This was our fourth trip to Naples – BUT – we have never been here! We took a marvelous free walking tour of the best of the city, and discovered that we knew nothing whatsoever about the city. The first time we visited Naples, we walked and walked along a major street from the port to the train station so that we could hop a train to Pompeii. We remembered that everybody was on that street and everybody was selling something on that street!
The second time, we stayed in Naples for two days, but our hotel wasn’t anywhere near the center of town, and the area we were in wasn’t very interesting. That was long before before we were more savvy about traveling.
The third time, we again went to the train station, this time getting off just before Pompeii to see the other city destroyed by Vesuvius, Herculaneum. By the way, we highly recommend visiting both of these cities of ruins, but also give yourself several days to enjoy the center of Napoli.
A few weeks ago, talking about Naples, we decided we would try to get some genuine Neapolitan pizza and decide for ourselves if it was truly unique. That was our plan for the day, until we checked to see if one of our favorite activities was available here…a free city walking tour. There was, so the night before, we signed up for it through a company named GuruWalk. Did we ever luck out! Our tour guide was Claudia – who was utterly delightful, knowledgeable, and fun to be with. Her history of her city of birth included personal stories, which made the tour so very much better. She even included a trip to her friend’s coffee bar, who showed us his unique way of making coffee and gave everyone a sample! (See the short video at the end of the photos. )
From Claudia, we found that the city is…complicated, in her words. It is very busy, very alive, yet scruffy in places and in need of repair. But even though what we saw was utterly beautiful and fascinating, we could see where a little TLC was necessary.
A big discovery and delight for us is the first set of photos below – Galleria Umberto I, a centerpiece of the Old Town’s shopping and cultural district. Built between 1887-1890, in only three years, it is a stunning space, intended for retail stores, cafes, restaurants, and third-floor apartments. The ceiling is glass, with a central dome, and the walls are filled with ornamentation – angels, scenes from Neapolitan history, and mythological figures. Mosaic floors. Stores and cafes. Just glorious. At the time it was constructed, Milan’s famous Galleria Vitorrio Emanuele II had been completed 13 years prior, so there was a little competition going on. Milan’s gallery took 12 years to construct, compared to Naples’ three years. Both galleries stun, but today we are enthralled with Napoli. Just look at the photos below!
As our tour continued, we saw San Carlo Theater, the Royal Palace, several churches, and countless small alleys filled with shops, cafes, and people, people, people. We think these were some of the tightest squeezes we have ever encountered, with many people banging into our arms (and likely, us banging into others’!) and lots of times our progress was slowed way down with people idly strolling along, or with a baby carriage, and there simply was no way to get around them, as there were so very many people.
After the tour, we asked Claudia for a good pizza recommendation, and she sent us to Attanasio, where the pizza was very good and very inexpensive….and there was no wait! (The more famous pizza joints have waits of about an hour.) Whole pizzas started at 4.50 euros and maxed out at 10. The pizzas are large enough for 2-3 people. Interestingly, as we looked around, just about everyone (except us) ordered their very own pizza. You can see the size of ours below. We were amazed that one person could eat that much. But we were still in for our favorite treat of the day. We returned to the gorgeous Gallery Umberto I after more walking, as we were drop-dead tired and wanted to sit and enjoy the space with some good Italian coffee. We grabbed a table at Bar Brasiliano and had the best, most delicious coffee – along with a really tasty Pistachio Cannoli, the best we have ever had. It was a delightful end to our amazing time in Napoli. We can’t say enough wonderful things about our visit, and are eagerly looking forward to our return visit. (And that is what having a great tour guide means to travelers – giving you a longing to return.) So now – we have finally been to Naples, and we understand it and appreciate it a little better. Our knowledge and delight will deepen each time we return. Thank you, Claudia, for fearlessly leading our little group through the most beautiful parts of the city to discover its richness and grandiosity!
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