Skipping the Pizza on a hop through Naples
See Naples and die, the saying goes. You can minimize the risk of this by avoiding Pizza. Firstly turning your back on the famous Neapolitan dish mean you’re saying ‘no’ to a big wedge of mostly nutrition-free carbohydrates. Secondly because avoiding Pizza in this glorious city takes some effort and a lot of walking, which is good for your health, as we all know.
On our first night in Naples, after a taxi ride from the airport(25 euros including an extra airport subsidy) we arrived at our charming Bed and Breakfast Medea in Via San Giovanni (£50 a night for a large room with a pretty terrace)feeling slightly nauseous from the erratic driving, but still hungry.
Italian friends had told me that Neopolitan pizza is in a league of its own, but I still didn’t want to eat it every day for six days.
As we walked along the dimly lit street in the dark heart of the historic centre, we dodged pizza joints of all denominations, until we felt desperate. So, surrendering wearily we took our seats in a clinical cafe and shoved down tomato, olive and anchovy-topped dough with little satisfaction.
The next morning everything in Naples looked brighter, including the sun. There is nothing The Trundler likes as much as waking in a sunny foreign city and setting off to explore with joy in her heart.
It was a fresh and shining morning and all along the Via San Giovanni, alluring bakeries sold sumptuous cakes, lavishly arrayed – mountains of profiteroles, piles of sticky rum babas and delicate pastry baskets filled with wild strawberries and cream. Naples is a decadent place on many levels and starting the morning with something so sweet and rich seemed just right.
But first we needed coffee. Taking care not to sit down for even a second, for fear of incurring extra costs, we drank strong espresso at one of a stream of basic bars, forgot to ask for water to dilute its effects and charged off into the city, heads buzzing.
Naples feels hectic in comparison to many European cities. There’s loads of traffic, much of it scooters, erratically driven. After two days, we felt exhausted from trying not to get knocked over on street corners as the Vespa drivers saved time by whizzing over the pavements.
Despite this, Naples is also extremely invigorating, particularly as there are so many majestic monuments, squares and buildings to gasp at. It’s a city of splendour, passion and life. Scappanapoli is a key street to explore, crammed with churches and fabulous buildings, palazzos and piazzas.
In the district of Toledo and Castle Nuovo, the Galleria Umberto 1 on Via San Carlo, was built as part of the Urban Renewal plan in the 19th century. It’s an impressive place where delicately contrived zodiac signs decorate the floors and light pours in through the domed glass ceiling.
From here it’s a short walk to the port area where you can pick up a ferry to the beguiling islands Capri or Ischia, as a day trip to escape the intensity of the city.
This makes an expensive day out at around 40 euros. Better, we thought, to embrace Naples, taking frequent breaks in its lovely, sunny squares. In the Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, back in Scappanapoli, a stylish cafe called Jamon dished up a divine tomato, tuna and caper salad for 9 euros, each ingredient tasting so fresh it made me feel sad, knowing how bland the UK equivalent could be. To add to our enjoyment, an accomplished busker enacted Macbeth in the square in front of us with great gusto and courage.
That night, after much traipsing through Napoli’s hectic streets, enjoying their intrinsic drama and the way Italians have so many expressive hand movements, we ate delicious sword fish risotto in the Caffe Bistrot Diaz(Via Dei Tribunali 25) while watching news of Elton John’s farewell tour on the restaurant TV. I was worried that Elton was actually saying goodbye to life entirely rather than just his global fan base as I spooned the soupy rice into my mouth. But it was not the case and I finished my dinner feeling reassured and well nourished.
To escape the chaos, we took the Funicular up to Vomero, a more upmarket neighborhood with calmer streets and splendid views of Naples and its famous bay. After a flying visit to the majestic Villa La Floridiana to see the elegant ceramics of the Duca di Martina museum, we sat in its surrounding park admiring the mini terrapins floating slowly in the pond. Then ate spicy baked spaghetti for lunch in a fast food joint called Nonna Titti(Via Tino di Camaino, 8).
After two days in Italy’s vibrant third city, we Trundled our bags through the medieval streets to Piazza Garibaldi to catch the train to Sorrento, which in January left every half an hour. It’s an easy, pleasant 50 minutes journey costing 3.90 euros and terminating in Sorrento. Remember to validate your ticket in the machine before you board the train.
We stayed at Alehouse B and B, booked through booking.com, priced £58 a night, including an amazing, filling breakfast of eggs, fruit, yoghurt, cheeses, ham, breads, great coffee and delicious cake. Efficiently run in the style of a boutique hotel with a fancy shower and big TV, it’s an excellent establishment, housed inside an apartment block, ten minutes walk from the centre and overlooking a garden filled with luscious lemon trees.
Lemons are big news in Sorrento, where the gift shops are overflowing with lemon-shaped soaps, lemon printed tea towels and bottles of Limoncello, a sickly lemon liquer, the sight of which made The Trundler uneasy as she remembered an unpleasant incident involving this bright yellow drink from many years ago.
Apart from that Sorrento is a pretty, pleasant town, a little sedate but with dreamy views across the Bay of Naples. There was less pizza in evidence here, but The Trundler and her companion forgot the rules and sat down in an uninspiring cafe to drink coffee and eat Tiramisu.
The bill for this indulgence came to 19 euros, an extortionate bill which made The Trundler long for Valencia where you can sit for hours with a similar treat and pay just two euros.
Despite this upset, Sorrento was a great base from which to explore the Amalfi Coast. This legendary stretch with its many bends and twists as you drive past enchanting bay after enchanting bay is unmisseable, although it’s far busier in the summer months than on that bright January day. For eight euros, you can buy a ticket for the hop-on-hop-off bus which leaves every hour from outside the train station(Bus company: Sita), which pleased The Trundler, with her aversion to car travel, no end.
This delightful journey was the perfect day out and an easy way to spend a few hours in the heavenly towns of Amalfi, Positano and sweet little Ravello, which is just inland but with the same majestic views of pale blue sea and lush green vegetation, of citrus trees and exquisite churches.
Back in sleepy Sorrento we ate sushi – 25 euros for a big platter – for our last Italian supper. Then caught the bus to Naples airport from the station. There’s a regular service which costs £10, which avoids going back into the centre of Naples. As I gazed out of the window at our last Neopolitan views I realized we had managed six days with just one pizza each and felt quite giddy with our achievement.