We all know Mexico doesn’t have the best reputation. It’s not clean, not safe and people don’t usually want to visit, other than to a high-end resort. When I was little, my family dared cross the border on one of our trips to California. The reputation didn’t disappoint. It was dirty, children were begging my family to buy Chiclets and my very blond sister was somewhat of a spectacle.
As an adult Twenty years later, my visit to Naples brought back those feelings of Tijuana. The moment we stepped foot out of the train station it was rough. The streets were dirty. Clothes were strung out to dry across the old communist apartment buildings – and not in a charming way. As we walked, there were groups of men standing on street corners trying to sell used electronics that they had got from God knows where. Other groups of shady looking middle-aged men were just standing there talking in the middle of the day as if they had no job or work to attend to. But worst of all were the piles upon piles of garbage on every corner. It was shocking. I’d never seen anything like it. I don’t know if it was garbage pick-up day or what, but if it was, surely they could come up with a better system.
So, this was my first impression.
I had a personal draw to Naples, as my grandfather ported into this city when he was sent to Europe to fight in WWII. I imagined what the city was like during that time compared to what it was now.
My grandfather actually wrote about his arrival in his memoir :
“We arrived in Naples a couple of days before Christmas of 1944 I think and we stayed in one of Mussolini’s orphanages overnight and I remember there were kids and groups all around begging for food. I was just astounded really how little ones were running around and it was cold too. There was no snow but it was really cold and there were kids dressed poorly and I remember a fellow was eating C-rations in the school part there was a big auditorium but you couldn’t sit down you had to stand and eat off of the tables and one of them said“oh this doggone C-ration”and he threw it out the doorway and a bunch of kids dove on it. We never realized just how bad it was.”
I was excited and determined to visit his ported dock, to imagine what he saw and felt as he arrived at such a monumental time in history, but walking through the city, it seemed harder than we would have thought to find the actual port. Turns out we were only a block or so away, but our Naples cabbie who we finally broke down and hailed, conveniently forgot to mention that to us as he drove aimlessly around the city and charged us an arm and a leg for it.
We eventually made it to the port.
The intimidating Volcano Mt. Vesuvius lurked in the background of the coast disguising itself as a welcoming hill, but to those who know its history, it was almost eerie to see in real life. We spent a moment at the quiet port and continued on through the city hoping to hit the few notable land marks my travel book had lined out.
We managed a visit to the Opera House, the Castle and the Royal Palace area. The Opera House was beautiful and the Castle was easy enough to walk by and observe, as it sits right on the coast. The Royal Palace area was grand and could have been much more than it was had it not been an utter ghost town in the large square. It looked like an abandoned empire with litter sprinkled throughout. It looked to me like there had been an event held in the square and they left it that way for weeks after. Despite this, the complex was incredible and I’m sure it would have been much more exciting than it was, had there been a market or something eventful to fill the square.
Before heading back to the Godforsaken train station, we knew we had to try some pizza. Naples is know for being the inventors of pizza, but in my opinion, I would take an American pizza over a Naples one any day. To me, it is bland, too thin and not enough on top, but apparently that’s what a traditional pizza is!
In the end, Naples was not at all what I expected it would be. Traveling to Italy, I think most people expect the country as a whole to be this romantic, incredible place as portrayed in the movies. I realized not ALL parts of Italy have the romance of Tuscany or Florence, but that’s ok, because EVERY place has a story.