A Quest for Napoli Pizza

napoli bike

I’d heard many a wild story about Napoli. Of the gypsy women who feed their babies a substance that turns them blue to solicit sympathy from tourists. Of the swift pickpockets who manage to steal from even the most savvy money belt protected American. Of the street markets lined with stolen goods.

“Don’t go to Napoli, it isn’t safe” was the advice I most often heard, but the nightmare tales had already entranced me and so, when a journey from Rome to Sorrento left me with a three hour layover in Napoli, I knew I had to leave the train station.

First Thoughts on Napoli

I exited the train as if entering a war zone. Ears extra alert. Eyes extra open. Backpack on my front. Money, passport and credit cards secured on my stomach in my money belt, admittedly my first time using it. I was on edge, half convinced all Napoli had been alerted of my arrival and there was a prize out for the first who could steal my belongings. I’d lose my focus for one second and then a thief would find a way to take my camera. Game over. “Dang you guys are good,” I’d say in disbelief as I shake my head.

Napoli, Italy’s largest city south of Rome is the birthplace of Pizza, and so I head for the nearest hotel to ask for a restaurant recommendation, questing for Napoli Pizza.

Outside the train station does not look too out of the ordinary. A sea of people sell a sea of goods – sunglasses, electronics, phone cases. No postcards in sight but you can buy underwear. I clutch my belongings extra tight and my suitcase sounds like a trumpet as it loudly rolls behind me.

Napoli Pizza

A Quest for Napoli Pizza

There are no free maps of Napoli in the hotels but I do get vague directions to a restaurant and I begin my solo journey in the streets to the city center.

As I walk I begin to see just how dirty Napoli is. Trash is everywhere, littering the streets like Times Square after New Years Eve. Soda bottles, cigarette packs, plastic bags and rotten vegetables line my walk. I pass a piazza. The architecture is so old it could surely rival Piazza Navona in Rome. But here in Napoli the ancient buildings are covered in graffiti and the lawns are overgrown and strewn with ever more trash.

Napoli Pizza

The city has dumpsters but they overflow onto the sidewalk. One street is blocked by a large pile of cardboard boxes, and paint peels of the side of tall apartment buildings.

Napoli pizza

Men sit around in groups playing chess and couples make out on the park benches. Men and women stand at their windows barefoot looking past the lines of drying laundry and down at the street below. Looking at me. Everywhere I go I am stared at, but I am not offended because I would stare at me too if I lived in this dilapidated city and saw a tourist in pink shorts strolling down the street with a little blue suitcase.

Napoli pizza

I don’t exactly know where I am going, but nowhere and no one looks safe to ask, so I just keep rolling down the street, eyes straight ahead with false confidence that I am not lost.

I turn right on what appears to be a main street. A group of boys toss a soccer ball on the sidewalk. They begin their game as I walk past and suddenly I am in the middle of it. A ball flies over my head and they run after it as if I am not even there.

Napoli pizza

Somehow the restaurant recommended to me, Mare Luna, is on this street and I stop in. The restaurants in Napoli are closed in the afternoons for a break and I am 15 minutes early for the dinner opening. The man inside barely speaks English and tells me to wait outside at a table. The patio is fenced in but still I clutch my suitcase and backpack, anticipating a thief will pop out of the bushes in fictitious Napoli fashion and finally steal my belongings.

A group of men sits at a table nearby and I avoid eye contact until one of the men approaches me. Like most in Napoli he doesn’t speak much English and we stumble through a conversation as I learn he is the owner and the rest of the men employees. I breathe a little easier and pull out my Italian dictionary to converse while waiting for my margarita pizza.

I Found More Than Napoli Pizza

As my pizza arrives the owner questions how I am getting back to the train station. He will not hear of me walking back alone and insists I get a ride from one of the co-owners.

The co-owner, named Giorgio has a vespa, and as this does seem a safer and more enjoyable option than walking back, I accept.

Napoli Pizza

And so I find myself on the back of this vespa, holding onto an Italian man with one arm and a warm, fresh pizza with the other, zipping through the streets of Napoli. We are a sight with a suitcase squeezed on the narrow floor and a pizza out in the open, and a man in a car passes and pretends to take my pizza.

Giorgio points out monuments on the way back to the train station. He speaks no English and so I have no idea what I am looking at but I just laugh, and laugh and laugh, filled with a deep sense of happiness from the unexpected beauty I found in Napoli.

Napoli Pizza

Giorgio proves to be a gentleman and delivers me to the station in perfect time for my train to Sorrento. He walks to the platform, ensuring my safety and forever sealing Napoli in my heart as a memory of joy, so different from my expectations.

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Darren

    I’m surprised, but maybe I shouldn’t be, that the rubbish is still lining the streets. I visited Napoli in 2008 and the rubbish was piled high in some streets, quite a sight just like you have described.

    It’s a real shame, and I did feel the same level of wariness when first visiting the city but I did grow to like it and I would go back even if the Italian spoken there is so much more difficult to understand than in the rest of Italy.

    Would you go back? That’s the question.

    The coffee was some of the best and as for the pizza!

    1. Lauren

      Hi Darren!

      Yes, street trash was still in full swing during my visit to Napoli. Would I go back? Yes! You are right — the pizza is amazing and somehow, despite all the trash and leery strangers, Napoli has a certain charm that is intriguing. I think Napoli can be great for a visit as long as you go in with the right expectations.

      Would you go back?

      1. Darren

        Yes, my first trip to Napoli was when I was 14 and I even had the pleasure of enjoying my first pizza there. I really love the smell of laundry drifting down from above, in the streets just off Spaccanapoli that contrasted with the grime and grittiness of the streets you are standing in.

        Chaotic but intriguing, yes I would go back but I would spend more time there next time.

  2. Céline

    Lauren,
    I just discovered your website today, as I was looking for info on Naples, Italy.
    I realized that it was written in 2013, so I am not sure if you will see my post.
    i am planning a trip to Sorrento and the Amalfi coast in 2017.
    Having to go through Naples makes me quite uncomfortable after reading many comments from travellers. Especially about pickpockets.

    I will only be there to make a connection to Sorrento.
    In my small backpack I will carry lots of medication for diabetes, so it is always a concern. I will also carry a piece of luggage.
    As you wrote that you were very aware of your surroundings, I am sure that I will be alert !
    I have been to Rome and Prague and I had read some pretty scary stories before I went but it seems to be more dangerous in Naples. Am I wrong ? I would appreciate if you have time to give me your thoughts about that.
    I wish many more travels and discoveries !

    Thank you,
    Céline

    1. Lauren

      Hi Céline. Sounds like an awesome trip! I think you will be ok in Naples for your connection to Sorrento as long as you are extra aware of your surroundings. I think Napoli is more dangerous than Rome or Prague, but I also think you will be able to keep your belongings safe by being extra vigilant. Enjoy!

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