Just this last month, Ryanair have started flying to a few destinations from Exeter airport (hurrah, for the South West!) so, being rather thrifty, I chose my Easter getaway not on where I desired to go, but on price.
Exeter to Naples only £17.99 one way, and £30.00 on the return. Not bad. Not bad at all.
So I booked the flights in haste (I couldn’t have them going up now, could I?) and then started to research the destination. I had always fancied Rome or Tuscany, I’d never really given Naples much thought. YouTube videos, travel blogs, online advice, friends: all of them told me over and again that Naples had a bad reputation, that undoubtedly I would get mugged or pick pocketed. A mild anxiety started to develop. What had I done? No wonder flights were so cheap. I started to regret my impulsive attitude, desire to travel and my penny-pinching ways: clearly not a good combination. Or so I thought.
We arrived tired after a substantial delay. We dropped our bags at our AirBnb in a beautiful 700 year old building and my husband started to make preparations to head out into big, bad Naples. He donned the fetching beige money money-belt under his top and clipped it tight to his chest, inserted his phone into his zipped inside pocket, covered his backpack in the handy rain cover to conceal all zips and keep dodgy hands at bay. We nodded to each other to signal we were prepared and headed out wondering if we would return intact, in once piece and with all our belongings. We were vaguely reminiscent of the last two pathetic teenagers alive in a post-apocalyptic movie.
What we found was something completely different from our wild, internet frenzied imaginations.
We started to wander the labyrinth of streets, not daring to get the maps up on our phones in case they were snatched from our hands. The paper map we had wasn’t so good and we soon got lost in the maze of this ancient city. But, get lost and find yourself, as the saying goes. Our uptight feelings started to dissolved when we hit the main street of the Toledo Piazza. It was a buzz with loud, expressive people, mopeds, so many mopeds zipping skilfully through the gaps in the beeping traffic and the crowds. It was bright, fast paced and noisy. It was a complete rush. Market holders offered samples of food not caring if we bought from them or not, people smiled. There was a relaxed, nonchalant feeling in the air. We chatted to a few food vendors trying to entice us up into the little side streets and into their family run trattorias. These people were friendly, and funny and they seemed genuine. Still, better to be on the safe side and not let our guards down. You never know what might happen!
We ended up in a quaint, tiny trattoria called Pizza and Baba, fitted out in dark wood and gingham tablecloths. The margarita pizza was excellent and the service was speedy and efficient. We took a pocket sized phrasebook and found (as in all countries) that using the language goes a long way. The waiters didn’t try to rip us off or give us below standard wine because they thought we didn’t know any better. They were good fun. We wandered back to our apartment in the winding side streets of the historic quarter wondering if there would be seedy types hanging around in dark corners ready to pounce on naive tourists. It was the opposite: just old nonas hanging out of their ground floor windows enjoying their evening cigarette wishing us ‘buona sera’, and everyone else just ignored us.
And each day just got better and better. We completely fell in love the place. The locals are happy, chatty and helpful. The streets are chaos, the buildings dilapidated and there is rubbish stacked up in corners, but it all lends itself to the charm of this wild, free-spirited and crazy city. We walked for miles and miles everyday over the cobbled streets and felt like we got to know the place really well.
I consider myself quite well travelled and quite savvy: I can’t believe how worried I was about Naples after reading waaaayy too much negative stuff on the internet. Of course it is a city and there is crime, but if you have your wits about you, just like anywhere else, you will be fine. If I had read up on Naples before I had booked the flights, I honestly would have been in two minds to go or not. And that’s a real shame. I cannot recommend the place highly enough. So it looks like my impulsiveness paid off again! Nothing was stolen, we never felt threatened or ill at ease, we just felt the joy of city every day. I will definitely go back very soon, and urge everyone else to visit. It is rather remarkable.
We were there for 4 days: here’s a few things that we did.
Pros – Lots of impressive marble statues and loads of fascinating artefacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Cons – at 10 Euros each I thought it was rather expensive as it was a little on the small side compared to some museums I have been to.
Top tip – purchase one audio guide – they are loud enough to share between two.
Stay green – the museum is in walking distance of most of the city, so no need for taxis.
Pros – without a doubt the best historical site I have visited. It is huge, so loads to see and really informative. It is only 15 Euros to get in, which I think is a complete bargain. You get a free map on entry, but I’d thoroughly recommend watching a few documentaries or reading up on the place before you go as it is vast. Going with a plan of what you want you want to see prevents wandering aimlessly, and while this is nice sometimes, there is some magnificent stuff that can easily be missed. I would also recommend getting an audio-guide, we started without one and decided to go back and purchase one as there is so much information to glean, without the information it can just look like a lot of bricks and mosaics.
Cons – the queues are quite long to get in (but that is to be expected) and there is no shade so take your sun protection.
Top Tip – as soon as you get off the train there is an official looking guide ushering everyone up the stairs to buy tickets. When you get there you realise they are pushing guided tours and fast track tickets. The actual ticket booths are a short walk away on the opposite side of the road.
Stay green – there are loads of water stations around the site where you can refill your bottles. The coolest thing about them is that they are the ORIGINAL water tanks used by the people of Pompeii!! I really got my geek on about that!
The Underground Tour
Pros – this tour was really informative and interesting. The tunnels were built by the ancient Greeks, then used by the Romans, then by the people of Naples as air-raid shelters in WWII. The English tours are every two hours, and you learn how the huge tunnels were made and how they have been utilised through the centuries.
Cons – the tour is cash only, we arrived and queued for 15 mins only to find out the hard way and we had to return the next day.
Top Tip – right across the road there is another underground tour, but no where near as exciting. Don’t get mixed up between the two. The one we did is down a side street.
Stay green – you aren’t given useless paper stubs on entry, you just pay and walk in. Zero waste 🙂
Food, food and a bit more food.
Pros – we had a list of food we wanted to try, and indeed, we tried it all. As you would expect from the birthplace of the pizza, the pizza everywhere is amazing with the tangiest tomato and chewy charred base, the gelato is smooth and creamy in an array of flavours, the pasta perfectly al dente. The cakes are in abundance everywhere you turn. You can’t escape food in Naples. I was in hog heaven.
Cons – it is easy to remain vegetarian in Italy as vegetables are plentiful and feature not as vegetarian options, but as part of the menu. However, it is pretty hard to be vegan as most dishes contain some form of dairy.
Top tip – try wandering the side streets off the main tourist trail (although, even the ‘tourist’ roads aren’t that touristy) for really authentic dishes. And try ordering in Italian, even if you don’t pronounce it correctly it goes a long way and we ended up having a real good laugh with the waiters. And we were even given free limoncello!
Stay green – the street food, which is just as, if not more, delicious than the restaurants we visited, all serve food in paper or cardboard, not plastic. So you can gorge away guilt free!
Ryanair fly to Naples from Exeter (and many other UK airports) up to 3 times a week.