Saturday, October 6, 2012

The good, the great and the grimy: 24 hours in Naples

Maintaining good neighbour relations is paramount in the Spanish Quarter if you want to avoid paying to dry your clothes at a laundromat.
Yes, Naples is a crazy busy, dirty and hectic city, but spending a day in its chaotic clutches makes you feel more alive than a year of nightly passeggiatas through any other Italian old town. There's nothing like stepping onto the road into a sea of speeding motor scooters, delivery vans and police cars with sirens blaring - it feels a bit like walking into a freezing cold ocean: you've just got to dive in; the rush will feel amazing once you've done it. This is probably the scariest thing about touring Naples (yes, parts of the city look far sketchier than most European cities, but don't judge a book by its cover etc.); but the consistently excellent pizza, OTT-friendly locals and stunning natural surrounds more than make up for the dirty streets and absence of road rules.


Awesome graffiti and paste-ups on display throughout the city's laneways
After having spent a month living an idyllic, borderline vegan lifestyle in the Puglian countryside (more posts to follow!) arriving in Naples was like going from 0 to 100km/hr in a matter of seconds - it was a psychological sugar rush, that's for sure. Not having had time to properly research our fleeting visit, we managed to stumble on some real gems which made our stay all the more memorable.


No caption needed, really: Le Due Sicilie has delicious cakes, all of which you want to eat.
Le Due Sicilie. This pasticceria at Corso Novara 1/D should be everyone's first stop when they arrive at the central train station (it's on the northern end of the piazza). Its speciality is the sfogliatelle, which hails from nearby Salerno - a clam-shaped confection with a crispy layered pastry shell, filled with flavoured ricotta. There's all manner of southern Italian cakes and pastries including canoli and rum babas. We polished off two each for breakfast and they tided us over until pizza at 3pm.

Hotel Ginevra. Yep, it's a hotel in the dodgy 'hood north of Piazza Garibaldi (and yes, the hotels are always dodgy closest to the train station). 'Hotel' is a bit of a loose term here: it occupies half a floor in a walk-up building, and it feels like somewhere you'd go to conduct an extra-marital affair in New York in the 1970s (complete with ash trays on the bed-side tables). But there's reliable wi-fi, it's much cheaper than a double room in a hostel, and you can wake to the sounds of the morning chaos on the streets below - no need to set an alarm. Plus, if you score one of the 'Ethnic'-themed rooms... well, let's just say that'll be a stay to remember.

Hosteria Toledo. There are tons of 'authentic' trattorias that locals frequent, where you can sample fresh seafood and typical Neopolitan dishes, but this one is a favourite for good reason, plus it's located a block off Toledo's main thoroughfare - these back streets are a great place to explore and escape the heat in the afternoon. Seafood primi piatti hover around 10 euros.

Pepiton Bar. Piazza San Giovanni Maggiore Pignatelli in Naple's historic centre has undergone somewhat of a clean-up in recent times; wander in there at night and the vibe is distinctly hipster-grimy rather than sketchy-grimy. Pepiton Bar has played a big role in this transformation; the bar's manager has been a mover and shaker in creating a safe and happenin' haven for young people to hang out in the heart of the old town. The staff certainly look out for their patrons; when we asked the nearest place to buy cigarettes we were escorted down a laneway to an old woman selling ciggies from her apartment - it's safe to say we wouldn't have found that on our own!


Pepiton Bar, in the piazza locals have nicknamed "Piazetta Orientale"
Perditempo. Thank goodness for this bookshop/wine bar/record shop; it singlehandedly reinstated our faith in southern Italy's arts and music scene. A big statement, perhaps, but let's just say we hadn't seen any Colin Stetson EPs on display, heard obscure noise bands on the stereo, or read any arts scene streetpress anywhere else during our month in Italy. It's on Via San Pietro a Maiella 8, a little street in the old town that occupies a bunch of other music-themed retailers. It's the kind of place to visit to find out about any underground cultural happenings in the city - the staff are friendly as can be.