We left the apartment in Rome’s Trastevere where we had just spent two wonderful weeks roaming around and visiting many (MANY) of the city’s so-called ‘secondary sights’.
I was sad to leave Rome but I was also very excited about the next five weeks we would spend traveling around the ‘shin, heel and calf’ of Italy. But I was particularly excited about the plan for today: Get to Napoli and spend a few glorious hours in the Archaeological Museum.
I had pre-purchased online our tickets for the 10:00 am high speed train to Napoli Centrale months before (€68 for both of us in ‘Quiet’ business class). I had also printed out the boarding passes so we just had to wait for the ‘binario’ to be posted.
I’m sure I cannot be the only one that suffers from this, but the waiting for the posting of gates and tracks is always nerve wracking to me; and I consider myself a rather calm person. I rationally know that 15 minutes is more than enough time to get from the big display boards to wherever it is that you need to go, but still…
It was only about 10 minutes before the departure time when the ‘binario’ was finally posted. Even C was beginning to get nervous by then. Within 3 minutes of posting the track we were sitting in the very comfortable seats. A good thing because it was cold outside.
Besides a perfunctory glance at our printed tickets at the security checkpoint to access the tracks, no one checked our tickets. Not during the trip nor upon arrival.
The scenery during the trip was interesting, but not quite enough to keep us from nodding off. So this was literally one of those ‘in the blink of an eye’ trips.
We gathered our belongings, detrained (actual word; I looked it up) and had to push our way through all the drivers that were trying to ‘grab’ passengers before they go out into the ‘official’ taxi rank. This hawking for customers seems ridiculous at first but makes total sense the moment you actually see the taxi mob outside the station.
The line of people waiting for cabs was orderly and calm, but the jumble of taxis outside, jockeying to get into position was… interesting. There seemed to be two ‘bosses’ directing who got into which taxi; I’m sure there was a system / pecking order to the assignment of rides but I could not figure it out in the 3 minutes we were standing there.
We get into our cab, tell the driver where to go, he –of course- says ‘Ok’, we take off and then he proceeds to ask every other cab driver how to get to the hotel. I show him the map and he mumbles something. Eventually I realize that the hotel is in a semi-pedestrian area and he does not really know (or want) to get to it.
About ten minutes later we are close enough (according to the driver) and we (almost have to) agree to be dropped us off at another taxi stand so that we could walk the rest of the way. Hummm… Ok. ‘Not far’ he said ‘just around the corner…’ pointing into a massive throng of people being herded around. Take a deep breath and go. Ok.
Our initiation to Napoli was walking straight into the Spaccanapoli, the city’s main pedestrianized ‘tourist avenue’. Yes, it was chaotic. Yes, it was crowded. Yes, it was not fun pulling our luggage through the crowd. But it was true, we were not far from the hotel so it was not that bad.
BTW, we did indeed get picked up by a taxi in the hotel when we left….but THEN we saw what a nightmare it was to drive through those mazelike not-quite-one-way streets. So I’ll be kindhearted and forgive the first driver.
The address given by the hotel, for reasons that I will never understand and did not care enough to inquire, is for the back entrance. You open a small door cut into a humongous wooden door and step into a residential courtyard –sheets and underwear hanging out to dry, neighbors squawking at each other…. It was kind of funny. Well, the kind of funny that you know is going to be funny in the future but not quite yet.
So first impression was certainly FAR from good.
But let me tell you first about the search for a hotel in Naples. I have never, ever in twenty years of independent traveling struggled as much with a hotel reservation as I did with the one in Naples. I started looking at least 5 months in advance and was underwhelmed by the choices.
A little background: We do not spend big bucks on hotels. Clean, comfortable, safe, plenty of hot water, reliable wifi, and centrally located are the things we look for. We are NOT resort people and do not require pampering, though we will willing accept it if is offered at a reasonable price.
My target budget for southern Europe is around €75 per night for both of us. It might not sound like much but we have gotten some outstanding deals at and even below that number. So I searched, and searched again…Nothing looked appealing and everything seemed ‘expensive’ for what was offered.
In early December I made a ‘placeholder’ reservation and forgot about Naples for a few weeks. End of January I pick up the research again thinking that somehow new choices would have magically appeared. NOT. And to make matters worse, in the meantime, the B&B I had picked had gotten consistently bad reviews.
I finally picked B&B La Terraza di Napoli mainly because of its central location but still thinking that it would just be another placeholder until the ‘perfect’ place popped up. It never did. Naples was entirely sold out for the 3 days that we were there (Apr 29-May 1) it was the Labor Day (May 1st) but not the Sunday of the Feast of San Gennaro (2nd Sunday in May).
And that was how we found ourselves walking through a back alley filled with graffiti and dog poop trying to find the front entrance to the hotel. The hotel occupies the two upper stories in a building that is shared with two restaurants, a mechanical shop of some kind, and a few residential apartments. So the impression from the main courtyard was not really much better than the one before. At least there was a lift. BIG sigh of relief.
Up to the third floor we go. After the almost predictable difficulties finding our reservation (I always bring printouts for moments such as this) we were checked in and shown to our room, located yet another floor up and this time without lift. It was ginormous with an even bigger bathroom at a split level. Not bad at all…. Once you got there.
Time to head out and dive into Mission Museum. But of course we had to get something to eat first, you know, a little bite… just to keep us going until dinner. It was cold, windy and it was the incipient rain made the restaurant decision for us as anywhere with a warm inside looked appealing. Caffé Leterario Intra Moenia on Plaza Bellini fit that description.
We were looking for ‘just’ a snack so we ordered ‘just’ a cheese and charcuterie plate. This was our first introduction to the ‘taglieri’ of Southern Italy…
Since the museum was open until 7:30, we ordered another round of wine and took our time enjoying the plate (and waiting out the rain). The place was actually kind of cool with an integrated library/bookstore, artifacts and art gallery.
Then it was time to tackle our (my) #1 Must Do in Napoli: The National Archaeological Museum.
There is no doubt about it, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli houses a world-class collection of antiquities. The works in display are comprised by the Farnese Collection (with multiple sub-collections) and objects obtained from the Pompeii and Herculaneum excavations.
From the get-go I had decided, mostly for C’s sake, to bypass the Egyptian Collection as he was dangerously close to being museumed-out after our two weeks in Rome. It hurt my soul, but there is no way one can see everything.
We headed directly to the Antiquities section. What a wonderful array of beauty! The Farnese Bull is a tour-de-force on sculptural composition. Venus’ Buttocks were as perfect as they had been touted to be.
And then Farnese Hercules…Wow!
Did you know that during the Renaissance it was very popular among the ultra-rich to showcase ‘Ancient’ Greek and Roman sculpture in their palaces but it was not ‘fashionable’ for the pieces to be in less than perfect state? Renowned sculptors were commissioned to restore the statues, something which many times required a lot of imagination and the end result had nothing to do with the original pose.
This is how the Hercules wound up having a ‘new’ legs sculpted by Michelangelo that were so beautiful that when the original ones were found a few years later, the Farnese decided to keep the new addition. The original leg is also in the museum and shown close by. It was a good call.
The Pompeii mosaics and frescoes are amazing. And a lot. More than the average person will manage to keep interest for more than an hour. Though the contents of the Secret Cabinet, filled with the erotica of Pompeii provides a very interesting diversion for a bit. I guess that not much has changed in human sexuality over the last couple of millenniums.
The Ercolano Runners made the trip to the other wing of the second floor worth it even if I was getting tired myself. C just found a comfortable spot on the Sundial Room and waited for me to be done.
When everything was said and done, we ‘only’ spent about 3 hours in the museum. So if anyone is wondering if this is really doable as a daytrip from Rome, my answer would be, yes, it is very well possible. Would it still be OK to include a visit to Pompeii on the same trip like some people do? Maybe, though I have my doubts as to whether this would be really enjoyable or not (unless you have the stamina of a 20-yr old high performance athlete, then absolutely go for it).
Since I’m an avid (compulsive) planner (though I tend to slack off on execution), I had penciled into The Plan a tour with Napoli Soterranea for the late afternoon in case we would have enough time after the museum. So yes, time we had, but enthusiasm…. Nope. We were beat by now. Young, high performance athletes were are NOT.
It was time plunk down somewhere, have a drink and discuss what the alternatives for dinner were. C said he was not really in the mood to give the Neapolitan Pizza (what!?!?!), so all my careful restaurant research was instantly rendered useless.
We had two Aperol Spritzes while debating what and where we would eat. The first round in a ‘local’ bar for 3 euro and the second one in the spaccanapoli for 5 Euro (snacks included).
But it was time to spin the TA wheel of fortune.
Should we talk a bit about TA and restaurant recs? Because this is one of my pet peeves. Why is the #1 place to EAT in mostly Italian cities, towns, villages, or cluster of houses is always a gelato place? I mean, really? I mean, fine, we all want to know about great gelato, but don’t tag the gelateria as ‘great for dinner’. And yes, I know, everyone has had ice cream for dinner at least once in their lives…
Of course, the #2 will be a sandwich/wrap or take out place. But I know that by now, so skip to #3, and maybe, just maybe, it will be a ‘real’ food place; but outrageously expensive. So I usually start looking at around #5 place showing on the ‘near me’ filter.
And before I continue, I want to state that Chowhound was not particularly useful for this trip, and specifically not useful for anything outside Rome.
And that was how we wound up at Locanda del Cerriglio, #51 out of 2,429 restaurants in Naples and a place I would not have found on my own in a million years as it is hidden away in the back of a well-lit alley. I might not even walked all the way down the alley to the door if I had been dining solo. But the truth is we had a really great dinner.
The place is cozy and the service was excellent. Patrons were mostly locals and a two small parties of Italian tourists which were brought in by what seemed to be private guides.
We had the polpette di polpo (octopus ‘meatballs’) as an appetizer after we were warned that the Risotto alla Pescatora for two that we ordered would take a while. This was my first taste of this typical southern Italian item, I can only compare these polpetti to a small, round crabcake but with the bolder taste of octopus. Loved them! I had more during the trip but none were as good as the ones I had at Locanda del Cerriglio.
The risotto was worth the wait, which was not so long after all. C would have preferred the rice grains cooked a little more but he likes his risotto and pastas on the mushy side. For me the texture was perfect and it was loaded with delicious seafood. I would not hesitate to go back to this restaurant.
Since we had arrived walking through some narrow alleys, C was a bit hesitant about the way to walk back to the hotel given Naples ‘reputation’ but we headed towards the bigger streets and it was perfectly fine with lots of people up and around on a Friday evening. We found ourselves by the beautifully illuminated and very lively Piazza del Gesú Nuovo but we were too tired to hang around. Another 5 minutes and we were back at the hotel, and another 5 after that we were fast asleep.
Day #1 in Napoli was over and we did not hate it.
Notes from: Friday, April 29th