by Judi Basolo
Is it possible to celebrate Thanksgiving in Italy? It is if you’re visiting American friends residing in Naples. There was no way I would miss this cool invitation to toast the Pilgrims with a worthy Chianti in the land that gave us pizza and a view of Capri. “Thanksgiving Wherever” sounded like the perfect Diva antidote for this single San Franciscan who didn’t want to go thought the nine-course turkey day tradition alone.
With ticket in hand I departed on a Lufthansa night flight from San Francisco to Naples, with small layover in a snow covered Oktoberfest land, Munich. Munich airport is a grand place to be on a layover: leather goods, jewelry, wine, you name it— Rodeo Drive/Union Square/Manhattan-like boutiques all lined up awaiting your visit with your Visa card in hand. You never know your layover is a layover. And ladies, naughty not-in-a-brown-bag items are sold at the purveyor of erotica, Beate Uhse, in the oh so public area Level 4 in Terminal 2.
From my productive layover in Munich I went on to Napoli (as Italians call Naples), just a lunch hour from the Amalfi Coast. I flew Air Dolimiti, and they filled my small but perfectly fluted wine glass (yes glass, as in no plastic) with ruby claret-colored Italian vino and fed me soppressa (rich red real salami), precious Italian cheese, a bundle of grapes and fat little bread sticks – all signs that I had arrived in Italy, or at least was headed there.
I touched down at Naples airport on time at 9:30pm and was met by the friends I had come to celebrate Thanksgiving with. I was wide awake and ready to roll after my 15-hour venture from San Francisco. My dreams of visiting the warm Naples Bay were shattered immediately when we stepped outside the airport to be met by 4 degrees C. My celcius converter was off but my frozen cheeks told me it was near freezing!
I was fortunate to be staying in a mountainside terraced villa with a pool (brrr) overlooking the beautiful Bay of Naples, but there are abundant first class hotels on the main waterfront street of Naples overlooking Mount Vesuvius, the Isle of Capri and the enchanting harbor waterfront across from Castel dell’Ovo– which translates to “the Egg Castle”. Legend says an egg was placed inside the walls of the castle and that these stone walls were so strong an egg could survive forever within.
So what’s a gal to do in Napoli? For starters, I tried plenty of cappuccinos, truly the epitome of morning coffee. Don’t order after 12 noon or you’ll label yourself a classless idiot. Be prepared: some cafes serve this frothy delicacy with lots of sugar included.
True confessions of a cannoli lover: Not only did I have one over the top traditional turkey Thanksgiving dinner in Naples, but I had three evenings in one week where we consumed the bird with all the trimmings! It seemed wherever we went that week, our Italian friends rolled out the Neopolitan hospitality to conjure up their version of the meal we all know so well. I was soon relegated to begging for pasta, pizzas, mounds of mozzarella, and local sweet calamari. I thought that my next Italian mangia experience might be at a San Francisco ristorante after I got home!
Wines are divine and they’re sulfite free, which means no hangover! I paid 4 euro at a local market or less and I had a great bottle of vino to enjoy back in my hotel room. Remember to travel with your cork screw but pack it in your luggage as it may be on the list of ‘not welcome on board’ items. (If you overindulge on the zesty vino, take a day boat trip to the Isle of Ischia to revel in the volcanic muds known for their treatment of aches and pains. Caution: Ischia thermal spas are only open spring to fall.)
Naples is the land of buffalo mozzarella and you can pick up this delicacy at any deli. Top your infamous Napolitano pizza with it, or to start your lunch with a platter of caprese – sliced tomatoes and mozzarella. True mozzarella di bufala comes in a jumbo round weighing around half a pound. It keeps on the counter without refrigeration for five days, so buy one and take it to your hotel as long as it’s in the brine in the bag.
The Neopolitans say they invented pizza – I’ll second that! Pizzas are abundant and topped with everything or barely anything if that’s your style. But remember: ham is not prosciutto, but both can sit atop your mozzarella, ricotta and mushroom pizza, so choose wisely.
Museo Archeologica is a must where you’ll see abundant ancient ruins of Egypt, Pompeii and Ercola. You’ll need four to five hours to gaze at the massive stone and marble sculptures that grace the gardens and hallways, and you’ll be in awe when facing the colorful frescoes that were salvaged when the city was silenced by volcanic ash in 79AD. As we walked through this huge building and its alabaster marble floors, we saw homes, galleries and trade shops recreated. It was so interesting to see that some things never change: like the gynocological specula don’t seem to have changed much since these metal specimen survived Vesuvius’ eruption!
The museum cases were filled with household items from the BC era that you can still see gracing the aisles of Williams Sonoma. Seems the people of Egypt were big fans of erotic art too, as one wing houses the secret “Galleria di Pornografia” – wall to wall erotica that we giggled our way through as the ancient artisans depicted men wearing furry on-point dog ears in almost every art piece! Dare we Divas attempt to analyze that?
After the museum, it was time to go shopping! Boutiques are abundant – I recommend the Via Toledo for anything you seek. My favorite jeweler is Antonio Guarino at 274 Via Toleda. His store is filled with semi-precious stones set into 18 karat gold and silver (be sure to barter with him!) Across the street you’ll find Marella, selling one-of-a-kind clothes. This whole area is an incredible shopping experience.
Transportation in Napoli is easy: buses run everywhere but beware if you don’t speak Italian as the bus drivers may know English but will not be over accommodating. Underground trains run throughout the city but be sure to hold your purse next to you and don’t carry a video camera over shoulder. Attempt to blend in as best as you can. Here’s a tip on crossing the street in Napoli: don’t make eye contact with the drivers and just jet out into the street – they’ll stop for you.
Cabs are cheap and everywhere but don’t hop into a cab unless it has a meter and keep your eye on the meter! Even if there is a meter, you should still be wary. This land of thermal waters and handsome hunks is still well known to be full of con artists. I was in the cab with a girl friend heading to the Navy base to help serve Thanksgiving dinner to our troops and I knew the fare should be 8 euro. The driver had the meter covered with an armrest that he had to reconfigure rather smartly to cover the meter. When I asked him where his meter was, he revealed it. I thought this was an honest gesture until I realized later that the little fazule had pressed a button to program we were going to the airport! Instead of an 8 euro bill, the tab was 18 euro! He said “we’re at the airport”, which was news to me, as the airport was 20 minutes in other direction and we were at the US Naval base. I called him out immediately and wanted to stick a hand full of rigatoni into his mouth!
In terms of accommodations, you have a few first-class options. Try Grand Hotel Vesuvio smack on the waterfront. Or, get into the historical center and try a hotel in a lovely 18th century palazzo, the Caravaggio Hotel(in the Piazza Cardinale Sisto Riario Sforza, the heart of amazing Napoli. I toured this hotel because it’s across street from the infamous Caravaggio painting “The 7 Acts of Mercy” – well worth a visit with audio guide. Pop into the 2nd floor gallery that says “no photos” and sit there on the Fortuni fabric ancient cushions in the intimate gallery box, and snap a photo or two as nobody will ever know!
There are plenty of opportunities for side trips as well. Hire a driver to go to Amalfi Coast for the day– just 45 minutes from Naples – and don’t miss the town of Vietri, land of Italian pottery. If it’s not made here, it’s not sold elsewhere. Or take a weekend spree on the Amalfi and do Vietri, Positano and all the others – but Diva antennae up: go in the summertime to strut the coast and maybe rent a small apartment to savor the magic ocean moments. Va bene!
Ciao bella Diva – enjoy Napoli and its beauty- it will enjoy you!
Grand Hotel Vesuvio
Via Partenape 45,
Caravaggio Hotel di Napoli
Via Riario Sforza 157, Spaccanapoli Naples
Tel: 39- 081-211-0066