Tuesday signalled it being time for our next city. This time we were flying to Naples in Italy for the start of our tour of Italy. For the last time we returned to the same cafe for breakfast and then headed with our luggage to the Schönefeld airport. The change over from the U-Bahn to the S-Bahn at Alexanderplatz was a little tricky as it wasn’t clear where it was we needed to go; but our luck held out once more and we made it to the airport with time to spare.
We did try to check-in for our flight 40 minutes early, however the check-in desk refused to let us. I’m not quite sure why they have to insist you can’t check in early as if they stated certain times for check-in but allowed people to check-in early if they got there early then surely the long periods of time with no queue punctuated with times of long queues would surely even out? Maybe not, but it would be nice if that was the case.
Once through security me and my friend both bought the same type of sandwich and some water to have during the flight, yet for some bizarre reason they charged me less than they did my friend. The only sense we could make of it was that maybe they thought he’d had a hot sandwich instead of a cold one. That wasn’t the only problem though, it wasn’t until we got on the plane that we found out the water was the most foul tasting liquid in all of existence – it was like some fizzy water which had gone flat and had been left out in the open air for a few days to produce a kind of stale taste.
The arrival in Naples was unlike any international arrival I’ve ever been through. We got off the plane straight into baggage collection and then from there we were straight out of the airport – no customs, and no passport control! On the way out we did stop at a tourist information point to find out where we needed to go to get to our hotel, Mercure Napoli Garibaldi. We were told to get the bus which was waiting outside and to get off at the end of the line. I thought that sounded quite straight forward – the end of the line always means the last stop. Wrong! To start with the bus was like getting on the London underground with one difference – when people stopped getting on because they thought it was full the driver got out and started bundling more people in. You may have heard of the phrase “like sardines in a tin,” well I’m sure sardines would have had more breathing space than we did on that bus.
Our bus problems didn’t stop there either, the first stop for the bus was at the train station which was called “Piazza Garibaldi”. I thought that was quite odd as our hotel was next to a train station also, and had Garibaldi in the name. I found this quite suspicious, but before we could decide whether or not we should get off the bus continued on it’s way down to the coast. It’s next stop was outside a magnificent castle, but we could also see a sign which said “Hotel Mercure”. We thought that was a pretty promising sign, so my friend decided to confirm that it was the correct hotel – the driver agreed. After working our way around the heavy roadworks we made it to the hotel which turned out to be a different Mercure hotel. Fortunately the hotel receptionist phoned for a taxi and were taken to the correct hotel which typically turned out to be at the Piazza Garibaldi.
The area around the hotel seemed a little dodgy, but no more so than Cairo did a couple of years previous. It was a fair walk from the hotel to get back to the castle and all the way we kept a good grip on our wallets just in case as we’d heard stories about the crime rate being fairly high. To give them credit though, we did not have any trouble any of the time we were in Naples, just useless directions. The road we took to the castle was along the coast, which every inch of was used as a harbour. It was a short, but humid trek and it turned out my guess at the directions to it were correct. The Castel Nuovo was about to close, but fortunately they let us in anyway with an entry fee of €5 each.
Inside the castle there is a huge courtyard and the surround rooms make it look quite modern (relatively speaking) and it doesn’t look hugely different from a castle you’d expect to see in England – however it does have a definite European feel to it with grand stairways on the side leading up to the higher floors and the ramparts. In the courtyard there is also a huge iron helmet which is there solely for decoration, it seems strange but I guess there must have been some sort of reason for having it there. Inside the rooms there is a lot of religious iconography, which you would of course expect from any historic Italian place. The most peculiar part of the castle is where they have a court room. However, there is a very good reason for having one – up until 2006 it was the seat of power for Napoli and for the modern day council and so it had a very similar function to our own houses of Parliament in England.
This UNESCO World Heritage site isn’t without it’s bloodshed either, and it’s violent history is put on display in one of the rooms on the ground floor. In this room with a reinforced glass floor you can see the skeletons of traitors half buried in old rooms beneath the castle.
From the castle it’s not far to Piazza del Plebiscito where there is a large church of San Francesco di Paola. The actual design is very reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome with it’s domed roof with a hole in the centre. It’s a really crowded square which can make it hard to take a clear photograph of the area – something which isn’t helped by people deliberately jumping up down in front of your camera.
Not far from the Piazza we found a small pizzeria where the Italian military were also eating so we thought it might be a good sign that it was a good place to have our first meal in Italy. I ordered a margarita pizza which is basically a chicken pizza. Now normally you’d expect the pizza to have a tomato base over the crust with cheese and other toppings on top of that. That wasn’t how it worked here though – I was brought an amazingly large pizza which was hanging over the sides of the plate, and instead of a tomato base it had half a dozen cherry tomatoes cut in half and sprinkled over the pizza along with melted cheese and strips of chicken. It was a little strange I thought, but after finishing there we headed back to the hotel picking up a few bits from the supermarket ready for what we predicted would be a long day.