SEPTEMBER 21, 2013
Time to say goodbye to our lovely host in Rome. Such a beautiful and historic city. We could have spent so much more time exploring the ancient city but it was time travel further south along the coast.Next stop, the city of Naples.
Visiting birthplace of Pizza seemed like a good idea when planning our journey through southern Italy.
With descriptions like…
Romantic Naples, two hours south of Rome, is the largest city in southern Italy. It has some of the world’s best opera houses and theatres, and is often called an open-air museum, because of its many historic statues and monuments.
How could we not want to visit and fall in love with this city?! Well the truth is Naples has had some rough times. The city has a bad reputation concerning the Mafia, trash crisis (the worst is actually over) and some parts of the city are in bad shape. We were warned about the crime and pickpockets in Naples, but then again, we were also warned about crime in Rome and never had a problem.
We arrived at the central train station in Naples and immediately were among heavy and congested traffic. We were taken aback by the garbage strewn streets, graffitied monuments and general unsavory vibe of the area. After lugging our heavy backpacks a couple blocks under a hot sun, it didn’t take long to change our original travel plans. We decided to make Naples a short lunch break and choose not to venture too far.
Known for the best Sfogliatelle pastry in Italy! Lucky for us it was an 8 minute walk from the train station. We did however got lost down some narrow streets… but a couple of locals were happy to help us out. Again I was pleased to have researched this place in advance, we would have never have discovered it on our own. A very small bakery packed out the door with locals. It was good to know the ordering system in advance (you go in and take a ticket by the cashier, order then pay). The Sfogliatelle were still warm from the oven, very flaky, with a fragrant citrus cream and just delicious!
L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele
The Famous Naples pizzeria … World’s Best Pizza… and also where Julia Roberts eats pizza at in Eat, Pray, Love
There are only two pizzas to choose from, the Marinara and the Margherita, and that’s all they serve. But that’s only because they respect a tradition began in 1870, by the Condurro family. Their art was perfected by Michele Condurro (1906), whose recipes are still followed today.
Antica Pizzeria da Michele bears the name of its master, who opened the first Condurro pizzeria in 1906. In 1930 that pizzeria was moved to its current location, and its reputation grew over the years. Today, many patrons still refer to this restaurant as “the sacred temple of pizza.”
The movie scene is inspired from the following passage in Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling novel Eat, Pray, Love:
Giovanni and Dario, my Tandem Exchange twins, are originally from Naples. I cannot picture it. I cannot imagine shy, studious, sympathetic Giovanni as a young boy amongst this—and I don’t use the word lightly — mob. But he is Neapolitan, no question about it, because before I left Rome he gave me the name of a pizzeria in Naples that I had to try, because, Giovanni informed me, it sold the best pizza in Naples. I found this a wildly exciting prospect, given that the best pizza in Italy is from Naples, and the best pizza in the world is from Italy, which means that this pizzeria must offer … I’m almost too superstitious to say it … the best pizza in the world? Giovanni passed along the name of the place with such seriousness and intensity, I almost felt I was being inducted into a secret society. He pressed the address into the palm of my hand and said, in gravest confidence, “Please go to this pizzeria. Order the Margherita pizza with double mozzarella. If you do not eat this pizza when you are in Naples, please lie to me later and tell me that you did.”
“So Sofie and I have come to Pizzeria da Michele, and these pies we have just ordered — one for each of us — are making us lose our minds. I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return. I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair. Meanwhile, Sofie is practically in tears over hers, she’s having a metaphysical crisis about it, she’s begging me, “Why do they evenbother trying to make pizza in Stockholm? Why did we even bother eating food at all in Stockholm?
Pizzeria da Michele is a small place with only two rooms and one nonstop oven. It’s about a fifteen-minute walk from the train station in the rain, don’t even worry about it, just go. You need to get there fairly early in the day because sometimes they run out of dough, which will break your heart. By 1 p.m., the streets outside the pizzeria have become jammed with Neapolitans trying to get into the place, shoving for access like they’re trying to get space on a lifeboat. There’s not a menu. They have only two varieties of pizza here — regular and extra cheese. None of this new age southern California olives-and-sun-dried-tomato wannabe pizza twaddle. The dough, it takes me half my meal to figure out, tastes more like Indian nan than like any pizza dough I ever tired. It’s soft and chewy and yielding, but incredibly thin. I always thought we only had two choices in our lives when it came to pizza crust — thin and crispy, or thick and doughy. How was I to have known there could be a crust in this world that was thin and doughy? Holy of holies! Thin, doughy, strong, gummy, yummy, chewy, salty pizza paradise. On top, there is a sweet tomato sauce that foams up all bubbly and creamy when it melts the fresh buffalo mozzarella, and the one sprig of basil in the middle of the whole deal somehow infuses the entire pizza with herbal radiance, much the same way one shimmering movie star in the middle of a party brings a contact high of glamour to everyone around her. It’s technically impossible to eat this thing, of course. You try to take a bite off your slice and the gummy crust folds, and the hot cheese runs away like topsoil in a landslide, makes a mess of you and your surroundings, but just deal with it.
The guys who make this miracle happen are shoveling the pizzas in and out of the wood-burning oven, looking for all the world like the boilermen in the belly of a great ship who shovel coal into the raging furnaces. Their sleeves are rolled up over their sweaty forearms, their faces red with exertion, one eye squinted against the heat of the fire and a cigarette dangling from the lips. Sofie and I each order another pie — another whole pizza each — and Sofie tries to pull herself together, but really, the pizza is so good we can barely cope.”
Back to our adventure at Antica Pizzeria da Michele…
Before we could even see the pizzeria sign we knew we had found the right place. A massive crowd stood outside the small pizzeria all impatient to get inside. I left Rob outside with our bags and I squeezed my way though the crowd and inside the restaurant. I was greeted by a friendly old man who gave me our waiting number and I returned outside feeling a little defeated. There were at least 20-30 people a head of us! I went back in to the pizzeria to see if I could get our lunch ‘to go’ and to my surprise we could! He rang in my order and pointed to the open kitchen and large wood fired oven. Not knowing how to speak Italian was frustrating. While waiting patiently for one of the cooks to look up and take my order receipt… an impatient Italian guy pushes past me and hands his order to the cooks. Luckily, in the back of the kitchen, one of the other cooks witnessed the rudeness of Mr. Pushy. He politely took my order receipt and shared some hand gestures and disapproving looks at Mr Pushy. He then made a point to deliver my order before Mr.Pushy! I kindly thanked him and he responded with a lovely ‘Ciao Bella’ and a cheeky wink of and eye! Chivalry is not dead
I have to admit I was proud to walk out of there and through the huge crowd with our 2 large pizza’s. Rob was in disbelief that I got our food so fast and was amused by my story of what happened inside. We sat down in some shade, on the sidewalk and ate the most delicious pizza’s I have ever tasted! They only have two types of pizza (and I ordered both!): the margherita (tomato, basil and mozzarella) and the marinara (tomatoes, garlic and oregano). They were both pretty amazing. Nothing like the pizza’s we are used to here in North America!
We took the local Circumvesuviana train to tour Pompeii and it’s ancient ruins. The city and the surrounding area were destroyed and buried under 20 ft of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The site was lost for about 1,500 years before it was rediscovered in 1599. It was amazing how much was left preserved. Ancient Roman frescoes still decorated the bath houses and many homes. So many artifacts had been preserved for centuries because of the lack of air and moisture, many could still be viewed on site… and most hauntingly…. plaster was used to fill in the voids between the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed one to see the exact position the person died.
The ruins covered a much larger area than we expected, you could easily spend a full day exploring the streets and examining the fallen temples. Because it was once a thriving a port city, there were many ruins that were once bars, public baths, brothels, restaurants, and places of entertainment. It was haunting to see Mount Vesuvius not far in the distance and imagining what it would have been like for those unfortunate souls who did not flee the city…. getting buried alive. The bustling city of Naples is located at the foot of Vesuvius, and while it is quiet today (the last eruption was in 1944), it’s actually only a matter of when, not if, it will erupt again!
To make sense of all the ruins on site, we downloaded a Rick Steve’s Audio Guide (highly recommended!). A part way though our tour we came across an American couple reading their Rick Steve’s Guide Book. We struck up some conversation with them and invited them along to finish the tour with us. (The audio tours are so much more engaging that having your nose stuck in a guide book!). We enjoyed the company and soon found out they were also staying in same town of Sorrento for a few days!
We all took the local Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento together and made plans to meet later that evening for dinner.
The Beautiful town of Sorrento! This beautiful town is known as the gateway city for excursions to the Amalfi coast, the Island of Capri. Our accommodations at Lemon House b&b Sorrento were arranged through the wonderful website AirBnB. Our host Giuseppina not only picked us up from the train station but gave us a guided tour of the town and took us up to a breathtaking lookout just as the sun was setting over the bay. She welcomed us to her home and showed us our room. Both the room and bathroom were immaculate, and the view from our room’s terrace was just as perfect!
We made our way from our guest house in the hills, down though town, to meet with our new friends for dinner. Little did we know, after walking through a maze of alleys, dimly lit streets and winding stairs, that we would stumble upon the annual Blue Fish Festival in Marina Grande. The port was jammed with locals and tourists celebrating the catch of the day. Restaurants opened their doors and lined the sidewalks with extra tables and chairs offering unique and delicious looking buffet style seafood dishes! Plates were filled sky high with food and everyone seemed to be having a great time! Although we decided to seek out a more quiet dinning experience we all enjoyed walking along the wharf checking out the festivities! A marching band started to weave through the crowd followed by a parade of costumed celebrators just as we were leaving the port. It was such a wonderful surprise that evening! I really wish I had more video!
Walking Map of Naples
12 Days Down, 5 Days to Go