Journey to Naples
It’s been two years since my last solo trip and also two years since I went to Europe, which was also when my wallet and passport got stolen and left me stranded on a Greek island but we’ll save that for another post. I didn’t travel since November 2015 because of a series of unfortunate events – my camera broke in the beginning of 2016 and then I sprained my foot earlier this year. No 100% functioning camera or foot makes earning money extremely difficult if you’re a freelance photographer. There’s no sick days or paid time off when you work for yourself!
So why did I go to Italy? Well, I found a US to Europe flight for $340 roundtrip. How do I say no to that?! It was a Seattle to London flight, but I’ve been to London twice already, so I decided to go to Italy. I’ve been wanting to go to Positano because my favorite dessert flavor is lemon and they have lemon flavored everything there! Heaven! The closest airport to Positano is in Naples, so I booked a cheap one-way London to Naples flight (If you find a cheap flight to Europe but that’s not the city/country you want to go to, book it anyway! Once you get to Europe, flights to other European countries are cheap). Unfortunately, I was swamped with work and didn’t have time to plan anything for this trip other than have my two flights booked. All I knew was I had to catch my flight to London Gatwick Airport and from there, I had to catch my London to Naples flight. I did have one night at a hostel booked in Naples though! But that’s as far as I got in planning.
To the surprise of many, I’ve never been to Italy before. I’ve been to all these other countries, so I guess everyone expected me to have gone to Italy because everyone goes to Italy when they go to Europe. Nope, not me because I’m a big weirdo and don’t make sense. I figured since Italy gets to many tourists, I didn’t have to worry about researching and planning my trip in advance. It’ll be easy to figure out, right?
After I landed at Gatwick Airport, I went through immigration, checked in, and went through security again because my flight to Naples was a separate ticket. There are two terminals at Gatwick (North and South Terminal) and I had to catch the train to the other terminal to catch my next flight anyway. If you are doing the same, make sure you give yourself enough time between flights! I had about 3 hours between my flights, which was plenty of time. I also want to mention that Gatwick provides their own plastic bags for your liquids when going through security. I had to take my liquids out of my bag and use theirs, so give yourself time for that too.
I landed in Naples at about 7:00pm. I booked a night at Hostel of the Sun and like I mentioned earlier, I’m a big weirdo so I don’t use data or international sim cards on my phone. I just rely on my brain and intuition to find my way around. It’s more fun that way, okay?! Plus after I booked my hostel, they had directions included in the confirmation email. The directions told me to take the Alibus (€4, runs every 20-30 minutes 6:00 – 23:40) from the airport to the port, which is the last stop, and the hostel is a 2 minute walk from there. The Alibus is outside of arrivals. If you walk past the parking lot, at the end you’ll see a big red bus. Tickets can be purchased from the driver and it has to be validated on board. The Alibus only had two stops: Central Train Station (that’s where all the other passengers got off) and the port (where only I got off).
The directions to the hostel seemed simple enough, except I didn’t factor in that I’d be arriving at night and it was hard to see the landmarks and streets that were in the directions. It was an adventure of its own trying to find my hostel. I didn’t take any pictures but I think I filmed some of it on my GoPro (possible vlog coming soon!). Since I didn’t research, I didn’t realize Naples was SO SKETCHY. It was empty and there weren’t people around for me to ask for directions. I walked towards a castle looking thing that I assumed was the building the directions told me to walk towards. I walked by a fancy hotel called Hotel Romeo where there was a security guy at the front and was able to ask him for directions. Turns out my hostel was down a dark, empty street that I probably wouldn’t have been able to find if I didn’t ask for directions. I pressed the buzzer but there was no answer. I pressed it again and still no answer. Oh great, I have no where to go in this unexpectedly creepy city. I just stood there staring at the buzzer then suddenly a hand came out of no where from my right and pressed the buzzer. It was another traveler who has been staying at the same hostel! He explained the hostel a bit to me while pressing the buzzer over and over again until someone finally answered and buzzed us in. I followed him to the elevator to reception. I forgot elevators in Europe are tiny. It barely fit both of us. From our intimate elevator ride, I learned he was from Mexico and this was his last night in Naples.
I went to reception to check in but the guy at the front desk said I can check in and everything after I settle into my room. I must have looked awful. He showed me my room, my bed, my locker, and told me I could come back out to the front desk whenever I’m ready. He also said dinner is free and starts at 8:00 pm. I had no idea dinner was included! The room had three bunk beds but no one was there. It also had an ensuite bathroom! YES! The first thing I did was take a shower so I could feel like a civilized human again. I don’t know how many hours it’s been since I left home because of the different time zones and it requires way too much thinking and brain power to figure it out, so let’s just say it’s one whole day of traveling. After my shower, I went to check in and was given a map with points of interests, pizza, and gelato circled for me. The hostel dinner was laid out on paper plates on a counter for anyone to grab. It was a simple penne pasta with tomato sauce and some mushrooms. I wanted to grab a second plate because I was so hungry from not eating all day but let’s not get greedy… The dinner area was packed full of people but I sat by myself in a corner staring at my map feeling braindead.
After dinner, I went back into my room and it was no longer empty. There was a guy in there and it looked like he just checked in too because he was sorting through his bags, looking like he was getting settled. He asked where I was from and I asked where he was from. I didn’t understand what he said. He repeated where he was from a second time but I still didn’t understand… so I just nodded, “Oh cool…!” I was being polite by looking at him while he talked as he walked towards his locker but then he took off his pants nonchalantly to change into his pajamas. He was wearing tight briefs… so I turned around and went on my phone. That’s what I get for being cheap and staying in a co-ed room instead of a female dorm. Time to go on Instagram!
I had no idea what I’d be doing beyond this point. The furthest I planned for this trip was this one night in Naples. Now what? What’s in Naples? I know this is where pizza came from. Should I stay another night to see what else Naples has to offer besides pizza? But I know the number one purpose for me to go to Italy was to go to Positano and eat lemon everything. Should I just head towards the coast tomorrow?? What should I do?! So I asked Instagram. I made a poll in IG stories and let my followers decide for me. Stay in Naples or head to the coast? I posted it, set an alarm on my phone for 8:00 am, plugged in my phone to charge overnight, and went to sleep. Felt good to finally lay down on a bed!
Stay in Naples or Head to the Coast?
The next morning, I woke up naturally on my own before my alarm went off. What jetlag? Everyone else in my room was still asleep though. It was so early that it was still dark, so I grabbed my phone. Perfect time to do some research! But first, what did my Instagram followers decide I should do today? I checked the results of my poll and practically everyone voted for me to go to the coast. Only two people voted for me to stay in Naples. Well, okay looks like I’ll be checking out of my hostel at 10:00 am but how do I get to Positano from here?! I spent some time googling until the sun came out and figured out what I’d be doing. More on that later. For now, let’s focus on Naples!
Before I leave Naples, I knew I wanted to eat pizza though. That’s my number goal in this city. I knew there were two pizzerias I wanted to try. If I’m leaving today, I can’t possibly eat two pizzas in a span of a few hours. Or can I? No. No I can’t. So I had to decide what I wanted. Do I go to Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, which is widely considered to be the world’s very first pizzeria? Or do I go to Antica Pizzeria da Michele, which is famous for being delicious? That’s something I had to think about and breakfast already started. Time to eat free food!
I walked to the eating area where I had dinner the night before and it was loud and packed. Maybe I don’t need free breakfast… I turned around to head back to my room and noticed there was another area with tables and food. It was emptier and quieter. I stared at the breakfast selection questioning whether breakfast really was free. A guy walked by and I asked if breakfast was included. Yes, it was! This hostel has free dinner and breakfast for €19 a night?! What a steal!
There was cereal and which sounded so good but I didn’t think it was a good idea to have milk. What if my stomach bubbles and I’m not near a bathroom? Not worth the risk. I grabbed some salami, cheese, and poured myself some orange juice. I shouldn’t be eating much if I’m going to attempt to eat at two pizzerias today. I sat down at the table right next to the food and looked up directions to the two pizzerias. A guy at another table asked if I was here alone. We talked a bit before he moved over to my table and we chatted some more. He was from New York – a fellow American! I brought up my great pizza debate with him. He had eaten at a couple of pizzerias and said he liked Da Michele the best but he has yet to try Port’Alba, which he was actually planning to go to later in the afternoon. He asked if he could accompany me and I would have loved to have a new friend to walk around with but he wasn’t planning on leaving until at least an hour later and I wanted to leave …like now. No travel buddy for me then!
After breakfast, I went back to my room to pack my bags and check out. Check out was at 10:00 am but pizzerias don’t open until 11:00 am. Oh yeah, I’d need a place to stay tonight. To get to Positano from Naples, I’d have to go to Sorrento then catch a bus to Positano. Well, I might as well check out Sorrento, right? I booked the cheapest, clean hostel with good reviews. It was only €15 a night, breakfast buffet included, so I decided to book two nights there. What a steal!
I went to reception to check out, put my bags in the luggage storage, and off to wander around Naples a bit until the pizzerias open! I finally decided which pizzeria to eat at. It was a tough one. Go to the very first pizzeria or to the famous delicious one? I decided I wanted delicious pizza. So the plan: eat at the famous delicious pizzeria then walk over to look at the very first pizzeria and hope I’d be hungry by then. If not, then at least I get to see it.
I left my hostel and it was bright and sunny… but smoggy? Ew. Well, Naples is less sketchy looking in the day! Since I still had an hour until Antica Pizzeria da Michele opened, I decided to go check out the castle looking thing I saw the night before, so I backtracked towards the port.
After reading the signs, I learned this is Castel Nuovo, which was built in 1279 under Charles I of Anjou’s reign. I set my camera on a pole and couldn’t fit the entire castle in my selfie 🙁 But at least I got the pretty arch! The Triumphal Arch was later built in 1470 to celebrate Alfonso of Aragon’s entry into Naples. I didn’t go inside though because I had a mission: PIZZA. So no side quests this time. Also, I don’t know why I didn’t take a picture of the castle… Oops.
I studied the map and attempted to make my way towards Antica Pizzeria da Michele on foot, which was about a 30 minute walk away but looked at different shops along the way. I like to collect magnets and shot glasses from each place I go to, so I did a bit of price comparison. Naples has the cheapest souvenirs I’ve seen so far! Magnets were only €1. In my mind, I expected everything to cost more because I heard Italy was expensive, but maybe it’s just Naples that is cheap.
According to the map, I was supposed to walk straight on a main, busy road for about 20 minutes before eventually turning left into a small street. It felt like I was walking longer than that and I began to question whether or not I was even on the correct main street.
Also, they drive crazy here! It reminded me a lot of China or Southeast Asia. You just have to be confident when crossing the street since cars don’t stop for you. They’ll just swerve and drive around you. Tons of motorbikes too!
I had been walking for more than 25 minutes and I couldn’t tell what street I was on. I should be at that little street to get to the pizzeria by now. Where are the street signs?? The signs on the buildings didn’t match any of the streets on my map. Yes I know people these days turn on their data and use GPS but what’s the fun in that? I started second guessing myself. There was an old man with a little table selling CDs with a few Italians talking among themselves. I stopped to ask if anyone knew where Da Michele was. They all went, “Ah! Up there!” And pointed up the street.
Oh. So I was right!
I walked up a little more and saw a couple standing on the sidewalk with a pizza box stuffing their faces with thin, gooey pizza slices. Am I getting closer?! I examined their box as I walked closer. I saw the words “Michele” on it. YES! I’m going the right way. I went up to them and asked, “Excuse me, where did you get that pizza from?”
“Right up there. It’s the best pizza in the world!” The man exclaimed as he pointed with his elbow while holding the pizza slice in his hand.
I walked a bit more and a man standing at the door of his shop pointed to his left at the pizzeria. How did he know what I was looking for? This really must be a popular place. I was expecting it to be a somewhat grand looking place with obvious signs. The sign said in big bold letters, “PIZZERIA.” Is this the right one? It’s so tiny and empty! Before stepping inside, I walked back a few steps to look up and read the sign more carefully. Under PIZZERIA in smaller text was “da Michele.” Yup, I’m here!
I walked inside and was unsure what to do. It was pretty empty and only two tables had people seated there eating their pizzas. Do I seat myself? Do I go up and order first? Is someone supposed to come up to me? I awkwardly stood there and watched as a team of men were shuffling around in the back by the brick ovens. I scanned the room and found the perfect table for me. There was a small table for two in the back corner to my left where I can be hidden away and film myself also but get a view of the whole pizzeria. Perfect! I went over to claim my spot.
One of the men came over to take my order with a smile on his face. To my surprise, they only have two selections and the menu was on the wall right next to me:
I asked the waiter what he suggested I get and he said, “Depends. Do you want cheese or no cheese?”
Yes. I always want cheese.
The waiter later brought out my pizza and it was HUGE! I ordered the normal size margherita for €4 and a coke (€2) because a coke just sounded really good with pizza. When I was watching the other customers eat their pizzas, theirs didn’t look as gigantic as mine – what the heck!! There’s no way I can finish this and there’s absolutely no way I’d be able to try the pizza at Port’Alba later.
The pizza is really, really thin and gooey. I don’t think it’s possible to eat it with my hands. I looked around and saw people were eating theirs with a fork and knife. When in Rome, do as the Romans do! Err… Naples. (I can use that saying when I’m actually in Rome. How exciting is that?) The crust is pretty charred but the middle is gooey and soft. The pizza is simple: just tomato sauce, cheese, and basil. I think the highlight for me was the cheese. It was SO GOOD and tasted so fresh! I also liked the texture of the pizza. I wasn’t expecting it to be so soft. It was like a pancake drenched in syrup texture. Halfway through, I was getting full so I only ate the middle of the pizza, leaving the crust behind. I made sure to have cheese and the last basil leaf for my last bite so I could end my meal perfectly.
So what did I think? Did the pizza live up to its hype? If I had written this post right afterwards, I would have said it was a good pizza but I don’t know if it’s the best pizza in the world like that guy on the sidewalk exclaimed it was… BUT!!! But a week later, I started eating pizza in other parts of Italy and suddenly no pizza was good anymore. Other pizzas were covered with delicious looking toppings and were Instagram beautiful but suddenly something was wrong about pizzas now. Why do these pizzas suck? Something is missing? Why is it so dry? So what’s my verdict? Yes, Antica Pizzeria da Michele does make the best pizza in the world.
After I was done with my pizza, I sat for a bit and noticed the pizzeria was packed with people. There was no empty seat and all the workers were running around looking frenzied. I assumed my waiter would be too busy to come back to my table and figured I was supposed to pay by the door because there was an old man sitting in a booth with a cash register. I made my way over there to pay and to my surprise, my waiter came up with me. As I paid, he asked if I wanted to take a picture. I was both surprised and confused. Maybe because he saw me filming the whole time, plus I had my camera in my hand. He tapped the old man’s shoulder as he was sifting through the register and assumed he told him to pose for a picture in Italian. He stopped what he was doing and looked at my camera!
They’re so friendly and easygoing even though the whole place was packed and chaotic. Such great service! I’m wondering if the register guy is someone important if the waiter wanted me to take a picture of him?? I guess I’ll never know.
I walked towards the door where there was another employee blocking the door facing outside yelling in Italian. I squeezed by him and OH MY GOD.
There was a big crowd of people waiting to get inside! There were people littered all around the small street outside. Oops I took my time eating and filming myself in there. I guess everyone shows up at noon. Good thing I got there before the lunch rush or I’d be waiting for over an hour.
Time to walk to the next pizzeria! I knew Port’Alba was back in the direction where my hostel was, but about a 25 minute walk up the street from the hostel. I walked towards the direction of Castel Nouvo and figured I’d eventually find it. I found a small street, almost like an alley, filled with shops and people. It was obviously a cute touristy street, so I decided to walk down that street. If it stays looking touristy, I’ll eventually find the very first pizzeria, right?! Plus it felt safe to walk in.
After a lot of wandering, getting hot and sweat, and not having water one me (why did I order a Coke instead of a bottle of water? Actually, I have no regrets in ordering that Coke. It was delicious.) I eventually found it!
There was no long line or large crowds at Port’Alba. It almost seemed like a bakery. There was a man outside taking orders from a group of people who pointed at already made pizzas in a glass case. Am I hungry enough to grab one for myself yet? No. Thinking about putting more food in me made me want to throw up. Ah well. Just a picture it is then!
I wandered a bit more and made guesses on how to get back to my hostel. All I had to do was figure out which way was the water and look for a big castle to find my way back. Who needs maps or GPS?! Anyway, I got back to my hostel to collect my bags and make my way to Sorrento.
Let the adventure continue in my next post!
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