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Neapolis, Napoli, Naples. These are the names given to one of Europe’s oldest cities – for which the Italians have the saying, vedi Napoli e puoi muori, that is to see Naples and then die. So if one cannot die without seeing Naples, then last Tuesday I have truly lived.
Naples is the city once ruled by Bourbons – not just chocolate biscuits – but Spanish kings and queens who reigned over the autonomous Two Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily from their seat in this coastal town south-west of Italy.
On Tuesday 8 March, I spent a whole day walking around Naples’ centro storico (historical center). I find similarities with the centro storico of my hometown in Penang called Georgetown. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with mountains and marinas and fabulous European architecture. They are chaotic yet charming as with all port cities with rich trading histories.
Kids on the rocks by the marina
Mount Vesuvius and the marina from Castel dell’Ovo
A typical street in Naples
On the grounds of Castel Sant’Elmo
Bourbon architecture with French-style windows and verandahs
Wandering around Naples without a guidebook, I headed first to the centro storico to see the Duomo, traipsing through the two parallel streets of Via Tribunali and Via Benedetto Croce on uneven paths and its maze of staircases and alleyways.
A friend from Naples recommends two pizzerie on Via Tribunali called Il Presidente and Di Matteo – ‘informal, always busy and amazing pizza’ in her own words. But alas I couldn’t stomach a pizza margherita at ten in the morning, so opted for caffè latte and a cornetto (croissant) at a nearby bar.
I left the centro storico after an hour, where I even met a dead rat lying stiff on the ground. I thought if all of Naples was like this I really would die. So I quickly headed to the posher districts of Vomero and Chiaia, where a funicular took me up to Castel Sant’Elmo.
Because Tuesday 8 March was Festa della Donna (Women’s Day), entry into the Castel was free for ladies! I took my time around the palace ground, which included a church, cemetery and many museums before a corridor led me to a terrace with open views of Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples – and my heart almost stopped.
Views of Vesuvius from Castel Sant’Elmo
Terrace view of the bay
It was the hues of blue, where the sea met the sky and Mount Vesuvius loomed over the millions of dust-coloured houses all laid out at its feet. It was this Bay of Naples that I’d dreamed of seeing since studying Somerset Maugham’s The Lotus Eater in high school. Could a view like that be worth dying for as Thomas Wilson did?
The palace’s Mediterranean gardens gave me ideas for a secret garden wedding, while the shady trees made me dream of strolling on a summer night with loved ones. The Castel’s terrace view was the highlight of my trip to Naples, for after that everything seemed to pale.
I walked by the marina and rushed around Castel dell’Ovo, as my ride was leaving from Piazza Garibaldi at 4pm. Goodbye Naples, it was a short trip, but we will see each other again.