Naples – Birthplace of Pizza???

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Leaving day. Time to say “arrivederci Italy.” It is only fitting that the day looks overcast and gloomy. Since I missed my walk yesterday I make it a point to get up early and hike some of the steps of Praiano for the last time. With the cloudy skies the views are really beautiful. Clouds are hanging low and the whole area appears in a mist. Back at the villa it is starting to drizzle and looks pretty nasty outside.

Our plan today was to leave our villa around 2, be picked up by our driver (Giovanni), make a stop in Pompeii for a couple of hours and then finally arrive at our hotel in Naples. We have a very early (7:00am) flight in the morning and wisely decided to spend the night before in Naples. All we really want to do in Naples is to get a pizza. (purported to be the “best”)

Last night we discussed why we want to stop in Pompeii and the only reason any of us could come up with was “because it is RIGHT THERE.” We hadn’t done any research on it, but it seemed foolish not to pop in for a quick visit. However, as we continued to look outside it started to rain and then to really rain. Pompeii was nixed and we never looked back. We decided that due to the weather and the lack of research we probably would not enjoy the excursion. Next time we will read up on Pompeii so that we will know what we should be looking at!

A quick call to Giovanni changes our pick up time to 11 and we prepare to leave. We hang around reading/blogging until it is time to go.

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Maria (villa caretaker) comes over to ready the villa for the next (lucky) guests. She is super sweet and we enjoy chatting with her for a bit. She tells us of another place in Italy – Alberobello – that we must try for our next trip. It looks amazing and it is now on the list.

By now it is downpouring outside and we have 3 heavy bags that must go down the steps. We have already arranged for a porter to help us, but we are feeling very badly that he will have to lug our bags in the rain. Sure enough, Guiseppe rings at the gate and Maria lets him in. He has such a great attitude and is very willing to assist us with a smile on his face. When our car arrives he picks up bags and carts them down all the steps with no problem. We kiss him and Maria goodbye, get in our car and look at Praiano through the back window.

The 90 minute trip to Naples is a beautiful ride along the coast. At one point we notice the opposite lane (there is only a 2 lane road connecting the towns on the Amalfi Coast; one way in, one way out) there is a HUGE backup. We didn’t see what caused it, but it is miles long. These poor folks’ vacation will be over before they get there. The rest of the journey is uneventful . . . until we arrive in Naples.

Our driver has been asked to take us to Hotel Piazza Bellini. Do we know where it is? Are you kidding? He stops several times to ask directions. Traffic is chaotic in the city center with motos zooming, taxis cutting everyone off, cobblestone streets that were not intended for cars, pedestrians stepping off curbs, etc. There is a point where we actually come extremely close to being broadsided when our driver pulls out in front of someone. As a final maneuver, he backs down a one-way street! Oh – there is our hotel – he found it. We were happy to get out of the car. (no offense to our driver – Naples is NOT a place for anyone to be driving)

Our hotel is an oasis and we immediately like it. We have a comfy room with a double bed on the bottom and a loft with 2 twins up top. Perfect for our one night stand.

We even have a little balcony overlooking a nice street.

It is now close to 2:30 and we are starving. I have heard of a pizza place – Sorbillo’s – that gets rave reviews and is closeby. Janel makes a quick stop at the internet point and zeros in on a map. She draws a sketch of where we are and off we go.

The narrow streets of Naples look exactly like you think they would complete with laundry hanging out all of the balconies (even in the drizzle). It is actually kind of interesting, but our quest for food trumps any sight-seeing.

Janel is walking ahead and makes a left turn on Via Tribunal (home of our pizza joint). She turns back around to us with a horrified look on her face. We soon find out why. Sorbillo’s is right on the corner and there is a growing crowd of hungry folks spilling out all over the street. We figure it is at least a two hour wait. Can’t do it. We make a unanimous decision to keep walking until we find something/anything where we can eat.

At the end of the block we see a likely candidate – La Campagnola. It has a great look and lots of patrons. Janel is a bit concerned because the sign outside (“mange bene, spende poco”) indicates that the good is “cheap” – usually a tip-off that the food is not good. At this point, we don’t really care.

As we enter the tiny front dining room we notice that most of the patrons are Italian – good sign. We manage to tell the bartender that we are 3 persons and he tells us “dieci minutos.” All of the plates that we we see passing by look fabulous (maybe it is because we are famished) and we are hoping a table opens up in the back room first instead of the tiny, cramped front room where we are waiting. Every time a new party comes in they are told the same thing “dieci minutos.” Reminds me of the Seinfeld episode at the Chinese restaurant. . .

We are amused by a delivery that comes in for the bartender. It is a lovely, cloth-wrapped package delivered by a woman. He accepts it gingerly and places it behind the bar. When she leaves he unwraps the most beautiful round bread that is obviously a special treat for Easter (tomorrow). He leans down to sniff it and lets out a sigh. He re-wraps. As we sit and wait, he unwraps and sniffs several more times! We ask him if it is dolci (sweet), but he says it is a savory treat. Later we see these special treats all over town in the bakeries. We find out they are loaded with ham!

As more people crowd in from the street we laugh as the bartender tells each one “diece minutos!” Finally, a table is ready for us in the back room (score!) The menu is written on a large chalkboard and looks very enticing. It is obvious that our server does not speak very much English. Janel whips out her Italian and tells him that we want a variety of items to “dividiere” (share). He is happy to do so. And, yes, most menu items are between 3 and 8 euros.

When the waiter leaves we notice at the bottom of the menu that there are roasted aritchokes. Janel signals the waiter and tells him that we definitely want some of those. He says “of course – I have already asked for them – they are the best thing!”

Shortly our lunch begins to arrive. We are presented with zuchinni flowers, marinated anchovies, roasted artichokes, and the most beautiful ball of mozzarella di buffalo wrapped in prosciutto. Turns out to be the absolute best mozz we have had and we dive in.

Just when we feel as if we cannot possibly eat any more comes our FIRST COURSE! (the previous was the antipasti). Two plates of spaghetti with mussels and clams are presented. Janet claims that the sauce/broth is the best we have had. I agree.

We do our damndest to finish both plates of pasta, but it is an impossible task. Sadly, we must leave almost an entire plate. This place was awesome. I think our total check was less than 25 euro/person. Maybe less, but because Janet was our financier, I did not really care about the bills. . .

After lunch we took a stroll around our little corner of Napoli. It does seem to have it’s beautiful spaces, but I must admit, I am not really intrigued. Maybe it is because of all the negative press that Napoli has recieved: dirty, petty crime, etc. (There was a bit of trash around – not much – and we took the same precautions regarding petty crime that we would in, say Chicago or New York. We never felt threatened. Janel expertly navigated us back to our hotel. I really appreciated that because especially when I am with her, I totally do NOT pay attention to where I am. I am confident she will get us to where we need to go. (or we can always flag a taxi to our hotel – no problem)

Just as a side note: it is very relaxing to travel with the Short-Haired Ladies. We are all very confident, savvy and do not hesitate to ask for help when needed. I hope we never have that “deer in the headlights” look that so many foreign tourists have. We have all travelled enough to know that most of the time we can readily get assistance when needed. All it takes is a bit of language skills and a smile. And patience – lots of patience.

We return to our hotel for Kindle reading, catching up on email, and blogging. There is a very nice lounge/living room just outside of our room and we retire there for a relaxing respite.

I still have my mind set on Naples pizza. It just doesn’t seem right to be in Naples and not try it. Janel is in agreement. Janet is ambivilent and ops to stay at the hotel and try and make it an eary night. Around 8:30 Janel and I set out for Sorbillo’s Pizzeria. We steel ourselves for a 2 hour wait. When we arrive there the line actually looks shorter than it did this afternoon. Great. We put our name on the list and meander to shops that are closeby, paying attention to being able to hear our name when called.

In about 15 minutes we hear the welcome sound of “Linda, due.” Fantastic! We are ushered upstairs to a packed dining room to begin our pizza adventure.

The menu at Sorbillo is very simple. Pizza. We have seen the pizzas and realize that they are rather large. However, we have noticed that most customers are each ordering a personal pizza. With each one being fromn 3 to 6 euros each we decide to order 2 so that we can taste two different ones.

We order 2 beers and 2 pizzas: Margharita and one with olives/ capers and mushrooms. Service is swift, glasses are plastic (!) and we are in serious anticipation of pizza heaven. I swear it was not more than 5 minutes (I timed it) before we received our two pizzas.

That was the problem.

How can I put this delicately? The pizzas were blah, raw, waaaay undercooked, mushy, gushy, tasteless, runny, glue-y and generally not good. What a huge disappointment. Seriously, I think if they would have cooked them 5 more minutes, they would have been at least passable. We were baffled. This place is supposed to have the best pizza in Naples (birthplace of pizza) and it ranks as close to the worst pizza I have ever had. I think the hype has out-ranked the actuality. Soooo unsatisfying. Note: I have since researched a bit and it seems like this may be the normal Neopolitan-type of pizza. Some say it is more like a pasta; best eaten with a knife and fork. I read that the use of the fresh buffalo mozzarella causes the sogginess because it gives off water (unlike some of the highly processed mozz that we sometimes use). I don’t care – I still didn’t like it.

After “dinner,” Janel and I traipse around Naples a bit. She is also disappointed with the city or maybe just the area in which we find ourselves. We are fairly certain that there are more interested parts of Naples, but we did not find them on this trip. Oh well. Naples was simply a vehicle to get us from point A to point B.

Janel and I try to sneek in quietly to our room so as to not wake Janet. We settle in for a short night’s sleep because we know tomorrow will come very early.


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