Friday, April 15, 2011

Showing Them Centro

Hand of Herculus, National Archaeological Museum
The day to show my aunt and uncle Centro Napoli had arrived. As I previously wrote about  with Paige and Julia's Centro visit, this can go either way. Paige and Julia happened to love it. Regardless of what you think you'll feel about Centro, you cannot visit Naples and not go into Centro. It is Naples - it's the vibrancy, the noise, the chaos, and yes, the trash. It is exactly what guidebooks and podcasts talk about. I've recently been listening to some different podcasts about Naples, some of which include call-ins. Without fail, the callers say something along the lines of, "I went to southern Italy a few years ago, and we skipped Naples because we'd heard about the crime." Naples has this reputation of being such a hotbed of crime that even seasoned travelers and well-known tour guides either skip it or have a "get-in, get-out" strategy. And so, a beautiful city with treasures beyond compare goes unrecognized and without those valuable tourist dollars that are probably the only thing to begin moving this city out of the feudal, dark ages to which it seems to have returned.

Here's how the folks propped up family photos 2000 years ago.
With purses firmly across our bodies (and we never felt unsafe), we set off on the metro line nearby for downtown. We followed roughly the same route as I did with Julia and Paige by first heading to the National Archaeological Museum. I have no idea where I read it, but some guidebook described this museum as "dusty" and "tired." That description couldn't be further from the truth. With light and soaring expanses of white marble, I enjoy just walking into the museum. I have yet to get the audioguide to the museum, but it really would be very helpful. While most rooms have a large, English translation on the wall describing the collection and pointing out particularly remarkable items, I think an audioguide is necessary to get the full value.

When visiting with Paige and Julia, we'd gone up to the third floor, where the frescoes from Pompeii were supposed to be. We wandered through rooms of amazing bronze statues, collections of ivory, glass, and silver from Pompeii and Herculaneum, and even an old papyrus (from the Villa of Papyri in Herculaneum - over 1700 scrolls were found in excavations!) - but no frescoes. With Mike and Katrina, while in this large, former library turned painting gallery,  we walked to the other end of the room in order to see an old sundial...and there found the doorway to the frescoes. And what frescoes there were! Rooms and rooms, little ones and big ones, all kinds of subjects, all kinds of techniques - some were paintings, some were faux doorways/windows to the outside world, some were just wallpaper type. How amazing to live in a home with such beauty covering the walls. 

We also found a model of Pompeii, complete with the frescoes (that are now in the museum) painted in miniature on the walls in the locations where they were found. Just amazing.

After lunch at Sorbillo, my favorite pizzeria downtown, we went to see the Veiled Christ statue at Capella Sansevero (written about in the post Centro Napoli) and then took a walk down Spaccanapoli, the ancient road of Naples, built about 2500 years ago to connect Naples with the world beyond. While walking Spaccanapoli, we ducked into Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo. I'm never failed to be astonished when wandering into a church. Even the most unassuming, little church on the corner will generally have at least one piece of breathtaking art, wood carved railing in front of the altar, or inlaid marble floor. Gesu Nuovo didn't fail us and presented an elaborate organ facade, inlaid marble walls and columns, large art in the side chapels, and a few sculptures to finish things off.

In need of a break for our feet, we headed to Cafe Gambrinus, sitting on the edge of Piazza Plebiscito. Cafe Gambrinus has a bad rap among locals and guidebooks alike, as all anyone ever mentions is that it's overpriced. But Cafe Gambrinus is one of Naples' oldest coffee bars and was a haven for the literary intellectuals back in the day - Oscar Wilde is said to have spent time hanging about here. The previous week, Paige, Julia and I had stopped in for a coffee while standing at the bar. For three coffees, we paid the princely sum of 3.40euros, about .40 more than we would have paid elsewhere. We'd taken at peak at the two, richly decorated rooms for sit down patrons, and I decided to return soon and take a table. With heavy, velvet drapes swagged back, frescoes on the walls and ceilings, and tuxedoed waiters, what better place for my aunt, uncle and me to rest our feet this day. We could even get gelato while we were at it. The cafe was a quiet, beautiful, and relaxing spot to gather our energies for our next assault on seeing and doing it all. And it was only about 3euros more per person to enjoy the beauty and history while we relaxed in comfort, not crowded into a small table shoved in the corner with masses of people bumping us on their way to and from the stand-up bar.
From Cafe Gambrinus, we enjoyed the pedestrian area of Chiaia for an hour or so before heading home to rest our over-stimulated brains. Another successful day. My aunt and uncle were loving their trip, and I loved the opportunity to share our new life with them.

No comments:

Post a Comment