Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Italia After All, Part One: Napoli (Naples)

A couple weekends back was a long weekend for us teachers here in Southern Spain, and as such, I decided to take full advantage of it to do a little traveling! It also happened to coincide with my birthday (the 26th), and that of the Beautiful Being I Love's (the 28th), so we decided a couple months back to take a celebratory trip together. Destination: Southern Italy!

Including the nine months I lived in Spain five years ago, I have lived in Europe for a total of nearly three years. But in that time, I hadn't ever taken a trip to Italy. Strange, right? Yeah, it's appeared that way to me as well for the last years of my life.

Italy is one of the better known countries and most-traveled to destinations, so how did it come to pass that I spent so much time without going? Well, because I knew I would fall head over heels in love with the place, and want to stay for a very, very long time. And that's exactly what happened.

From February 27-March 4 I cultivated such a love for Italy, and she surpassed my every expectation. Which is saying a lot, because I had them set quite high. I mean, more than that, they were out of this galaxy! I don't think I could have had higher expectations for the country and/or trip if I'd consciously tried to. (I mean, you would too if you'd been waiting 5 years to go to somewhere!) We started the trip in Napoli (Naples), and my, what a place!

I have always had a thing for decrepit buildings and destroyed things, and it didn't take longer than a few minutes on the bus from the airport for me to see how great a fit for this admiration Napoli would be. The whole place has that run-down appearance, and I say this in the most endearing way, but the city really is quite decrepit. So much so, that seeing any "new" (remodeled or maintained) building was a surprise, and it stood out in a sort of unwelcome way against the backdrop of everything else. The location and natural surroundings of the city also happen to be incredibly beautiful -- it's on the coast, there's plenty of green around, and there are mountains. But the buildings are all peeling, and though they may only be built with five or six stories, because they've all been built with incredibly high ceilings, they loom high over head, blocking out the sun, and adding to the grayness of it all. And then, within the streets that are packed full of life, there are endless splashes of colors. Whether it be from the laundry hanging out everywhere to dry, the people themselves, or certain buildings that stand out in their more-recently painted glory, creating an amazing contrast.

It was such a beautiful sentence to hear, upon arriving at the B&B we'd be staying in (Il Giardino Segreto, which I highly recommend, simply because the massive garden is amazing, and so are Anna and Mario, the proprietors of the place), when I asked where I should go for good food, feeling very Elizabeth Gilbert-like in the "Eat" part of Eat, Pray, Love, that, "It's very hard to find bad food in Napoli." Ohhhh yeeesssss, that's what I like to hear! All in, in an instant! And it was proven to be true, each time I put any item of food into my mouth. From the salmon and ham bow tie pasta with cheese I picked up down the street, to the tagliatelle with pumpkin sauce and baby squid I had the next day, to the tagliatelle with mushrooms and proscuitto I ate that night, to the pizza we dined on, twice. Each eating experience was a pleasure, and each time I saw how they treated the food with respect, love, and admiration, my love for these people and this culture grew deeper.

Our room at Il Giardino Segreto (seriously, stay here)

Part of the massive garden they have

Like I said, I knew I was in the right place within my first hours of arriving. Not only was I surrounded by decrepit buildings and sights, in a place where food is a perfectly justifiable and respected hobby, but when I went to pick up dinner for P and I that first night, what I witnessed at the restaurant confirmed everything for me: Italy and I are a well-suited pair.

One of the women working, who was wearing a white chef's robe, but out and about in the dining areas (so I'm not sure what her role was), caught my attention immediately. It wasn't because of her cool-I'm Neapolitan vibe, but because of the rhinestones that were strategically placed on her work whites to give it a little bit of swag. And then, when I saw the waiters covering the plates of food, to transport them from the restaurant to the people in the covered, outdoor dining area with plastic covers to keep in the steam, it was all I could do to not applaud and hug them. Because, mind you, the distance this food traveled was a grand total of about five steps. Ahh yes, Italy!

Since P had missed his morning flight, and mine was delayed an hour (after we'd already boarded, awesome), we started our trip off a bit later than expected, which in turn set the tone for the rest of the trip. Instead of doing what normal people do -- arrive at your hotel in the morning, check-in, drop your bags, go out and enjoy the day in the new place, stay the night(s), check-out in the morning, and onto the next place -- we would arrive at night, check-in, have some time to lounge about in the room or get a bit drunk on limoncello on the rooftop terrace, private balcony, or wherever we pleased, go out for dinner, wander about a bit, return, sleep, wake up, check-out, but leave our bags at the hotel, then spend the day exploring, return to the hotel hours after having checked-out, hang around for a while, then take our bags, and be onto the next place. And while it was a completely backwards rhythm to that which people normally do, for us, it worked out splendidly. We quite enjoy arriving somewhere at night, having a gorgeous view we can't really, fully see, but then waking up and being mind-blown by the blessing of the scenery around us. It creates endless surprises and delights, and Napoli was the first of them!

We spent our time there walking around for hours, and hours, and hours. We picked a direction, and stuck with it, till we'd hiked our way down, around, this way and that, and way up a mountain for a view, and then gradually tried to make our way back down a bit. I will probably never know exactly where we were or how we went, but we walked a lot, and got a pretty good visual idea of the city. And when finally we'd made it back to our Giardino Segreto, Mario invited us to try some of their homemade limocello as a "Happy Birthday to Us!" (And really, he's a celebratory kind of guy.) It was, by far, the best limoncello we drank on the trip, which is saying a lot, considering how many different ones we tried. The lemons came from the garden, and I daresay it made all the difference. And Mario, someone who fancies having/sharing a drink or two, then decided to bring out the other one they'd made, which featured a variety of things, including cinnamon and rooibos. The whole experience was great. Kind of like being with parents/grandparents of your close friend, who are really cool and fun to spend time with. Actually, everyone we interacted with was great, which is probably why it struck us as incredibly funny how cautionary everyone was being.

We were told so many times that the city is a really dangerous place, and that we should be very careful, not take bags out, I shouldn't really walk around alone at night (because, "I don't trust men in Napoli with nice girls who are alone. You are a nice girl." Meaning, "nice looking"), and when we had spent all day walking and were going to walk the 35 minutes back to the B&B, everyone we asked for directions told us to take the metro instead. This was so strange to us, because not once had either of us had a feeling that we were in a dangerous situation, but when our final attempt at getting some directions told us we really shouldn't walk through the area we'd need to, and that the city could be compared, in terms of danger, to Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro, we decided to start taking it a bit more seriously. Though I am very pleased to say we didn't have a single sketchy moment! (Thank you, God!)

Trying to flick the unplaced, ugly building out of the way to clear up the view of Mt. Vesuvius 

Yes, Napoli was great, but our time needed to come to a close; it was time for us to head a little further south to Sorrento, and visit Pompeii. Buuuut not before we'd spent a casual morning killing time, going into the Archaeological Museum in Napoli, seeing a room full of phallic images and penis wind chimes with penises of their own, or more penises on penises, or little creatures and/or people riding them (go see this place),

You see what I mean!?!?!

popping into the supermarket to raid the deli section, then enjoy our picnic plunder in the garden at Il Giardino Segreto,

Omg, yum, please, all of this, find a way to Spain (aka my stomach)

lay around, and then have coffee/tea with Anna, whilst sharing endless conversation about a variety of subjects (but mostly pertaining to their wanting to buy a home in Amsterdam, where P lives). And then, we were off. Next stop: Sorrento!

Words of wisdom in our room at Il Giardino Segreto

Blessings, Love, Light & Wonder to all!

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