DAY 1: EDINBURGH TO NAPLES
(Next days after Naples here:EXPLORING SOUTHERN ITALY – Puglia PUGLIA CONTINUED: alberobello, locorotondo, martina francA OTRANTO, LECCE AND MATERA
I love Italy – love the hearing the language, love its beautiful cities and art, its churches and rolling, cypress – dotted landscapes. Love it’s gorgeous lakes and green mountains.Last Sept 2022, fleeing awful weather in the French Alps, we ventured for the first time to Lake Maggiore (having been to Como and Garda in previous years) and it was a highlight of the whole trip. So – I was longing to go back to Italy when a week in early March presented itself. Puglia was somewhere we’d never ventured and it appealed, just as off the beaten track places increasingly do these days. It was the new Tuscany, I’d read, with Lecce the Florence of the South! And a bit of heat in early Spring too, to warm our cold Northern bones. Perfect!
I was prepared for this trip NOT to be about great landscapes (always a huge draw for me) but beautiful old towns and cities of pale golden stone set against an aquamarine sea. We deliberately kept 2 nights free at the end of the trip just to see how we felt about exploring the Cilento/Calabrian coast while leaving the option of heading back to a place of great memories – the stunning Amalfi Coast.There were so many places available to book at short notice, it didn’t feel like a risky strategy.
The excitement actually began as we sat on the EasyJet flight, still on the tarmac in Edinburgh, when two Italian passengers were tossed off the plane, escorted by the Police, after much gesturing and argument! Apparently they had been very abusive to one of the Edinburgh check in staff who’d arrived on the plane in tears. Less exciting was a now 40 min delay in take off!
A First Evening in Naples
Arrived Naples airport 8pm. Had always given the city a wide berth on previous trips fearing the potential crime, grime and general chaos but I really felt we should see its many sights.
Good start when we used a taxi (unheard of for us) to get to our hotel in the Santa Lucia seaside neighbourhood. But before that, minor trauma when no taxi seemed prepared to agree the 25 euros fixed fee we’d been told applied to our journey. Were we mispronouncing our well- rehearsed ‘tariffa predeterminata’ request? Nah…they’d seen two semi lost looking tourists arriving late off a flight and were chancing their arms! God knows what the cost would be ‘on the meeterrr, on the meeterrr’ as they suggested. Minutes later, unable to locate the public bus and wandering aimlessly about, the head honcho taxi guy waved us over and told one of his minions to take us to Eurostar Hotel Excelsior for the fixed amount. Result! He obviously recognised he was up against two stubborn, tight fisted Scots gits.
The traffic was as horrific as only Naples traffic can be. All they say about it is true. Our driver was colour blind – he went through every red light with gay abandon. Driving with one hand while on his phone, he drove dangerously fast down the wrong side of the road on several occasions while traffic headed equally speedily in our direction. We narrowly missed sending two people on a pedestrian crossing into the next world. A white knuckle ride! At the hotel in well under 20 mins.Miraculously, Chris gave him a tip (in the long distant past he once drove taxis so has a soft spot for drivers.)
Eurostar Hotel Excelsior, Lungomare
Oh the utter joy of arriving at Eurostar Hotel Excelsior! Apart from the thrill of being in one piece, it was truly a Grand Dame of a place, a haven of peace and calm and our room was stunning with a side balcony.(We hadn’t forked out for the front facing sea-view as we were arriving so late and planned an early start.)
After much needed cups of tea in the room (fresh milk in a silver jug, delivered by a liveried waiter), we set off to find somewhere to eat.Opposite the hotel was the attractive Marina, overlooked by the impressive bulk of Castel dell’ Ovo. It was a delightful little area of smart, glass-fronted restaurants , many bedecked with fairy lights.
Dinner near Castel dell’Ovo
Finally settled for a tiny traditional – looking , homely wee place, Trattoria Castel dell’ Ovo filled with chattering locals and thankfully, no mediocre pop musak blaring out.
Shared Mozzarella and Parma Ham to start…never tasted Mozzarella like it. Gorgeous stuff! Plus a reasonable Octopus Salad. Then good Spaghetti Pomodoro for me and Linguine Vongole for Chris.Needed a bit more garlic and a little sauce, I thought. Reviewed in more detail here.The place actually doesn’t get brilliant reviews overall but we enjoyed it.I reviewed it here https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g187785-d2331114-r883020161-Trattoria_Castel_Dell_Ovo-Naples_Province_of_Naples_Campania.html
Then a strolling minstrel with a guitar, who we’d seen earlier and thought we’d escaped, appeared at our side and began to sing ‘O Sole Mio.’ Bellissimo! I have to admit, I got wobbly and it brought tears to my eyes hearing that trilling guitar and familiar tune about sunshine in Italy. Plus, I could listen to Italian being spoken or sung all day, it’s such a beautiful language.
Back in Italy with a whole week ahead – Mama Mia – fantastic!
Day 1 EXPLORING NAPLES
A sunny day and pleasantly warm though supping tea on the balcony, Vesuvius was in cloud. The room had been ultra quiet at night, wasn’t even aware of traffic noise, something I’d been anxious a little about when we’d booked it. As ever, needless worry!
GRAND CAFFE GAMBERINUS
Set off early as breakfast was extra at the hotel and we didn’t fancy spending 27 Euros each for the privilege. So with luggage stored safely, it was a brisk walk up through the Santa Lucia district and in 20 mins we were standing in the grandeur of Piazza Plebiscito. San Francesco di Paolo church on one side (looking like a mix of St Peter’s and the Pantheon in Rome) and the Royal Palace (closed today) on the other. Impressive and colourful! Really nice.
I had already spied the 19th century Grand Caffe Gamberinus, the city’s oldest, at one corner of the Piazza, a must visit for me as I love these famous cafes.Plus, caffeine called.
We were its first customers and shown to a prime window table, decorated with a posy of fresh flowers. Beautiful place! It wasn’t expensive, coffee was good (as it aways seems to be in Italy) plus I couldn’t resist the healthy breakfast option of a portion of Tiramisu😊
Unfortunately, it could have done with more coffee through it, a bit bland. I am a home baking fiend and love a good cake but I don’t think Italian pastries and I, see eye to eye.
Back up Via Toledo, following a suggested walking route in our National Geographic guide which soon found us in attractive Piazza San Domenico and in front of the stunning façade of Gesu Nuovo (closed). It almost looks Art Nouveau but it is 15th century, a very unusual design and quite amazing.
(Cappella Sansevero was quickly dropped off the agenda because the tickets had sold out until afternoon but I wanted to do the tour of the Teatro San Marco, so we couldn’t commit to that time.)
Visited the beautiful Santa Chiara with fragments of frescoes by Giotto and the peaceful, beautiful Cloisters, with their majolica tiles and orange trees. A lovely space.
Finally, the Duomo itself, an ornate affair. I increasingly enjoy simpler decoration though the ceilings were beautiful But what WAS really special was sitting for a time listening to the organist practising a lovely piece of classical music.
An enjoyable saunter followed through umpteen narrow streets, some quite iconic with washing hanging on lines, weaving our way gradually towards the Museum of Archaeology.
Thankfully, we found the little place we’d been recommended for lunch – La Cantina di via Sapienza.
It looked perfect! Usually we’d skip a sit down lunch but with a long day ahead including an evening drive of 2hrs 40 to the Adriatic Coast and Trani, we thought we’d better eat something now.
After a careful crossing of the mega busy road junction, we were at the Museum and got the good news that it was also International Women’s Day so I got in free – a saving of a whopping 22 euros.Not to be sniffed at and with lunch coming up too!
The Museum was, as expected, a real stunner and with far too much of truly superb quality to take in on one shortish visit.I often find a couple of hours is enough and then I can’t really take in any more.By no means did we do it justice though we did give it a fair go.We focused on the Farnese Collection and the Greek section.Interesting to be reminded of how many many sculptures had been copied by the Romans from Greek originals! There’s nothing new in the world…
I love Roman antiquities and it was a joy to see the sculptures but I have an especial love of frescoes and mosaics; what an art form – gorgeous. Many were from the villas of Pompeii and Herculaneum…what beauty the wealthy were surrounded by…
It did feel like Naples had emptied all its schools for the day and sent everyone to the Museum, with enormous groups of teenagers shuffling round the most famous works looking mostly disinterested. That said, the souls were kept well away from the Museum’s ‘secret’ Erotic Section – I don’t think they would have looked so bored in there. Eye popping, even by today’s standards, these phallic symbols were actually for good luck, rather than an advert for brothels and sex though try telling that, I thought, to the goat depicted in one of the paintings.Fascinating stuff though – the queues were biggest here.😊
A beautiful Greek section too with gladiator armoury on display…
Tuesday is a day to avoid in Naples’s a lot of places are shut (though Wednesday seemed to have its fair share too)…I would have hated to miss this place, a definite highlight.
The Cantina di Via Sapienza was the kind of small, family run place you hope you’ll find; Nonna manning the counter, old family memorabilia on the walls…liked it immediately.
Lamb and roast potatoes for me and nicely char-grilled strips of tasty steak with rocket and parmesan for Chris. Lovely chat with the owner and his daughter who asked where we were from. Turned out, her father had played rugby against Glasgow and Chris used to play rugby there too so they shook hands and reminisced about the old days! Just one of these memorable moments that you remember as much as anything else in many ways.
In fact, we found Neapolitans to be particularly warm, friendly and down to earth. Somehow, with all the traffic chaos, I thought they’d be stressed and brusque – wrong!
It was now the turn of the Teatro San Carlo, which we passed after admiring the severe, impressive bulk of Castel Nuovo.
Unfortunately the theatre tour was in Italian as the English version was running too late for us. I took it anyway while Chris headed for a coffee, as it was the only way to see the stunning interior. I’m a fan of Puccini and other Italian Grand Opera composers so this was a must see. I wondered why each opera box had a mirror in it but this was to allow people to check when the King himself applauded as no-one was allowed to do that before then! The interior is made completely of wood which creates exquisite acoustics and the whole is painted red in the colours of Vesuvius.Beautiful.
I was so taken with the really pretty theatre cafe that I persuaded Chris to join me for more caffeine.In fact, I had my best cake of the whole trip here as it turned out – a very moist almondy/chocolate cake.Their cakes were by far the best I’d seen all day, really good looking stuff.
Time to get back to the hotel where they ordered a taxi (tariffa predeterminata!) for the trip back out to the airport and our car hire outfit – Sicily by Car.
The traffic was Naples at its congested, chaotic worst not helped by the new tram line being built and subsequent road closures. Our driver lost his temper several times, shouting at other drivers and at one point, literally pleading with one to let him through a log jam. Chris, who in the distant past did some taxi work, felt sorry for him and gave him an extra 5 euros as the journey took twice the normal time – 40 mins – and with taxis, time is money.
Overall thoughts – in terms of city appeal, I found the Neo Classical architecture in Naples a bit too austere and the streets rather narrow and dark but it was a really enjoyable day with some splendid sights and great experiences. Naples was a much warmer, friendlier, safer city than I expected with people ready to chat (we’re used to that in Glasgow where you someone will share their life story at the bus stop!) The churches were of course grand and imposing and the history is fascinating.I’m really glad we made the time for Naples this trip.
8 thoughts on “naples, puglia and the amalfi coast”
Started this as i awoke. Can’t wait to read later when Dakota naps!!!!
div>Also: i want to ch
I go on a bit, as ever Lori…too much to say! Enjoyed Naples overall, more than I expected.Some great sights.