Pilgrim

Underground Overground

23/08/07

It came as no surprise that we didn't surface until gone 10am this morning, missing our breakfast in the process. We didn't seem to care, even the sore head was worth it. We had such a pleasant evening last night.

Once we got going however it didn't take us long to pack our suitcases and head out for our last day in Naples.

But first breakfast.

A short distance from our hotel on the corner of Piazza Calenda we found Brunido Caffe. A small traditional cafe bar where an espresso, bottled water, a corneto and a cream filled horn did the job nicely.

We bought postage stamps from the Tabacchi next door for sending our postcards back home. We estimated that we'd be home for two weeks before they'd arrive! (and we weren't far wrong!)

Not far from the cafe was Castel Capuano which marked the beginning of Via Tribunali.

The plan today was to go beneath the city and explore the subterranean Naples. Back to the birth of Neapolis, and witness all the layers of history that fell upon it.

A company called Napoli Sotterranea offered guided tours of this underworld. The only trouble was we had to find them first!

Their address was in Piazza San Gaetano but when we got there all we could find was the church of San Paolo Maggiore.

Eventually we found them tucked away to the left of the church, in plenty of time for the 12pm kick-off.

Quite a large crowd had gathered as we waited for the tour to begin. We were then split into two groups, an Italian language tour and an English language one.

To our surprise the locals outnumbered the foreigners by 4:1.

So as the large group of Italians were led away down into the bowels of the city our smaller group, compromising of Dutch, Japanese, American and Welsh nationals were led back outside to another location.

We followed our guide back onto the streets and up Vico Cinquesanti where he said that archaeologist had only as recent as 2000 discovered the remains of a Greco-Roman amphitheatre in the basement of a house.

It was difficult to imagine what this would look like.

He opened a door that led inside an empty house and as we walked into the back room we stepped through a time vortex transporting us back to 400BC. Well, actually he pulled open a trap door and we walked down a wooden staircase into the basement.

In fact that's all it looked like, a cellar like any other cellar.

A brick is a brick until someone tells you otherwise.

So when Marco began to spin the tale of the Greeks trouncing the Etruscans, settling here and founding Neapolis, (meaning new city) all this brickwork gradually began to take on a new ancient meaning.

Then came the rule of the Roman Empire and stories of how (possibly) Nero often performed here playing his fiddle brought it vividly to life.

Where we stood is believed to be the upper arches of the amphitheatre and estimates based on the curvature of the passageways hint towards it being as large as the amphitheatre in Rome.

It's was amazing to think that all this lay beneath the hotch potch of houses above. It's also a shame that we'll certainly never get to see the amphitheatre excavated to it's former glory.

There's too much history over the last milenia layered on top. Churches, Palaces, even the houses.

Many of them may look like there about to fall down but they'd never be demolished.

Marco pointed out that above us were the floorboards of a home currently lived in by a family, and a little further up we saw a bricked up door that once lead to their kitchen.

We were abruptly ejected from Neapolis and found ourselves back in real time Naples, squinting in the bright sunshine, trying to focus at our surroundings.

We had literally emerged into somebody's back yard. We could hear countless conversations, an argument or two, we saw a mama preparing food at the stove, a small three wheeler van parked up where the man of the house must have been home for his lunch.

We left this microcosm of Neapolitan life behind and made our way back to the beginning where we started the Napoli Sotterranea tour proper.

The tunnels we were about to see were the original waterways dug out by the Greeks to bring a clean source of water to the city.

The steep looking but deceivingly gradual staricase were a much later addition. During the second World War these tunnels were used as air raid shelters and the steps were desined to be wide and set at an incline so that when those bombs were dropping a large crowd could easily run down.

As Marco explained, the British dropped 28,000 tonnes of explosives onto Naples. Julie and I pulled an apologetic face in case anyone turned to look as us Brits.

"Sorry chaps"

Compounding our guilt we saw bashed children's peddle cars and several other rusty toys recovered from the shelters.

Another clue to its former life were the graffiti etched into the red paint on the walls. The artistic impression of Hitler left a lot to the imagination but to be fair their portrayal of a 10 tonne bomb was quite accurate.

All joking aside however I'm just so glad that I've never had to experience any horrors like this and hope that my daughter and grandchildren never do either.

All war is evil, of that there is no doubt but in the face of agression there sometimes can be no other solution.

A little further along we came across a Nazi armoured car.

I don't believe they actually found it here though!

Leaving World War II behind we stepped through another time warp back into the medieval world. A world where shadowy hooded figures under the cover of darkness used to maintain these ancient waterways.

A pre-requisit of the job was that they had to be diminutive, which is why they became immortalised in Neapolitan folklore as the small monks of Morcello.

Aided only by candle light they would climb down to these depths and clean out the debris such leaves, dead rats or worse.

Our next episode was to experience these tunnels as a Morcello Monk, shuffling along extremely narrow service channels, sideways, in the flickering dim candlelight. Marco lit a row of wee willie winky candle holders with a chef's blow torch and we all picked our own.

We followed each other single file along in the darkness. Julie was genuinely concerned. "What if we get stuck?"

We didn't and we eventually emerged into a large vacuous cistern, a cavernous hole still deep with water. Three wells would have drawn their water.

Marco explained that these Greek waterworks were actually still in use as late as the 19th Century but it all came to an end in 1885 when a Cholera epidemic was traced back to the sewers.

They ran above these tunnels and were seeping through into the water supply. Eeuuw!!

We squeezed our way back through the tight crevasse to one final stop, the store room that lay beneath the church of St. Patrizia. Items were kept here because it was so cool.

Marco, who had donned a cardigan as we entered the general tunnels, was feeling the cold even further now we had reached the deepest point of our tour (40m below ground level) and was blowing into his cupped hands as if he was stranded on the Pennines in the bleakest of mid-winter. In contrast Julie was still perspiring profusely from her head. At least her ordeal was soon to be over as we made our back up to the surface.

We left the underworld behind to come across a reminder of what some believe actually does lies below, a place that smells of sulphur and is ruled by a half man half goat devil.

Strange brass skulls can be found outside the Church of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco where apparently an old custom of worshipping the dead still exists.

Actually to report it as "worship of the dead" is sensationalising it in tabloid fashion. In reality they pray for the souls in purgatory. Putting it that way it doesn't seem so bad but then again apparently the interior continues with the morbid theme with a winged skull as its centrepiece!

It was by now well past our lunch time.

We tried to get a table at Locanda dei Grifo, where we ate yesterday, but it they were full. The nearest Pizzeria that I knew about that was actually open in August was back at Piazza Bellini.

skull from Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco
pizzeria bellini

It was imaginetively called Pizzeria Bellini.

They were also very busy but they had a table for us upstairs in an wonderfully air-conditioned room. We shared equally a Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes, a Mozzarella in Carozza, and an interesting Pizza topped with 'fillets' of tomatoes instead of the customary sauce. It was of course delicious but not the best of the trip. 7/10

We sat here for over an hour which was very relaxing. We wrote postcards and read a copy of The Independent (our newspaper of choice) we had bought earlier for an extortionate price. Front page news was the murder of several mountain gorillas in the DR Congo side of the Virunga Park.

This appauled us for many reasons, one in particular was that last week, whilst in Manchester, we booked a trip to Rwanda Gorilla Trekking in the volcanoes of the Virunga. We're not going until November 2008 but this sort of headline news was not good for Julie's nerves!
I just want an apple

Our few remaining hours could have been spent rushing about Naples trying to squeeze in just one more attraction but we both agreed we'd just take it easy.

We meandered our way back towards the direction of our hotel, down Via Tribunali and Spaccanapoli, picking up a few knick knacks along the way.

I bought a small bottle of Meloncello, which apparently was just like Crema di Limoncello (the creamier variety) but of course made with Melons not Lemons!

meloncello

I'd never heard of Meloncello before. (A week later I drank it and it tasted like Amoxycillin, the sugary sweet orange medicine they give to children, which is probably why I liked it!)

By some coincidence, two minutes later, we came across someone selling a pile of melons off the back of a lorry.

Although looking closer at the photo doesn't it seem they're looking towards the back where possibly there may have been a body in that sack.

The guy on the far left is certainly shocked and is arguably holding his hands over his nose in protection from the smell of the rotting corpse; either I'm right or he can't believe the price of 3 melons for5.

Moving rather swiftly on we found ourselves having walked all the way to Piazza Garibaldi.

melons off the back of a lorry
With time on our hands we thought we would write some more postcards whilst sitting in McDonalds. I was surprised that they didn't do a McPizza! But not half as surprised as I was to learn that the Post Office next door didn't sell postage stamps!

Over the road from the post office was a shop that specialised in a very traditional Neapolitan snack, sfogliatelle, a sweet ricotta pastry.

It was described as the best in Naples, which by default makes it the best Sfogliatelle in the world. So with a boast of such proportions I had to try one.

The interior of the shop was fascinating, just as the pharmacist yesterday, it hadn't changed in the last hundred years. I waited my turn in the queue and ordered my sfogliatelle with confidence despite murdering the pronounciation.

Thankully they understood my attempt and I soon walked out with my puff pastry horn proudly in my hand.

I'm not a big fan of puff pastry but this was an exception. It was perfectly sweet, with the thin layers of pastry giving it a very unique texture and the filling was absolutely delightful. Of course being my first sfogliatelleI couldn't comment if it were the best in the world but it would be hard to beat.

The sweetness was still on my lips when we were back at our hotel loading our suitcase into the back of a taxi to take us to the airpot. Driving through Garibaldi I took one last look at this city of contradictions and I was sad to leave. It had been everything and nothing like I had expected and it left me wanting more.
 

We were an hour early for check-in but as that was delayed by two hours we a long three hour wait ahead of us. We almost got a taxi back into the city because there was absolutely nothing to do out here.

At least it gave me time for one more pizza!

The food court at the airport offered a Burger King or a hot food counter. No competition.

We filled our tray up with milky buffalo mozzarella, a delcious (despite being cold) bowl of rosemary potatoes, and the usual for main courses of swordfish for Julie and a slice of pizza for me.

It came as a shock to discover that this had to be the worst pizza in Naples or possibly the world! I didn't have have to taste it to come to that conclusion. It looked awful.

I did take a bite purely for scientific experiment. My diagnosis was correct, it was a nasty horrible disgusting pizza. If McDonalds did pizza it would be like this!

What was Naples airport playing at? A city famed for one thing above all and its gateway serves shit like this ? I could only score it a big fat zero out of ten! What a disappointment.

worse pizza in Naples or possibly  the world

We were originally due to fly at 8:40pm, which was then delayed until 10:40pm, but when we were airside waiting patiently to fly home 10:40pm arrived with the news that we were going to be a further delayed until 00:45am.

Now I know I said I didn't want to leave Naples but this wasn't what I meant!

We did eventually leave and Julie actually had quite a good flight home as she slept for most of it. We landed at London Stanstead at 3:45am and was nearer 5am by the time our heads hit the pillow in our hotel room. If we had hired the room by the hour it would have been the most expensive roomrate ever as we only used it for four hours. By 9am we were up and out, suffering a seven hour journey home, partly because we wanted to meet and greet guests who were arriving at our holiday cottage in the afternoon but also I just couldn't wait to get home to fire up my oven to have an attempt to recreate those amazing pizza bases.

It's sad to say but I've possibly ruined my pizza pleasure for life. I've eaten from the tables of master pizzaiolis. The bar has been raised and from now on only perfection will do or a return to Naples!

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