The One with Naples, Italy


Friday, February 13, 2015

It's never taken me this long to do a recap post before! Not that I took more photos than usual or anything, I've just been BUSY from sun-up to sun-down everyday preparing for classes I'll be teaching around Europe in February, March, and April, working at events, traveling AGAIN (a week in Spain! I'm SO BEHIND!), etc. Something had to get put on the backburner and that was the recap posts, because they take forever and a day to compose, but they're my favorite to read through, so I'm trudging along :)

About a month ago we went to Naples, Italy!

On Thursday January 15th 2015 after Chris got home from work we packed up and drove to the Munich airport. It's a two hour drive away, but it's the closest airport that goes places cheaply. Nuremberg is about an hour away, but it's tiny and doesn't fly directly to many places. Munich it is!
Lufthansa for the WIN! When Fox walked on they gave him a legit Lego. He was in heaven! 

Not only did they give Fox a toy for free that probably would cost over $10 in real life, they also left 15 minutes early, landed a half hour early, the seats are wafer-thin making it extra roomy and comfortable, and it's just so clean. My most favorite airline of them all for sure. And no I wasn't paid to say any of that.

Our flight didn't take off until 9pm. Usually the kids are asleep for an hour or two by then. But, we had a lot to pack in to our trip so we figured the hassle and lost hours of sleep would be worth it. We landed, got our belongings, picked up our rental car, and drove to the Holiday Inn without a hitch. I don't think things could have gone any better, such a welcome blessing!

The next morning we woke up and peeked out the window for this view of Naples:
Let's talk about Naples, shall we? From Rick Steves: "If you like Italy as far south as Rome, go farther south. If Italy is getting on your nerves, don't go farther. Italy intensifies as you plunge deeper. Naples is Italy in the extreme - its best (birthplace of pizza) and its worst (home of Camorra, Naples' "family" of organized crime). Just beyond Naples you'll find the remarkable ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum... and the brooding volcano that did them both in, Mount Vesuvius. 

"Neapolis ("new city") was a thriving Greek commercial center 2,500 years ago. Today, it remains southern Italy's leading city. Naples impresses visitors with one of Europe's top archaeological museums (with artifacts from Pompeii and other nearby sites), fascinating churches that convey the city's unique personality and powerful devotion, an underground warren of Greek and Roman ruins, fine works of art, and evocative nativity scenes. Naples, of course, makes the best pizza you'll find anywhere in Europe. But more than anything, Naples has a brash and vibrant street life. Despite being Italy's third-largest city with more than one million people, Naples has almost no open spaces or parks which makes its position as Europe's most densely populated city plenty evident. Watching police try to enforce traffic sanity is almost comical in Italy's grittiest, most polluted, and most crime-ridden city. But, Naples surprises the observant traveler with its impressive knack for living, eating, and raising children in the streets with good humor and decency. Overcome your fear of being rundown or ripped off and feel the pulse of Italy that throbs in Naples. Like Cairo or Mumbai, it's appalling and captivating at the same time." 

So, with that rather terrifying introduction(!!), we were ready to dive head first into Naples.

Our room came with breakfast and Jane was eating everything chocolate she could. If only there was chocolate milk! This girl and her chocolate.
Less than a 12 hour stay in our hotel and we were off - places to go and things to see!
We like to follow Rick Steves' self-guided walks so we made our way into the city center. The hotel is in a very modern area with neat looking buildings.  
We found the train station we wanted after asking a local because we got a little lost, and headed into the old town.
When we got off one train to transfer to a second, the fact that Naples is the most densely populated city in Italy was readily evident. Crowds and people everywhere!
Thankfully though the trains weren't nearly as crowded as Rome.
As we got off at the stop near the Archaeological Museum, our first destination on the walking tour, we were greeted by a huge statue of Hercules. Even the metro stations in Italy are full of art masterpieces!
Our first glimpses of Naples. Charming.
At last we arrived: Naples Museo Archeological! From Rick, "For lovers of antiquity, this museum alone makes Naples a worthwhile stop. Considering its popularity and the importance of its collection, it's remarkable how ramshackle and unkempt its displays are. Still, if you can overlook the dust bunnies this museum offers the best possible peek into the artistic jewelry boxes of Pompeii and Herculaneum. When Pompeii was excavated in the early 1800s, Naples' Bourbon king bellowed, 'Bring me the best of what you find!' The actual sites are impressive but barren; the finest art and artifacts ended up here."
We started our tour of the museum looking at the incredible Farnese Collection. Just on this ground floor there are enough Greek and Roman artworks to put any museum on the map.
The highlight of the collection is the tangled Toro Farnese. Once upon an ancient Greek time, King Lycus was bewitched by Dirce. He abandoned his pregnant wife Antiope who then gave birth to twin boys. When they grew up they killed their deadbeat dad and here we see them tying Dirce to the horns of a bull that will bash her against a mountain. Captured in marble, the action is thrilling: cape flailing, dog snarling, hooves in the air. You can almost hear the bull snorting. And in back, Antiope oversees this harsh justice with satisfaction.
The we saw the real deal of the statue in the Metro station: the Farnese Hercules. The great Greek hero is exhausted. He leans wearily on his club (draped with his lion skin) and bows his head. He's just finished traveling the world, freeing Prometheus, and carrying Atlas' weight of the world on his shoulders. Now he has returned with the prize: the golden apples of the gods, which he cups behind his back. But, even after all that, he now faces his final labor: he must descend into Hell itself. No wonder he's tired.
Looking down a hallway filled with interesting artifacts and I LOVE the bright orange walls! So unique!
Eventually we made our way up to the highlight of the museum: the artifacts unearthed at Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Most of these mosaics of animals, musicians, and geometric designs were taken from Pompeii's House of the Faun (which we saw the next day!). We were blown away by how tiny the mosaic pieces were and the level of detail the artists were able to capture. Intricate and incredible. Never seen anything like it before, and that, my friends, is getting harder to come by with all these travels! So, consider me impressed!
The highlight is the grand Battle of Alexander. Chris and I remember seeing this back in the class we met in, Art History 201 at BYU. It was awesome seeing it in real life. This mosaic, a second-century B.C. copy of a Greek fresco done a century earlier, decorated the floor in the House of the Faun and was found intact. The damage you can see occurred as this treasure was moved from Pompeii to the king's collection here, wah wah.
Chris and Fox in front of one of the beautiful mosaics. Amazing. Pictures won't ever do it justice, I highly recommend seeing these mosaics in real life. Just sayin'.
I kind of wish they had left these where the found them so we could have enjoyed them in situ.
 I would have loved seeing these beautiful, colorful columns in place, as they were meant to be seen.
After being blown away by the ancient Roman mosaics, we headed up to the top floor. This room used to the great hall of the university that occupied the building in the 17th and 18th centuries.
There is a bronze scale model of Pompeii that was really cool. The room it was in was roped off but we were able to catch a glimpse of it from afar and were amazed by how HUGE Pompeii is/was.
Some modern art displayed upstairs among the ancient works.
After successfully enjoying the museum without our kids destroying any priceless artifacts, we headed out into the hustle and bustle of Naples following Rick Steves' self-guided walk.
Naples, a living medieval city, is its own best sight. There are more fights and smiles per cobblestone than anywhere else in Italy.
We left the museum and headed straight down Via Santa Teresa to Piazza Dante. This is the Port'Alba, part of Naples' old wall and the entrance to a small street lined with vendors.
This square, named after the man depicted in the statue marking the area, the famous Italian poet Dante, is where you can really feel Italy. Originally a statue of a Spanish Bourbon king stood here, but with the unification of Italy in 1861, the king was torn down and replaced by Dante - considered the father of the Italian language and a strong symbol of unification and nationalism.
Then we continued on down Via Pessina.
This street originated as a military road built by Spain in the 16th century and skirted the old town wall to connect the Spanish military headquarters (which is now the Archaeological Museum) with the Royal Palace down by the bay.
We noticed that there were a ton of little stands that sold JUST french fries. Every 25 yards or so was another one and another one and another one. Who can turn down a bucket of fries? So we stopped and got some as a mid-walk snack. Mmmmm. Note to remember: the girl was on her phone the entire time.
A typical Napoli street.
We passed by the Spanish Quarter, a classic world of what the Italians call "basso," meaning low, living. This road is the cliche of life in Naples and is Naples at its rawest, poorest, and most characteristic. The only predictable thing about this Neapolitan tide pool are the ancient grid streets which survive from Greek times.
Back on Via Pessina, we passed by some fascist architecture. Big, blocky, intimidating.
At this point it was about lunch time and we still hadn't seen something I was very eager to see: Vesuvius! Then, as we were walking down Via Pessina, I looked down this alleyway and my stomach did a flip-flop - THERE SHE WAS! You can't even see it in this photo because of the lighting, but this is where I saw Vesuvius for the very first time. And it? Was A.W.E.S.O.M.E. One of the most memorable moments of awe and wonder in my life.
Eventually we made it down to Piazza del Plebiscito, a square celebrating the 1861 vote (plebiscito) when Naples chose to join Italy.
Dominating the square is the Royal Palace, unfortunately completely covered with scaffolding during our visit.
This is what the Royal Palace looks like without scaffolding:
On the same square is the Church of San Francesco di Paola with its Pantheon-inspired dome and broad, arcing colonnades. Stroller selfie time!
From the square we could look up and see Castel Sant'Elmo where we knew we HAD to go visit because it was sure to have incredible views.
After enjoying the sunshine in the square we headed down to the bay to get our first full glimpse of the mighty Vesuvius. As were were walking we could see the far end of the slope and watched as more and more of the mountain was revealed until finally the whole enchilada was visible. So cool.
The island of Capri was visible across the gulf. Maybe next trip down here we'll make it out to some of the nearby islands.
Looking back at the Royal Palace.
Naples has some very unique churches in the city. The church on the left, the Church of Gesu Nuovo, has an austere, fortress-like exterior with a cool pyramid-grill facade. The church used to be a fortified noble's palace.
Chris and Jane. I love them :)
Jane posing in front of some cool doors. Me and my girl.
We found a random pit filled with ancient rocks perhaps?
Seedy, tourist trap, souvenir-ridden alleys.
After our fun walk through naples, we headed back to the hotel, checked out, retrieved our car, and drove up to the castle on the hill for a viewpoint. As we were driving Chris looked in his side mirror to change lanes and boom! There was Vesuvius. The mountain completely dominates the landscape all over the bay.
We found some easy street parking close by, triple checked the car was locked (theft is big problem in Naples) and headed up and into Castel Sant'Elmo. While it's little more than an empty husk with a decent modern art museum, this 16th century Spanish-built, star-shaped fortress boasts tremendous views over the city and the entire bay of Naples. 
Wow! What a gorgeous view!
I couldn't get enough of seeing Vesuvius. It was just so cool.
I know Jane won't remember it, but proof she was here.
Looking out over Naples. You can see the Church of San Francesco di Paola on the left in this view.
Capri in the far distance.
After we had soaked up the gorgeous views and sunshine we headed out of Naples and we drove to our apartment that we rented on airbnb - Antonio's villa for 49 euros a night.
A beautiful grove of trees where we could safely park our car. 
Definitely an... interesting?... place to stay! Did it used to be a church?
 A shrine to Ave Maria in the entryway.

I don't want to forget this metal lizard that Jane had to touch every time we went up or down the stairs.
I guess this is one of those times you can't judge a book by its cover - or the inside of an apartment by the facade. Cuz the facade is somethin' else!
But inside was nice and inviting with good appliances. I do have a couple of complaints though if you're looking to rent - it was FREEZING, the two space heaters weren't enough. I'm sure that won't be a problem in a couple months. And the wifi didn't work which was really hard for me to get work done. 
The view of Vesuvius out one of the bedroom windows would have been immaculate if it wasn't fogged up from condensation or something. Such a daunting mountain with a terrible history!
All the negatives were practically outweighed by the gorgeous views from the balcony.
You could see from Naples to Sorrento and out to Capri and beyond. Simply stunning!

We went to sleep after a fun day!

Saturday we went to Pompeii and Herculaneum, Sunday we drove all along the Amalfi coast and then went to Pastaeum. All coming in separate posts!

On Monday January 19th we had all morning before our plane took off back to Munich. We'd been wanting to drive up to the top of Vesuvius but it was covered in clouds on Saturday and Sunday. Monday morning was clear and bright (well, it was when we first woke up) so we decided to try and drive then hike up to the top, all before our plane ride. Our GPS didn't work so great in Naples, it couldn't find things easily, so we put in our best guess for Vesuvius and headed up. While it did lead us to an entrance to the National Park, it wasn't THE one that takes you to the top. The nice Italian told us the way to go and off we went again. We drove up and up and up a VOLCANO. Not just any volcano - VESUVIUS! The views of Naples can't be beat.

Because we lost a half hour of time driving the wrong way, we (thought) didn't have enough time to hike up to the top and back down. The nice worker asked if we wanted to go up and we asked how long it would take if we hurried and he said an hour. We only had about 45 minutes. We didn't want to risk missing our flight home. In hindsight, we would have had PLENTY of time. We were at the airport two hours early. I'm bummed about that, but hopefully there's a "next time."
Here's looking straight up to the top of Ominous Vesuvius. As close as we got.
Super freaking creepy skeleton someone carved out of (I'm guessing) volcanic rock.
And on that note... we flew back home easy peasy and arrived early once again! We love Lufthansa :)

8 comments

  1. I love these recaps! Thanks for doing them! How awesome were those mosaics?

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  2. What wonderful photos!! Looks like an amazing trip!!!!

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  3. So, did you love it or hate it? We are PCSing to Naples in June. I've heard we will either love or hate it??? I love seeing your recaps of your travels. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Love your travel posts! Thanks for your insight and history lessons!

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  5. I realize I didn't make a comment when I read this the first time. I love this post. I love it love it love it. Your photos are amazing. (and I noticed Jane still has her paci?)

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  6. Fox and Jane are so lucky to have a mom that documents all of these trips! They will love looking back at the places they've been, when they are older!!

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  7. you could seriously host your own documentary show--this post SO gorgeous, loving the recap!

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  8. another place I would like to travel to! Amazing is all I can say!

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