We didn’t plan to go to Naples. It just happened to fall right in our path between Sicily and Rome. To be honest we hadn’t heard great things. In fact, we were told stories of mobsters on the streets and that the mafia runs the place… I googled about the city on the train ride there and it didn’t get much better. People on forums were advising against visiting and one person warned of bag snatchers grabbing your belongings right from your hands when you arrive at the platform. I won’t lie, I felt nervous and unsure of what to expect.
We arrived and exited the train station without issue. On our walk to our airbnb apartment I was immediately transfixed by the rich culture, the character of the local people, crumbling buildings and slight foreboding feeling on the streets. Rubbish was overflowing from street-side bins, rain water gushed beneath my feet. I remember clutching my camera tightly but not wanting to miss even a moment. Naples felt like a step back in time, this city was not rich by wealth, but had a sort of grunge-y charm. We reached our Airbnb apartment, barely a 10 minute walk from the main train station. After some stressful moments where we couldn’t work out which door to knock on from the very narrow laneway (and a bad connection on the phone to our host), we finally found the place and began our ascent up the stairwell. It was gloomy, with chipped tiles, barely connected beams, loud Italian chattering from behind closed doors and a big rope with a hook on the end dangling down the centre shaft (which we later learnt was to hoist suitcases up to the apartment on the top floor).
Our host greeted us at the top of the stairs, a short Italian woman with a warm smile and a loud demeanour. We chose to stay in a cute little shared apartment (for affordability – no where private was in our price range). The host had made us bruschetta and poured glasses of wine. She showed us around for a few minutes and left us to settle in. I sat at the little desk and watched the rain softly fall on the laneway below and crumbling apartments across from us. It felt like one big gust of wind could bring it all tumbling down.
There was only so long we could rest (hide?) before our tummies started grumbling complaints of hunger and we set out on the streets. It was almost dusk now, the rain not so heavy and the streets full of people going about their evening. I wanted to capture everything. I shot from the hip so as not to be detected, peering into doorways where children played pool and smoked cigarettes. Market sellers were passionately yelling at their buyers, women hurriedly walking by under big umbrellas. We walked for an hour, we forgot we were hungry, we just wanted to see everything.
We spent just two nights in Naples, just enough to give us a taste of this complex city. On our second day we set out for an entire day of walking. Martin grumbled when I led him all the way to the ocean just to see the curvature of the buildings meeting the sea. We tried to find a gelato place but got lost again. The streets of Naples are a narrow, repetitive labyrinth of discoveries.
Naples wasn’t frightening. It wasn’t hostile or as dangerous as I was led to believe. Naples is known to be one of the poorest cities in Europe, and once we were there it was undeniable. Organised crime and political corruption have stunted the cities growth and ability to flourish. But the people are strong, resilient, passionate and kind. They have this stubborn kind of warmth that is impossible not to love. They are fighters and they love their city. Some of the stereotypes about Naples are true, others aren’t. This isn’t a place for the faint hearted – those looking for a picturesque Italian holiday with all the comforts and lavish style. It’s here in Naples you can eat Neapolitan pizza where it was first invented, feast on some of the most incredible pastries, people watch fascinating characters, and step back in time to decades past.
And it seemed it was time to leave after only just arriving. We packed our bags, set out on the streets, heading for the train station and our next Italian destination.