After spending the morning of New Year’s Eve at Wakehurst in England, Greg and I flew to Naples, Italy to ring in the new year.
Naples is known for its New Year’s Eve celebrations and is credited as having the best fireworks in Italy. But Neapolitans don’t wait until midnight. As the plane was making its descent around 6pm, we could see fireworks bursting out across the city, streaking the night sky with flashes of color and light.
We landed, quickly showered and changed, and joined Greg’s family for dinner along the Lungomare, a seafront strip of restaurants and bars. There we ate course after course while music played and confetti rained down.
Then shortly before midnight Greg and I headed outside where hundreds of Neapolitans had gathered in anticipation. Men wandered the street selling fireworks, coolers full of champagne, and wish lanterns.
I thought it would be a cute thing for Greg and me to get a lantern and make a wish together for the new year. I figured it would be a really special moment. So Greg got the lantern, and the seller helped him light it. Then, before I could get hold of it, the two men let the lantern go into the night sky. So much for that. I hope you two enjoyed your special moment together!
Then the clock struck midnight and even more fireworks went off. They were lit directly on the streets, with the crowds doing their best to avoid being hit. I wasn’t very street savvy apparently, since a firework exploded near me and a piece got into my eye. Cue the ugly crying – what a way to ring in the new year!
It’s difficult to see in this picture, since the smoke from the fireworks made the sky hazy. But all across the hills along the bay, fireworks were going off in little clusters. There were over 100 places where fireworks were being set off. And I’m not talking about roman candles. I’m talking about the real, authentic fireworks that are illegal in some states and usually only found in official city fireworks shows. It was crazy!
Then after the fireworks ran out, small concerts popped up with DJs playing music from the back of vans. The streets turned into outdoor clubs and dance parties began.
New Year’s Eve in Naples is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. There were at least a dozen times throughout the night when I thought to myself “this would never be allowed in the U.S.!” It was crazy, it was wild, and it was authentically Naples.
The next day, Greg and I slept until 3pm, which is the latest we’ve slept… ever. So after showering we only made it outside for a sliver of daylight. As the sun was setting we headed to Via San Gregorio Armeno, Naples’ famous Christmas Alley. It’s a small pedestrian street where they sell holiday trinkets and other seasonal wares.
And the most famous of these are massive nativity scenes. Now many of you may have had a nativity growing up, but I can assure you Neapolitan nativities are in a class of their own. Much like Italian churches, they’re incredibly ornate, oftentimes venturing into gaudy territory. They’re also unique in that Mary, Joseph and Jesus are usually found in the center of town, surrounded by homes and other people. It’s certainly a more cosmopolitan location for the manger than you normally see! And finally, Neapolitans tend to add whatever characters they wish. And I don’t just mean candle makers and butchers and other people not strictly found in the Christmas story. Famous soccer players, politicians and celebrities have all found their way into Naples’ nativity scenes.
Later that evening (still New Year’s Day for those of you keeping track at home), Greg and I went to San Lorenzo Maggiore, a church complex whose highlights have nothing to do with the actual church.
The rooms surrounding the church are beautiful.
However one of the coolest aspects is La Neapolis Sotterrata (underground Naples). Under the church, architects have uncovered an ancient Greco-Roman marketplace and ruins which you can explore.
That was the highlight of our visit, until we went back above ground and found the Sala Sisto V. This room has an absolutely gorgeous ceiling. Our eyes were staring at the ceiling so much it took us a few seconds to realize the room was filled with people, all sitting in chairs pointing towards an empty stage. We knew something was about to begin (yes, we’re quite the sleuths!) so one of us suggested we leave. The fun one of us (you’ll never guess which is which!) convinced the other to stay, so we took seats in the back and attempted to blend in.
Shortly after we sat down, musicians took the stage and began performing classical pieces while two opera singers sang the accompanying lyrics. The performance was beautiful, especially when combined with the gorgeous setting, and created an etherial atmosphere. We just couldn’t believe we were there, in Italy, listening to a stunning private concert in a beautiful room above ancient rooms. It was definitely one of those pinch me moments.
Go ahead, experience the moment for yourself:
A lighter moment from the concert, which made Greg and me snicker under our breath, was when two old women in the back row decided they didn’t like their seats. So they picked up their chairs and took them down the center aisle, depositing the chairs in the middle of the aisle right in front of the stage. It did not go over well, to say the least, and there was a lot of gesturing and yelling from the audience. The women gestured and yelled back, before finally picking up their chairs and going back to their original spots, grumbling the whole way. It was so funny, and very Italian!
We had a few more days in Naples which we spent exploring the city.
There are some places you visit where when you arrive the location speaks to your soul, and you walk around with jaws dropped due to its beauty, with each corner bringing a more stunning view than the last. Paris is like that. So is Scotland, and the Amalfi Coast (which I’ll talk about more later) and a few other incredible places I’ve visited.
Naples just isn’t like that. I didn’t like it very much to be honest. There were parts of Naples I appreciated, and I did have nice moments, like at the surprise concert we snuck into. But it certainly isn’t a place I fell in love with, and with so many wonderful cities in the world I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
But there were plenty of aspects of Naples that kept us amused. We laughed at a lot of things, like this prayer on the wall of a bakery. It starts by asking God to protect them from plague, earthquakes, and Mount Vesuvius. Then it comically ends “take care of the Naples Football Team too… and don’t forget about me.”
And this sign advertising a sale speaks for itself…
But I have to say, the thing I do love about Naples is its food. We had pizza pretty much nonstop. In fact, Greg and I got into the habit of ordering a pizza to share at every meal, with us each then ordering separate pasta dishes for our main course. When in Naples, right?!
Naples is also known for its pizza fritta, which is fried pizza. The pizza is folded in half so the dough locks in the ingredients and then it’s fried. It’s kind of like a calzone, except I’ve never seen calzones this big!
I couldn’t get enough pasta during the trip, especially gnocchi.
You have to try a sfogliatella while you’re in Naples, which is a pastry that comes with different fillings and is quite delicious.
And with the food must come the vino. You really can’t go wrong with Neapolitan wine. I recommend Lacryma Christi. It’s delicious, which is important, and as a bonus the name funnily translates to “tears of Christ.”
And at the end of your meal don’t forget to sip limoncello. I say sip because it often arrives in a glass that reminds you of a shot glass. When I was living in Sicily one summer during college, I made the terribly embarrassing mistake of taking the limoncello as a shot. I then sheepishly looked around the table at all of the Italians classily sipping their drinks and looking at me like I was living up to every obnoxious American stereotype they’d ever heard. So retain your dignity and sip the limoncello!
We also tried variations of limoncello, like meloncello, which is actually very good too.
But the most important, and touristy, food thing you need to do in Naples is eat pizza at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. This pizza place was made famous by Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat Pray Love, where she describes it as “the best pizza in the world.” The book implores you: “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 you did.”
Not wanting to lie to Elizabeth, we made sure to visit the pizzeria while we were in Naples. The downside? Everyone traveling in Naples on that day also decided to visit. So when we arrived we were given a ticket, and had to wait 2 hours for our number to be called. Knowing we had a long time to wait, we wandered around the neighborhood (and even ate an “appetizer” pizza at a nearby restaurant) so the time wasn’t completely wasted. However, just know you will have to wait a long time for “the best pizza in the world.”
When our number was finally called we went in and ordered the margherita pizza with double mozzarella, as instructed. We really didn’t have much choice, since the pizzeria only offers two kinds of pizza: marinara, which has no cheese and is just tomatoes, oregano, olive oil and garlic, and margherita, which is basically the same plus cheese.
It was delicious pizza, there’s no doubt about that. It’s soft and chewy with melted mozzarella gracing every bite. But when you’ve heard the pizza is “the best in the world” it’s really difficult to live up to that hype. And in fact we did find better pizza on the Amalfi Coast. So I supposed if you’re looking for “the best pizza in the world,” you technically won’t find it at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. But you will still enjoy it, a lot.
Stay tuned as we explore more of Italy (and I tell you all about my pick for “the best pizza in the world”)!
Happy New Year! Buon Anno!