Monday, September 15, 2008

Oh they Say Back in Ol' Napoli.....

Fighting traffic and streets still made of cobblestone is enough to rattle anyone's teeth. When my husband and I decided to drag the kids into Downtown Naples for some history and people watching, we knew it would be crazy and hectic but we were really underestimating what was in store. While flipping through one of our many, many "Travel Italy" books, we discovered that downtown alone there were three different castles, a ton of museums, and more stuff to see than one could possible accomplish in one day. We hit the road and landed downtown approximately 20 minutes later. Now, I must interject here on just how hectic Italian driving in major cities actually is. Anyone who has ever driven in a major European country knows something or two about the crazy merging practices, the non-compliance with road signs or traffic signals, and the crazy bastards who just outright cut in front of you......or is that just Naples? Throw in insane mopeds, window washers who catapult themselves at your car, and the bus drivers who don't break, EVER, yes it can raise your blood pressure. Did I mention that some streets downtown are still made of cobblestone from around the 1600's? Yeah, your car's radiator and shocks will begin to hate you. Here you can see some of the chaos and the ratio of mopeds to cars in Naples:

(I grabbed my camera when we parked and filmed this)

When we officially landed in the middle of the city, we decided to park our car along a sea wall. There we were able to walk along the water and enjoy the view of sail boats drifting dreamily along the water. It felt like it was seeing a movie turn into reality in front of my eyes. The boats, the water, the atmosphere.....the men walking around in speedos without shame.......yeah, we were in Europe.
While we walked, we watched people dive into the water from the sea wall while men fishing looked on cooly from their own spots on the rocks. Signs everywhere pointed out that, for a small fee (approx. 10 euro a person) you could take a quick tour of the bay in one of the many mini boats lined up at make shift docks along the sea wall. Although the thought of being able to drift on the ocean and see the sights from the water sounded tempting.....10 euro a person times 4 was a bit steep. Thankfully, our children forgave us quickly when we pointed to the castle that was now visible from where we now stood. Our oldest daughter, Ms. A, was excited at being able to see "a for real castle with real princesses and Queens." I asked, "what about the Kings?" She shook her head and said, "Nahhhh, just princesses and Queens live there."

Ahhhh, so young and already a feminist......

Looming over the small part of the bay on which we stood, was Castle dell'Ovo. (The Egg Castle) This castle has its own inlet and a road that takes you onto the ocean. Walking up the road, we passed more sunbathers and when we got up to the castle itself, we realized that there were people were swimming in what was once the castles moat and landing. Kinda cool, you know, swimming in history....(yeah, i came up with that all on my own.)

The whole time we walked towards the entrance to the castle our dear little girls begged to be let in the water. It was about 90 degrees outside that day, but in no way was I about to let my little girls go tredging through that water. It was filthy! Trash, debris, sand muck, and seaweed all drifted freely in that water among those sunbathers. As well as the cigarette butts that some people carelessly tossed in the water. Save your surroundings people!! (alright, rant is done)

Entering the castle, we immediately began looking for the rooms to see how history had been preserved. All along the walls leading up to reception, were poster boards describing the many leaders who had once lived within its walls, the way it was used in strategic positions during battles, the religious temples that once stood there before it was a castle, and about the excavations currently going on. When we got to the reception area, we were handed an iPod touch and told that the poster boards were it. No open rooms, no exhibits, 'but there was a lovely view from the top of the castle'.....whaaaaaaaat? But, on a positive side, there was a great view. The iPod touch they gave us explained in even more detail (in Italian) the history of the castle and its surroundings. It aslo had some pretty nifty music from Naples in the '30s. Here's me and my gals at the top of Castle Dell'Ouvo:

(note to self: Burn red tube top)

(Our Posing petunias)

After going through a roomless castle (well, a closed room castle) we decided to head back into town to see some more sites. I handed over the iPod to the receptionist, and we departed through the exit. 10 minutes and some cranky and hungry kiddos later, we found a pizzeria right smack dab in the middle of a large piazza that straddled not one, but five mojor historical buildings. Palazzo Reale, which holds the Museo del Palazzo Reale (a collection of museum pieces from when the Museo was actually a set of royal apartments),

(The Museo: In the niches of the museum are 8 of the most important Kings of Naples)

Biblioteca Nazionale (a treasure trove of ancient papyruses from Herculaneum),
and the Chiesa di San Francesco di Paola (a church built in 1817 by Ferdinand the 1st) . Next to this Palazzo is the beautiful Teatro San Carlo (an opera house built in 1737 and still in use today), and the Galleria Umberto (a large shopping gallery built to look like a magnificent glass atrium, which was opened in 1900).

The family stopped and ate what can only be described as 'ginormous' pieces of Neapolitan pizza, and walked around the Palazzo. We admired the statues of the kings, the grandeur of the buildings, and reveled in the history of everything around us. When we came to the entrance of the Galleria Umberto, the family did a collective gasp. It was as if you were walking into the 19th century, and doing it in style. The Galleria itself is a shopping mall filled with boutiques, major world famous fashion stores (Coach, Gucci, Sephora) and small cafes serving espresso and capuccinos. The building itself is what was the draw, not the overpriced jeans or handbags. Imagine shopping in a place that looked like this:

(Everything in dark grey stone in the upper floors used to be luxury apartments when the galleria first opened. Now? Storage rooms and empty spaces.)

It was hard to concentrate on anything but the awesome ceiling and the architecture of our surroundings, not to mention the floors! They were mosiac tile with the astrological signs placed directly under the main Atrium window in the center of the Galleria. Simply amazing, but sadly I have no proof of it as the camera ate my exposure....(bad camera!)

Moving on down the street a bit, we decided to stop in at yet another pizzeria. (what can I say my kids have appetites!) This pizzeria was by far, my kids favorite. They had a pizza called "American Hot Dogs and Fries." And, funny enough, that's exactly what it was. A pizza topped with hot dogs and french fries:

(So much for the idea that not every country thinks Americans thrive on greasy, unhealthy food! But there is good news on the hot dog pizza.....we were told only olive oil was used to deep fry the fries, and coat the pizza crust, oh! and as a topping on top of the cheese. Oh goodie! It's a good cholesterol heart attack! Whew! Don't want to die in another country without the local oil congealed in my aortic valves as much as possible.....)

In just the central area we were located (Palazzo Reale) we were able to walk around and see even more than we thought would be possible in one day. The side-streets alone were great to gawk at.

Mini cars parked so close they almost share bumpers, people strolling around yelling up at others leaning over the railings of their balconies and smoking, laundry hanging from nearly every clothesline available, and mopeds. Every street was the same with little variations in each. One street would be strictly moped central, and others would be the land of laundry hanging out to dry.

We continued to walk past life in the deep city of Naples, noticing that people who lived here rarely got a break from the noise of car horns, people shouting, traffic, and the steady stream of mopeds. Why do I keep mentioning the mopeds?


After my moped rage had passed, we found the Castle Nuovo. A slightly smaller castle than the 1st we had visited, we were able to see it from the outside. The day we went, it was closed. (I'm starting to think we have no luck with castles....)

Although the castle wasn't open, to the side of the castle along a small path were a few "purse vendors." Basically, a guy who throws down a sheet or blanket with an array of somewhat good quality knock-off handbags and belts. We saw Gucci, Prada, Chanel, Fendi, and Louis Vuitton. Although it would have been great to have a Louis Vuitton bag that had XL printed on it instead of LV......I passed.

After all the walking around, lookie-looing, eating, people watching, and more eating, the family decided to call it a day. We headed back to the car exhausted but excited from seeing the many different places, buildings, and mopeds...... So our count at the end of the day came to this:

Number of Castles: 2 (well, 1 1/2 seeing as we only stood outside the 2nd, but at least we saw it!)

Number of Pizza eaten: 2 slices each! (compared to American pizza, that's a looooooooot!)

Number of Historical Sights: Approx. 12. (Driving into Naples we also passed some pretty ancient buildings and arches)

Number of mopeds: Still counting......

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Market day In Gricignano

I have a landlady, and friend, named Ana. She lives upstairs from my family and is always available for any of my questions, whether they be small or slightly pantomimed (She speaks no english, and I'm still in my early stages of Italian.) Ana has taken in my family as another branch on the tree of her own. With the dollar to euro conversion making our life a little interesting, I asked Ana where the best places to buy good quality fruit and vegetables for cheap were. She smiled and told me to wait till Thursday. When Thursday did come, I was summoned to the door bright and early at 8:30 by the doorbell. There Ana stood, ready to leave. "Vieni Dominique. Le Mercato!" (Come Dominique, the market!) I grabbed my purse and followed her to her Panda and climbed in. Down the road from where we lived was an entire market that had set up in the matter of hours.
The place was a maze of tables and tents, people, merchandise, smells, and a colorful array of voices shouting to the passing customers. No loudspeakers are allowed. Vendors must shout to get your attention, and yell over the other vendors. It gets heated, but usually ends in a laugh from the vendors and customers. Stalls are set up so that merchandise of the same kind are next to one another. Clothes down one row of tables, food and produce vendors down another.
With Ana leading the way, she headed straight for the produce vendors. She knew all of them by their first names, and even scolded a few for attempting to charge a little more than usual. I told Ana that I was a little worried because I only had 8 Euro in my purse. She snickered and waved her hand at me, as in, "Don't worry!" And pointed at the signs lining the table. ".80 euro 1 kilo" "4= 1 Euro" and so on. When I realized that it was extremely cheap she smiled and said, "Capito?" (understand?) I nodded and we shopped.

For the equivalent of $4 (2.50 Euro) I bought 1 kilo (2 pounds) of plum tomatoes, 1 kilo of fresh green beans, and 5 bell peppers ranging in colors from green to red.
Highly impressed at the quality and amount that I got, I asked Ana what was next. She crooked her finger at me and took me across the way to the cheese and Salami vendor. Who didn't hesitate to smile for the camera.
After the Cheese Vendor (where Ana and I both passed on buying anything due to the lack of need for it) we moved on to the vendor next to him. The Olive Vendor.

In America, Olives are pretty costly. A pound will easily set you back about $10. Here that would be highway robbery. Olives are sold from gigantic buckets filled with all flavors, colors, varieties, and preference. Some are even marinated in garlic with hot pepper flakes for those more adventurous. For around 2 Euro, you can easily walk away with an entire pound. Which is exactly what Ana happily did.

Next, Ana decided that for her family's dinner she would make some fresh seafood (A staple in Neapolitan cooking). We perused the selection on a nearby table, but due to my squimishness on having to descale, debone, and gut my own fish.....I passed. Prawns are sold whole, as well as anchovies. The buckets that got my attention though were not the ones filled with finned things...

The buckets lining the table we were at held Octupi, baby octupi, whole squid, fresh mussels, and clams. I opted to buy 1 kilo of the mussels or 'Cozze' as they are called in Italy.

1 Kilo cost me only 2.50 euro, and I already had the makings of a great dinner in my shopping bags. With 3 euro still left in my pocket we walked around for a few more minutes, looked at fruit from a few other vendors, and I was asked many many times to take pictures of the vendors. Soon shouts of vendors prices turned into shouts for me to come take their photos.....

(Salami and Cheese Vendor):

Fruit Vendor:

Once Ana decided that she had purchased enough from the market, she decided that our next stop should be the Macelleria (Butcher). I nodded, but I was quite sure that 3 Euro wouldn't really purchase enough to make a meal out of. Especially when I'd seen meat at the local supermarkets reach upwards of 5 euro for a pound of meat and not a kilo. When we pulled up outside the shop, Ana quickly got out of the car and walked through the plastic beaded curtain (no doubt to keep the flies out) at the entrance of the shop.

Once inside, she pulled a number from the que and waited and watched as other Italian ladies told the three hardworking butchers inside their orders. Some of them were pretty specific about the cuts of meat, and Ana stood behind them curiously watching them, and then from time to time would sigh exasperated at their words. When Ana's number was called, she charged to the display case and looked at her choices....

I for one, have never been big on ordering straight from the butcher at the meat department in Grocery stores, or even gone to a specialty butcher. Here it's common place to order from the butcher rather than go to the Supermercato where the price can be doubled and sometimes tripled. Ana pointed out the different cuts of beef in the display case and ordered her family a set of thinly sliced steaks.
(American steaks are something of an oddity to Neapolitans. Meat is to be enjoyed, not gorged on! At least that's what she tells me...) I'll admit after standing in there, I could see why you would opt for the butcher store rather than the supermarket.

The butcher knew Ana by name, and even asked if she wanted her "Usual". Likewise, she called him by his first name, which is Vittorio, and even had him pose for me:By the time my number had been called, I asked about the abundant cuts of chicken in the display case. Vittorio told me in his best english that an entire hind leg section, including some of the chest was only 2.80 Euro. Perfecto! I asked him to wrap one up for me, and when we left he asked me to come back again, which I will most definitely do.
On the way home Ana asked me how I enjoyed myself. I began to tell her that in no way would I have ever been able to buy as much as I had for so little in the states. The chicken would have been around $7, the vegetables an easy $10 and the seafood? Who knows! So for the amount of 8 Euro I was able to buy a week's worth of vegetables, and two night's worth of meat and seafood. Not to mention the fun time I had just taking pictures and experiencing the culture. Next week I'll be going back to see what I can get for another 8 Euro...

Our New Home

The adventure has begun! In April of this year, my family and I moved to Naples, Italy. So far we have seen some amazing sites, dealt with major culture shocks, and adjusted our palates accordingly. I'm not going to lie, sometimes we've been left completely perplexed over Italian lifestyle and traditions. Around where we live in Naples, the local population is in the habit of shooting off fireworks for everything, at all hours of the day and night. It could be 10am and you will hear fireworks exploding nearby. During religious festivals, 6am on Sundays seem to be the normal showtime. Yeah, sleeping in on Sundays during peak holiday seasons just doesn't happen around here.....
In the four months since moving here, we have traveled North and South. We have seen Florence, Pisa, Amalfi, Sorrento, Naples, Umbria, Perugia, and Paestum. This isn't just a blog about a family traveling around Italy, this is a blog that shows you how we traveled around Italy and beyond, and how we live the Italian lifestyle. With a 5 and 3 year old, my husband and I have had to learn through trial and error on how to keep kids interested in history, travel, and long car rides.
I hope that you enjoy reading about our family adventures, travels, and learning curves!