So I took a day trip to Naples from Rome. Naples is a grittier, smellier, noisier, and rougher city in Italy. It is plagued by high unemployment rates and serious trash management issues thanks to the very active and kinda scary influence of the regional mobsters. Naples certainly does not have the grandeur of Rome or the romance of Venice.
It does, however, have two very important things: the best pizza in Italy and the ruins of Pompeii.
And I was determined to check both of them off my list on my visit.
Now, everybody who is anybody will tell you that the only place to go for authentic Neapolitan pizza is Da Michele. Since 1870, this place has been selling only the original forms of pizza – Margherita, Bianca, and Marinara. Sun ripe tomatos, buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, and the most perfect crust on earth. No frills, all tastiness.
Unfortunately, I could not find it. I had to settle for an anonymous pizzeria with red and white checkered tablecloths on the tables.
You know what? It was STILL the greatest pizza I have ever had.
The chef Luigi revealed the secrets behind the terrific pizzas of his city. Aside from using the freshest ingredients (which of course taste better in Italy than anywhere else on earth because of the magical sunshine here) and baking the pies in wood ovens at the perfect temperature for exactly 90 seconds, the real key is the dough. Apparently, the water in Naples is what helps the dough to create its wondrous properties of being crisp on the outside but still chewy on the inside of an impressively thin crust.
So sorry, but you won’t be able to recreate it at home.
And that was literally all I did in Naples. Having fueled myself up on delicious Pizza Margherita and Marinara (because obviously, I had to try both), I hopped a train to beyond the city limits to the ruins of Pompeii.
Quick history lesson in case you aren’t as big a history nerd as I am: Pompeii is an old Roman city that froze in time after catastrophe struck in 79 AD. Mount Vesuvius erupted and Pompeii was buried under piles of ashes until 1599. Today, you can walk around the excavated ruins of the town to see what life was like for a Roman in the first century AD, complete with the Maritime Gate, the Temple of Apollo, the storehouses, the Forum, the Baths, the House of the Poet, the House of the Faun, the amphitheater, the training ground, the taverns and the arena.
Many of the grim remains of those who died during the disaster have been removed to the Archeological Museum in Naples. After seeing one of the bodies remaining on site in Pompeii, I found it to be a little too morbid for my taste and opted not to visit the museum. You can see Mount Vesuvius from all over the town and I imagine the unfortunate residents of Pompeii would have had all too good a view of the eruption as it happened. That would have been a terrifying day.
However, the real eye opener for me in Pompeii was seeing was how people lived hundreds of years ago. There was a trendy main street district with all the good bars and best shops. There was a central marketplace, with bakeries with bread still in the ovens. The laundromat was conveniently located near entertainment venues, such as the brothel. People spent more than they could afford on interior decor. People went to shows at the arena. People painted graffiti on public spaces to complain about politicians or just to be rude.
Really, not so different from today.