Wednesday, October 13, 2010

From north to south

Our last day in Florence we decided David could wait because we were not interested in waiting in a line up that would likely stretch for hours. Instead we explored. We followed Dave's instincts and headed for the other side of the Ponte Vecchio, which was an great choice. We found all sorts of narrow little streets, a couple of churches dating back to the 15th century and even a traditional shoe maker and apprentice working away at their craft.

On the way back we stopped by the market and luckily for our bank account, my mood for shopping had passed. I hate to haggle and that's what the San Lorenzo market is all about. Loads of purses and wallets and scarves. Great deals in fact - it's where I found my purse the day before. Definitely worth a trip.

The locals call the market il Porcellino because of the bronze statue of a wild boar. I've since learned from Roberto that there were 5 casts made of the little fella and one of the statues resides at the University of Waterloo. I'll have to go visit. I can't believe we didn't get a picture.

We said goodbye to il Porcellino and headed to Napoli. We once again got to experience the super fast Eurostar, which shaved 2 1/2 hours off our trip!

Unfortunately, we had heard so many horrible stories about Naples that we were jaded before we got there. The cab drivers will rip you off. There are pick pockets everywhere. The only truth to any of what we heard is that the drivers are possibly the most insane in the world. Picture impossibly narrow streets (of course)with 2 way traffic and pedestrians who don't really see a need to get out of the way. Now add on dudes on their mopeds driving at top speed while screaming in to their cellular phones. I am not exaggerating!

Anyway, the cab driver was an absolute sweetie (and c*u*t*e!). Our hotel - Hotel Piazza Bellini - is easily the coolest, nicest place I've stayed. A converted 15th century pallazo, our room was a loft style with very modern decorations.

We started our visit as every tourist and local should - with Pizza. Neapolitans take their pizza very seriously. In fact, there is a guild sigh to let everyone know they are buying the real thing. The crust has to be just the right thinness, cooked in a wood oven and, traditionally, topped with nothing more than tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella cheese. Who were we to argue with tradition? We went to Di Matteo on the advice of a travel writer. It was fantastic. Full disclosure - I had my first Neapolitan pizza at the age of 10 and did not appreciate it at all because it was not like my mother's. I've grown up.

We didn't plan to spend much time in Naples, but did hear that the historic centre was worth seeing. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. Right away it reminded me of a grittier, rougher New York City. This is what New York might have been like in the early 1900s. So full of energy, chaotic, slightly dangerous but really inviting. The crumbling buildings that give hints to their former glory also reminded me a lot of Havana, Cuba.

Aside from pizza, Naples is also known for making Nativity scenes or Presepi in Italian. There is an entire street full of shops dedicated to the figurines. Some of the traditional stables have been, shall we say, expanded upon, with the additions of rooms with little ovens for making pizza. I'm pretty sure there were no pizza makers recorded at the birth of Christ.

Ever present at all the churches were the "Travelers" begging for money. One incident was pretty comical. We got to a street corner and this poor old woman was begging - sitting so sadly - barely able to move - I felt so guilty. But then a cop showed up. She had no problem getting up and scurrying away. All guilt gone. I'm glad my mother never followed through with her threat to sell me to them when I was a kid.

I'll have to explore Naples on a future trip - it was definitely worth the stop - and half the price for lodging and food than the other places we've visited. For now we are in Sorrento with a view of the sea and Mt. Vesuvius. All we need is for the sun to return.

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