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Naples, Italy: Boisterous, Gritty, and Lovable

Above is a slideshow with a collection of images from our visit to Naples, Italy.

We begin our three-month visit to Italy with a four-day stint in Naples - the third largest city in Italy and one of the most densely populated in all of Europe. Naples was never on our “Italy bucket list”, but its proximity to the Amalfi Coast and the ruinous towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum made it a great starting point for our journey.

The streets of Naples are anything but beautiful, charming, or quaint. Instead, they are chaotic, crowded, gritty, graffiti-ridden, quite dirty in places, unsafe in certain areas, and very unpolished . . . and yet there’s a vibrancy and energy to it that makes it a very compelling city. In her own unique way, a certain beauty and charm emerges and like this traveler, you may find that Naples, seemingly against all odds, touches your heart.

As someone we met in Pompeii said: (and hear yourself saying this with an Italian accent) “you have tears when you arrive in Naples, and you have tears when you leave”.

As I walk the Neapolitan streets I am reminded of the “Grunge Music Scene” (as it was called in the 1990’s). Grunge music burst on to the scene in the late 1980’s and was characterized by its gritty sound and introspective lyrics. It became popular for its raw and unfiltered expression, embracing an edgier sound that seemed to be a direct response to the glossy and polished music dominating the airwaves in the 1980’s.

My favorite of the “Grunge Bands” was Pearl Jam, featuring Eddie Vedder. Their music was often edgier and more metallic than what I would typically listen to, but Vedder’s distinctive passionate voice, characterized by its rawness and emotive quality, was refreshing. The band connected with youth and those who were feeling the angst of a society whose polish seemed to ignore the underbelly of life that so many were experiencing.

Naples personifies the message of Grunge Music. It’s ironic how close it is to the Amalfi Coast . . . with all its beauty, polish, and sophistication. Naples, on the other hand, speaks to a more everyday “reality”. She doesn’t dress herself up to create an idealized persona of what she thinks tourists might be interested in seeing or experiencing. Not at all. It’s a city that is authentic - embracing her depth, her darker aspects, and even the vulnerability that you might feel as you walk the streets - this is important and real to Naples.

Naples can be off-putting in the same way that seeing our own edgier stuff can be off-putting. Most of us don’t like looking at our own darkness or truly facing the reality that occasionally emerges from the very real depths of our being. It can feel uncomfortable. Well . . . welcome to Naples. She is the embodiment, in the form of a city, of our edgier, angstier side . . . which - like it or not -most of us have and experience from time to time.

On a lighter note, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention pizza. Naples is the birthplace of pizza, and you can’t walk 12 steps without encountering (smelling) a pizzeria. I did my very best to embrace the pizza-eating culture of Naples and ate quite a few!

It was easily the best pizza I’ve ever had, and so simple. The crust is thin and light, with a delicious sauce and fresh mozzarella on top, and it is delicious. If you pay more than 8€, you’ve been swindled. Even if you’ve convinced yourself that you’re not a “pizza person” (ha!) . . . be willing to let go of that self-image. Naples will change how you feel about pizza forever.

So yes, we enjoyed Naples. Am I looking forward to a return visit? Probably not - once was enough for me. But am I glad I experienced this gritty city? Absolutely! Even as I began writing this article, I wasn’t sure in the end if I would recommend Naples . . . but I say yes - visit Naples - and allow her to touch your edgier, grittier, darker side.

And to get you in the mood . . . a little Eddie Vedder please. Listen to the soundtrack from the movie, “Into the Wild.”, which he wrote and performed. And it’s the perfect title for a visit to Naples, Italy.

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