Naples: Pizza, Pizza, Pizza

I am sure Naples is a lovely city with a great deal to offer, not least the National Archaeological Museum which holds many of the household objects and treasures unearthed in Pompeii. However, with only 3 nights in Naples, and two full-on daytrips, the most we saw of the city was its various stations and its pizzas. But what pizzas!

On our first night we arrived fairly late from Rome, hungry and not in the mood to deal with the metro system. The very friendly and extremely talkative host of the flat we were renting recommended a local pizza place that she claimed had some of the best pizza in Naples. We followed her directions down a street that somehow combined looking run down and slightly dodgy with some very swish jewelry shops. We nearly missed the restaurant, as there was just a small sign with the name of the place. Inside, tables for 6 were laid, and it was already heaving and chaotic.

We sat down where indicated by a rather gruff potbellied waiter, and I studied the menu. The waiter let me plod along in my pseudo Italian (mainly just Portuguese with an Italian accent and more hand gestures) until I tried to order extra chilli for Lauren (she wanted red peppers, google translate let me down), at which point for her sake he switched to perfectly good English. Drinks were served in disposable plastic cups, tables were covered in paper tablecloths, and single customers were wedged in among the groups wherever there was a chair. Payment was cash only, based on the system “tell the guy at the door what you had”. Eating protocol was very much head down, focus on the food.

Most of the customers seemed to be manual workers or office workers having a quick dinner before heading home, but there was a sprinkling of families too.  Most seemed to be content with a margherita, which I’ve always felt a bit wet ordering before, but I guess with pizza this good, why disguise it with fancy toppings?

Lauren had a margherita (of course!) and I thought I ordered Bolognese sauce on mine but it turned out to be some sort of tiny curried peas with possibly some meat flavouring … it was yummy but odd. The bases were amazing, with big fluffy crusts slightly blackened on top, and incredibly thin centres. They were the size of coffee tables. Neither of us managed even half, and we ended up eating the leftovers for the next 2 days!

I’ve no idea whether Naples would have been worth exploring further if we’d had more time, I’m sure it would, but I can confirm that the pizza was the best we had anywhere in Italy, and at 6 euros for a margherita that fed Lauren for 3 days, a bargain too!

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This is not a trick of perspective, it really was as big as it looks.

 

 

Pompei (by Lauren)

Written by Lauren 

Pompeii is an ancient city from the time of the Romans. It was once a busy town. There were lots of shops and bars and takeaway restaurants (thermopolium). It was buried by Vesuvius, it’s next door neighbour. Vesuvius is 5 miles away from Pompeii!! There are lots of paintings (frescoes) on the walls and mosaics on the floors. There is one mosaic I couldn’t take my eyes off, it has an inscription saying beware of the dog to scare away robbers. Most houses had one in front of the front door whether they had a dog or not!

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It took years to uncover all of this amazing city of Pompeii in fact they are still excavating. The story of how Pompeii was found is that one day some people were digging a tunnel and they came across some painted marble slabs. They investigated no further but then over 100 years later one of the rich people wanted to decorate his house with ancient treasures of the Romans so he commanded his servants to dig some more of the ancient things they had found 100 years before. It was hard because the lava and ash had hardened so it was really hard to dig through. After that they started excavating properly.

I definitely liked it but that is just because of my uncle Richard who is a historian, if he was not my uncle I probably would be interested but not as much as I am now. If you are not interested in history there is probably not a lot of point going unless you like gruesome stuff because in Pompeii they found the holes that dead bodies made when the lava hardened around them when they were trying to escape then the bodies rotted away but left the holes. Then they filled the holes with plaster and made statues. Babies and adults were killed so it is beautiful but gruesome.

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We saw lots of villas and also the amphitheater and the Forum and the temple of Isis and bars and the baths which were very cool. Lots of the streets had stepping stones because the poor people didn’t have bins in the streets like they have these days so when their bins got full they threw their waste onto the street and used the stepping stones to cross the street so they didn’t stand in the rubbish.

It was great fun and if you are in the area I think you should go!

 

 

 

 

 

Vesuvius!

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One of the things Lauren has really *really* wanted to do is visit a ‘real’ (as in, not dormant for centuries) volcano. So naturally, when she heard about the possibility of hiking up to the top of Vesuvius, she was all for it. I read that a bus takes you most of the way, so agreed. How hard could it be?

Then I started researching it properly and kept coming across all of these posts about ‘hefty Brits’ or ‘unprepared tourists’ failing to make the summit. Having once, many, many, many years ago, been the type to hike up Ben Nevis, spend weeks in the Scottish highlands wild camping, and hike the Lairig Ghru, crampons, ice axe and all in the middle of winter, I am familiar with that certain level of disdain ‘proper hikers’ have for unfit amateurs.  These days, after pneumonia wrecked my lungs, a spinal fusion, constant ankle pain from a torn ligament last year, dozens of extra kilos and a mislaid gym card, I can only accept that this is what I now am.

I spent last night having nightmares of letting Lauren down, or making her remember Vesuvius not as the cool exciting day when she got to the top of a volcano, but rather the day mummy had to be airlifted off the top having collapsed !

So in the absence of the ability to lose 50 Kg overnight, I prepared as best as I could – up early, decent breakfast, plenty of water in the bag, hiking boots….. we were at the base by 8 o clock. Only problem was, the shuttle didn’t start til 9. No problem! 9 o clock came and went, then 9.30 and it became apparent the shuttle went when it was full…. so we waited a bit longer, me fretting about the heat, Lauren doing pirouettes in the square, and playing an endless game of I spy.

Eventually we set off, up the incredibly narrow winding road up to the ‘top car park’. The typical Italian driving caused one woman to actually scream in panic as another bus careered round a corner and missed us by centimeters on the bend. Every bend after that the driver slowed to a crawl, exaggeratedly beeped his horn, and killed himself laughing.

The guides all say that it should only take a ‘fit’ person 30 minutes from the ‘top car park’ to the crater and ‘moderately fit’ 45. They never mention ‘unfit’  but the bus driver waits 90 minutes, so surely if I went slow and steady we’d be OK.

It was really not that bad at all, and I was possibly being a little paranoid. Grannies were going up there in their ‘sensible shoes’ and people far bigger than I made it. I powered up there in 30 minutes, head down, totally ‘mind over matter’, and yes, I could barely breathe the whole way up, it *is* steep, and yes, I did a couple of times tell Lauren to “stop asking so many bloody questions!” because I needed the oxygen to breathe not to enter into a debate about squirrels, or forest fires, or the impact of human beings on nature…. but we made it. Lauren of course barely broke a sweat.

It was definitely worth it. The views across the bay of Naples were beautiful, and it was definitely cool to see the odd wisp of steam coming up from the crater. Free briefings of about 10 minutes are included in the price of admission, and we learned a lot, including the fact that when Vesuvius erupted and buried Pompeii, it was twice the height it is today. So at least some good came of it, I can’t imagine I’d have made it up the original!

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The white stuff is actually steam rising from the crater….

 

Tomorrow – Pompeii!