I don’t like writing. I have no great ambition to be an Internet travel guru. What I see in the gritty truth of Delhi’s chaos is, for many, the closest they’ll find to hell on earth. And your paradise hostel on Majorca, likewise for me.
But honour and ambition, or – to be more accurate – lack of them, are no excuse for inertia in the face of the poorly-judged city assassination contained in Bootsn’All’s single feature on Naples – succinctly entitled “Don’t Go to Naples“. Let’s set the record straight.
I suppose I have to express an interest. It began at Munich airport. I got there late in the morning, having decided to heed Bavarian weather forecasts for the coming week and postpone the homegrown Discover Bavaria tour that I had planned. I wanted warmth, not rain, and the last-minute flight to Naples offered by one of the airport’s many cheap-trip stalls seemed to fit the bill.
I had a couple of hours to kill before the flight. Sensible traveller that I am, I decided that a brief trawl of the web to see where I was going, what I might expect and where I could stay, would be wise. Picture me, hastily packed bag and still warm flight ticket in my hand. Then this: Don’t Go to Naples. What could I expect? Thievery, dirt, violence, urban mayhem and airborne chocolate chip cookies. The list went on. Litter, suicidal drivers, homicidal street vendors, feral beasts, heaps of animal poop and, to cap it all, cars beeping their horns.
I was not happy, no, but I’m not one to shy away in the face of adversity. Anyway, my bag was already checked in. I got a couple of hostel addresses and headed for the airport shop to buy a money belt, which seemed to be the most sensible thing I could do given the dangers ahead and the reckless position I had put myself in. With clammy hands, I waited for my flight to be called.
There are two ways to travel. You can sightsee or you can see. Both are relatively simple. For the former, grab a guidebook and leg it round town and country ticking off the must-sees and have-to-dos. For the latter, find a map and useful phrase book. Some places seem more suited to one form of travel or the other. Rome, with all its spectacular sights, seems an ideal sightseeing venue. Naples is a real, pumping, vibrant, decaying, living city. This is a place to feel, to see, to be.
So a nervous boy gets off a plane on a balmy Naples summer’s evening. I had decided to try and get a hotel booked in the airport arrival hall. Pay a bit more but no wandering dark streets, hopefully avoiding the drug-dealers and pimps I had been warned about. But Naples is no ordinary airport. It has no room booking service. In fact, it doesn’t have much except a shop where a charmless sales assistant will gladly take a few Euros from you for a city map.
I hopped on the Airbus, which takes you to the central Garibaldi Piazza and main train station – epicentre for aforementioned crime epic – in 20 minutes for three Euros. Stepping off at the bus station in the dark, I was taut and ready for action. I shouldn’t say I was disappointed, but I hardly got looked at. Sure, there were some shady people hanging around and a carelessly hung handbag has been whipped away at high speed, but this was no lawless anarchy. Normal precautions, folks.
Naples. What a great city. The old town is a maze of tiny streets where, round every corner, are neglected architectural wonders, fine crumbling houses, once-majestic archways, locked churches, noisy family discussions, street vendors with a thousand bargains to be made, statues that seem to have been dropped from nowhere, alters to saints, alters to virgins, dusty beautiful courtyards and faded frescoes. It’s hard to get really lost here, but have a go.
Your luck is in if, through planning or chance, you get a bed in one of the city’s hostels with kitchen facilities. The fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood (some still swimming) on offer at various stalls and markets throughout the town can’t be described. Now is the time to discover the cook within, that each of us carries.
If you can’t or don’t want to cook, you’ll find fresh breads, salamis, cheeses, and olives. You’ll be living like a king for pennies. But then, eating out is so cheap here, and Naples is the birthplace of the pizza, so go on and treat yourself to an al fresco dinner Naples style, traffic humming in the background. Spoiled for choice you will be.
Neapolitans are special. You’d be hard-pushed to generalise them as friendly, though plenty are. They preen and groom and suntan themselves all day, in preparation for the night parade – drinking in the piazzas, cruising round the city streets on mopeds or crammed in cars with windows open wide, hoping to see and be seen. Get some fashion sense, fellow travellers, but still stand in awe to these beauties.
Beyond the old city centre, but not far, there are forts and castles, palaces now turned into art galleries, spectacular views and a sky where clouds operate under their own set of assumptions. And then, of course, there’s the ocean. Huge storm-barrier boulders serve as spots for fishing, sunbathing, picnicking. The port bustles as boats come and go to local islands and all the way along the coast; so when the buzz and grit of Naples has worn you out, a trip along the stunning Amalfi coast and beyond is waiting for you.
Don’t listen to the doomsayers. You can survive Camden Town, you can thrill in Paharganj and you certainly can buzz in Naples.