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......


Anonymous said...

About a year from now, you're going to look at that traffic video and be like, "Why did I think that was so crazy? It makes perfect sense." Trust me on that one.

Oh, and olive oil? Did you see that Greek Wedding movie, where the family is obsessed with Windex and use it on everything? That's olive oil in Italy. They use it as their low fat healthy choice in all foods. ALL foods. And they grease squeaky doors with it. And drizzle it over everything.

Get ready for a roller coaster ride in Napoli! When I get back to Rome I will come and kidnap you and bring you back to "civilization."

DominiqueH said...

I will gladly take kindly to any kidnapping from napoli...especially on days of mass trash burnings.....