Before I’d even touched the ground, I’d made a new friend. That’s the first thing you’ll learn in Italy: The locals are incredibly friendly. Another fun fact about Italy is that everyone always applauds on the plane’s landing. Honestly, as soon as those wheels skim the runway, the clapping and cheering will sound. It’s great! I tried to re-enact this moment when I landed back in the UK, but sadly, it failed. Though let’s face it, no one really feels chuffed to land back in Britain when the first thing you’re greeted with is rain and a promise of an “unusually warm” 10°C forecast awaiting you – it’s just not quite the same. But, anyway, I felt like the applause was a really nice introduction to the country. And with my first minute in Italy getting off to a flying start, I was certain that the rest could only get better.
NH Ambassador Napoli Hotel
After squeezing my giant blue suitcase into a tiny little Italian car and taking a night tour of the city with my new pal and his friends, I finally arrived at my hotel (like I said, they’re super friendly there!) Located in the very heart of Naples, apparently, my hotel was not only boasting a prime location within the Capodimonte district, but it was also one of the biggest skyscrapers in the city (and you know how I like my tall buildings) so I was over the moon! Talking of which, the city view from my hotel window was pretty stunning…
However, I soon realised that staring out at the Castel Nuovo and Naples’ famous port was more than just something to be admired. In fact, having these views a 5-minute pootle away is perfect for any sightseer, especially in the height of summer. Because when the sun’s pouring down and – despite the heat – you still want to tick off everything on your itinerary, you can still feel rather accomplished sat on the beachfront, ice-cold mint sorbet drink in hand, all the while admiring the epic view of Mount Vesuvius towering in the distance. Ahh, bliss!
As nice as that was though, my desire to climb the famous volcano was increasing. I simply couldn’t wait any longer. Pompeii was calling me, and I was going to answer.
Getting to Pompeii was an absolute bloody nightmare. Firstly, I had a mini-argument with the unhelpful woman at the ticket counter, who told me – whilst puffing clouds of cigarette smoke in my face – that a direct train to Vesuviana (the stop for the notorious volcano) would cost me nearly triple the price than to go directly to Pompeii (bearing in mind, Vesuviana was en route to Pompeii and therefore I could’ve just bought the cheaper ticket and hopped off early…) Anyway, I decided to do the right thing – I ignored the woman and bought the cheaper ticket, went to Pompeii, then hopped on the bus outside the station to take me up the volcano’s summit for 3 euros (screw you, ticket lady) However, I was soon to discover that Karma’s a bit–…
…Chasing my tail, I was! The train system was confusing and I nearly gave up at Piazza Garibaldi’s central station. Everywhere was boiling, nothing was clear, I went the wrong way at least twice and then began to curse as I missed my train. Only to realise that it wasn’t my train anyway. Urgh! I am so crap at this! Luckily for me though, I did go to the right platform in the end (asking folk in uniform for help is really worthwhile) and eventually, I caught my train to Pompeii. Everything seemed to finally be back on track. I didn’t bank on the train breaking down en route though.
Suffice to say, the Italian rail system isn’t the greatest. My hour delay at a station 3 stops away from Pompeii in 30°C heat certainly made for a grumpy Sacha. Nevertheless, the true wonder and awe that overwhelmed me when I finally arrived at the gates of Pompeii was truly immense. Now I was there, standing in the very heart of history, nothing was going to bring me down.
Some of the plaster-cast bodies preserved after the almighty Vesuvius erupted in 79AD and flowed into Pompeii ⇑⇑
Anyone who knows their Italian history will be pretty savvy on why places like Pompeii and Herculaneum are rather significant. If not, then you can get an idea regarding the fascination by reading the caption for the above photo. This is not just a landmark. This is history, this is destruction, life, death, faith, beauty, fear all rolled into one! No trip to Naples would be complete without it. However, it’s quite big and has a few steep, cobbly hills, so going when it’s bloody boiling is not the greatest of ideas. But, still, I can at least proudly say that my sweaty self has explored these parts! And that’s all any explorer really wants to say – the excitable, “I’ve been there!” statement. It makes you feel buzzed. The buzz is infectious and makes you tingle like nothing else in this world. With this in mind, a new sensation had to be a guaranteed experience upon climbing Pompeii’s neighbouring volcano. But after all the delays, maybe I’d save it for another day.
A big bang woke me up with a start. For a moment, I was confused as to what was going on because everything was still dark and yet my phone said it was 7.30am. Usually, at that time, the sun would be shimmering the adjacent coastline by now. But, instead of the sun, all I saw when I looked out of my hotel window was a dark, grey, monstrous cloud. That was when the heavens opened and further claps of thunder and lightning echoed in the sky. It’s true what they say, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” And damn it, I wished I’d gone up Vesuvius when it was hot and sunny. This day, as I saw it, was going to be a complete washout.
Staring into the mouth of a monster
Determined is my middle name. Come rain or shine, I wanted to climb that volcano, and that’s exactly what I did. After a morning of mourning, I decided to pack up my belongings, cross my fingers and hope for the best. After all, it would take me over an hour to get there anyway, so it was always possible that the weather would sort itself out in that time. Plus, if the trains decided to play silly beggars again, that’d give it even more time. Nevertheless, I need not have worried. The skies cleared up, the train was on time, the bus schedule to the summit was running and I was on top of the world (quite literally!) In fact, the cooler breeze made the climb up top far easier. There was me, thinking I’d need Gandalf’s staff to aid my ascent up the spiralling rock, when actually, all I really needed was half an hour and a better pair of shoes (it may be a relatively flat climb, but that doesn’t mean to say that a pair of pumps can tackle it) Should I have worn more sensible footwear, I bet my time would have been faster. Still, being up in the clouds whilst staring down into the mouth of Vesuvius is unbelievable. Crap shoes or not, I made it and I loved every second.
With the two biggest ticks now against Vesuvius and Pompeii on my to-do list, all that was left was to explore the rest of Naples in peace and quiet. That was doable, right?
Lemon drizzle cake green tea fuelled me on this day. The castle may have been small, but once again, the sun was out, the air was cossetting and it was HOT. Hydration was key to surviving the exploration. That, and money, of course. 6 euros was all I needed to enter this mighty 13th Century fortress I saw every day from my window. Ironic really – to call a place “nuovo” (which translates as, “new”) when it’s probably the oldest thing there. In fact, it was so old, it even contained a picture of Naples before it was overrun with crazy drivers, towering hotels and pedestrians. Seeing a castle really needs no excuse, but seeing one with a direct glimpse into the past – well, now isn’t that just something?
Palazzo Reale di Napoli
Now, it has to be said that no exploration would be complete without a Royal visit! As one of my favourite sight-seeing places in Naples, I ventured here on the first Sunday of the month (which is the only time it’s free to enter – usually it’s 6 euros, which, in my opinion, is still a bargain!) and spent a good couple of hours prancing about like I owned the joint. Nothing can prepare you for this place. It’s just MASSIVE. There’s so much to see, so many places to look. If I could go around it 500 times I’d still miss a million different things. From the Queen’s many bedrooms to the insanely beautiful Renaissance and Baroque-styled art scattered across the walls and ceilings, this Palace is positively staggering, and no trip to this city would be done with justice if this isn’t on the must-visit list. Plus, it makes for a good picture.
Beating all the other bedroom mirror selfies in one push of a button
Piazza del Plebiscito
Night or day, this walkthrough history really does get you thinking. And when the kids are gone and the tourists are busy filling their faces with risotto, this giant Piazza really is quite a venue for inspiration. That’s what I loved about it. Each night, I’d go there just to sit and take it all in, fully immersing myself in the history that once was, whilst only being mere steps away from the present world. This is Italy’s very own time portal. No Delorean’s here. Just the beauty of the past merging with the days of tomorrow.
A very royal view, taken from inside the Palace
Visit because it’s golden-yellow and decadent. Stay because it has cool shops inside. Plus, having an afternoon slice of cake and a cuppa in here is so much more enjoyable than anywhere else on the planet. Talking of enjoyment, en route to the end of my voyage, I encountered some other rather famous stops, too. Naples really is the city that keeps on giving!
Fountain of Neptune
Filled with historical pieces from Greek, Roman and Renaissance times, including artefacts from Pompeii, this venue must not be missed. Oh, and for all the nerdy folk out there, there’s a Star Wars exhibition on the lower-ground too! Personally, I thought it was one of the best parts of the museum and became rather giddy as soon as I found it. As proof of this, here’s me stroking Yoda’s lovely, long, green ears.
He is both wise and soft.
With most things being free to see (or at least cheaper than I’d first anticipated) it meant I had more money for something very, very special. Something so special, that it deserved to be saved until the end. Best til last and all that. But it wouldn’t be much fun in me just telling you straight out what that was. So, instead, I’ll give you some tasty clues…
It was tanned.
It was hot.
Its perfect figure simply had to have been created by the Gods.
It was just a little bit cheesy…
And I couldn’t wait for it any longer!
Yes 6pm, I hear you. It’s pizza o’clock.
Now, I’m usually all about a good cup of tea. However, during my time in Italy, I had to forego that love a little bit and make do with indulging in pizzas instead. Which, as you can imagine, was a really tough compromise…
OH, the excitement! The thrill! The moment my veggie radar detected the gorgeous little Vegetarian and Vegan restaurant just opposite Museo Archaelogico (Vitto Pitagorico) my heart beat fast like a hummingbird – I was so happy! And with margarita pizza starting from as little as 4 euros, it wasn’t something to be sniffed at. By all means, I seldom went for the cheapest one because, well, when you’re in the birthplace of pizza you kind of have to try all the fancy cuisines! Plus, they all sounded so darn good, it was too hard to resist! So, thinking wisely, I only had 4.
Just for the record though, my waistline survived! I know that you must have all been concerned by that, obviously…
For anyone who wants to know, there are multiple pizzerias and restaurants EVERYWHERE in Naples – including little food stores like the Conad (kind of like the Tesco Express of Italy) So it’s fair to say that going hungry isn’t an option. Funnily enough, buying food from the local grocery store was one of my favourite things to do. It showed me a new world of food and gave me a chance to practice my Italian, too. However, I must have got something terribly wrong because I ended up with crystalised ginger pieces for my breakfast cereal rather than pineapple! Note to everyone on the planet: This is not a good combination!! Anyway, all the dishes, be them simple or fancy, are quite inspiring. I now will never be able to have a salad without dousing it in a good spoonful of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a scattering of walnuts. Honest to God, it’s just…perfetto!
And so, just like in all the best fairy tales, the solo travelling female survived her trek with soul. She fought the wind and the unforgiving rain, she braved the thunder that nearly stopped her train, she climbed the mountain and looked at the big world from the clouds above, but most of all, she found a new place where she fell in love.