Napoli, Naples, is not what you see on TV. I was already in love with Italy, especially Tuscany, Emilia Romagna and Sicily, but I did not know, when I ventured south of Rome last week, that Napoli would win its place in the italian corner of my heart.
It is not just the sun, the beach, the lovely food, these, you will see in my pictures and in the travelling books. No, you need to fell the neapolitan vibe. Vibe is actually quite gross a word compared to the spirit of this welcoming, vibrant, relaxed and very culturally rich city.
In Napoli, and its surroundings, you can climb vulcanos like ancient Gods have done before you. You can step in the feet of Alexander the Great and lunch on the most amazing mozzarella right after ! But most important, you can meet its people, good hearted, proud southerners, true to their city and their heritage. They will tell you Naples is not really Italy. It is a little village built on Greek, Roman, Normand, Spanish and Italian roots. People stop to salute you in the street and do a bit of chiacchierata (conversation). On Sunday, they all go to the beach promenade to walk the kids (kids drive mini cars like true italians) and eat a gelato. The place ends up noisy and crowded but it is never disturbing and anoying. It is fun to observe and touching.
In France (and in many countries I have visited or lived in) if you want to lunch late, the kitchen is closed. In Campania, and more precisely in Procida, a wonderful island off the coast, if you ask them « Until what time do you serve ? » they reply : « What time do you plan to come back ? We can wait for you. »
In Napoli, welcomers (find them on Couchsurfing) meet you in town and introduce you to all their friends. These friends treat you as a friend, even if they know you might never meet again. Some hometown friends had told me « Do not go in the Spanish quarter alone at night. » And what did I do ? I went to the Spanish quarter alone at night to meet these persons I had never seen before ! And I was FINE. Actually, it ended up being one of my best experiences of the past months.
So how was this picture possible ? Why did I end up at the top of the Vesuvio crater ?
Well, I had planed to climb the Vesuvio and I wanted to leave very early, like any good organised tourist do. You know, it is winter, daylight is precious.
But, with my great localer Davide (quite a philosopher and a devoted expert on Napoli !), I ended up partying at night, in the best neapolitan local bar, dancing on old tunes and tasting local beer (do not worry, no dunkenness involved) SO I slept in voluntarily and decided climbing half the Vesuvio would be fine. Half an experience lived fully is better than a marathon not appreciated after all.
But, when I got off the train and started wakling on that road to the mountain, a tiny car stopped. Two lovely young locals, Domenico and Rachele, had had pity on me (check the picture I looked quite like a stupid unprepared tourist) and told me I would never reached the crater. I told them it was ok but they insisted and drove me all the way up (even though they were not going that far).
We said goodbye, I hope I shall see them again one day, they were my day's guardian angels.
I felt full of love and hope as I climbed the rest of the way on foot. Therefore (and that rarely happens to me trust me) I offered a young Polish couple and their baby to take a picture of them three together as they were struggling with their selfie stick.
When we reached the top, they offered back. I thought this 24 hours kindness and neapolitan spirit needed a little picture.
During my neapolitan week, nobody attacked me, nobody tried to cheat on me, nobody stressed me. On the contrary, restaurants made sure I was filled and well fed, people helped me find my way, locals introduced me to their way of life, they happily shared Napoli's History and hopes for the future of the south of Italy.
You out there, do not be afraid of travelling, do not trust the news (too much), do not assume you have experienced something because friends told you about it, do not follow blindly but go, walk, talk, stop and answer, interact with people and try to listen. Respect the place you visit and welcome it freely and all you will see, all you hear, all you feel shall enhance your heart in a way money will never be able to buy.