Naples: A Beautiful Woman with Dirty Feet

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.

Augustine of Hippo

As we made our way to our new home in Naples, Italy, I was reminded of one of my favorite travel quotes. “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page” by Augustine of Hippo. In college, Adam and I talked about all of our future goals and wishes. One goal was to travel and live abroad in Europe. We decided after many years together that it was finally time to pursue that goal which we first dreamed about 7 years ago. No more reading books or wishing to travel and live abroad. Adam got the amazing opportunity to work in Naples, Italy and we knew we had to jump on it. It was time for us to fill the pages of our story entitled “Living Abroad and Exploring Europe Together.”

The first week in Naples was filled with so much new information and changes. Our first look into the military life was a great one! Both of us had never really understood what people meant when they said that being part of the military meant being part of a community and family. We understand that now. Everyone that we met has been so nice and willing to help with anything. While we still have so much more to understand and to figure out, everyone is so willing to answer any questions we have and share their advice.

Our week-long orientation included learning the process of getting an apartment, getting our international driver’s license (which I’m glad to report that we both passed, but I earned a higher grade than Adam ☺), and learning about the Neapolitan culture. We still have a long way to go to learn Italian and truly submerge ourselves in it all, but we are willing and excited to learn! There was something said at orientation that has stuck with us. One of the presenters said that “Naples is a beautiful woman with dirty feet.” Their advice was to make sure you take notice of the beautiful woman and not just focus on her dirty feet. We have been really processing those words and feel like we still have a way to go in really understanding them, but we have developed a general idea.

Where we have noticed the city’s ‘dirty feet’ the most has been on our drives along the highways and at the Garibaldi main train station. You often find trash along certain roads and highways, where people have dumped garbage, broken things, and even unwanted furniture. You can also find numerous unfinished buildings along the highways. The driving itself can also be very chaotic and we quickly learned that traffic lanes here are merely a suggestion. Potholes are everywhere, and avoiding them seems to be one of the main reasons for the relaxed attitude towards traffic lanes. The area around the main train station has the same issues with litter, chaotic traffic, and the ever-present graffiti. Both Adam and I can see why people have such a negative view if their entire experience in Naples is going from the airport to the main train station, and that is all they see.

However, there is so much more to Naples than that! Although litter has come to define Naples for countless self-appointed experts on travel websites, multiple expats and locals have told us with pride about how much the city has cleaned up in recent years. Both Adam and I have visited (and loved) much dirtier cities around the world. Look up from the trash and you’ll notice the beautiful mountains and rolling farmlands. Along nearly every roadway you’ll notice the improbably umbrella-shaped Italian stone pines, making you feel like you are motoring down an ancient Roman roadway. Learn that the reason that some of the buildings aren’t finished at the top is because some families often never finish construction on their homes, so they don’t have to pay full taxes on it and so that their growing family can live on the next level of the house. Take time to walk along the shoreline and see two beautiful historical castles. Stroll along the streets in the diverse neighborhoods downtown or find those hidden gems like one of my favorites, the Galleria Umberto (pictured below). Stumble along these beautiful side streets where you can find an amazing pizza place, a delightful bakery, a fascinating museum, or the entrance to a preserved section of Greek and Roman ruins. Interact with the locals who have been so friendly and helpful at every place we have been to so far.

We kept hearing during orientation as well that we need to make sure we keep track of our bags and purses as we are walking around. We have been smart about it, but didn’t let that deter us from going downtown to experience the city for ourselves. Just like any major city you need to be alert, but that didn’t stop us from looking up and seeing all the beauty around us!

Naples is an old city, established by the Greeks nearly 3000 years ago. There is so much rich history that Adam and I can’t wait to keep learning about. As you look around you can’t help but appreciate some of the beauty that surrounds the area. Something I learned from Adam, for example, is that the Castel dell’Ovo (also known as the Egg Castle, pictured in our header image) was named because of a local legend that the ancient poet Virgil put a magical egg under the castle. If anyone were to destroy the egg it would cause the castle and all of Naples to crumble. This is just one of many stories I am excited to unearth.

Okay, so this would not be a very good Chow Bella blog if I did not mention some of the food we tried the first week! Our first night we ate insalata caprese (tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and olive oil). We learned that traditionally it will only have olive oil on it. In the States, I know a lot of places that put balsamic glaze on it as well. A difference in Naples is some places will have buffalo mozzarella, which has a completely different texture! It tastes like a cross between mozzarella and burrata cheese. If you haven’t tried it, then you must! It is so good ☺ When you visit, then we’ll have it here for you to try! We also tried bruschetta, and the tomatoes were so fresh and delicious. A lot of the tomatoes that Naples uses are grown in the volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius because it is rich in natural minerals. It makes the texture a tad saltier and very flavorful. We also tried for the first time zeppoline which is a fried ball of dough. I know that does not sound exciting, but it is so fluffy, airy, and packed full of flavor. To top our dinner off we had a spaghetti con cozze (which cozze means mussels). The spaghetti was so thick and the texture seemed so fresh and homemade. It was so amazing and we have been getting as much cozze (and other wonderful seafood) as we can get!

The hotel we are staying at has been fantastic! Not only is the staff very kind and attentive, but their breakfast is so good! One of my favorite things at breakfast is an apricot croissant. It is a regular croissant with apricot jam filling. Need I say more? I’ll try and find a pastry place that makes a good one when you come visit since we won’t be at the hotel by then.

When we explored downtown Naples we went to a place called La Sfogliatella Mary in the Galleria Umberto. This little stand has a couple things that Naples is known for, including sfogliatella and rum baba. Of course Adam and I tried one of each. The sfogliatellas, also known as a lobster tail in English, are amazing and a must try when you visit! It has a thin pastry layer wrapped around in a shell pattern, which gives it that amazing crunch with every bite. The filling is a ricotta cheese with an almond flavor and candied citron peels. The citrus, almond, and creamy cheese really mixes well with each other. Now the rum baba is one of those wake-you-up pastries! It has a spongy consistency with lots of little air pockets that you delightfully discover when you bite into them, and the whole thing is soaked in a generous amount of rum.

We knew in our first week we had to go to a pizza place! However, we couldn’t just try any pizza as our first pizza. We had to try the Neapolitan pizza. You know it is a Neapolitan pizza when it is made with either San Marzano tomatoes or Roma tomatoes. Both of these tomatoes are grown in the volcanic soil of Mt. Vesuvius. It also must have the buffalo mozzarella cheese that we talked about above. This makes it a traditional Neapolitan pizza (and there is even an international True Neapolitan Pizza Association, headquartered in Naples, which regulates making official Neapolitan pizza). We decided to ask for the traditional Margherita option, which combines the fresh tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella with basil and extra virgin olive oil. A local legend says that a Neapolitan pizzaiolo (pizza-maker) invented the Margherita pizza in the late 1800’s to celebrate the unification of Italy into a single kingdom. The pizza-maker chose the ingredients to reflect the colors of the Italian flag (the red tomatoes, the white mozzarella cheese, and the green basil) and named it in honor of the new Italian Queen, Margherita of Savoy. We have heard variations of this story from a few different locals now, but it is not 100% if that is true since those ingredients were put on a pizza before that time. Nonetheless, the pizza we had was molto buono! I have heard it described as having a soupy consistency, and I completely agree. I know this might not sound appealing, but honestly it was so delicious! I can see why it is one of the things that you must get while you are in Naples. They really do have it down to a science. However, I will caution all that when you buy a pizza, be aware that it is a big portion for one person! Adam and I learned that the hard way, and next time we will share. Also, be aware that when you order a pizza with pepperoni, then you are ordering a pizza with peppers. If you want the pepperoni you get in the States, then you want to order the one that says salami.

Another thing we quickly learned is that after every dinner, it is custom to get a little glass of limoncello. For those of you that don’t know, limoncello is a south of Italy lemon liquor drink. It is made up of lemon peels, vodka, water and sugar. It is a very popular homemade liquor, with nearly every restaurant producing their own homemade version and some of them providing a glass free-of-charge as an after dinner digestif. We aren’t entirely convinced of the digestive benefits of the limoncello, but we appreciate the custom. Both Adam and I have learned that limoncello is an acquired taste, but we really like crema limoncello, which can come in flavors like chocolate, mint, or pistachio. We also really like the chocolate and mint blended together! They are so good and taste like a Girl Scout thin mint cookie. I’ll try and learn how to make these, so you can try it when you visit or we can always go and buy them at any marketplace.

As you can tell this first week has been filled with adventures and learning. We can’t wait to see what the rest of the time holds for us and we can’t wait to share it with you. Chapter 1 of our book is complete. Now let’s start the next chapter!

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