“I never thought I’d die so young… but I suppose this is the end” I thought to myself as I sat in bed the night before my flight to Italy, watching a documentary about Naples being one of the World’s most dangerous Cities and reading countless accounts of people’s experiences with pickpockets, bags that have gone speeding away on the back of vespas and reports of confrontation and violence. Mix that in with the known Mafia presence and I felt more worried about travelling to Southern Italy than I have when travelling to really isolated and ‘off-the-beaten-track’ parts of the world!
Napoli has always been of interest to me as my Grandmother was from nearby Sorrento and I’ve always wanted to discover my Italian roots. I took Italian classes at University but not practicing the language pretty much took me back to square one – I vowed to improve and what better setting to do so than in Italy itself?
I touched down at Capodichino airport. In the evening light, as my cab drove through the traffic-laden streets of Napoli, we sped past old ladies cooking pasta in the streets, groups of older Italian men sitting outside smoking and laughing with life long friends and vespa drivers with a death wish speeding through the most impossibly thin of spaces between cars. The City just felt so alive.
It’s true what they say – Naples is loud, brash, dirty, smelly, full of graffiti… but I love it. It just has so much character.
For whatever reason, Naples has escaped from the major influx of tourists that travel to Italy – most sticking with Rome, Florence, Venice, etc.
Think of it like yourself – you go to a bar with friends and there are cute guys, so you make a little effort – smear on a naughty bit of MAC lippie and poof up your hair… but if you stay at your parents for a weekend – who you gon’ impress? Dave, the fat bloke next door? Hell no – so you sit in that oversized hoodie you’ve had since 2004 (you know the one I’m talking about!) with chocolate around your mouth and hair scrunched up like Miss Trunchbull. Well Naples is like that too – no-one comes, so it has no-one to impress, you know? The City hasn’t developed around tourism and still has a very local and traditional Italian feel to it.
You may or may not be aware of the divide in culture between the two regions of Italy – the North and the South; these two regions being in almost opposition as they openly express their disdain for the other’s lifestyles. The Northern region is synonymous with class – style conscious, sophisticated Italians with a taste for the good life; The South on the other hand – the more simple, Mediterranean, family focused life.
Every place I’ve been to in Italy I’ve loved and I have friends dotted around the Country; however in Naples I really did find the stereotype of the friendly, welcoming Italians to be especially true – I met so many locals at my Language School who were concerned I’d come to the Country alone, inviting me into their homes to have dinner with their extended families, introducing me to each member in turn as though I were a guest of honour and going out of their way to ensure my social diary was filled during my time in the City.
The only negative emotion Naples stirred within me was disappointment at the lack of appreciation of the history and architecture of the City the younger generations have – Roman ruins are covered in graffiti and your footsteps echo as you walk through empty museums and tourist sites.
I never for a moment felt unsafe, and I was often strolling home alone late at night (Okay, not the smartest move – you probably shouldn’t do that, but nothing happened to me in my month of doing so). If you’re concerned about the Mafia – let’s look at this logically – they are not going to go around attacking random tourists. Why would they risk that? They won’t bother you if you don’t bother them… like Spiders.
There are good and bad people everywhere you go – yes there are a high number of pickpocket incidents in Naples – equally, someone tried to steal my friend’s bag when we were in Paris, and nobody warns you against Paris – be conscious of your surroundings, especially when walking down the narrow streets and hook your bag securely under your arm. If you can avoid taking a handbag, I just put what I needed in my pockets.
Naples really is a diamond in the rough, but I hope that, like me, you are able to uncover its beauty.
Have you been to Naples and the Italian South? What are your thoughts?