Three Days in Naples

I read my Naples travel book cover to cover before my 2021 trip (DK Eyewitnesss Naples) and had a long list of places I wanted to see.  But to say my first visit to Naples didn’t begin auspiciously would be a serious understatement (see Getting There and Where Not to Stay below.)  In addition to those disasters, it rained almost all of my first full day.  Still, due in part to the kindness of strangers, I saw some beautiful places and would like to go back.  But I’d definitely go at a better time weather wise.

Getting Aroun Naples

Even though I did not like my ‘flat’, the location worked really well for me.  It was on via Duomo fairly close to the harbor.  Via Duomo is one of the few straight streets in Naples, cutting from the harbor area (in a north/south direction) through Piazza Nicola Amore to via Foria.  I thought from reading my travel book that I understood the neighborhoods and streets of Naples.  But I found the city incredibly confusing. I spent a lot of time wandering around the Spaccanapoli and Decumani Maggiore areas where the streets constantly change name and direction.  But I could always find my way back to via Duomo and then back to the apartment.

My first day, while waiting out the rain, a lovely couple in the flat next to mine asked me if I wanted to come in and have coffee.  They were from Turin and getting ready to go home but we stumbled through a conversation with my limited Italian during which the husband wrote down a list of places I should see including, San Gregorio, presepe, which he explained is a nativity scene. I thought he meant that there was a nativity scene at the church of San Gregorio.  So that afternoon when the rain finally stopped, I walked all over the area west of the duomo looking for a church with a nativity scene.  I did find the church but there was no nativity scene. After I returned to my apartment, I did some research and realized that he was referring to via San Gregorio, not the church. 

Places to go and Things to See

Via San Gregorio

I’ve written about via San Gregorio in my The Holidays in Italy post but wanted to include it here also because I loved it.   And also because presepi are an integral part of what Napoli is all about.  Despite the time I spent studying my Naples travel book, I somehow didn’t see that information.  I found the street my second afternoon and thought it was amazing, going back the next day to buy a gift for my sister.

I have to add that one aspect of via San Gregorio doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  Almost every Christmas shop has the ‘cornicello’ or ‘curnicello’ in every possible size and design right next to the presepi and Christmas ornaments.  The ‘cornicello’ looks like a red pepper and according to this website  it goes back to Neolithic times and represented the cult of fertility in Greco-Roman times.  Neapolitans believe it has special powers of luck, so I bought one and so far it’s not working.  But having a figure that represents pagan mythology right next to Christian symbols seems totally incongruous to me. Naples Cornicello

Naples Duomo

The Naples Duomo is also known as the Cattedrale di San Gennaro or Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta.  San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples, was a martyr, killed by Diocletian.  You can read more about Diocletian and his palace in Split, Croatia in my  Croatia and Slovenia  post.

I had walked past the Duomo trying to find my way to the apartment Tuesday night and then again the next afternoon as I looked for San Gregorio.  That same afternoon I did stop to take photos of two beautiful angels outside the Duomo, which are part of the Advent decorations.  The gothic façade reminds me of the Milan Duomo.

The second afternoon I decided to brave the weather and first I walked up the aptly named via Duomo to the cathedral.   The interior is very ornate which doesn’t usually appeal to me but I thought it was lovely. My pictures looked great on my iPad but for some reason don’t look as good in the gallery below.  Still I think you can get a feel for the art and architecture.  I sat for quite a while, enjoying  the peace, then ventured back out into the rain.

Museo Archeologico

After stopping at the Duomo,  I decided to go directly to the museum since it was raining again.  I took the first street past the Duomo, via Anticaglia, going left or west (according to my map).  I thought I’d misread my map because the street wound around forever and changed names several times but eventually it came out on via S. Maria di Constantinapoli.  About two blocks up (north I think) the street ends at Piazza Museo Nazionale, with the museum on the other side.  Via Foria runs east/northeast from Piazza Museo Nazionale past Piazza Cavour to via Domenico Cirillo.  I realized later that  Tuesday night the taxi driver dumped me out on via Foria across from the north end of via Duomo.  

Mama mia, the museum is colossal–rooms and rooms of artifacts from Pompeii, a special exhibit on gladiators, several floors of  pre-historic artifacts, rooms and rooms of huge sculptures from Villa Farnese and other villas….  I ran out of time to see the Egyptian collection which was disappointing but otherwise loved it.

And the museum itself is beautiful; frescoed ceilings and a central courtyard with palm trees and other tropical plants.








A Walkabout to Castelnuovo, the Harbor Area and Piazza del Plebiscito

On Friday morning I started walking towards the port/harbor trying to follow the ever changing streets; via Nuova Marina, to via Cristoforo Colombo to via Ferdibabdi Acton. Then all of a sudden Castelnuovo was right in front of me along with what I thought was Palazzo Reale.  After a couple of blocks I headed up a street going away from the harbor, thinking it would take me into Piazza del Plebiscito but I turned too soon.  I walked past a gated villa with beautiful grounds then past  Teatro San Carlo, known for its opera and ballet productions, and into the piazza.  

After walking across alongs the Palazzo Reale, which forms one side of the piazza, I realized I should have stayed on via Ferdinando Acton a bit further because there’s a street (not on my map) that comes up from the harbor to the piazza and has spectacular views across the bay.  So I walked about 2/3 of the way down the path, taking pictures.

I then walked back through the piazza taking more pictures and laughing to myself over the Race for the Cure signs.  The thought of doing a race on the twisting and uneven streets seemed crazy to me.  The piazza is formed by the Palazzo Reale on one side, the Basilica di San Francesco da Paola on the opposite site with other palazzos in between including one that is used for the Prefecture.

Galleria Umberto and via Toledo

After crossing the piazza I took the street on the other side to Galleria Umberto. The Galleria is a gorgeous building; 19th century steel and glass architecture.   There was a big Christmas display but not a lot of stores.  I thought the ambiance was spoiled somewhat by a huge McDonalds and some street people but it’s definitely worth seeing.

I’d seen a church around the corner from the Galleria that said it had a Presepe so I backtracked and went in.  It was beautiful!!  I looked it up later and found that it is the church of Santa Brigida.  

I walked up via Toledonear the Quartieri Spagnoli, to a piazza (Piazza della Carita, I think), trying  to take some pictures of the Christmas lights but it was too early in the day for the lights to be visible.  I, then, walked past the Palazzo delle Poste e Telegrafi to Piazza Matteotti, then along via Armando Diaz, eventually working my way back to Corso Umberto and via Duomo.

Spaccanapoli and Bar Decumano

I spent most of my first two days  and part of my last day in the Spaccanapoli and Decumani Maggiore neighborhoods without realizing where I was.   Part of that was due to the way my guidebook describes the area, saying, for example;  “The arrow- straight street of  Spaccanapoli, corresponding to the lower decumanus, was one of the three main thoroughfares in Greco-Roman Naples; seen from above, it appears to cut the city in half.”  What?

That may be how it looks from above but not from the ground.  Plus you won’t see a street sign saying Spaccanapoli.  The street actually changes names multiple times between via Toledo and via Duomo, going from via Benedetto Croce to via San Biagio dei Librai and after crossing via Duomo becoming via Vicaria Vecchia.    It didn’t help that not only was I looking for a church instead of a street, I was looking for some wine bars that I’d seen online but couldn’t find.

On Thursday, my second full day, I walked from the archaeological museum through Piazza Bellini wishing it were a nicer day since the piazza looks lovely.  Piazza Bellini From there I eventually found  via San Gregorio, then wandered up and down the streets that make up the north edge of the neighborhood, including via San Biagio dei Librai, looking for a wine bar, finally settling on a little enoteca, Bar Decumano, in Piazzetta Nilo not far from  Piazza San Domenico Maggiore.  Most people were sitting outside but I thought it was a bit chilly so sat inside.  I wrote in my journal, It’s a darling little place and I had a nice Sardinian white for 5 euros.  I started to order a cheese plate but the waiter cut me off and said he’d bring some free snacks.  So I got chips, crackers and nuts.

I returned late afternoon Friday, after going back to via San Gregorio and buying a gift for my sister.  I sat inside again but later wrote that the piazza was jumping and that I wished I had sat outside.  I lingered over two glasses of wine but wasn’t offered any snacks.  While enjoying my wine I wrote, Now they’re playing old disco music and the waiter is singing and dancing.  Lol.

I didn’t try any restaurants in Napoli which I now regret.  But I just wasn’t comfortable enough with the city to walk into a restaurant alone.  Plus most of the seating was outside and the weather was definitely not conducive to al fresco dining.

Getting There

I took the Flixbus from Sorrento to Napoli.  And then the nightmare began.  I walked through the Naples train station (Stazione Centrale) to the line of taxi cabs.  I started toward the front of the line.  A woman came up and asked if I needed a cab, grabbed my bags and started to a taxi.  I don’t understand why I didn’t stop her.  I immediately had a bad feeling.  She drove like a maniac, saying it would be 30 euros.  I said ‘no’ that she was going the wrong way.  She circled around until she ran the fare up to 20 euros, then dumped me out pointing to  via Duomo across this super busy street, saying it  was pedestrian only. (Not true.)

I was hysterical and started texting Cosimo (the concierge supposedly).  He kept sending the address for the apartment and I kept saying, this doesn’t help.  Finally I got to a little grocery store and asked for help.  The owner tried to get the address to come up on his phone then finally asked for the phone number and called.  A couple of minutes later Cosimo showed up on a scooter.  He put my big bag on front, grabbed my little one and told me to get on.  I declined so he told me just to continue through the ‘square’ and took off.  I walked another block or two, came to some construction and had no idea where to go.  I took another picture and sent him a text.  Just then he showed up and insisted I ride with him.  Both the first time he arrived and the second,  he kept insisting that everything was OK and on the way he started taking selfies, making me laugh.

on the moto with Cosimo
on the moto with Cosimo

I thought everything was going to be OK but I was wrong.

Where not to Stay

Be Italian Flats

The online pictures make these apartments look warm and charming but they are cold and barren with no services.  Be Italian Flat After showing me the keys and taking my money, charging me 20 euros more than my reservation, Cosimo left, at which point I found there was no heat, no blanket on the bed, much less any food or water in the flat. I spent one of the most miserable nights ever.  The next morning, after a lot of begging on my part, Cosimo came and put fresh batteries in the remote that turns on the heat and found a duvet in another apartment.  I never saw him or anyone again.  He did arrange for a ‘friend’ to take me to the train station and his ‘friend’ charged me 15 euros for a 5 minute trip.

The kitchen of this cold barren apartment was poorly equipped and there were no restaurants close by.  I had to subsist on soup and sandwiches for three days.  I was ecstatic to leave.

Despite the hassles with my apartment and the terrifying taxi trip, I would definitely go back to Naples.  It is a fascinating city and deserves a second visit, preferably when the weather is nicer.

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