Before going to press Ale needed one final photo, and it was for the cover, no less. It was a pattern on the floor in a Naples church called the Capella di Sansevero. The church itself has quite an interesting history, being as it was the chapel of a Baroque-era prince who was an alchemist and Grand Master of the Neopolitan Free Masons. Since we couldn’t find a photo in any book and Ale’s manuscript is going to press soon, we decided to take a day trip down to Naples. Besides our mission of getting the photo, there was sure to be the reward of a real Neopolitan pizza, something one should never pass up the chance for.
Well, not only did we accomplish our mission, we ended up having almost a mini-vacation for all the things we saw and did in just a one-day trip. I figured I would try my best in the next few posts to give you a taste of Naples as I see it.
When Ale told a colleague of his that he was going to Napoli, his colleague said, “Better make sure your passport hasn't expired!”
Oh, poor, battered Napoli. The butt of all jokes. Personally, I am fascinated by the place. I’m sure it has to do with a story I was told years ago by my Italian teacher, Anna, a Roman who has lived in Arizona for many years. She told me that when the mandatory seatbelt law came to Naples, the people started driving around with white T-shirts that had black stripes diagonally across them: painted-on seatbelts. You’ve gotta hand it to them for sheer ingenuity.
Our adventure starts at Termini station here in Rome, where we board the much-anticipated “Alta Velocità” or high-speed train to Naples. Inaugurated just a few months ago, the train is a bit of a laughingstock for the fact that it covers the first two-thirds of the route going 300 km/hour (about 186 mph), but for the last third when the high-speed track simply runs out (they inaugurated the route before finishing it), it switches back to the regular track and slows down to a near-crawl, in effect becoming a regional (read: slowest) train as it creeps through town after forgotten town on the outskirts of Naples. One of the men sitting next to us joked that, “usually trains try to speed up near the end to recover lost time, but this train actually slows down to compensate for having gone too fast.” I haven’t quite been able to decipher why this is so, but I’ve been told that the money ran out. I heard some of the Italians on board jokingly refer to this phenomenon as simply another example of doing things all’Italiana: Italian-style.
In any case, I was shocked when a uniformed attendant came through with a beverage cart, free of charge. Usually it’s woe unto he who travels with Trenitalia. Some day maybe I will tell you some of my stories, but for now just imagine herds of chickens and other assorted barnyard animals being rounded up and transported to their final resting places. Luckily this was a surprisingly pleasant trip, made even better by the fact that we managed to get our tickets on a 2-for-1 special, meaning we paid €15 each way per person, even less than the normal Eurostar train.
So, after an hour and a half, we get off at Napoli Centrale. Truth be told, I did feel a little like I had just entered a foreign, exotic locale—Naples to me is almost like one huge street market or bazaar. You’ll hear more Neopolitan dialect being spoken on the streets than you will actual Italian, which contributes to the otherworldly feeling. The best way I can describe Napoli is that it’s not really a place you visit—it’s a full-on sensory experience.
Crossing the street in Naples is akin to being transported back to the 80s and becoming the star of the video game Frogger. It’s not unlike the video you can watch below. Although I have no idea what city this video was filmed in, it certainly could be a busy Naples street on any given day.
After navigating our first challenge, we’re ready for breakfast, and so we head for the hallowed (and very crowded) Scaturchio.
Here you can experience the ultimate in one of the things Naples is famous for: its pastries. I opt for a warm sfogliatella, crispy and flaky on the outside and filled with sweet ricotta cream and a slight hint of cinnamon inside.
I found a recipe for sfogliatella here, but frankly even without reading the recipe, it looks like quite a challenge to make. If any of you have ever attempted this (and succeeded), I'd love to hear about it! Here I found a recipe claiming to be Scaturchio’s own pastiera, another famous Neopolitan pastry.
P.zza San Domenico Maggiore, 19
P.zza San Domenico Maggiore, 19
Next time we venture on to the fascinating Capella di Sansevero church, and after that we continue our gastronomic exploration of Neopolitan delights, while stopping to admire the nativity scenes, do some shopping, and tour Naples Underground. Stay tuned!