Naples

Picture of vesuvius Naples seems to be contentious city amongst travelers. There seem to be more warnings about visiting Naples than all other Italian cities combined. We found ourselves to be over-prepared. There is certainly a lot of street crime (mostly pick-pocketing) in Naples but that isn't really all that hard to avoid. We didn't see any evidence in several days of crisscrossing the city. Traffic is another big nightmare - supposedly. We found it to be exciting, in that Italian traffic sort of way but not noticeably different from the rest of southern Italy. It certainly isn't the most difficult or dangerous Italian city to drive in from our viewpoint (Andria gets that award from us). Also, there is a lot to see and do here. Probably more than in Venice or Milan, maybe even Florence. Naples is also a great transport hub to the Amalfi coast, Pompeii, Capri and Vesuvius (which dominates this picture).
Picture of castelNuovo Castel Nuovo is surrounded by major roads and is sort of difficult to reach as a pedestrian. 'Nuovo' in this case means built in 1279 so it's a relative term. There's not a whole lot of castle to see inside the castle but it's a great vantage point of the bay of Naples. The mountains of the Amalfi coast are easily visible behind it in this photo.
Picture of spanishQuarter The Spanish Quarter is an interesting place to wander around. There aren't as many hotels and restaurants located in this area, there aren't really any major attractions either. It's just sort of a good place to pick up the Naples vibe.
Picture of santaChiara Yes, it's Italy so there are grand old churches. Naples can't really compete with the other major Italian cities on the church and cathedral front. We visited one, so here is our obligatory Italian church picture. This is Santa Chiara which is very old but also was largely destroyed in World War II.
Picture of painting The National Archeological Museum is the absolute must-see destination in Naples. If you're visiting Pompeii or Herculaneum this has to be on the itinerary as it has the vast majority of preserved objects from those sites. The painting here and the mosaic below are both from the Pompeii collection. There is also dinnerware and jewelry and all sorts of personal artifacts from both destroyed cities on display. An impressive display of sculpture is also housed in the museum.
Picture of mosaic
Picture of pizza The archeology museum is rather larger so you'd better have a pizza before you go in. Pizza is a Naples invention of sorts. That doesn't necessarily mean they have the best pizza but they have very good pizza and there are dozens of well-known places to get one (or more).
Picture of pastry After your pizza you can continue the tour of Neapolitan foods at the nearest pastry shop (it's almost certainly not far away). Naples claims to be the birthplace of a many popular Italian pastries including zeppole, baba (cream-filled cakes soaked in alcohol) and sfogliatelle (flaky pastries stuffed with just about anything).
Picture of nativity Nativity scenes are a big deal in Naples. There are entire streets devoted to selling nativity scene components. Of course, it goes way beyond a manger and a handful of farm animals. You can buy water features, famous landmarks (Tower of Pisa anyone?), famous people (David Beckham, Michelle Obama, you name it), pizza vendors (it is Naples after all) and other highly appropriate miniatures.
Picture of caserta Yet another possible day trip from Naples is Caserta, located about 40 km to the north. Caserta has one of these gigantic European palace structures dominating the middle of town and that of course is the primary attraction. There's a convenient but confusing parking garage located underneath the front lawn.
Picture of caserta_entrance Perhaps the highlights of the palace are the massive double-sided, double-switchback staircases in the center. This picture doesn't really do it justice, but you can clearly see someone is having their bridal photographs taken on it so it must be worth seeing, right?
Picture of bassinet The Neapolitan royalty built this palace as a retreat from the city. It has all the sorts of things you'd expect in a palace as well as a few unusual objects, including a very early prototype of an elevator (more of a moving room really) and these royal bassinets which you just don't see in your everyday average Baroque palace.
Picture of hideous_vase Speaking of Baroque, this is where it came to die. There's something to be said for opulence and elegance but some of the decorative objects in Caserta go way beyond that. We believe this may possibly be the most hideous vase ever created by the human race.
Picture of caserta_grounds A tour of the palace consists of one quarter of one floor of the palace. That's probably more than enough since at some point you just get into the endless sequence of bedrooms and sitting rooms. The grounds of the palace are expansive. It's an additional cost to the palace tour - we skipped it due to the persistent rain but as you can see in this photo, there's a spring, a waterfall, and some very long reflecting pools.

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