Travel series #1: Naples

Welcome to my blog! Since I travel relatively often, I thought that it might be useful for people to get the dietitian’s perspective on the destinations I visit. This means that in addition to talking about the experience in general, I mention tips on keeping a balanced diet (without neglecting enjoyment!) and toilet “culture”, so that you can be better prepared if you wish to travel to these places. The first post is dedicated to Naples, the Southern Italian metropolis, the third biggest city in Italy and home of the pizza.

I have been lucky in my life – I’ve had the privilege to be able to travel quite a bit. I remember having dreams at night about being in different countries as a kid and a teen, and ever since my very first trip abroad to Santorini, Greece when I was 15 years old, I’ve traveled somewhere every year since! I usually travel with my husband, who loves to travel, which is part of the reason I’ve been traveling so much. 

This time our trip took us to Naples, Italy – my husband and I have been there before, but because the weather was pretty bad that time, we felt that we needed to go back. Especially because I’m a nerd when it comes to old stuff! Pompeii is about a 30-minute train ride from Naples and when we visited Pompeii the first time, it was raining cats and dogs for most of the time there, so we didn’t really get a proper experience of that world-famous ruins. I’ll talk about Pompeii in my next post.

This time we were traveling in March (it was because we needed a break from the everlasting Finnish winter!), which, in fact, ended up being a really good time to visit Naples. It’s still low season, so the ancient sites were not very crowded, and the weather was great. The climate of Naples in March should have a 50% chance of rain, but only on the last day was it actually raining of our week in the area.

The city

The city of Naples is a city of contrasts! It’s definitely Southern Italy as it feels quite chaotic most of the time, but it also has its posh neighborhoods, museums, cafes and restaurants. There is quite a bit of homelessness and on the other hand, many people were dressed up very nicely simply to walk the streets of the historic old town. When we visited Naples the first time, we were there for just one day, and we must’ve spent most of the time in the nicer part of Naples, as I must say that this time it felt like a completely different place! Much more rundown and dirty than I remembered. That said, we had only one person try to sell us flowers unsolicited, whereas in a place like Rome this is a much bigger problem. Perhaps this was because it was still low season. But even though Naples wasn’t what I remembered, it was overall still a very pleasant and enjoyable visit.

The traffic in Naples is fast and chaotic. Be careful when crossing the road. Many small streets don’t have sidewalks, and the vespas and cars drive fast. And there were lots of cars and vespas everywhere. They don’t stop for pedestrians crossing the road even at crosswalks, though they won’t run you over if you start crossing with enough of a distance. But they also won’t slow down until the last moment, so it may feel like they won’t slow down at all!

Even other people walking on the streets didn’t seem to see you at times, so you definitely can’t have your nose in your smartphone when walking the streets of Naples.

Even though the city seemed rundown, at the same time we didn’t feel like there was a big risk of pickpockets. You still should be mindful of your personal belongings when visiting any big city, however.

Piazza del Plebiscito

We made a great choice regarding our hotel location. We stayed right at the Garibaldi train station, which was very convenient as this is where the Circumvesuviana train departs from (it passes Herculaneum, Pompeii and Sorrento), as well as all the metros crisscrossing the city. There is also a bus to the airport that leaves in front of the station, cheap and quick. The old town (Centro Storico) is a walking distance away also. The downside is that the area is not very nice, lots of homeless seeming people hanging out around the station, and the Carabinieri was present all the time. Our hotel was tiny, the room was tiny, but clean and had everything we needed. 

The food

Everyone loves Italian food! And what’s not to love – delicious pastas, pizzas and gnocchis everywhere. For vegetarians, eating abroad is always a bit trickier than for people who eat even fish, and although there are many vegetarian dishes in the cuisine, it can get pretty repetitive. In Naples the three main local vegetarian dishes were pizza (of course, this is where pizza was invented) gnocchi alla Sorrentina, and pasta e patate, or pasta with potato. They all were very tasty, but for someone who likes whole grain over white flour, it’s not ideal in the long run. Also, these dishes weren’t protein rich (other than the pizza), and your main protein source was cheese, unless you went to a vegan place where you could get beans and lentils. Many restaurants didn’t even offer salad. So, we ended up choosing restaurants based on whether or not they had salad on their menu. This is because I use a three component method for my meals: I always try to have a protein source, a carbohydrate source (ideally whole grain) and vegetables at each meal. At home vegetables would make half of my meals, but abroad I’m happy with each component being the same size. This way I know I’m getting the nutrients I need, and I just simply feel better when I do this.

A tip: venture outside the main streets even a 100 meters and you’ll find more authentic, small restaurants in which the food is good, but cheap.

You’d think a pizza is a pizza, that you can’t go wrong with it. But I must say the pizza in Naples is something else. The first evening we went to an iconic pizza place as per the recommendation of our airport driver (our hotel gave us a free ride), and while we had to wait perhaps 30 minutes for the pizza after ordering it to go, it was worth it. Just a “basic” pizza Margherita, but it was just perfect. The mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, basil and olive oil were a fantastic combination, at just 5,50 euros for a big pizza. As you can see, the prices were pretty affordable in most places, though there are also places that are more fancy and will be overpriced, like the vegan restaurant we went to in Santa Lucia part of town. On top of being overpriced, the waitress tried to charge 2 euros more than what it said on the menu for an item. So check your restaurant bills to make sure everything is on the up and up. Most places will add a cover charge (copierto) of 2-4 euros, and you get a few pieces of bread for that. The bread is fine, but it’s just a way to increase the final bill a bit it seems. I suppose it’s never easy running a restaurant and they have to resort to these tactics to keep going without increasing the prices on menu items themselves.

Pastries are a specialty in Naples, and they are very good! I am a big fan of sweets and pastries, but in moderation. We had a pastry every day, but because our diet was otherwise balanced well enough, we could “afford” to do this. I start to crave vegetables and fruits if my diet is too much on the side of sweets, and thankfully it’s easy to find them at grocery stores in Naples.

Constipation is common when traveling, as the fiber content of our food usually decreases. Below I listed the tricks we were employing for keeping us regular. Italy is a place where you probably don’t have to worry too much about traveler’s diarrhea, but rinse your vegetables and fruit well in any case.

The way we were able to stay balanced with our diet:

  • we bought ready-made salads from the train station grocery store. They were fresh and tasty, with extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt as seasoning. 
  • fruit from the same grocery store
  • for breakfast we had (probiotic) yogurt and granola with nuts and raisins (if you have a fridge in your hotel room) – if your hotel offers breakfast, go for the three-component thinking.
  • for snacks we bought whole-grain crackers, nuts and raisins

Tap water is fine to drink in Naples – it has a distinct taste to it, but nothing off-putting. It’s high in calcium, and we noticed this very clearly at the bottom of the hot water kettle we had in our hotel room. 

The toilets

If you are someone with gut issues, you’ll be interested in hearing how the toilets in Naples are. Every restaurant had a toilet and usually they were clean enough and had toilet paper, soap and something to dry your hands with. The same can’t be said about public toilets, or toilets at tourist attractions. I recommend at least carrying toilet paper with you. Some toilets don’t have a toilet seat, so get used to squatting and strengthening your leg muscles, unless you are OK with cold porcelain touching the backs of your legs. My recommendation: use restrooms at restaurants rather than public restrooms. Even if you are not a customer, they will let you use theirs if you ask.

Notes on the places we visited in Naples

Royal Palace had quite the royal staircase
  • Centro Storico: the old town with narrow streets and authentic atmosphere, but a bit rundown and chaotic. There were all kinds of lovely cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops there. The atmosphere was fairly nice and plenty of options in terms of food/drink, but also lots of people and traffic, so this is not something we wanted to do every day. Some cute courtyards here and there were nice to visit, and also many churches. There’s an underground museum there also (La Neapolis Sotterrata), where you can see ancient ruins of the town, but which should not be mistaken with the Napoli Sotterranea experience that I’ll mention below. There are many other museums and places to see there!
  • The area north from the park Villa Comunale di Napoli is more “Northern European” and posh. Fancy stores and nice restaurants everywhere, and cleaner streets. We didn’t eat here, but likely more expensive. This is where one entrance to the Underground Naples experience is located, where we took the tour previously.
  • The area around the Montesanto funicular stop below Castello S Elmo was very chaotic and full of people. If you don’t like crowds, stay away from here. The funicular can drop you off elsewhere.
  • The castle S Elmo itself was a bit of a disappointment – you pay the entrance fee basically just for the view. The inside of the castle is closed. The view was indeed nice, basically 360 degrees around the city. 
  • The underground tour of Naples (Napoli Sotterranea) is a must! We didn’t go this time but previous time it was probably my favorite thing in the city of Naples. Very interesting history – the tunnels were used as water tanks, escape routes for the king, World War II shelters and as the city dump. Get in touch with them beforehand to make a reservation, the tour is very popular!
Napoli Sotterranea – pounded cars from the 50s
  • The Royal palace of Naples and the apartments was a nice experience. I enjoy visiting old places like this, and this palace was indeed a palace! Free toilet downstairs though we had to ask the ticket booth where it is because the signage was pretty poor. Toilet paper was out, but at least this is a free toilet and can be used even if you didn’t pay for a ticket for the palace.
  • The church on the opposite side of the Royal Palace and Piazza Plebiscito called Basilica Reale Pontificia San Francesco da Paola was an odd experience; it was supposedly a grand church with its circular dome similar to the Pantheon in Rome, but it was tagged on the outside, with homeless people living on its steps, and on the inside it seemed also unkept. Free entrance, but it didn’t have the church feeling you’d expect. 
  • The Naples archeological museum is a great continuation for Pompeii and Herculaneum – a lot of the artifacts are there! It used to be a palace so the building itself is also interesting. Tickets were not cheap, 22 e per person. A family ticket for two adults was 40e, so a small discount was available. 
  • Gallerie d’Italia was a lovely art museum to visit. They have a Caravaggio painting here among other great works.
Floor mosaic at the Archeological Museum

At the end, Naples is a city worth visiting, but be prepared for its chaotic nature. For example, we asked two different officials at the train station about when the next train leaves for Herculaneum, getting two different answers! If nothing else, it is an affordable destination with lots of history – and to me, most importantly, it is very easy to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum from here. These two ruined towns are the topic of the next blog post, so stay tuned!



PS. Book your free health review call now! Let’s find out how you can feel your best and travel freely without a worry of gut symptoms.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *