This is a testing post to see if I can work this blogging thing. I will cut and paste a trip report I recently did for TripAdvisor for a trip to Naples over spring break this year.
We arrived by plane from Frankfurt on 1 April 2012 (not staying in Frankfurt sadly, just changing planes) and took the Alibus from the airport to the train station. Immigration was in Frankfurt and there was no line at all. Customs was in Naples and I only recall walking through a thing that said nothing to declare. The Alibus was €3 (I think) and you can pay cash on the bus and get change. I had about €100 from our previous trip, and I got €340 more in FRA from an ATM. This was enough for the trip with about €100 to bring back. I paid for the agritourismo with a credit card, but paid cash for most everything else.
From the Naples station, we bought tickets at the machine to Vallo della Lucania. We were picked up there by someone from the Agritourismo. We stayed there for 4 days, and on the first day I managed to get bucked off a horse and bruise my back and sprain my ankle pretty badly, which cut down on our activities for the rest of the trip.
Now, no “I told you so’s”, but as I was flying over the horse’s head I thought “I should have bought medevac insurance.” It’s not quite as bad as it sounds, though, as our home insurance will pay for medical care overseas (and even medevac but only if they think it’s necessary). Anyway, I had just found out that there is travel insurance available through a professional association I belong to, but hadn’t had time to get info on it before we left so I hadn’t bought any. I do have an emergency fund that would cover it, but I’d rather not use it up on that. Fortunately, I decided nothing was broken and didn’t need any medical attention, just rest, elevation, and tylenol and ibuprofen (which I always bring with me – this is the first trip I’ve used up all the ibuprofen though).
I ended up riding the 2nd day but that was too much for my back and ankle and I took the next 2 days off. Originally, I was going to ride 3 days and rent a car and drive around 1 day. However, DD wanted to ride all 4 days, and I decided I’d rather have another day of rest before Naples than deal with the car and driving. So DD rode 4 days. On the days I didn’t ride, I drove up with the guy who brings the picnic up (complete with portable table and tablecloth) and ate lunch with the riders. We stayed until 6 April and then they drove us to the train station again and we took the train back to Naples. I felt like we were pushing it for time as we got to the station with only 5 or 10 min before our train, but I managed to buy the ticket from the window (there was only one person in front of me) and get to the train with a couple minutes to spare. Next time I think I’d tell them my train was 15 min earlier than it actually was, though. They kept our passports while we were there, and the guy driving us to the airport had trouble finding them when we checked out, which added time to the checkout.
We had assigned seats on the train but there were people sitting in them. We went into a mostly empty compartment. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the one the conductor sits in. He started talking rapidly in Italian but quickly realized I had no idea what he was saying and let us out of the compartment and to the one we had seats in (which was full). After a long argument in Italian, 2 people left and we sat in that compartment (although still not in our seats). Moral of the story, don’t try to sit in the conductor’s compartment.
We arrived in Naples Centrale with no further incident. We had planned to take the metro to our B&B but DD really wanted to take a taxi for some reason. We got in the taxi queue (which was fairly long – I think the metro would have been faster) and I showed the driver the address of the B&B. I have no idea if he ripped us off or not, but it was €24 to Chiaia with 2 22″ suitcases. I felt like we were on a roller coaster, but DD loved it. Her first impression of Naples was that it was “crazy like a city would be if I built one.”
We stayed at the B&B Amedeo in Chiaia. Here’s a link to my TripAdvisor review.
I had a whole lovely itinerary planned for Naples, but then DD (who hadn’t wanted to be involved in the planning in the first place) decided she wanted to go to Caserta and Herculaneum (or Pompeii, but we’d already been there). This cut out 2 of our 3 days in Naples, so we really got almost nothing of my itinerary done. Oh, well, at least I have an itinerary ready if we go back!
The first day we arrived around lunchtime. DD had seen a store from the taxi that she thought was a music store, and so we walked back there, but it turned out to be a bookstore that sold guitars (and one saxophone and french horn), so she was a little disappointed with that. Next she wanted to see Castel Nuovo, so we walked down there. I’d guess it was maybe 20 min with DD navigating. It was €6 each to get in. I had planned to get an Artecard, but now that we were going to Caserta and Herculaneum, I thought I’d need the one for the whole region, and I couldn’t remember the price or what was included. I also didn’t see a place to buy them in the train station. They did sell them at Castel Nuovo, but the man taking money there didn’t seem disposed to be overly helpful, so I gave up and decided to pay individually.
We spent probably an hour or so at Castel Nuovo. DD says she wished that Naples spent more time or money (probably both) on maintaining their history, as she felt that it was not well maintained and was dirty. We have had several trips to the UK, and I think they do put more money/effort into preserving their heritage there. However, she also thought Rome was better maintained, so maybe it’s just Naples. No offense intended to anyone, this was just our observation and I really know nothing about how any of it is funded in any country.
From there we walked up to the Palazzo Reale, but DD had decided she didn’t want to go in anymore. We did pass the Biblioteca Nazionale, and there is an exhibit area you can go in, but DD said she didn’t speak Italian so she didn’t want to go in. I think we were both getting tired by this time. We walked past Teatro San Carlo, and they had a sign up about guided tours. There was one in 15 min but I couldn’t tell what language it was in, and DD had already moved off down the street. They seemed to have them fairly regularly though. I mention these because I couldn’t figure this out online before I left. We wandered around awhile longer and then took the metro back to Amedeo.
We rested awhile in the room (my ankle needed a fair amount of elevation, so I really couldn’t walk all day) and then went out to a restaurant that we had seen nearby. DD got sausage and what we think was broccoli (it looks different in Italy than here – thinner) and I got a pizza. It was all pretty good.
The next day we went to Caserta because the trains were more frequent on Sat than on Easter which was the next day. Just FYI, you buy tickets to Caserta from a Tabac, not from the trenitalia office or machines. We tried the machines and couldn’t get it to come up. Then we waited in a huge line at the Trenitalia ticket windows only to be told they were sold “there” (as he pointed to the right – the ticket agent didn’t speak English, so I was doing well to figure out we had to go “there”) Across the way was a tourist information place where they did speak English and told us to go to a Tabac. It only took us about 5 min to buy the tickets at the tabac, but we missed the next train by 2 min (we saw it pulling out as we were in the tabac…)
Since we had some time before the next train (30 min, an hour? I don’t recall), we decided to get something to eat. There’s an a la carte place there where we got pizza which actually wasn’t bad considering it was in a train station. We also got fries from McDonalds as it was in the same place and made DD want them. There are toilets there too, but you need a code from your receipt to get in. The codes were the same on our receipts from both places, and we ate dinner there too and it was the same then, so I think they must only change it once a day or something.
Anyway, once we got our tickets, we headed to Caserta. You can see the palace from the train station. It’s maybe a 5 min walk. We really enjoyed Caserta. DD is a huge Star Wars fan, and Queen Amidala’s palace on Naboo was filmed there (I think the outside of Naboo was in Northern Italy – around Lake Como, maybe). Anyway, she was really excited to see the parts that were in the movie. She even did a little jig of delight when she found out she was “in Naboo”.
Just FYI, if you are only going for the Star Wars part, you can see it without paying to go into the apartments. You can also see the chapel for free, but you have to pay to see the apartments and the gardens. Initially we were going to see the gardens, but I accidentally bought tickets only for the apartments and since it was raining we decided not to go into the gardens. I didn’t see this when I was researching in advance, but DD informed me that the droid army marches through the gardens in Star Wars. She thought the outside might be in it too, but she says she’d have to watch it again to be sure.
The apartments were nice to see, although I’ve found that state apartments look a lot alike (at least in the UK, France, and Italy). I think they all copied each other. DD was impressed with the THREE (or was it four) library rooms. That was enough to make her want to live there. She even wrote down some of the titles of the books so she could look them up and see what kind of books they were. She’d love to have 3 rooms full of books with bookshelves so tall you need a ladder to get to the upper shelves!
There were several sections of the apartments. I think there was a 1700s section, an 1800s section, and a section with modern art (which we didn’t spend time in as we’re not really into modern art).
TBH, I’m not sure how much time we spent there. Maybe 2-3 hours? Allow more if you want to see the gardens. Also, there were some men outside the ticket office trying to sell guidebooks. Initially I listened to one of them as I thought he was official, but when I said I didn’t want one he started negotiating the price. I could have gotten one for €2 but DD didn’t want to buy from him because she said he was too pushy, and I didn’t want to buy from him because I didn’t know if it was legal. They also sell guidebooks in the ticket office, but we just used the signs in the rooms which were in both Italian and English.
We took the train back to Naples, and DD said she was tired and so we just ate in the train station. DD had McDonalds and I had pizza again. Then we took the metro back to Amedeo and just hung out for the evening. Does anyone know if the Caserta tickets cover the Naples metro if you are still in your time (which I think was 160 min)? I thought the woman next to me asked the conductor and he said yes (but they were speaking Italian), so we used them that way. No one checked our tickets on the metro, though, so I still don’t know if it was legal.
Our last day there was Easter Sunday, and DD wanted to go to Herculaneum (so much for all my research on grouping geographically and opening times of places in Naples…). I didn’t really mind, though. We took the Circumvesuviana to Ercolano Scavi with no issues. From the station you just walk downhill and there are signs for the ruins (Scavi). They wanted an ID for the audioguide, and took my driver’s license. They only wanted one ID for both audioguides and I left mine, but DD has a state ID, and I wondered if they would have taken that for both as losing her state ID would really be a non-issue while I’d rather not lose my driver’s license. Better than losing my passport though.
I think we spent about 3 hours at Herculaneum. It rained on and off, but not enough to really affect our enjoyment. I had my super raincoat with me (Goretex from Lands End) and DD had an umbrella. It was pouring when we left and she asked for one from the umbrella sellers that magically materialize in Naples when it rains. It was only €3, so I bought her one. I was a little reluctant as I had bought her one when we went to the Tower of London in Jan, and it turned inside out as soon as we got out of the tunnel that leads from the tube station to the Tower. After that she didn’t want to carry it anymore. I wasn’t going to carry it (thus why I wear a raincoat), so she threw it out. I told her if she threw this one out I’d never buy her another umbrella, and she didn’t. (In her defense, it was REALLY windy at the Tower that day.)
OK, back on topic. DD says she liked Pompeii better than Herculaneum. It’s certainly much bigger. We felt like Pompeii had more interesting buildings, but the mosaics and frescos are much better preserved in Herculaneum, and there is even carbonized wood preserved. I guess it depends on your interests, though. We spent a lot longer in Pompeii since it is so big. Some of the houses in Herculaneum have preserved 2nd floors, but you can’t actually go up to any of the 2nd floors. The audioguide did tell us that they found preserved bread in Herculaneum. I’m not sure 2000 year old bread would be very good.
I did learn that apparently you should trust Peter (A Brit in Ischia – frequent poster on the TripAdvisor Naples forum) more than the Circumvesuviana website. I remembered him posting something about the Circumvesuviana closing at some time in the early afternoon on Easter, but I checked their website and they listed trains all through the afternoon and evening. However, when we got back to the train station, it was closed. Fortunately, the bus company that does the buses up Vesuvius was running buses back to Naples (and to Sorrento) for €10 each, so we took that back to Naples. They are not very comfortable, and there were not enough seat belts, but we got back to Naples ok. I’d probably use them to get to Vesuvius. I’ve seen bad reviews on TA, but they seemed ok to me. After our €24 taxi ride, €20 to get back from Herculaneum didn’t seem that bad. I think it took less time than the train too. DD wanted to go up Vesuvius when she saw the sign for it in the bus office, but I thought that would be too much for my back and ankle (and walking around might have been, but after the ride back to Naples, I’m sure the ride up and down would have been…)
We headed back to the B&B and planned to eat dinner in the area, but almost nothing was open. I don’t know if it was because it was Easter (some places it was because they had signs saying closed on Easter) or if it was because it was early in the day, but if you’re there on Easter, I’d plan dinner in advance. We ended up stopping at a cafe and DD got what looked like (but didn’t taste exactly like) a hotdog in a baked on roll. I ate some food we had left in the room that we had brought to eat on the train and not finished.
The next day was our departure day. We actually checked out the night before (which gave me a chance to spend the last of my €50 notes before we left – I wish the ATMs didn’t give those out so readily – maybe I’ll have to start getting money out in €40 increments). Our flight was at 6:05AM and the B&B owner had arranged for a car to pick us up at 4AM (or 4:15, I can’t remember exactly). This was €20 and the driver was quite pleasant, the car was new and clean, and he drove well. This turned out to be plenty of time even though we could not check in online. We even had time to buy some pastries in the airport and eat them while we waited at the gate. This was for a flight to Frankfurt to connect to our flight to Chicago. I think you might need more time if you were flying out of the Schengen area as the B&B owner asked us where we were flying to and then said that that would be enough time.
General impressions. Naples felt kind-of crazy and disorganized. However, I remember thinking that about Rome when we first arrived too. I think the fact that we had 9 days in Rome and only 3 in Naples (2 of which we ended up spending outside of the ctiy anyway) may have given us a chance to get used to Rome and it didn’t seem as disorganized by the end. I think if we had had more time in Naples the same thing might have happened and it would have seemed less disorganized.
I never felt unsafe. We walked around and took the metro as I have said, and no one ever threatened us and we were not pickpocketed. I had a cross body bag with a zip pocket under a flap that clips down, and I kept most of my money, the credit cards, and our passports in that. I kept enough money for the day, the camera, the cell phone, and anything else we needed for the day in the part that only zips. From other trips I’ve developed a habit of zipping it toward the front and putting my hand over the zipper in crowds and that seemed to be fine.
It did seem dirtier than other cities we’ve been to in Europe (Rome, Paris, London) but not offensively so. The only issue I really had with that was that there seemed to be a lot of dog poop on the sidewalks on Easter. I wondered if there were people who normally pick up the dog poop who had Easter off.
I would have no qualms about going back again. I felt like there was a lot we didn’t see due to my injuries and DD changing the plans. I wouldn’t say I fell in love with it, but I enjoyed my time there. If I had unlimited vacation, I’d definitely go back, but as it is it may be awhile since there are so many places I haven’t been yet.