Napoli, or Naples in English, Neapel in German – I had heard plenty about this place before going there. After my colleague in north Italy heard that I was heading there for vacation, he said, “Naples! That is nice, it is beautiful there, but…”. Do you know that everything one says before the word ‘but’ does not count? To sum it up, I was told that it is chaotic and disorganized in Naples, and I should apparently be careful of which part of the city I visit.
As I am writing this today, in an awfully organized and fashionable city of Graz in Austria, I can tell you that I miss Naples very much. When asked about my experience there, the first word still comes up as ‘chaotic’, but then I would add that it was good chaos. What exactly is good chaos? I am not even sure myself. All I know is that it is an integrated part of the city and its people. If you take a look around – there’s at least one building around the corner of every block that looks as if it could fall apart anytime; the alleys, despite how narrow, are always decorated with colorful, freshly washed laundry hanging from balconies; the scooters dashing by endlessly makes it challenging to sleep at night with windows open; and the shabby looking shops where you could never tell what they specialize in selling… Naples is just not the kind of city that would go for that extra bit to attract more tourists. Its age, history and beauty are hidden from plain eyesight and require some digging to get beneath the surface. However, I must say, I only had the time to scratch some surfaces during my limited time there.
The B&B I stayed at was in a residence building at least 100 years old in the very center of Naples. I wasn’t so sure when I stepped through a grungy metal gate and arrived at a courtyard where only shadow was to be found. Faint chattering and sounds of TV came out of windows from all sides. There was no sight of other tourists. A few minutes after I made the call, the hostess came down greeted me in a tiny, old elevator where you have to close two doors manually and activate it using a key (without a key you would need to pay 50 cents to use it). Nothing seemed promising or remarkably welcoming so far, except for the hostess perhaps. I was tired, sweating heavily, and started questioning in my mind whether it is the right choice to stay here. When we arrived at the third floor, I stepped through two more gates and was finally inside the B&B – it looked like a different world than from the outside! I suddenly found myself in a orderly, warmly lit space with vintage furniture and decorations around. My room was huge, with a high ceiling and curtains, sofa covers and tapestries which are probably as old as the building itself. It looked like one of those display rooms in museums. By this time the host had come back, greeted me and showed me around – one dining room, three other guest rooms, and two bathrooms. All nicely arranged and taken care of. When I think about my time in Naples, it is now clear to me that the comfort and coziness this B&B provided and the two most friendly hosts were a main reason that I enjoyed this city so much. To me, it was the order within chaos.
Even though I had a vague idea of how densely populated Naples must be from walking through the alleys, I was still surprised at the first sight on the Castel Sant’Elmo, a fortress on top of a hill overlooking the whole city of Naples. I don’t think I can manage a precise description with words – wherever there’s space, there’s a building. What was also surprising was the lack of trees, which is entirely different from Milan for example – a similar sized metropolitan city in Italy. Naples succeeds in proving in every possible way that it is unique and incomparable. And as far as the old saying goes – ‘see Naples and die’ – once one has seen the particular beauty of Naples, no other city in the world can ever come close in comparison.