Napoli…Where I Left My Heart.
Living for few months in Napoli, the third largest and most underrated city in Italy was one of the highlights of my European experience. Napoli certainly reminded me of Beirut. Its surprisingly authentic, traditional, happy and dynamic charm stole a piece of my heart…
When I first told my friends and relatives I was going to live there, they all reacted negatively, although I’m Lebanese and have seen worse than this. For most people, Napoli is … Ugly, dirty, crowded, loud, chaotic, dangerous, poor, corrupted, CITY OF THE CAMORRA (Neapolitan mafia)… Even for the Italians ‒ mainly those coming from the North ‒ it was an undervalued, inferior city.
Once I arrived to Napoli, the first thing that they told me ‒ which I totally agree on ‒ was: “In Naples you cry two times, when you arrive and when you leave. (It’s because of the surprising chaos you will discover and the misadventures you will face as soon as you arrive to the city, and when you leave because you realize it’s a BEAUTIFUL CHAOS). Just like Lebanon.
Napoli is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, initially known as Partenope from the Greek Periods. All over the city we can notice the settlement of several civilizations through the centuries.
Who knew that in the 18th Century, Napoli was the third emerging city in Europe after London and Paris? The Historic center can testify the cultural and wealth periods of this major port city. Additionally, the crèche was created in Napoli. The city is also known for the Pulcinella character from Comedia dell’Arte; it’s one of the most emblematic masks of Neapolitans.
Is Napoli dangerous and dirty? It certainly is, as dangerous as any other Big Western Metropolitan City… Pickpockets are everywhere. As for the “dirty” part, this city has improved a lot throughout the years. I can assure you nothing is comparable to the Lebanese garbage crisis ;). I can still remember hearing the sound of the garbage trucks cleaning the streets of Napoli every night at 3 am. I can also guarantee you will be seeing lots of graffiti, which was very appealing to me in some cases. Moreover, Neapolitan people make their own driving chaotic rules, exactly like in Lebanon.
Does that keep us from loving Lebanon? So is the case for Neapolitans.
Napoli is a city that extremely suffered during World War II ‒ we can still see the damage through traces of bombardment on some buildings in the city center. It is the perfect example of a city in the phase of reconstruction and recovery. This is mostly noticeable in the Subway, where each and every station is a different piece of art ‒ for me at least ‒ noting that they are always extremely clean. No wonder the Toledo Metro Station was voted one of the best in the world!
Even though Napoli has amazing metro stations, I personally preferred wandering in the traditional narrow streets, characterized by authentic facades that remind us of many historical periods as well as the flaunting laundry from both sides of balconies. I also enjoyed listening to the entertaining street musicians and admiring the city’s countless ancient monuments, from Piazze, to churches, to castles…
Between visiting the underground Greek remains and the majestic Bourbon Castles, sailing to one of the nearby Islands (Capri, Ischia, Procida… Capri is the most touristic but that doesn’t mean it’s the best), taking the train to visit the famous ancient cities of Herculano and Pompeii, hiking up to the majestic Vesuvio, or discovering the hidden beaches of the Costiera Amalfitana (only two hours away from Napoli) etc…, you will always be entertained with endless, limitless activities… It is the reason why you can never get bored while visiting or living in this colorful city.
There are some breathtaking sceneries that I can never get out of my head, like the sceneries from Possillipo (the wealthiest part of Naples), the panoramic view of Naples from Castel San Elmo of the Aragons (don’t miss taking the traditional San Martino stairs on your way back to the city center instead of the funicular), or watching the sunset from the Lungomare di Margellina or Borgo Marinari.
This city never sleeps ‒ day and night ‒ these people love life and they show it! From the popular food markets with VERY cheap sea food, to the Toledo and Chiaia shopping streets, or even the San Pasquale bar streets, where you can have very good “Aperitivo”, and the crowded multicultural Piazza Bellini, Napoli is alive 24/7. Good vibes are everywhere, in the streets, at bars, cafés and restaurants.
Food is part and parcel of Napoli; it makes them really proud of themselves. While walking along the streets of Spaccanapoli or Via Tribunali, in the heart of the city center, you can’t help but notice ‒ and stop by EVERYTIME ‒ the traditional stores to buy fresh Mozzarella di Bufala ‒ for only €3 ‒, Prosciutto, dried tomato or many other savory products and endless choices of pasta.
From the delicious street foods to the incomparable one of a kind Pizza, everything has its own special taste ‒ the thought of it is mouthwatering. The best part, is that the price range of a pizza in the “Pizza Capital of the WORLD”, goes from €3 to €8 in the best renowned Pizzerie of the old city center such as “Sorbillo”, “Da Michele”, “Starita a materdei”, and many many others…. Ps: Waiting in line for at least 15 minutes to get a table in these restaurants was never a problem, neither for me nor for any of my other “pizza pals”. I also highly recommend the sea food restaurants of authentic Borgo Marinari, with a daily variety of fresh fish coming straight from the sea.
Another characteristic of Napoli is the huge number of Cafés/Bars that sell all types of local traditional pastries; among them the “Zeppola”, which is a delicious pastry made only on Saint Joseph’s Day, the “Sfogliatella”, a shell-shaped stuffed pastry, The “Babà”, also one of the Neapolitans’ favorite specialties which is traditionally soaked with Rum or Limoncello liquor, or one of my favorites, the “Graffa” which is some kind of a huge sweet potato donut covered with sugar. Not to forget the variety of tasty coffees you can find there, since Italy is known worldwide for this.
As for Neapolitans, they have a lot of particularities that distinguish them from other Italians. The first one is that they have a Neapolitan dialect which is nothing like Italian ‒ it is very hard to understand even if you speak Italian. Since most Neapolitans speak only their dialect or Italian, it allowed me to learn the language faster. They are extremely loud and gesticulate a lot. They are mad about football, especially when it comes to Diego Maradona who has his own museum, and their own team the S.S.C Napoli.
Neapolitans LOVE breaks and coffee times, sometimes coffee breaks can go up to 5 times a day or more! Never refuse an invitation for coffee; it is considered rude. They are very generous, and welcoming people. About timing, Neapolitans are never on time, they are always VERY late, and it can go up to 1 hour or more.
“Ciao Bella” is an expression that women hear more than 10 times a day, and southern Italian men are in fact as charismatic and charming as we see them on TV.
Neapolitans just love Napoli as much as they hate it, which reminds me a lot of how the Lebanese feel about Lebanon. As John Turturro once said: “There are places that you go to, and once is enough. And then there is Napoli”.