As we waited in the longest Passport-checking line we’ve ever been in, we began to regret our decision to visit. Was this whole trip to Naples destined to be chaotic? Well, kind of. But it was only two days and getting to see Pompeii and eat world-famous Neapolitan pizza made it all worth it. Plus, a little chaos is good for your motor skills – as we would soon find out.
First Impressions of Naples
I had wanted to see Pompeii since reading about it in elementary school and we love pizza, so Napoli was a logical choice. Plus, I imagined stunning views atop our hotel of the colorful city.
Well, after our airport debacle and a bus ride into town, we stepped out into one of the most hectic cities we’ve ever been in. We passed by dozens of people selling things on the sidewalk – from umbrellas for the pending rain to hats that said NY on them. After some of the pristine cities we had walked through in our European adventures, Naples was dirtier than we expected and covered in graffiti – like it just needed a good pressure washing. But we were keeping open minds and still spotting beautiful places.
There was also a peculiar lack of pedestrian walkways. From what we observed, you walked into oncoming traffic and they were expected to stop. To avoid broken bones, we usually followed closely behind a local or tried a Super Mario-esque method of running and dodging. Thank God for our quick-enough reflexes.
First Taste of Our Trip to Naples
After a long day of travel, we had one thing on our mind: food. Or more specifically, pizza. Naples is known to have invented pizza after all, and they have been making it the same since the 1800s. It had to be good. And honestly, it really only had to be edible at that point in our day.
So, we found the nearest highly rated pizza spot and took a number. It seemed oddly busy for the middle of a weekday, but we had no backup and needed a break from walking with our bags. About twenty minutes later, we were seated at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. And from the photo on the wall, I realized this was the place Julia Roberts eats in the movie Eat Pray Love. Dating back to 1870, it is one of the oldest and best in Naples! We were doing the touristy thing without even knowing – although the 11,000+ reviews on Google should have been a sign.
A Lesson in Classic Neapolitan Pizza
From the menu on the wall, we assessed that our options would be limited. We could either have a Marinara Pizza (just sauce) or a Margherita Pizza (sauce, mozzarella, and basil). The second choice actually got its name after the Queen of Italy visited Naples in the 1800s and chose that variety as her favorite – it also helps that the colors match the Italian flag. Of course, with the Queen’s approval, this dish (previously known as peasant bread) became extremely popular.
Since Margherita Pizza is our go-to option anyway, there was no twisting our arm. We even got fancy and went for the double mozzarella option – because Italy … and cheese.
No surprise, the pizza did not disappoint. And at €5 for a huge Neapolitan pizza, it was the cheapest fresh pizza I’ve ever ordered. For two huge double mozz pizzas and four beers, our total was under €20. I couldn’t even finish my entire pie! TAKE.ME.BACK.
And yes, we strongly believe beer is key for any pizza-eating adventure. Although we enjoyed the Nastro Azzurro, I promptly nicknamed it Nasty Azz – the Italian version of Natty Ice. Get it? Anyone else think that’s hilarious? Anyway … I’m still laughing.
A Rainy Night in Naples
Since this was the beginning of my 29th birthday trip, we splurged on a gorgeous hotel with a roof-top bar and restaurant – Neapolitan Trips.
Unfortunately, the constant rain kept us from enjoying outdoor time. But, we indulged in the newly-opened indoor bar and restaurant, La Terrazza del Re, and even ordered dessert – because Italy.
So happy we took the bartenders suggestion and went with the orange-flavored ricotta pudding-like dish. We had never had ricotta-based desserts before, but it was delightful. The baba was yummy, too!
After an alcohol-and-carb-induced deep sleep, we caught the train on our first full day to Pompeii. Our plan was to spend a few hours wandering through this world-famous historic site then hike up to the top of the volcano. There were only two problems: 1- Pompeii is huge and is really an all-day event in itself and 2- the weather was not looking great for hiking. So, after our first two hours at Pompeii, we decided to just take our time and admire Vesuvius from afar.
Quick Intro to Pompeii
For those of you who didn’t read Pompeii: Buried Alive as a kid … this resort-style city was destroyed by nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD – covered in a thick layer of volcanic debris and ash. Then, in 1748, it was rediscovered, surprisingly, still mostly intact. Plaster casts of the human and animals victims were even able to be made.
The most interesting part of this story to me, is that a witness to this disaster, Pliny the Younger, wrote letters describing what he experienced – giving a unique, detailed glimpse back to this event.
However, if you are visiting Pompeii for the first time, the most important thing to remember is it is enormous. The ruins cover 44 square hectares (more than 100 acres)! That’s eleven times the size of nearby Herculaneum. It is quite the undertaking and should be given an entire day of your trip, if you plan to see the majority of it.
Also worth noting, Vesuvius is actually due to blow again any day now. I didn’t find this out until after out visit. Turns out we were being a little more adventurous than I realized! We originally had plans to hike it, too! Ha!
Walking Tour of Pompeii Highlights
Just walking on those centuries-old streets made it easy to imagine the vibrant city that once existed there. Just the sheer size of it is impressive and really gives you a sense of how amazing it is that it still even exists – although many parts have sadly collapsed in recent years.
However, there are some iconic places amidst the ruins that are worth going out of your way to see. The museum at the outset (including some hilarious letters with returned pieces of the ruins), multiple theatres, the famous forum, and baths – to name a few.
For colorful artwork, be sure to check out the Villa of the Mysteries, House of Venus, and House of the Small Fountain. For some more risqué art, don’t miss the brothel. Insane that it is all still there!
While touring all the ruins will keep you busy for hours, don’t miss any opportunity to stop and take in the views. It is a spectacular place.
Final Thoughts on Napoli
On our last morning, we had a few hours of no rain to enjoy before taking our train to Rome. It was nice to wander through the city (we had actually gotten used to dodging cars and did so with maniacal laughter). Walking along the seaside made for a romantic last memory of Naples as well.
The city wasn’t what we expected, but it grew on us. And it really was 100% worth it for the Neapolitan pizza and trip to Pompeii.
Read more about our Europe travels here. And to learn how we traveled in Europe for five months on a budget by house sitting, read this guide.