I apologize this post is so late, but the way things have been going, I’m thankful I have a moment even now to write about our successful trip to Naples.
As you may have read, the sole reason for this voyage south was to visit the American Consulate to proceed with the final step in hopes that Fabio could obtain a spousal green card. I had visited Naples briefly in 2005 during my study abroad session, but I used it more as a pit stop to go to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. Fabio, on the other hand, had never been before, so we were excited to have opportunity to get to know the city a little more as a bonus during our ‘visa adventure.’
Naples gets a bad wrap up here in northern Italy. This is usually due to the fact that there are some major cultural differences in general between ‘the north’ and ‘the south’ (generally drawing the line laterally at Rome). There’s a great movie that addresses these differences perfectly: Benvenuti al Sud (a really great, fun flick I’d highly recommend to anyone interesting in ‘the boot!’) Fabio lived this cultural divide first-hand while working for a company from Nocera (near Naples). To be honest he couldn’t really even understand his co-workers when they spoke between eachother for the first few months, the dialect changes that much! Another difference is the dominant presence of the mafia, with each area having a different ‘clan.’ The one in and around Naples is called the Cammora. There’s also a lot of ‘taking advantage of the system,’ i.e. they’ve busted many people who’ve claimed they were blind (in order to live off social assistance) driving cars or motorbikes around the city -just as an example. As a visitor, I have been warned by many Italian friends to stai molto attenti (be very careful) when visiting this part of Italy. And while, yes there are some sketchy areas of Naples you should avoid, in general, there many beautiful things about Naples and the South in general and it’d be a pity if it were avoided just based on it’s reputation alone. We met some of the friendliest, open and most helpful people I’ve ever met in all of Italy. The food and the sights are world-class and at the end of our visit we were both left wanting more.
We began our trip at Florence’s train station, Firenze Santa Maria Novella, where I’ve started and concluded many a-journey. And while I loved Naples, I would never recommend driving there (at least in the city), so we took the train. Italy’s principal train company is TrenItalia, and while they offer the most complete train service, the prices, especially for their high-speed trains, have gotten quite pricey. A few years ago a new company, owned by Luca Montezemolo(chairman of Ferrari), offered a high-speed alternative called Italo. Seeing that, 3 weeks in advance, a one-way ticket to Naples on TreinItalia cost 68 euro, the same trip on Italo cost only 28, the choice wasn’t too hard. Thankfully lower cost did not equate to lower quality as we had a great trip. Not only was it 20 minutes faster in respect to it’s competitor, the train was brand-new and offered free wi-fi during the entire trip (2 hours and 40 minutes from station to station).
Upon our arrival to Napoli Centrale, we hired a cab to get us to our B&B. I’m used to the driving style in Italy’s cities (I like to call it fluid madness), but Naples was on another level. Thankfully I know that these guys are at home, they know what their doing, so I was pretty relaxed while careening through the streets. Never mind that we narrowly avoided 5 collisions or almost side-swiped several cars, I knew to just kick back and enjoy the ride. And what a ride it was. It had rained the day before so the air was nice, fresh and clean. Vesuvius was looming in the foreground and the whole city was aglow in that special afternoon-mediterranean light that I love so much. We wound our way around the city, Fabio and the cab driver chatting in up along the way, and within 20 minutes we were in front of our place.
I chose B&B Mergellina because of it’s location to the Consulate (5 minutes on foot) as well as the cost. Where other hotels offered rooms from 70 euro and up, this place offered a studio/loft with kitchen for 60 euro a night. It was a great decision, as Ciro, the manager, was there to meet us at the door and couldn’t have been nicer. The apartments are located on the 4th floor (Italian, 5th floor US) so my glutes got a nice little work out during our stay. Ciro showed us around and stayed for a bit and chatted. By the time he had walked out the door he’d already told of a great place to eat close by and offered to drive us to our doctor’s appointment the next day.
Chiaia is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Naples, and it’s not hard to see why. Colorful houses and a long boardwalk extending all the way down to the center of the city offers sweeping views of the Bay of Naples which includes Vesuvius, Sorrento and the Island of Capri. People walk/run along it during all times of day and a large part is closed to traffic, making a stroll along the water completely relaxing. We headed up to Antonio e Antonio (as recommended by Ciro) for some traditional Napoletano food. We sat outside on the waterfront, enjoying the amazing atmosphere. Fabio ordered an antipasto of guazzetto di mare, an amazing plate of calamari, mussles, clams, octopus in a tomato sauce with crunchy bread underneath that soaks up all the goodness. IT. WAS. HEAVEN. I could have stopped there seeing as one portion (18 euro) was more than enough for the both of us. But, of course, we had to have some pizza (invented right here in Naples). I ordered one with frirelli, a broccoli rab dish particular in Naples. Honestly, we were both so full we couldn’t finish ours, but it was delicious none the less.
We headed back to our place early, seeing as we had to be at the clinic for Fabio’s exam at 8am the next day.
Ciro was right on time and took us to the clinic where all green card applicants must undergo the day before their interview. Nothing crazy, just a check x-ray and a physical. The Varelli Clinic was an impressive place. Everyone was very professional and nice. The doctor who performs the physicals was late that day and a very nice woman came every 10 minutes to assure us that he was on his way.
In the afternoon we headed to the Consulate to get Fabio fingerprinted and were told to be there again at 7:30 the following morning for our interview. Seeing as it was 2:30 and I was not about to sit in our apartment all day with all the nervous energy we had going on, I proposed…let’s walk! And walk we did! We ended up walking from Consulate, along the waterfront, to the very impressive Port of Naples, into the center to the beautiful and ancient Piazza del Plebiscito and back again. All in all we moseyed about for 6 hours, enjoying every minute of it. It was a beautiful day and the view was spectacular. Plus, it was a great way to de-stress and insure we’d get a good night’s sleep the night before the interview!
We arrived at the Consulate at 7:15 the next morning and walked out with our confirmation at 9:30! Everything went very smoothly and Fabio did great. They asked him a few simple questions (in English). He was understandably nervous but did really well. The staff there were all very friendly and made the whole experience a pleasant one.
With all that hard work finally paying off, we decided to take advantage of our last day by heading to Pompeii. Even though I had visited previously, Fabio had never been and who can pass up a visit to one of the most spectacular sites the world has to offer?!
All-in-all it was a great trip that only left us wanting to spend more time exploring. We will be back to visit, who knows when, but I’m sure we will!