“If you like Italy as far south as Rome, go farther south – it gets better…Italy intensifies as you plunge deeper. Naples is Italy in the extreme.”
I have never seen anywhere as beautiful as the Gulf of Naples.
After an uneventful two hours rereading Ferrante from Roma Termini, we transferred to an old, dark, underground commuter train in which a sardine would have felt mishandled. On arriving at our suburban station, the interest at looking around and up the surrounding hills was mitigated by the surprise discovery of a sweat gland in the middle of my back, which now was operating in overdrive under the blazing sun. At least the traffic stops for us was my pleasant surprise, as we crossed and recrossed the same streets with our roller bags, taking what seemed to be an eternity to find an address that turned out to be conveniently located five minutes around the corner from the station.
Our host handed us a jailer’s key ring and showed us how to work the locks: the big wooden outer door to the street, the middle inner gate to the courtyard, the metal door at the bottom of the stairs, the metal and glass door at the top of the stairs, the grate across our patio, the outer and inner door to the flat. Then I was done. I wanted to stay in the safe flat with no view, iffy wifi, and not leave.
When hunger finally tempted me to go out, we took a couple of turns to walk closer to the sea … and there it was. A few refreshing degrees cooler, ready for her close up, the awesome Golfo di Napoli, in all her azure technicolor glory, with the smudges of Capri and Ischia in the distance, and Mount Vesuvius lording over it all on the south side. I was dumbstruck.
I closed my mouth and we walked along the sea front until we got to the Castel dell’Ovo (Egg Castle), turning off into the Santa Lucia harbour to eat at La Scialuppa (‘The Rowboat’). As it was too ridiculously early for the strolling, dancing, wedding, fishing, kissing locals to eat at 7 p.m., we scored a waterside table without a reservation, the better to enjoy a pasta with seafood so fresh we could taste the brine of the sea under our feet. The shifting sun painted Vesuvius green-grey and the towns below pink when passing musicians began to offer all the diners folkloric or romantic songs, which layered perfectly into the lapping of the waves, the clinking of the masts and wine glasses, the seagulls’ cries.
We continued our own walking tour into the heart of Napoli, stopping to see the detailed tile floor mosaics of the 19th century Galleria Umberto I shopping arcade. Turning into the narrow, twisty streets, some of them merely a curving set of wide steps down which locals were bringing out their garbage and recycling, we finally cracked and got gelatos at the fifth place we passed. (It has been scientifically proven that one can not walk past more than five gelaterias without stopping.)
Carefully navigating the uneven cobblestones back down to the seaside with my tingly limone gelato, the smell of pizza and calzones wafting around, mixing with the shouts, conversations, and scooters of the locals, I realized that Napoli could engage and reanimate the senses of a zombie.
There were fewer and fewer people along the walkway back. The sky was indigo and Homer’s sea wine-dark as we got closer to the sparkling lights of Posillipo. As we enjoyed the cooling air, I was astonished to recognize the person walking towards us! ‘Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world’! Valeria was a fellow guest of the wedding we were invited to, whose acquaintance I had made in Rome. As it was still very early in the evening by Campania time-keeping, we decided to make the most of it over beverages. Seated at a sidewalk table, marvelling at the Neapolitan custom of bringing complementary snacks (in this case, nuts, salads, bread, open-faced sandwiches, and fried treats) with drinks, and enveloped in conversation, I felt right at home.
to be continued …
opening quote from Rick Steves Snapshot: Naples & the Almalfi Coast, Avalon: 2015