Subject: Re: Naples
Mary in California asked about Naples, having heard about negative experiences there, particularly at the train station. In response, Lisa in Chicago defended the city. I pretty much agree with Lisa.

We have been there three times, most recently 2000. Although we will be going to Italy in a little over two months, we will not be heading South, but we will be back there in 2003 (we hope). Basically, Naples is a city of more extremes than you see in most Italian tourist destinations. My wife hated going back the third time (the first time, we just passed through on our way to Pompeii), but she is now pretty much a convert.

First, consider that Southern (South of Rome) Italy is almost a different country from the North. It is poor, to begin with. However, it looks like an economic heaven to many from further south--witness the hilarious line in Cinema Paradiso which is set further south and where they refer to a potential financial backer of the rather dilapidated movie house as being from up north, nearly as far as Naples.

The dialect is so strong that Northern Italians have a difficult time understanding them. I took an Italian class, hoping to profit from eavesdropping on local conversations. However, I could not make heads nor tails out of what was being said. I mentioned this to a jewelry store owner whom we know in Florence and he said: don't worry, I can't either.

The fact it is so poor with so much unemployment means that many locals hang around the train station trying to perform services, wanted or not, for tourists. If they think you are American or English, they ask if you are going to Sorrento; if they think you are from Northern Italy, they ask if you are going to Naples. Getting off the train is not extremely pleasant, especially when they are hogging all of the luggage carts to get you to hire them. Also, you arrive (at least from the North) having seen some rather unappealing suburbs. If you are just passing through Naples, I would suggest you do as little as possible at the station. However, you will probably have to change trains since most people arrive in Naples via the FS (Italian national) system, but you go to Pompeii via the Cirumvesuviana line. These trains are on different levels as I recall. To summarize, the train station is not the nicest experience you will have, but there is vastly more to Naples than the station.

We are far from the first who love the vibrancy of Naples and are less than enamored with what seems like the antiseptic touristy nature of Sorrento (as beautiful as it is). Here are some of our preferences in case you decide to stay in Naples for a while:

1. We love the Hotel Paradiso, which is a 4*, but which was very reasonable in price two years ago. It is located on a bluff in the Merggilina district (since I don't have my reference material with me, let me apologize for the first of what are probably several misspellings), a nice area (oddly, one of the nicest areas of Naples is called Vomero, go figure). You have a magnificent view of Naples Bay and an excellent breakfast where you can really experience paradise.

2. If you stay there, you go down a funicular where you can catch a bus to downtown, a train to Sorrento, Pompeii, Herculaneum, etc., or boats to Capri, Ischia, Sorrento or Procida. These options are one reason why Naples is such a popular base and why the Merggilina district is a good choice even though it is not close to downtown.

2. If you go to P. Trieste e Trente (perhaps the other way around), you have several places of import such as the Opera House, the Galleria, Gambinius coffee house (wonderful for desert and people watching), and, above all, Brandi's, the home of the pizza Marguerita. If you go to Brandi's, ask for our favorite waiter, Mario Scorso, and tell him we will see him next year; he is a trip. You can also get a bus from the train station to this piazza, and it is near the museum that has most of the major Pompeii artifacts (I can't think of its name at the moment).

3. One thing to remember is that there are two Pompeii train stops which are served by different trains. Assuming you want to see the ruins, go to Pompeii Scavi.

I love Italy, and Naples is in so many ways more Italian than more purely resort areas.

Ira H. Bernstein