Postcards from Naples, Italy: Wishing you wind in your sails on all routes*

*Okay, I admit that’s not a literal translation. I just invented one when snapping the photo and stuck with it. In other words, still mine, smooth sailing navigating your way through these troubled times, and take time out from your worries to enjoy virtual travel staycations.

Throwing out some random photographs from our fall trip for a little weekend escape.

Looking over these this morning gave me a hankering for pizza. As Italy is out for now, picking up a Milano pizza from Il Forno proved a flavorful substitute.

Postcard from Naples, Italy: Seconds on that seafood platter, per piacere

“Leftovers” from a crudo platter at Pesheria Mattiucci

Maybe that photo is not appetizing, but it does represent how incredibly good and fresh the platters of raw fish served at Pesheria Mattiucci are. The freshness is key for the fishmongers who run this small place that still resembles more a fish market than a dining spot. Each type of fish on the platter is paired thoughtfully with an appropriate fruit, light sauce, herb or fresh flower to compliment its individual delicate flavor.

By all appearances, the Pesheria is not our kind of place. Only a handful of no-backed stools awkwardly perched at metal counters with no leg room. And no red wine (The Neapolitans worked hard to reform us on the importance of pairing their dry white wines with raw seafood, and we must admit they are right.). But despite the humble surroundings, the seafood was so amazing we went twice. Oh, and the fishmongers can cook fish perfectly, too.

The other “best raw seafood” spot for us during our stay was in the Vomero neighborhood. Panamar was only marginally more formal, part of the trend of chefs who want to focus on food – tablecloths and tableside service be damned. Sandwiches are their specialty, and they begin with large firm  buns.

Our favorites? The fuoritonno with cubes of red tuna, smoked burratina cheese, sundried tomatoes, smoked eggplant cream and fried arugula; and the mezzosalmone with cubes of salmon, buffalo mozzarella, grilled zucchini and a sauce of honey and red peppers.

Since those first two restaurants were seafood-centric, I pulled out most of the other seafood photos from our stay in Naples. Several of these places will be mentioned again later.

We had gotten hooked on fried anchovies in Spain, and found them abundant in Campania as well where they are called alicci fritte. With a squeeze of fresh lemon, pretty addictive. The pasta most associated with Naples is paccheri, sort of like giant rigatoni.

Perched at hightop tables on a fairly busy street, we loved the casual neighborhood vibe of Re Lazzarone downtown near the Archaeology Museum. Anonymous Trattoria Gourmet is tucked away on a lower street downtown in a location that helps keep it anonymous from tourists. The inside is spartan but packed with locals.

Godot, up in the Vomero neighborhood, is pricier and still well off the tourist track. Loved the gnocchi with peas and calamari. And the surprising find at the end of the trip was on the fringe of Vomero, Trattoria Scugnizzi. An inexpensive place popular with neighbors that seems way off the visitor radar. The only photo included with this post is a sample of the chef’s daily seafood pasta special, a sample because he was disappointed we already had over-ordered.

The others lumped into this seafood post were in more high-profile locations, but they still managed to keep some loyal Neapolitan diners: Anticchi Sapori; Ristorante L’Ostricaio; and Stritt Stritt.

More food later.

 

Postcard from Naples, Italy: A month there. No regrets.

When people asked where we were headed next and we answered Naples, their reactions reflected the city’s reputation. People tend to associate it with crime. Garbage. While there are people who travel there now specifically because of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet of novels, I must confess her descriptions of the gritty, rough neighborhoods of her childhood almost deterred me.

People also asked if we were mainly going to use Naples as a base for exploring the Amalfi coast. For visiting Pompeii. But, no, we were not. We were planning to spend a month primarily exploring the city itself.

I am asking you to stop now. Throw out all your preconceived ideas about the city for the upcoming blog posts.

Yes, there are some gritty, grimy areas, as there are in most big cities. Garbage does accumulate in narrow streets filled with bars where young people party late in an overwhelming volume that would prove challenging for most municipalities. But there are also miles of clean pathways skirting around the bay. There are enormous pedestrian-only pristine plazas. There are layers built upon layers of buildings climbing up its high hills. Some handsome; some not.

The city feels so real. So alive. A place operating not simply to appeal to tourists, but to function as a place where people live. A place with an engaging quirkiness and surprising discoveries around every corner.

And the Bay of Naples is drop-dead gorgeous. Mount Vesuvius and the islands of Capri and Ischia frame the shimmering water. No one told me that in advance, so I was unprepared for the beauty encountered everywhere.

Staying up in the Vomero neighborhood high above the city might seem like cheating in a way. An escape hatch from the hub-bub. How high is it? Not far as the seagull flies, but it amounted to a climb of about 60 stories. We only used the twisting-stairways once. But we descended into the city almost every single day via the inexpensive funiculars to explore her museums and churches. To admire the Baroque architecture. And to experience her restaurants. Pizza, pasta and fresh seafood everywhere.

Below is a random sampling showing some of Naples’ beauty and some of her warts.

 

Maybe Naples will grow on you as it did on us.