The Napoli Diaries Part 1

We are now in Edinburgh and because I’ve been working, it’s taken me a while to get my mental and paper notes together from Italy, but here we go…

Day 1: We had to connect in Milan (only a hardship because we didn’t actually get to be IN Milan). We had to go through security again, and thank goodness Milan went better than Heathrow. (Oh yes, I forgot about that… We are going through security at Heathrow and of course we have to take off our shoes, take the electronics out, etc. So we go through the scanner and our stuff goes through the x-ray machine. And then they put my purse on the table for furhter investigation. I’m sure you can imagine the word that went through my mind at that moment. Now I know there isn’t anything in there worth the waste of both mine and Sean’s time, but there we were while the somewhat useless security agent uses his wand thing to swab my purse and then test the swab in the machine (5 times!) for explosive type material. Both parties had to fill out forms all because they thought my iPhone set something off. And then, even now in the clear, I get taken to a room to get patted down. All I could think was “Seriously?!? – I’m going to get strip-searched because of some idiot?!?” That of course was not the case, but it was, from scan to leaving the room, 20 minutes of my holiday time completely wasted.) It was time to put the money belt on and acquaint myself with the zipper lock on my stainless steel mesh lined Pacsafe purse. Naples is famous for many things, including two negatives: the Camorra (mafia) and pickpockets. Neither were a worry while we were in the city, but during high season in the summer, the latter is something to be very aware of. But we took the precaution and I looked like I was in a first trimester or like I’d eaten too much pasta on some days. But whatever.

After picking up our bags from the baggage carousel that was painted like and looked as fast as a roulette table, we were picked up at the airport by the hotel shuttle driver, Alex. I’m sure he looked at our bags and thought “Dio mio…”. Alex spoke great English and was a wealth full of knowledge. Though it was apparently an unseasonably warm 20 degrees Celsius, Alex and the rest of the locals were dressed for winter. (Their summers are generally in the 30’s. Naples is on the coast of southern Italy and they have palm trees everywhere. I LOVE palm trees.) We were just happy to be somewhere somewhat warm.

We checked in to our hotel, the Hotel San Francesco al Monte, and the staff was lovely and welcoming. The hotel is a former monastery, and it is BEAUTIFUL. Our room was bigger and more beautiful than I had expected (you never know when you book online and get a good deal) with tile floors and a Jacuzzi(!) tub and shower. Mount Vesuvius was right in our view and it’s pretty spectacular even from far away.

We had what was meant to be a quick nap and slept through our dinner reservation at the hotel restaurant. But it was not super busy so it didn’t matter. we still got fed. 🙂 It felt wonderful to put on a dress – even if it was slightly wrinkled (Cat – even wrinked, it’s still a great dress!) – and go have a proper sit-down dinner and not be eating in transit.

Because the hotel and restaurant are in a monsatery, there’s all sorts of of radom nooks and crannies and staircases, so it took the very tired travelers that we were a few minutes to find the restaurant. They sat us down and we opened to menu to this vast array of choices. Here’s the thing about an Italian meal. There are many components: antipasti, primi, secondi – and sometimes more courses before you finally get to dessert. To be budget consious – it was expensive – and because I don’t think we were that hungry, we just ordered a primi each and a nice bottle of house red. Sean had the swordfish, and I had the spinach tagliatelle with crab meat. They were both delicious. I cannot remember the name of the dessert – so tired… – but it was all very good.

The bill came handwritten on carbon paper. As the week went on, we came to realize that this sort of record keeping system is how Italians seemed to roll. And while they are quite efficient despite the antiquated stationery, this record keeping is perhaps a contributor to the headline making financial crisis…

We slept like rocks and woke up the next morning ready to tackle Napoli and find out if the pizzeria listed in my guide book was actually the BEST pizza in the city.

Day 2: We woke up somewhat refreshed and had our complimentary breakfast back up in the restaurant. Still hard to find but this time much more fun to find. Lots of bread and pastries (yum! 🙂 ). Tomatoes, eggs, cheese, meat. And prunes, which are an understandable addition. All that wheat and meat over a lifetime and you need prunes. There was wonderful juice and great yogurt.

The girl at the front desk gave us directions to the funiculare, which is one of the modes of public transport in the city. There are three lines and each take you up/down the hills of various parts of the city. It’s very convenient and perhaps taken for granted – as we realized a couple days later . The ticket machine wasn’t working and after a conversation of hand gestures and a few common words with a station worker, we were directed across the street to the newspaper stand to buy tickets. And so began my daily routine with the lovely gentleman who runs it. He helped me fumble through my request of two day passes and made sure I saw that he gave the right amount of change for my purchase.

The first task of the day – for me, not for poor Sean – was to find the Frette shop. It is a famous Italian linen shop and when you read about what sheets celebrities have, they often say Frette. But now, I wonder: WHY? They weren’t soft and the thread count wasn’t that high. Beautiful patterns but somewhat overpriced. Maybe I’m missing something. Needless, to say, I was somewhat disappointed by this finding especially after taking the time to find it and driving Sean nuts because I couldn’t always see the street names (on buildings, often hard to see when the etching is old) on our way to find it. But I redeemed myself when we eventually found the wine shop: Enoteca Dante (Piazza Dante off of Via Toledo). It was like finding the Holy Grail of Italian wine. My trusty Frommers Napoli day trip book listed it as the best wine shop in Naples, and it did not disappoint. Wines at all prices (3 for 10 Euro – hello! – and higher), floor to ceiling in this small shop.

We bought a great Vesuvian red wine (they have a vineyard on Vesuvius – how cool is that!), and a white wine made by a winery called Verdichio. They make a white wine that my dad introduced me to a few years ago and it is in a bottle shaped like a fish. It was hilarious trying to explain what I was looking for to the man helping me in the store. Language barrier always makes things amusing. I eventually drew a picture and he expressed regret that they did not have that exact wine but one similar. I also bought my dad his requested syrah – he didn’t specify a label to me, but wanted a syrah.

We bought a corkscrew – essential – and off we went to go find pizza.

One thign that Napoli is most famous for, is that it is the birthplace of pizza. Proper margherita pizza. Bread, sauce, mozzarella, basil. That’s it. No frills. The place listed as the best in the city is Da Michele (Via Cesare Sersale). And if you can find it – it took us forever lol – it is AWESOME. Looking at the map in my book, it shows where we are supposed to go but doesn’t show the streetname on the map that the descritpion lists out. So we were going a bit blind and found this place by accident. And there was a lineup. So we took a number and waited 20 minutes for what turned out to be really, really, really good pizza. Da Michele is this small-ish place (that you can tell used to be just small way back when) with white walls and a wood stove in the back. It was hopping. We were sat next to a local couple who pointed at the menu (Margherita, marina, or doppio margherita – that’s it. For a Libra (moi) it was the best menu ever.) and told us that the doppio pizza was the way to go. The guy ordered one for himself. And no, he was not enormous. Sean and I ordered the recommended to share and IT was enormous. And so delicious. We ate more pizza at different places over the course of the week , but this was definitely the best of the best of the Neapolitan pizza fare.

After that, we were ready to go back to our hotel and rest. We probably walked about 12 km or more that day. Dinner that night was at a place down the road from the hotel and will be documented in Part 2.

It’s time to go explore Edinburgh and perhaps eat a pulled pork sandwich…

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