Travel Tales

Exploring Naples

When I arrived alone in Italy, the plan was to stay for a few days in Naples before meeting H in Praiano for the second part of the trip. H had a business trip in Norway, so I thought I’d come to Naples alone and enjoy the city on my own. I’d missed my solo-traveling days, and H was never keen on big cities anyway. It would be perfect, I thought.

But when I got off the airport shuttle just across Garibaldi station, I instantly felt uneasy.

This part of Naples felt familiar and uncomfortable, and within seconds, I figured out why: it looked, smelled, and felt like Jakarta. It looked dense and gritty, with the gas exhaust and sewer stench in the air. The streets were littered and the walls were covered in graffiti. My paranoia made it feel like there were people looking at me, knowing I wasn’t a local and therefore, an easy target. I’d read about the rampant pickpocket issue in Naples, another thing that reminded me of Jakarta. These things sent me to a total panic as I tried to find my hotel, with a phone in my hand. 

As soon as I’d checked in, I started looking for another place to stay in other cities. I knew I wouldn’t enjoy staying in Naples alone, and I finally found a perfect place to stay in Sorrento. I booked it immediately and moved to Sorrento the next day.

But I was still curious about Naples, and ashamed as well that I left a place just because it wasn’t comfortable. I also had a feeling that I’d regret missing Naples completely, so in the next 2 days, while staying in Sorrento, I made day trips to Naples.

It was the right decision.

Naples was beautiful, vibrant, and culturally rich. Two days were not enough to explore everything, but I’m glad I came back, even for just day trips. My first impression of Naples was shaped mainly by what I saw around the central station, which was, sadly, not the prettiest. But in the end, I felt sad that I didn’t have more days to explore and see more of Naples.

So here are some of my favorite bits from my (very short) trip to Naples, and what I remember from each place.

Certosa e Museo di San Martino

The hike to this monastery was arduous. I started on the sea level (right from Molo Beverello, the port), walked through Piazza Municipio, Via Toledo, and Quartieri Spagnoli, and up the hill of Vomero. Walking away from the center, it gradually became more and more peaceful, until I saw the monastery before my eyes.

The view from here took my breath away. I could see the Naples cathedral and the port, with Vesuvius in the background.

The monastery complex, designed in Baroque style, consists of 2 churches, 4 chapels, 3 cloisters, a hanging garden, and hundreds of rooms. I couldn’t not marvel every time I went inside a church or chapel in Italy — everything was elaborate, intricate, and extravagant. This monastery was no exception.

Napoli Sotterranea

Also known as the Naples underground tour. I have to say, this tour was the most intriguing and interesting part of my Naples trip. We explored the underground tunnels which stretch underneath the city for miles and miles. Originally built by the Greeks for the water system, it was later taken over by the Romans. Long after that, the modern civilization only used it as a place to dump trash, until the WW II when they had to look for shelters as Naples was heavily bombed. They rediscovered the tunnels and used it as underground shelters (but not before burying the trash by adding cement on top of it).

The tour brought us through narrow, damp, and dark tunnels (word of caution: if you’re claustrophobic, probably best to skip this tour). We saw, among many things, ancient cisterns, wells that were built close churches above us, the word ‘AIUTO’ (means ‘help’ in Italian) on the stone wall which was supposedly carved by the growingly desperate refugees.

But the highlight for me was the last part of the tour, where the guide told us about a recent discovery of Roman theater ruins that lie just under Naples historic center. It was amazing to see how the archeologists worked until they finally found these Roman ruins, and even more mindblowing to see that it just lies there, under people’s houses in the very heart of Naples. We saw what used to be the changing room for the performers and summa cavea, the highest level of audience seat in a Roman theater.

Naples National Archaeological Museum

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Roman artifacts here (most of them were found in Pompeii, Herculaneum, or Stabia), but the visit itself wasn’t so great. It was unfortunate that some halls were closed for visitors due to lack of staff that day (it was Sunday), and many of the objects were on loan for other museums. To make it even more frustrating, the structure and layout were confusing, and the labels were not clear, making it incredibly difficult to navigate. After a while, I just gave up and stopped trying.

But it’s still worth a visit, and I would recommend visiting this museum after you’ve visited Pompeii and/or Herculaneum. The artifacts were labeled with the places they were found (sometimes as detailed as the house), so it would be great to imagine each in its place in Pompeii or Herculaneum.

I’m ashamed to have left Naples so quickly, but glad that I gave it a chance.

Naples, Napoli, Neapolis, Neapel. However you call it, this is the city that needs a little time for you to warm up to it. And when you do, you’ll be amazed at how much Naples has to offer. 

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