Naples, Italy

We woke to a beautifully sunny day, but were immediately put off by the rotten egg smell coming from the inactive volcano on the adjacent block of land. All we wanted to do was get away from the place as quickly as possible, but the manager of the caravan park suggested we check out a one kilometre marked walk around this volcano. Reluctantly, we agreed, not at all enthused by his recommendation but not wanting to appear rude either. I'm so glad we followed his advice - it was the highlight of our time in Naples.

 

The caravan park was surrounded by trees, but beyond this was a wide, flat, white, gravelly area: the volcano. At this stage we weren't expecting much, following the trail across a barren landscape. When we arrived in the centre we found a mud pit bubbling away at about 140°C. That was pretty cool, but nothing extraordinary. As we continued walking, we spotted faint wisps of smoke coming out of multiple vents along the far side of the site. The closer we crept the thicker the smoke became, culminating in one huge white cloud. The sign informed us that the temperature of the steam was around 160°C, but there was nothing to prevent us from walking all the way up to it (except for the searing heat rising from the ground, which was only briefly tolerable). All the rocks around the steam vent were bright yellow and red, and looked like bad props from a movie set. The smell of sulphur was nearly unbearable - I wouldn't have declined a gas mask. The immense amount of steam shooting out of this main vent was enough to completely obscure Danny at times, even though he was standing only three metres away (see centre photo below). This was way better than Vesuvius, probably better than Etna, and this was an inactive volcano. It should be in the guidebooks. We were so glad we chose to stay in this caravan park.

We eventually dragged ourselves away from the captivating display by Mother Nature and headed into Naples. As Naples is the home of pizza, today was going to be all about eating. The first restaurant we arrived at (one of the best according to Lonely Planet) had a line of 50 people out the front waiting to get in, so we gave that one a miss. I love pizza, but not that much. The next on our hit list was right around the corner and had tables free, allowing us to sit right down and dig into a marinara pizza. In Australia, a marinara pizza is topped with seafood, but not here - just garlic, oregano, basil and tomato. The base was phenomenal, the topping was okay (I definitely prefer cheese on my pizza).

 

After our first course we did a little sightseeing, walking past the cathedral and up to a contemporary art museum. When we arrived we were notified that it was shut. At 2 p.m. Apparently, they were only open between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. We are considering moving to Naples, as apparently the residents here only work a couple of hours each day. With that plan out the window, we instead ate more pizza. At a different restaurant (visited by Bill Clinton, the sign said) we ordered margherita with buffalo mozzarella, which was mind-blowingly amazing. I could have eaten 10 of them. (I didn't.)

To walk off the calories we wandered through the old town, consisting of dark, dirty, narrow streets lined with rubbish and graffiti. Washing was strung out on lines between balconies, high above the alleyways, blocking the light and adding to the gloomy feel. Although the city was fascinating, we found we spent most of our time avoiding being run over by scooters. It was no better being a pedestrian than it was a campervan driver. We tried to enter a couple of churches but found they weren't open. All churches seemed to be closed between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. in Italy. Another cushy job.

Somehow we had room for dessert, so we tried a local specialty called sfogliata - a filo-type pastry filled with cinnamon-flavoured ricotta. Not as good as the pizza, but I wouldn't say no if I was offered it again. Next, we jumped on a funicular and headed up a hill for views over Naples and towards Vesuvius. It was surprising how colourful the town appeared from above, with frequent splashes of red and yellow and the occasional green. It didn't look like that from street level. Nearby was a castle that provided a viewpoint over the bay, and we happily discovered that it was free. I think I was more shocked it was actually open than the complimentary status.

Back down the hill we visited two churches (it was now after 4 p.m.), walked around the perimeter of a postcard-perfect castle, wandered through a fantastic shopping arcade with a glass roof, and explored a theatre that was jet black on the outside and bright white inside. Afterwards, we found a giant, open piazza with almost no one in it, with the 17th century Royal Palace taking up one side. You would think one of the major tourist attractions in town would have more tourists visiting it. 

 

We walked down to the water's edge for further views before heading back to the train station via the dark, narrow streets. On the way we became sidetracked by an aperitivo bar (not surprising really). We had seen several of these around Italy but had never stopped at one, mostly because we were unsure how it worked and didn't want to look like idiots or get lumped with a massive bill at the end. We managed to work out that we had to order one drink and then we could help ourselves to a free range of a snacks lined up along the counter. I like the sound of this. Both of us chose a glass of prosecco (their cheapest drink) then stuffed ourselves with a whole dinner's worth of canapes. Most of the choices were some sort of carbohydrate with meat and/or cheese, which weren't particularly nutritious but were quite tasty. One standout was a mini lasagne/pasta bake bite (there is no way to describe it) and we unashamedly went back several times for more. We definitely ate way too much today, but how can you say no to Italian food when you are in Italy??

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