I managed to have the most perfect timing in regards to weather during my entire trip. I watched, feeling very lucky, as a massive thunderstorm descended on Rome while my bus pulled out of the city. The last stop on my Italian tour was Naples and the surrounding villages lining the Gulf of Naples. I originally wanted to stop by Naples on my way to Sicily, but unfortunately, scheduling crossed the island off my list and so I got some extra time to explore Napoli instead.
I really can’t complain about this change of plans though because the entire area is really beautiful. I had heard a lot of negative things about Naples being dirty and dangerous, but I can happily report that it felt exactly the same in those regards as all the other big Italian cities I visited. What Naples had that the others didn’t is a stunning coastline with killer sunsets and Mt Vesuvius overlooking the area.
I didn’t linger long in Naples after arriving but instead hopped on the regional train, Circumvesuviana (get it: circum = around, vesuvi = Vesuvius, ana = group), to head to my hostel in Portici. The second I stepped off the train, I knew I made a fantastic decision.
Portici is what I guess we would call a suburb of Naples. It feels much smaller, lazier and much more vacation-y than the big city and the lack of tourists, friendliness and authenticity of the locals make you feel like you’re getting a slice of real Italian life.
The town itself has quite a few attractions like the Royal Palace, Pietrarsa Railway Museum (commemorating the very first railway built in Italy), and the nearby, less famous, Pompeii-like ruins of Herculaneum (technically in the town of Ercolano but it’s really just a line in the sand). I didn’t have time to explore those sights and instead focused my time admiring the port and sampling the cuisine which, because of the lack of tourists, I could ensure was authentic and much cheeper than in say, Naples or Sorrento.
Overall, I highly, highly recommend anyone visiting Naples to consider staying in Portici or another small town in the area. It’s so much quieter and also so much closer to attractions like Pompeii and the best beaches so you spend less time traveling.
My first full day was spent exploring Naples. To be honest, at that point I was beginning to run a bit low on funds so there were a lot of museums and things that were pretty important that I didn’t actually see.
I did however make time to see the Naples National Archaeological Museum after hearing rave reviews. I thought it was ok but it had a lot of the same stuff that was in Rome since a lot of it was from the Farnese family which was collected in Rome and then brought back to Naples where the family was from.
I made sure to take my transit through the metro stop via Toledo which is considered one of the most beautiful subway stations in the world. I can see why as it’s decorated to seem like you are riding the escalators up, out of a pool with beautiful tile and mosaics everywhere.
The stop brings you out into the Spanish Quarter which is the district where everyone says to avoid because it’s so dangerous. Honestly it was the same as any other shopping street in Italy except with very narrow and hilly alleys where I could see potential problems at night. During the day however, these side streets are themed and decorated as if for some great occasion and were really something special for the city.
I spent a lot of time walking the coastline admiring the sea. I walked by both the Ovo and Nuovo castles as well as the Royal Palace and Basilica Reale Pontificia San Francesco da Paola. Of course I also stopped for some famous Napoli pizza which was very good but after my late lunch, I decided I was ready to get out of the hustle and bustle. After all, I could always come back if I felt like I missed something.
The second half of the day I spent in the most vacationy/touristy town in the area. When I was doing my research for the trip, a lot of the blogs and forums recommended staying in Sorrento because it had the ferry access but was much safer than Naples. While I have to agree that the sleepy town must be much safer than the bustling city, I think I’ve made my opinion abundantly clear that you should not make you plans around the misconception that Naples is abhorrently dangerous.
While there I pretty much only walked through town to admire the sights and then headed for the coastline. I really wasn’t prepared and didn’t know any of the roads or major sights to be seeing and wasn’t fortunate enough to stumble upon anything too spectacular. In fact, most of my time was spend walking down a very busy road which often times had no sidewalks, trying not to get nauseous from the exhaust coming from the incessant traffic. Not ideal.
It was all worth it however because I somehow stumbled, after a lot a lot of walking, upon a panoramic view point which made me completely forget my aching feet. I spent some time there resting and admiring the view and then trudged up the hill to the train station to turn in for the night.
The next day I was up bright and early to explore the ruins of Pompeii. As I am always completely honest here on my blog, I’m not going to lie and say that it’s the most amazing thing in the world. The history is amazing and every time you glance up at the volcano you can feel it’s presence as if Mother Nature is saying, “I’m letting you walk here.”
On the other hand, there are a lot of people, it’s very hot, the ticket was outrageously expensive, and while the site is massive, it’s all very much the same. If you were touring houses in your own neighborhood, how many would you have to see before you got bored? None of these negatives are meant to discourage anyone from going. I just mean to be a bit of a reality check for those, like me, who tend to get these historical wonders a bit too hyped up in their mind.
One of my favorite parts about Pompeii was, apart from the stray dogs who were quite friendly and seemed in good health (don’t approach them though, they are not tame), was the fact that you didn’t have to go very far to get away from the tour guides and crowds. Once alone, I felt like I could really appreciate what I saw and how life was like back then. I spent a lot of time just sitting on the ruins, sipping water, eating some snacks I had packed, and watching the lizards, letting the atmosphere soak in.
After Pompeii I was sufficiently hot and sweaty and ready to either hop in the shower or the sea. I opted for the latter and after confirming with some local workers in Pompeii that what I read in some old forum was still true, I hopped on the train to a little village between Pompeii and Sorrento called Vico Equense.
I really loved the town because, apart from a British guy and his two kids, I didn’t see any other foreigners. Of course that made me a bit of a spectacle when paying for my chair on the beach and blinding everyone with my lack of a tan, but I much prefer it that way. The locals claim that Vico Equense has the best beaches in the entire Gulf of Naples and from what I saw, I agree. There are two main ones, the regular city beach and Marina di Equa which is supposedly better but a bit further from the station where a backpacker like me would arrive at.
I have to make a confession that that little beach in the Gulf of Naples was the first time I ever lay beachside. I had been to the stormy, rocky beach back in Washington when I was very little with my dad crabbing and things like that, but I had never actually relaxed beachside in my life. To be completely honest, I don’t really remember how to swim anymore either which is why I haven’t made oceans and beaches too big of priority. I’m sure I’m in a vast minority here and don’t need to tell anyone how nice it was, but I quite enjoyed the quiet ending to my whirlwind adventure.
Before I knew it, I was making my way to Naples International Airport and in the blink of an eye, I was back in Milano. The trip was really fantastic but I won’t go into too much detail here about it because I have a separate post planned for more of the logistics and stuff. I kept track of all my expenses and will be letting you guys know what my final itinerary was, transport, accommodation, and all that jazz so keep a lookout for it.