by Alexandra


Apologies for the lack of recent updates – I’ve been frantically busy, but in the best way possible. Dashing across Rome, searching for the perfect pizza/wine/gelato combination with a friend, meeting my conversation partner for drinks in San Lorenzo and attempting to talk about David Bowie in Italian, having lunch with the lovely Rachel, listening to Gregorian chanting at a church on the Aventine, trying to be patient with students who respond to my questions with “Boh”, reading, writing…

There are so many things in Rome I want to write about, but as I’ve just come back from a weekend in Naples, I’ll start with that. I’d only been to Naples once before, as a day trip from Sorrento on a family holiday. I had a few vague memories of fearing for our lives as we crossed roads, standing in narrow streets with lines of washing blocking out the sky, coffee at Gambrinus and searching for Teatro San Carlo. My great-great-grandfather (I think) was a conductor at the opera house and I might well have distant relatives living in Naples.

A friend commented that Naples made Rome seem pristine, and he was right. Arriving at Napoli Centrale after three hours on the slow train and trying to find a route across Piazza Garibaldi, I felt like an adventurer in some post-apocalyptic landscape, and Via Mancini, where my hostel was, is the most rubbish-filled street I’ve ever seen.

I can understand why some people don’t like Naples, and how the dirt and the noise and the constant fear of being run over or pickpocketed is a bit too much. Some of the negative reviews of my hostel were less about the hostel itself than the area, complaining that it was dangerous and there were suspicious people hanging around outside. When I returned to the hostel on Saturday night I was curious about the kind of people who would be in the street. Kids playing football and some teenage girls rehearsing dance routines in the car park, it turns out. Not very threatening.

In fact, I never really felt unsafe in Naples. I know some parts are more dangerous than others and that tourists often have their stuff stolen, but if you use your common sense and keep an eye on your bag, I think you’ll probably be fine.

And the dirt…well, the few street cleaners I saw are definitely fighting a losing battle, but the sheer energy of the city sort of compensates for the dirt. Somewhere else, that amount of rubbish might be depressing, but while I’m sure it’s a real frustration for the people who live there and try to clean it up, I don’t think it’s enough to ruin the experience of a visitor. And sometimes you just have to laugh. On Via San Sebastiano I saw a very creative example of littering – a chocolate cake stuck to the graffiti covered wall, which looked like it had been thrown with force. As if having rubbish on the ground wasn’t enough!

I mainly spent my weekend wandering around Via dei Tribunali, Spaccanapoli and the Quartieri Spagnoli. In the latter, I felt more like an outsider than anywhere else I’ve been, and I didn’t see any other tourists. It’s an interesting area to explore, avoiding the motorbikes tearing past as you walk past shrines and living rooms spilling on to the streets. So many of the ground floor flats in Naples are basically open to the street, so as you walk past you catch a glimpse of a family lunch or someone asleep in bed, just inches away from the street. My favourite sight was the room decorated conventionally with family photos, cabinets, pink walls, and then the handles of a motorbike which seemed to be parked in the middle of the room.

I mostly just walked around, ate some very good pizza and tried sfogliatelle. I wanted to explore the streets and get an idea of how the city fitted together rather than doing proper sightseeing, though I did go in lots of churches. I also visited the Capella Sansevero, to see the stunning Cristo Velato and the rather gruesome anatomical models downstairs. I really wanted to visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, but when I got there, the blackboard by the entrance informed me that about 80% of the rooms were closed. I asked a member of staff why they were closed, and he told me that due to shortage of staff, they couldn’t keep the museum fully open on Sundays. It’s really sad that a major national museum can’t stay open at the weekends, but at least it’s an excuse to come back another day.

So I’ll definitely be returning to Naples, and probably to the same hostel on the grotty but conveniently located Via Mancini. Next time, though, I’ll remember to bring my passport. The family who run the hostel were perplexed by my nationality and the provisional driver’s license I showed them as a form of ID. “You’re British? But you were born in Australia? And you live in Rome?” I was advised that they needed a copy of my passport so they could pass my details on to the police. I felt like pointing out that the Neapolitan police probably have more urgent problems to deal with…