It's summer time and although I find it both dry and boring to write travel tips about Naples, it seems necessary. It's a world unto itself and visitors will likely enjoy their time here much more if they know a few basics. So in this post, I add a little pragmatism to the romance.
Why is it so dirty? The complaints about Naples are that the city is gritty, polluted, and dirty. The truth about Neapolitan 'grit' is that the city is more than 2,800 years old. Already in the 6th century B.C. the region sprawled and bustled with a large population. Later, the Roman writer Virgil even said that Naples was 'toxic', probably owing to the noxious sulfuric fumes that bubbled out of Solfatara and wafted across the city depending on the direction of the wind. In addition, the people have preserved so much of their past that the buildings almost by necessity tend to blend into the natural look and feel of the antiquity around them.
If you live in Naples and acculturate to the environment, when you travel to other cities, such as Barcelona or Berlin, they look so clean that they seem both inauthentic and superficially hygienic. Certainly Naples has its share problems (some of which I'll touch upon in later posts). But it's best to look at Naples as more than a travel or living experience -- it's a personality type.
Safety: You wouldn't leave your wallet on a park bench in New York City. You wouldn't walk down the street in East LA with your Louis Vuitton purse. Naples is a big chaotic city. Be smart and be safe. And stay tranquil in the knowledge that violent crimes are very very unusual as are child kidnappings since they love children and consider both them and their mothers sacred. The crime is near exclusively one of pickpocketing and home burglaries.
Driving: The Neapolitans see nothing wrong with their driving. And yet, when my Filipino father-in-law came to visit, he noted: "The traffic here is worse than in Manila." My advice: Drive defensively. Watch the flow of traffic. If lots of cars are not stopping at a particular red light or stop sign -- slowly and carefully do the same. Why? Because if you don't follow along and insist on stopping -- yes, someone might get angry and honk at you -- but also likely you'll get rear ended. The traffic accidents here are high, so don't take your safety complacently. Also, motorcycles have the right of way -- even over pedestrians. I'll repeat: Crazy motorinos, often with a cigarette in their mouth and a cell phone pressed to their ear while driving, dart through every crevice of the city and have the right of way over pedestrians. If you're driving -- always look in your right and left rear-view mirrors to watch for motorcycles darting on either side of you.
For some great tips on Italian driving, see the link for Italy: Beyond The Obvious.
How To Take Public Transportation: You can always buy a ticket from the ticket office outside the metro, bus, or train stations. Also, the outside newspaper/magazine stands sell tickets. When you get on the bus or metro, make sure to put it through the machine that stamps a date and time on it. Sometimes you can hop on the public transportation without a ticket and not get caught (I have), but if the conductor comes along, you're out 36 Euro or more (which has happened to me too).
Greeting Italians: Neapolitans can seem brusque or grumpy at times. I've heard this complaint often and indeed I felt this way when I first arrived. But then I unlocked a little cultural key -- greet people (your bus driver, the barista, your waiter, the store person) with a Buongiorno if it's before 2pm and a Buena Sera if it's after 2pm. Also use the word Grazie as often as possible. It seems that Italians are always saying Grazie even if there's nothing to be thankful for. When foreigners try to use those few words, I've noticed that Neapolitans turn from brusque to chocolate sweet within an instant.
Embrace the personality!