There is an old Italian saying, “vedi Napoli e poi muori” (see Naples and die). Now the optimists, those who generally see the beauty in life, would say that idiom has its genesis in the fact that people are awestruck by the beauty of Naples and after seeing something so beautiful that it would be OK to die because nothing else could match it. Pessimists, on the other hand, those who are negative and always worrying, would say that if you see Naples you will die because it is a dangerous place full of thieves, the Camorra and garbage. Since I have yet to visit there, I would imagine the truth lies somewhere in between the two philosophies.
With that in mind, I turned to native tour guides, Marina DeMartino and Giuseppe DeToro for some insight into this southern gem of misconceptions and what I learned is that Naples has a lot to give for those willing to take a chance. As in the male and female viewpoints, there is the yin and yang of this city by the sea.
The history of Naples actually has its roots in ancient Greece. The small ancient spa island of Ischia, just off the coast of Naples, was colonized in the 8th century B.C. by settlers from Euboea, Greece, while Greek myth indicates sailors from Rhodes set-up the merchant colony of Parthenope, part of modern-day Naples, on the Italian mainland. Italians are big on legend and have honored the story of Parthenope with a fountain, Fontana della Sirena, by 19th century artist Onofrio Buccino, lending credence to the myth.
The city echos the voices of its past with a rich history of artifacts and archaeological finds from the nearby city of Pompeii. The National Museum of Archeology houses an extensive collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, as well as the third largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in all of Italy, not to mention the Gabinetto Segreto, or secret chamber, which holds erotic artwork from the walls of Pompeii’s brothels, as well as everyday household items (much like today’s street markets in Naples!).
Naples is nothing if not a city for people watching and for being watched. The city suffers, currently, from a high unemployment rate and Marina notes that the delinquency that comes along with that general malaise, is to be expected. However, she notes that women traveling solo in Naples should be aware of their surroundings, as they would in any major city, no more no less than in Naples. “A woman at peace with herself is happy wherever she goes and will be at home visiting Naples,” says Marina. “This is probably because Naples is so feminine in its contrasts and a little bit crazy, so a woman can identify with the crazy city and discover her virtue in the meanwhile.”
Pepe, on the other hand, advises a bit of extra caution for women traveling solo. “It would be the best to stay in the city center where it is safe and beautiful,” he suggests, “areas such as Margellina, Vomero and Posillipo. There you can go out also at night and do not have to worry. Naturally, though, it is a big city and you have to be careful!”
Most young people speak English so it is easy to navigate the ancient streets. However, be aware that vendors and market stall owners will always try to take advantage of tourists. That happens even in New York. Avoid the typical restaurants and ask locals for recommendations, rather than hotel staff who will generally point you to the most expensive trattorias with tourist menus of eggplant parmigiana and manicotti. This is not real Italian food; this is what non Italian-Americans eat at fast food restaurants when they don’t know any better. You should know that Pizza Margherita is the traditional Neopolitan pizza and there are some suggestions listed below. Please do post comments or email with any new discoveries that you make during your visit.
The other “must do” in Naples is to shop the street markets. Bargains can be had everywhere but don’t pay the first price you are quoted. The vendors expect you to haggle with them and the men will probably try to flirt their way into a higher price with prospective women shoppers. It’s part of the Italian charm; go with the flow and know that they will go lower. Pepe suggests the shopping mile on Via Roma and Via Toledo for a visit.
On a more practical note, beware if you are traveling the city’s trains or buses. Gypsies also ride the system and will use children to pick your pockets clean before you can say “That’s amore!” And that story of garbage lining the streets of Naples…………well, the problem has been solved for the most part. The Germans bought up Naples’ garbage because their incinerators were running below capacity and they needed garbage to fill them. Go figure! That in itself is fodder for another article elsewhere.
For now, Vedi Napoli e poi muori – discover for your self!
Restaurants: Michele in Via dei Tribunali – simple food at good prices and often long lines. Great pizza Trattoria Medina on Via Medina and Transatlantico on Borgo Marinari in Santa Lucia (waterfront but plays host to tour groups).
Sites: Marina suggests that every tourist visit the old city ‘Neapolis,” the Phlegraen fields, he Royal Promenade and the city’s monumental landscapes; afterall, how many city’s have an active volcano in its midst?
Side trips: Naples’ location on the sea makes it easy to hop a ferry to Sorrento, Capri, or smaller neighboring islands…………even down to Salerno. The Metro del Mare line is one of the many which service the ports on a daily basis.