Thursday, November 29, 2007

Do you think that the mystic poet Rumi ever visited Naples?

"There is a community of the Spirit. Join it, and feel the delight of walking in the noisy street, and being the noise." Rumi

The first time I went to Italy, I stayed in Florence, Rome and an adorable town in Tuscany called Poppi. The second time I went to Italy, I got a little braver and decided to go to southern part. I confess that I utilize Rick Steves' guidebooks as I am really past the Lonely Planet/MTV travel guide stage in my life. And, he doesn't talk much about Naples except to lay out a very long day trip there from Rome. For the brave. But, Pompei and Herculaneum beckoned. The Archaeological Museum in Naples held their treasures and a day trip just wasn't going to be enough. So after some waffle-ing, I booked a hotel for five days in Naples. I just had to go south.

We hailed a taxi to take us to our hotel from the train station. Here is an important travel tip. Do not list the rate of your hotel near the address you need to point to for the cabbie to see on your itinerary. He asked to see my itinerary again, nodded his head and then told me that it was going to cost 30 euros to get there. Now, I had looked at the hotel map and a photo from Google Earth and could tell that it really wasn't that far. I had seen the glean in his eye as he saw what I was paying for the hotel. So, I told him that I wasn't going to pay a flat rate but the rate from his meter. He argued. I countered by telling him to take us back to the station and I would take another taxi. Then, he pointed to a chart, which said he could charge 50 cents extra for suitcases. I agreed to pay for the baggage. This all transpired in Italian, I'm quite proud to say. And, I won. Sort of.

As we got closer to our hotel, traffic came to a complete standstill. We weren't moving. The meter was running. He said there was a manifestazione (not true, just typical Naples traffic, we discovered). So our cabbie suggested that our hotel wasn't that far from where we weren't moving and that we could just pay him for the 10 euros that were on the meter plus two extra for the bags and he would be on his merry way. He said the hotel was just 200 meters from where we were. So, with just a little trepidation on my part, off we went.

I don't travel lightly and we had to roll our suitcases down a narrow, cobbly street. We had enjoyed visiting the San Lorenzo street market in Florence way too many times and just had too many bags and suitcases to be trundling down a crowded, narrow street. Bags kept slipping off shoulders, people were having to step off the sidewalk to get around us and our stuff. I just knew the cabby was laughing evilly as he zipped off for his next fare.

At one point, I looked up and surveyed the streets and the words "sea of humanity" formed in my brain. I have never seen so many people on the streets in my life. I began to formulate Plan B. One, can I get out of our hotel reservation? Two, can I get a hotel reservation somewhere else in Italy this time of year? Finally, we spied our hotel. We would merely, have to cross to the middle of an island, avoiding traffic in four directions and walk in the street and around the barricades blocking off road work from our hotel. If I were to ever to use the phrase, we "girded our loins" it would be here. We prepared ourselves for the requisite break in traffic to cross into the street.

We made it! Then we entered into the courtyard of our hotel. Mercifully, there was an elevator. And a very,very kind lady not only showed us how to run the controls of the mini-elevator, she kept feeding it 10 cent coins until it worked and lifted us up crammed to the gills with us and all of our baggage to the second floor.

I confess our hotel was a bit of a splurge. Just how often does one get to stay in a beautiful, 18th century palazzo once belonging to a noble family in Naples (as seen in the photos). We did joke that we must of done something wrong as our own room must have been the maids room but at least we were settled. My niece asked me just how much time we would be spending in Naples and if we didn't like it, could we leave?

We spent the afternoon at the Archaeolgical Museum looking at fabulosity and an especially nice exhibit of ancient amber jewelry then decided to get some dinner. My niece consulted her MTV travel guide and we found the most adorable trattoria for dinner in the Spanish Quarter. Within 10 minutes of sitting down in our chairs, we were in love with Naples. I felt as if I were in a movie. No one spoke English, there was no menu in English and though I understand Italian well enough, the cook insisted that I follow him into the kitchen to see the food for myself. I saw the prepared side dishes just waiting for someone to request, and the main dishes in the refrigerator and that they spread salt on the floor. We ordered. Our waiters must have all been brothers, the sons of the owner. The oldest may have been 16, the youngest 9. There was a lot of loud and good natured bantering going around and I felt as if I was in a large, Italian family. At a table of grizzly, old men, one grandpa-looking customer slipped the 9 year old waiter, his own tip. My niece had that look on her face. That silly, happy look. Anyone who has ever been to Italy knows what I'm talking about. We cancelled Plan B.

After dinner, we strolled the Via Toledo back up to our palazzo filled with food and happiness. The streets were filled with lots of other people walking about but not really going anywhere or in a hurry. The hustle, the bustle, the energy, street vendors hawking their wares, the shoe stores, it was all so mesmerizing. We enjoyed our stroll that evening so much that we ended every night we stayed in Naples with a stroll down the Via Toledo. And, we became the noise.


Tui said...

Boy, you two stayed in an amazing place, well, let's add an 'a' and call it a palace!

Angelo & I are in a little alley just a few steps away from Via Toledo, and I absolutely LOVE the passegiata.

He grew up here, and often tells me how sad and lonely the streets of Seattle seemed to him when he first moved there. He was shocked to learn that the downtown was only for business, not for living, and that it was basically evacuated every evening.

Naples is hard to explain, but you did a wonderful job!

homebody at heart said...


I'm sorry, I missed your comment earlier. Naples made quite the impression on us and definitely got into our blood. It made us want to explore southern Italy more and I was dismayed by what most guidebooks had to say about Naples and southern Italy in general.