, with buildings in a range of states of repair, all having been buried under hot pumice in the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79AD and preserved until it excavation started over 1,500 years later. The audioguide was a good investment, even at €8 as it allowed me to look at things whilst listening rather than trying to read information. I managed to cover 4 of the 8 areas of the site (I did the 4 with the most places of interest), spent 5 hours there and could easily return. It was exhausting, walking along cobbled streets between baking yellow stone buildings with very little shade but it was atmospheric and fantastic and I'm so glad I've had the opportunity to visit.
Back in napoli, I got the funicular up to Castel St Elmo for a breathtaking panorama of the area, from Mt Vesuvius and the islands, out across the bay of Naples back inland to distant mountains. With perfect timing, a thunder storm hit just as I was metres away from the funicular station to descend and go back to the accommodation I am staying in so I just missed the torrential rain that I had not anticipated.
On Wednesday I visited the smaller site of Herculaneum, also buried in the volcanic eruption of 79AD but buried under mud rather than pumice, so better preserved with buildings standing 2 or 3 stories tall and even some wood preserved. Herculaneum is different to Pompeii and I'm glad I visited both. Pompeii is vast, an entire town that was buried. Herculaneum is smaller and more compact as a lot of the site remains undiscovered under modern day Ercolano above. There was a handy guide booklet that meant I could manage without another €8 audioguide (my bank balance was pleased). It was also incredibly interesting. Particularly moving were the "boat sheds" with skeletons of 300 people who had tried to shelter there hoping to be rescued and perished waiting. I arrived just after it opened and it was blissfully empty and free of tour groups with loud guides- guaranteed to ruin a tranquil moment of observation like nothing else. I loathe tour groups!!! .
Back in Napoli I visited Gallerie d'Italia, which was good if small and Capella Sanseverso for stunning baroque frescoes, incredible sculptures and artworks.
I purchased an "Artecard" which cost €32 and covered my entry to Pompeii & Herculaneum, all travel within Naples for 3 days then gave me up to 50% off at subsequent sites. It was such a good investment! I calculate I saved almost €30 by having it and it was great having free transport as it meant I could just jump on the metro when my feet started hurting.
My last full day in Naples I visited Villa Oplontis, another site near Pompeii buried in the same eruption, a complete Roman villa, which was fascinating and informative. Visiting both Herculaneum and villa Oplontis it's easy to see the level to which the volcanic flows buried the land- the roofs of the highest buildings are below the current ground level- the inhabitants stood no chance.
Lastly, I visited the Museo Archological de Napoli, which I enjoyed least of everything I've done here. It was expensive, hot inside and with hardly any information about the exhibits. Occasional informational signs were in Italian only. This was absolutely not worth the €15 entry fee (thankfully I "only" paid €7.50 with Artecard) but it wasn't even worth that! I'm trying not to feel annoyed and regretful that I wasted an hour of my last day in this place.
I liked Naples, in spite of its roughness and dirtiness. I liked its vibe & the brashness of its people. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay longer than four days on this occasion but I think I would return here as there are a number of things that I wanted to do but didn’t have time to- this is my measure of a good holiday destination!