Now I'm behind on Bologna and my second stay in Florence, but I want to post about Naples because so much has happened in the past two days! Yesterday morning I got up early to catch the train from Florence to Naples. I had a nice seat by the window and part of the carriage to myself. The Tuscan countryside turned into small cliffs and mountains as the train went further south. It stopped in Rome halfway through and it was surreal to be back briefly.
As the train approached Naples, I could see Mount Vesuvius rising up in the distance. I got out at the central station and was amazed by how nice it looked. I'd heard horror stories about the train station, but it was clean, quiet, and probably the second nicest one I've been to after Oslo Sentralstasjon. You still wouldn't want to hang around the neighborhood, though. I descended beneath a giant glass and metal structure outside the train station into a metro station. I was further impressed by how nice it looked. Naples doesn't exactly have a reputation for being clean, but this stop was spotless. I walked a couple of blocks to my hostel, turning into a smaller street packed with apartments and laundry hanging outside of windows. The hostel owner, Giovanni, called out a greeting to me from the balcony on the third floor.
I felt welcome from the moment I stepped inside. Giovanni told me that I would check in later because first he needed to show me how to make mushroom risotto. I was pleasantly surprised to see another traveller I met in Genoa also helping out in the kitchen. Two girls from New Zealand arrived right as we finished making the risotto and we enjoyed lunch and wine on the terrace. We checked in after lunch and Giovanni proceeded to give us a long and helpful talk on Naples' history and the best things to do in and around town. Essentially, Naples used to be one of the most populated cities in Europe, and because it was enclosed by city walls, they built up to accomodate the population. Naples is a city of layers. Below ground is the Greek layer, ground level is the Roman layer, and the higher layers are more modern. People live in ancient buildings that have evolved over the years. It's incredible. After Giovanni's talk, I felt overwhelmed by everything that I wanted to see.
One of his suggestions was a walk past many important places and down to the waterfront. I decided to do this first to get a good glimpse of the city and one of the girls from New Zealand joined me. We walked down the street to the Duomo, Naples' most important church.
The inside was done in a gorgeous Baroque style. There were a few rooms apart from the main room and a crypt.
Next, we walked down a street packed with shops selling nativity scenes. Apparently these are a speciality in Naples. With music, lights, and handcrafted sets and dolls spilling onto the street, it feels very festive. We tried to march straight through because the street was packed at that hour of the day. After going by many churches and piazze, we made it down to the waterfront and were greeted by the sight of a huge castle.
Just a couple blocks away was the royal palace and Piazza del Plebiscito, a piazza that looks very similar to St. Peter's Square.
The end point of our walk was another castle on the water. From here, there was a fantastic view of Naples and Mount Vesuvius in the distance. At one end the sun was setting over the water, and the volcano looked gorgeous on the other end.
When we got back, Giovanni was making dinner, and he invited people to come watch if they wanted to learn how to make pasta with pumpkin. Everyone in the hostel packed into the kitchen. Then we pushed together all of the tables in the common area and enjoyed a delicious meal. Everyone was really nice and I'm glad that this hostel has a nice area for meeting people.
This morning I walked back to the royal palace. The streets were much less packed in the mornings and most of the people on the streets were locals. I continued to see some of the worse driving I've ever seen in my life, but I arrived to the palace intact.
It's unfortunate that I couldn't take pictures inside because it was absolutely stunning. The outside isn't very impressive, but the inside is very Baroque. The first room I went in was a theater, decorated with red and gold and statues of the Muses and Apollo. The next rooms had some of the most stunning frescoes that I've seen so far and many beautiful paintings. There were many large windows, through which I could see the rooftop garden and Vesuvius in the distance.
I walked across the piazza to a large basilica after I visited the palace. This basilica was very reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome.
I went to meet Giovanni and a couple other people at the hostel to make lunch, but I still had some time before I had to be back so I watched some locals fishing down by the waterfront. It's fun to take a moment to observe the locals wherever I am downtown. They're very friendly and interesting. Naples feels like its own world.
Lunch was pasta with fava beans and fresh fennel. Giovanni and someone else from the hostel had just harvested the wild fennel near Mount Vesuvius and the rest of the ingredients came from a local market. It was delicious! I took a nap for a couple hours this afternoon because I was so sore and exhausted. It's really hard to take a break while I'm here because there's so much that I want to be doing, but I need to make sure to get some rest too so I have energy to do everything that I want to do. Tonight I grabbed something to eat near the hostel and despite my nap, I'm pretty tired. I'm going to bed soon and I hope that tomorrow will be another busy day!