When you travel this cheaply for this long, you really depend on the kindness of strangers. We count on strangers to house us when we need rest, to fill our water bottles when we’re thirsty, and to turn a blind eye when we camp somewhere illegal, which is pretty much every night.
But sometimes those strangers go above and beyond, like the bartender who let us stay in his house, or the woman who saw us cooking dinner in the piazza and sent a care package of wine and cookies.
Antonio Cilindro and his family definitely fit into the “above and beyond” category. Antonio was our host in Santa Maria Capua Vetere, a small city on the outskirts of Napoli. Antonio wasn’t home when we arrived, but we received a warm greeting from his family, none of whom spoke English. They helped with our bags, made our beds, gave us towels for the shower, and generally made us feel at home.
When Antonio got back we were treated to a dinner of potato chip-breaded chicken (ingenious!), roast vegetables, salad, and cheese. They wouldn’t even let us do the dishes.
After some conversation we got the sense that they did this a lot, so we asked him: “how often do you host couchsurfers?” “Almost every day,” he told us. I was floored.
The next day, we took a train into the city. We had asked Antonio where we should go in Napoli. He told us where to find the best Sfogliatelle and pizza. Our first day went something like this:
1) Eat sfogliatelle
2) Drink coffee
3) Drink more coffee
4) Eat pizza
5) Eat deep-fried pizza
6) Eat gelato
7) Eat deep-fried pizza
8) Drink beer
9) Eat sfogliatelle
10) Drink coffee
After that we took the train back to Antonio’s place and made poutine.
I didn’t know much about Napoli before arriving. I’d heard it was dirty and full of thieves. I’d heard it was run by the local mob, the Camorra, whose infiltration of municipal contracts had left the streets piled with trash. But that was about it.
The first thing you notice about Napoli is the hustle. Every tourist destination has its hustlers, but in Napoli it feels like the whole place is on the grind. Everyone’s out in the streets trying to make ends meet, and it gives the city a vibrant buzz.
I don’t want to over-romanticize. I’m sure this isn’t a socially optimal situation. I’m sure a lot of the people selling cheap goods in the streets are there because of a lack of other work opportunities. Still, it really makes the city feel alive.
The other thing about Napoli is that it’s conspicuously *not* a tourist town. There’s no shortage of attractions: a cathedral, a couple of castles, a smattering of museums, and a plethora of piazzas, among others. And there are tourists!
But even in the heart of the old city there are locals. And there are businesses that cater to locals. You might see an overpriced souvenir shop, but you might also see a hardware store right next door, or a fruit stand where the old nonas buy their daily produce. The tourists are mixed right in with retirees and delivery drivers and music students.
I couldn’t say the same about Rome, but we’ll save that for the next post.