Oh, Napoli!

NAPLES, Italy — This is a city you won’t expect to be in Europe… especially in Italy.

Many tourists shy away from this gritty area of the country situated on the Gulf of Naples simply because it does not boast of Rome’s romantic allure.

Instead, wandering around Naples — especially in the Quartieri Spagnoli (Spanish Quarters) — would make you wonder if you’re really in Europe or in some not-so-picturesque section of Manila or Jakarta.

Naples’ Quartieri Spagnoli or Spanish Quarters.

A colleague who went ahead of me for a few weeks didn’t enjoy the visit so much.

“Tondo vibes,” she warned me, laughing, referring to that depressed and dirty part of Manila.

Still, it didn’t deter me from going, knowing that there are treasures hidden somewhere and my gut telling me Naples is simply misunderstood.

Besides, I used the city as my base for exploring Pompeii, which is just a short train ride away.

Well, she was right about saying that Naples is, you know, not your usual Italian city oozing with pomp and pageantry.

To feel the pulse of the city, I stayed at the Spanish Quarters, an 800,000-square meter-neighborhood that had a reputation for being a bad area to find yourself in regardless of the time of day.

Having grown up in Manila and going to places even hardcore individuals try to avoid, what I saw here didn’t compare to the squalor back in my homeland.

It looked like Forbes Park compared to what I have seen in the Philippines and Indonesia.

So, I stayed up a bit late, drank quite a number of tasty Italian beers and walked around the “bad neighborhood.”

In the morning and in the evening, I took a walk and dined and shopped.

There were no troublemakers to be concerned about and my daily strolls took me to the city’s jaw-dropping sites and majestic churches.

For three days, Naples brought a smile to my face.

Tondo vibes? Nah.

While the Eternal City is head and shoulders above in terms of well-known attractions and must-see spots, it does not mean travelers have all the reason not to experience what it has to offer.


Finest pizzas

Oftentimes tagged as the jump-off point to the ancient ruins of Pompeii, a mere 24 kilometers by rail, Naples is a haven for food lovers.

It was here that pizza was invented while being watched over by the once-violent Mount Vesuvius in the backdrop.

But don’t get me wrong.

If you think that you have tasted the finest pizza in the world by sampling the bestsellers being peddled by premium fast-food outlets, then you should be more than willing to try the original pizza that is being sold here.

Pizza Margherita cooked the old-fashioned way.

It’s not the usual thin and crispy crust you often wolf down whenever somebody’s celebrating his or her birthday at the office.

It’s more than that.

Napoli staples. Pizza Napoletana, a cold brew and your favorite cola.

The pizza being baked here — known as Pizza Napoletana — is of a different kind and usually has two flavors: Margherita and Marinara.

And they’re almost identical.

Margherita has pomodoro, fior di latte, olio, basilico (tomato, fior di latte cheese, oil and basil) and Marinara has pomodoro, origano, aglio, olio (tomato, oregano, garlic, oil).

After devouring one huge serving of the €5 Margherita at the renowned L’ Antica Pizzeria da Michele, where Julia Roberts dined and shot Eat, Pray, Love, I took a walk once again and ran into the Bulso di Pulcinella (Bust of Pulcinella).

Julia Roberts took a bite of the renowned Pizza Napoletana during the filming of ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’

According to legend, one has to rub the statue’s nose for good luck and that’s exactly what I did.



Medieval structures

If you love old — and ancient churches —there’s a lot within this lovely area.

At almost every corner, there’s a medieval church that is very Instagrammable.

But what stood out was the one I visited one balmy morning when residents were either still soundly asleep or just about getting ready to start another day.

The Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo (New Jesus) completed in the late-1700s, is undoubtedly the city’s most beautiful church despite its sober facade.

The main altar of Gesu Nuovo, said to be Naples’ most beautiful church.

Aside from the Gesu Nuovo, worth visiting as well are the Naples Cathedral (Cattidrale di San Gennaro), Basilica di Santa Chiara and the Girolamini.

Definitely, by the time you are done, you will be famished.

Head to the nearest pizzeria and get the Margherita and pair it with a small bottle of cola zero zuccheri or the ubiquitous Nastro Azzurro in the green bottle.


Would I make a return trip?

You bet!