If you don't travel mostly for the sake of experiencing another culture's take on food, then this is probably going to sound pretty bizarre to you. When we decided to go on a cruise as part of our honeymoon, there were two options: one that included Naples, & one that did not. While this grungy port town with a bit of a reputation certainly isn't on everyone's list of places to visit, it placed high on ours. You may be scratching your head on that one, like many of our fellow passengers, so let me explain: Naples is the birthplace of pizza.
The breathtaking Amalfi coast, a short train ride away, tempted us for less than five seconds as we watched the rest of Ventura's passengers offload. We had an important mission to complete: eat at L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele. We'd gotten general directions for this famous pizzeria, but stopped at the tourist office for a map & some more specific instruction. They weren't sure on the exact address, but we set off in the general direction with our trusty map. At this point, we'd spent most of our time either in tourist centres or cities I knew very well, so despite knowing Naples was a little rough around the edges, it was still a bit of a shock to find ourselves in a much grimier neighbourhood than we were used to.
Without an exact address or the ability to google the location, we quickly realized we had no idea where to go. The only thing we knew was that we shouldn't go past the train station. I quickly initiated to my usual backup plan when lost in a foreign country: find a hotel & ask for directions. The friendly maitre d' showed us the exact location (just around the corner) on our map & we were back on our way. We'd heard that it was important to get there before noon, so we'd headed straight there from the ship, arriving just after 11.
If we hadn't known about Pizzeria da Michele, we likely would have walked passed this unassuming little spot. It looks like any other local pizzeria in Italy. You won't find a huge staff here either. In addition to a few servers & the cashier, there were two men running the actual pizza-making operation - one in charge of dough & assembly, another manning the brick oven. They respect Grandfather Michele's memory to this day, serving the two classic types of Neapolitan pizza: Margherita or Bianca.
Since we were quite early, we snagged a table in the main room with a view of the whole process. I couldn't have hand-picked a better vantage point. Their small menu makes ordering a snap. We each chose our own regular-sized Margherita pizzas, as well as a couple beers & a large bottled water. As we waited for our meal, we took in our surroundings. The walls are dotted with photos of celebrities & signs explaining the origins of this style of pie. The staff walked around, joking with regulars or shouting jokingly at each other in Italian (the Italian gesturing was on point!). We could only guess what they were saying, but we thoroughly enjoyed letting our imaginations run wild. The older gentleman rolling out dough was particularly animated. He was by far our favourite! (Rumour has it, he's one of Michele's four sons.)
Our pizzas arrived quickly, hot from the oven. The smell was out of this world & neither of us could wait to dive in. I'm sure you can guess how this experience was (I mean, I just wrote a four paragraph introduction). It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the best pizza I have ever eaten.
In true Italian fashion, the simplicity of the fresh ingredients blend to create the perfect balance of flavours. Buffalo mozzarella, san marzano tomatoes, the freshest basil, & a perfect dough: it's an unreal combination. You couldn't wipe the happy grin off my face. While I love prosciutto or creative toppings on my pizza just as much as anyone else, this pizza is on another level. It doesn't need those extra toppings to shine. Trust me on this one. Go to Naples. Eat the pizza at da Michele. Thank me (& all of those who have come before me) later.
-Break for drool-worthy pizza photos (& a snap with my new buddy!)-
|Our great server|
|Starting to get busy as we head out|
Honestly, we had no idea what else to see in Naples afterwards. We had a map & a lot of free time though, so we set out. (This blog is called Au fil de mes balades for good reason. I love exploring a new city without any real destination!) We started in the old quarter, with its crumbling infrastructure & graffiti everywhere. We were still getting used to seeing these incredible historic sights in such disrepair in comparison to other cities we'd visited. It was an entirely different experience from the rest of our trip & I was glad to see it. We took a break in a café at the base of the funicular, grabbing a cappuccino & catching up on Instagram, before heading up to the castle at the top. We decided to tour the castle (I know, I'm shocked too. There wasn't any food inside either), & got caught in a rain storm during our visit. We waited it out with the other tourists in every alcove we could find until we got bored & decided to just brave the elements.
Instead of taking the funicular back down, we opted to walk. This resulted in many wrong turns & us getting completely lost. In the process, we stumbled upon many beautiful hidden corners & got a peak into everyday life on the hill. It reminded me of Croix Rousse in Lyon in that respect. We ran into more than our fair share of dead ends, & there were definitely times when we felt like we'd never find out way back to the port, but we also saw a side of Naples we would have completely missed if we had simply taken the funicular back down. Vacations allow for many luxuries, namely time, so we were in no rush to find our way. Instead, we took advantage & reveled in the unusual opportunity of not having to worry that you're a little bit lost.
|Storm rolling in|
It began to thunder & lightning as we were almost back at the ship. We'd been watching the storm roll in, but we still managed to get completely soaked as we tried to make it back. Neither of us were prepared for rain so we threw on our bathing suits & jumped in the onboard hot tub to warm up. Once the chill wore off, we got cozy in our slippers & robes to watch the sailways from our balcony. We were first rewarded with a beautiful rainbow over the city followed by a gorgeous sunset. Naples was certainly a memorable day!