My first night in Naples was marked by pizza fritti and a warm welcome.
Even when days are cold and rainy, nights in Naples are wonderful -- and the food is, too.
My First Night in Naples
To be honest, I was a bit nervous about traveling to Naples. My trip was prompted by Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels, which do not portray the city in a flattering light. Naples also has a reputation for being dangerous, to the point that my grandmother insisted I confirm my safety with a phone call or text message each night.
I made sure to arrive in the daylight, ignore all the taxi drivers offering rides at the airport, and board the Alibus to the city center. To my surprise, however, the taxi drivers offered helpful advice (the bus costs five euros) instead of insisting I ride with them.
I tucked myself away in the back of the bus and rode two stops to wind up at the port -- a 15-minute walk from my hostel. Along the way, I held my luggage close and admired Castel Nuovo and the giant construction site surrounding it.
Immediately, I was struck by the sense that Naples was so beautiful, but so ugly. A gentler way to express this sentiment would be to say that the city is "gritty."
Grittiness aside, I made my way to Ostello Bello Napoli, where I waited to check in behind a rowdy group of Brits and immediately received a token for a "welcome drink." Weary from my journey, I went upstairs to my room. I was delighted to find a bed by the window and an ensuite bathroom.
I took a shower -- and a moment to orient myself. The pizza restaurant I wanted to visit for dinner didn't open until 7:30PM, but I was hungry. With a growling stomach, I ventured down the bustling Via Toledo and into the Quartieri Spagnoli in search of "pizza fritti," fried pizza, a Neapolitan specialty.
After several missed turns, near-collisions with Vespas, and detours to admire the city lights, I arrived at Pizze Fritte da Gennaro. The lights were on, but no one appeared to be home, and a chain with a sign blocked off the entrance.
As I was entering the sign into Google translate, a local man arrived and shouted at whoever was inside. An old Italian woman emerged, and the man ordered a pizza. I turned to him and asked, "parla inglese?"
"Yes," he announced confidently, "I speak English."
"Great," I said, "Can you help me order the pizza fritti?"
Not only did this kind Neapolitan man help me order my pizza ("you want a large with all the toppings," not a question), but he also told me about Naples and assured me it was safe.
The man was happy to see me, an American, because it meant the city was becoming fashionable again. He complained about Naples' reputation and the false assumption that all its residents were gangsters.
"No one will attack you because they like your knee," he explained, "but don't go around flashing a fancy watch."
"Like any city," I agreed, "Just don't be stupid."
He nodded, laughed, grabbed his pizza, and walked into the night with a large, "ciao!"
Then, I paid the old woman, got my pizza and wandered into the streets of the Spanish Quarter.
As I walked around with my pizza, I drew a few looks, but as my guidebook explained:
"Wandering into residential areas may attract attention from locals, but this should not be interpreted as threatening."
So far, I have spent five nights in Naples, and I have never felt threatened.
Other Notable Nights
On my second night in Naples, I was lucky enough to meet two English girls, Emilia (originally from Finland) and Sadiya (born in Bangladesh).
Together, we went for Michelin-starred pizza at L'antica Pizzeria da Michele, where I pretended to be Julia Roberts and ate all but a slice and a half.
Back at the hostel, we had a couple of Aperol spritzes, then went out in search of karaoke, which the hostel receptionist insisted did not exist in Naples. We found it nonetheless and sang our hearts out with some locals -- "Mamma Mia," Queen, and Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," turned out to be popular choices, with the latter hand-selected for us.
On other nights, we roasted vegetables in the hostel's communal kitchen because we were so full of fried and fresh seafood, tried the original Pizza Margherita at Pizzeria Brandi (open since 1780), and ate our weight in Ragu at Tandem Napoli.
While struggling to digest all our pizza and pasta, we played an international game of "Cards Against Humanity," with students and travelers from Italy, France, Austria, India, and the United Kingdom. The various accents and misunderstandings only added to the laughter.
So far, Naples has treated me well. I'll be here until Friday, so stay tuned for updates.
I also have so much to tell you about the various neighborhoods and characters of The Neapolitan Novels... and how they figure so prominently in my everyday life here. That will probably be my next blog.
Ciao for now!
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