Come hell or high water we promised ourselves we would go to Naples yesterday. We have put it off for one reason or another but yesterday was the day. We had a couple of days with rain but yesterday it was just supposed to be cloudy so we headed out the door at 7am to catch the bus. We had decided not to drive the car there, based on everyone's advice and our own experience in that city on our last visit several years ago. It was a good decision. By 8:30 we were in Naples, wandering around with no stress of dealing with the crazy traffic, getting lost or looking for a parking space.
Our friend Dora, who was born in Naples and now lives with her brand-new American husband Jim in Baltimore, gave us a few suggestions on what to see and armed with her advice and a very small guide book tucked into my purse, we were all set. (Thanks, Dora, for all the great suggestions!) Everyone also told us to watch our personal belongings, don't wear any jewelry that looks expensive, don't bring Bob's cameras or anything of any value because there were lots of petty thieves lurking in the city. We were to be honest, a little spooked by all this talk and we made sure we followed their instructions. We had also heard recently about a garbage strike with garbage piled up all over the streets and how awful that was.
We experienced none of this. Granted, it was a grey and ultimately rainy day. But never did we feel insecure or threatened. Everyone was busy going about their own business; the people we spoke with were for the most part friendly and we had a great time. As it was raining anyway and would have been a problem if he had brought the cameras, Bob was still sorry he wasn't able to shoot some of the things we saw. I had my little digital Canon and we took turns sneaking shots here and there.
We started our day on Via Tribunali in the Decumano Maggiore district and visited the Duomo, its Crypt and the 4th century Baptistery with mosaics dating to that period. Below the church are the ruins from Greek, Roman and early Christian times and we explored those too. Fascinating. This is the church where the remains of St. Gennaro are kept. Twice a year, they say, the blood liquefies which is supposed to bode well for the people of Naples. If not, look out I guess.
I peeked in some of the shop windows showing all the lovely wedding dresses. The lace work and hand beading on them was amazing and it reminded me of the months before my own wedding day, going for fittings and having my dress handmade by an Italian woman in New York to my exacting specifications. Real princess stuff there! But then the traffic cleared for a moment and Bob called me to hurry while we had the opportunity and that was the end of my little nostalgic foray!
We found the little street of Via San Gregorio and all the shops that make and sell everything you could possibly need to create your own Presepe, the nativity scenes that this city is famous for. These include more than just your typical stable with the Holy Family, a few shepherds and wise men. Like the ones we saw in Sicily, these are entire villages, buildings, houses, all the little shops and artigiani, artisans and craftspeople, everything! We thought it was probably lucky that it was a rainy day as we had expected large crowds and weren't really looking forward to that aspect of it. But there weren't that many people and we were able to get a close look at all of the wares. The little (and in some cases, not so little) figures created to populate these village scenes are really incredible. Each one that is created by some of the better craftsmen is a piece of sculpture, unique, and represents the Napolitano people of the 1700 and 1800s. The costumes seem authentic down to the smallest detail. You can buy a readymade village to set in your own home with everything you need to complete your village.
We found Napoli Sotteranea, the underground ancient part of the city, which the guidebooks say were quarries where they took the tufa to build the city. We walked through parts of it that were described on the signs there as a market place as well. It was amazing down there and made us think of the Rocca Paolina in Perugia.
We located Piazza Bellini where Dora suggested we stop for a coffee, but it was much too wet out for that. We had opted to leave our umbrellas at home, fingers crossed that the weather report was correct and it would only be cloudy but we wondered about this as we noticed people getting on the bus carrying theirs, thinking they probably knew better. Around noon the rain got heavy enough for us to have to stop and buy one at a little shop as we searched for the "Accademia della Pizza" (or Sorbillo, which is what it says on the sign) where Dora suggested we eat. The city of Naples has hired pairs of young women (we didn't see any guys) as guides to the city. They have maps and carry palm pilots and speak several languages. Adorable, friendly and knowledgeable they gave us a few tips for sightseeing and helped us locate the pizzeria. We took a table upstairs, ordered two pizzas and were amazed at the size of them when they arrived! We could have shared one but I like to add a little "salame piccante" and Bob likes his Margherita as is. They were as wonderful as she said. If you go, get there early as the place was packed with people waiting outside by the time we finished.
We visited the Convento Santa Chiara and its cloister in the district of Spaccanapoli, with the famous painted majolica tile-covered columns. We were alone under the portico as the rain beat down and enjoyed the peace and solitude of this charming place. There is also a wisteria-covered pergola, now bare, but by the size of the branches, this must be truly incredible when it is in full bloom.
We walked to the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte and only afterwards realized how appropriate the name was: Top of the Mountain! In spite of the rain, we enjoyed the walk through the Sanità district but it was quite a climb to the museum. As we approached, we noticed a very long flight of steps, stopped to ask a man standing there where it was and when he pointed to the stairs I looked up and said "Mamma Mia!" and he laughed. He said there was a bus, but at just that moment it passed us by. We decided the climb wasn't that bad but as we got to the top it was evident there was more walking to be done. The rain was pouring down by now and we were really unsure which direction to turn, when a car pulled up next to us and the same man we had asked directions of, accompanied now by his wife, motioned for us to get in and he would said they would take us to the museum! Crazy maybe, but we had a good feeling from these two and got in, grateful. They were so sweet, wanted to know where we came from, told us their niece and her family lived in New York and asked about ours - and all of this conversation was completely in Italian! They brought us right to the entrance of the beautiful Park of Capodimonte. We must come back on a sunny day just to walk around this wonderful oasis of green, 300 acres with ancient trees and paths to wander.
The museum was also the royal palace of King Charles II, begun in 1738 and completed a century later. Part of the museum includes seeing some of the lavishly decorated rooms of the palace. My sister was an Art History major in college and has expressed an interest in going to this museum so we thought we would check it out first. Caravaggio's painting of Christ's flagellation alone is worth seeing, along with Parmigianino's portrait of "Antea," another favorite. We really did breeze through the museum, knowing we would return with my sister but were really on a "preview" mission.
We took a taxi down to the seafront for the bus back to Vietri. We discovered then that the next bus was at 5:30 and not 4:45 as the schedule in Vietri read when we bought our tickets. We opted to take the express bus to Salerno leaving at that moment knowing we could pick up a bus to Vietri there. It was great not having to deal with our car as we both fell fast asleep on the way home and could see the Christmas decorations glowing in the rain of Salerno's centro as we walked to catch the bus.
Once in Vietri, we stopped to say hello to our landlady in her ceramics shop and finally met her husband who, we learned, speaks English! They traded out the little TV we had for a really big one. We feel like we now have an "in home cinema" as it is quite large and should be more fun for the girls. Today they are supposed to be bringing us a bigger table for it, as it seems quite perched on the little one.
She also told us the handyman would be by today to fix the pull down window cover that had broken. It's taken 3 times (and it still is not fixed) to get this done. First, we asked our neighbor upstairs, Piero, if he could just tell our landlords about it since we didn't know what it is really called and he could explain better to his friend the situation (not knowing the landlord spoke English at this point!) Then Piero tried to fix it, and came to the conclusion that the mechanism was broken and would need to be replaced. On Monday the handyman showed up, tried to fix it and left, since he didn't have the right parts or tools or something and said he would have to come back. Yesterday afternoon the Signora came back with him (and the TV) and still it is not fixed. He finally decided it was indeed broken and now today we are expecting him to return to replace the broken part. We'll see.
We passed Luigi and Lena's "Bottega dei Sapori" as we walked down the road to our apartment and ordered some cheeses and things for Christmas. We will just pick them up Christmas Eve. They are so sweet, we really like going into this little shop where everything is always fresh and good.
Today the sun is shining. It figures! We are taking advantage of it and doing some laundry and spiffing up the place for my sister and nieces who arrive tomorrow night, as much as is possible! The weather report from Denver predicts a blizzard for later today so we are hoping this doesn't keep their flight from taking off. I don't really expect to do much blogging while they are here so I'll just say Buon Natale, Happy Hannukah and send a wish for peace, love and joy to you all now and in the year to come.
See you next year!
Rosemary and Bob
Postscript: I got several calls from my sister today. Her flight was cancelled and the airport in Denver closed due to the blizzard conditions. She will not be able to leave there now until Dec 28. I was pretty upset about it, not to mention how bad I felt for her that their trip had to be postponed. We were all so looking forward to spending Christmas together. At least she was finally able to book another flight and we will have to have a belated celebration. But celebrate we will! Just a little later than we had hoped.