All of the guidebooks talk about Naples using a certain vocabulary: "gritty," "raw," "jungle." They never fail to mention the Camorra crime syndicate, and even suggest that one skips Naples and go straight from Rome to Pompeii or the Amalfi Coast.
To me, it certainly was gritty and raw, but that is what made it so exciting and different from other European cities. In fact, there was a lot that reminded me of the energy in a thriving Chinatown, or a high-energy city like Hanoi.
When I arrived in Naples, my first impression was of the Galleria Umberto I. Looking so much like the ultra high-end Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II with its Prada and Louis Vuitton shops, the difference in the Naples Galleria with its abandoned storefronts and dirty glass simply highlighted the contrast between the cities.
Just a few steps away was the Spanish Quarter, with its narrow streets shared by deliverymen, pedestrians, cars, and scooters alike. This was where my first hotel was, and is to me the most atmospheric part of Naples that I saw.
I just loved that you could see the artifacts of everyday life.
And like Chinatowns the world over, you had produce sellers right there on the street.
And fishmongers with fresh fish water running straight onto the sidewalk.
The city had a kind of faded, worn look.
But that is not to say that ALL of Naples is like that. People seem to miss the Lungomare promenade along the water.
Here I saw that Neopolitans really get into Christmas!
There was a sense of calm here that was a welcome break from the more hectic parts of the city.
Nearby is the Chiaia neighborhood. Now this is much more in line with other typical "European" cities' central areas. Very clean, fashionable. So all of Naples is not that gritty, raw side that writers love to talk about.
Yet it is that hectic side that really made Naples special. And I loved that the energy continued at night. Here I witnessed something that I had seen before in certain Asian cities and Chinatowns: the guy wearing a blue smock is carrying a platter of beverages, making a delivery from some café to his clients, potentially other stores on the street.
Sometimes some of the alleys at night got quite dark (below is an example of a relatively well-lit alley).
But for the most part there were plenty of streets with lots of life, where I felt safe walking around.
And of course the food culture (and the literal debris from it) really stands out.
Naples simply was an exciting city to visit, one that put me on my toes at all times. I'd love to return another time!