South Italy. Pizza, Crumbling Buildings, And The Mafia

As our South Italy train slowly comes to a halt in the Naples Central Station, we can almost smell the aroma of pizza, mixed with the musty smell of old decaying buildings, as the worn and damaged cobblestone paths dipped and fell under our feet.  The air is filled with mystery as Napoli, as it is known in Italian,  is steeped in Mafia history. Family against family, and territorial gangs protecting their old town.  The men walked and talked, as the women stayed home in the kitchen, cooking up a storm.

Well, this is how we imagined it.  Realistically it was very different when we arrived.

It was a terribly wet and rainy day, and as we left the railway station pulling our Samsonite suitcases and Swiss Trolley Cases, we were accosted with what appeared to be dozens of East Indian and African touts.  Cigarette lighters, umbrellas, selfie sticks, knock-off designer handbags and wallets were thrust in our faces as I tried to manoeuvre the over paved cobblestone road. These roads were filled with holes, and these holes were filled with gravel and water.  Some were so deep that as we hit them, I feared the wheels would snap off!  We only had two blocks straight up the street to walk, but in the end, the pavement was in such disarray, we opted for rolling them on the bitumen road, and weaving past cars as they sped by splashing us.

It was all I could do to push and shove the heavy cases, and no way was I going to allow anyone to help and then carry one away.

Where We Stayed

We arrived at La Dimora di Garibaldi and there is a huge wooden gate door that instantly made us feel safe.  A quirky elevator requiring 10 cents managed JUST to fit in our bags and we piled in and hope we had the right floor.

Upstairs a lovely lady who spoke some English showed us the hotel-apartment room, and we settled into dry everything off.  Now the room was looking like a ‘Chinese Laundry’ (as my father used to say.)

Nearby seems to be a plethora of Indian and Middle-Eastern eateries, so we headed down (we saved the ten cents that the elevator cost, and took the stairs).

I ordered a terrific Indian Curry, and Explorason had a Chicken Fillet Burger.

A quick trip to the next block for a mini mart and I was armed with nibbles, wine, milk and snacks to last up the rest of the day.  We needed to dry off and thaw out – and as we were heading out that next night to meet some ‘Food and Travel Blogger’ friends from 2 Food Trippers who had been staying for a few weeks in Naples, we were going to wait and rely on their expertise as far as Pizza eating.

Tucked in our cosy room we looked out across Garibaldi Square as the wild weather folded and twisted cheap umbrellas in all directions, and I watched as folks discarded them in the gutter and ran for shelter.

Breakfast And The Best Cappuccino

Next day we dined at the café downstairs on the corner with our Breakfast voucher.  There was one table inside (many outside), and we patiently waited for it and then ordered a cappuccino, hot chocolate and some Italian pastries.  It was an adrenalin rush of sugar as the croissant oozed chocolate from the centre into Explorason’s mouth and over his face.  Washed down with a hot chocolate that was more like a cup of melted Nutella. Italians take their chocolate seriously – I think you could stand a spoon up in it.

Train To Pompeii

Venturing back to the railway station, we headed downstairs to the privately owned very run-down trains (covered in graffiti, plastic seats, and OLD).  With a bit of commotion, we managed (along with other equally lost tourists) to catch the Sorrento train which passes by the ruins of Pompeii.

Worldschooling Pompeii

For about 4 hours we enjoyed wandering around the ancient city of Pompeii – kids are free to enter, and there are many helpful staff, so we spent quite a bit of time talking with them and learning new fun facts each time Explorason thought of a new question.

We were enthralled with the ‘small people’ of Pompeii (average height is 1 metre, 50 cm) and with these are casts (often with bones and teeth inside) of the poor souls that perished as Mt Vesuvius erupted 2000 years ago. As the ash spewed out it fell in an instant and destroyed the entire town, burying them alive in burning ash.

I finally understood the drainage systems and rocky roads. As a plumber’s daughter the sewers fascinated me. Today was an amazing worldschooling day. We were able to put water on the mosaic tiles to see the magnificent patterns. We wandered into arenas, brothels, houses and theatres, and also learned about their altars for false gods.

We returned back to La Dimora di Garibaldi once more and dined yet again for a very late lunch from a local middle eastern food seller.

Wandering the streets past block after block of old crumbling buildings as night came, we received several wrong sets of directions trying to find our friend’s apartment. We later learn that individuals own their apartment, so inside an old exterior, lovely interiors are possible, but most owners refuse the external upkeep.

Napoli Pizza

Pizza that night was at Michele’s – possibly the oldest pizza joint in Napoli which serves just 2 types of vegetarian pizza.  Love it or hate it, Napoli pizza has a sloppy rich tomato sauce, and the tomatoes are grown locally in the volcanic soil, so legend has it that this gives the pizza that unique taste.

We tried pizza again the next night at a place called Cocco’s and found it so moist you could hang it in the air as the topping ran off.  We tried to order ‘half and half’ topping to share a pizza, but somehow we manage to receive two pizzas with a cut in half. We also received an account of 2 Euro because we sat at a table.

I think I waddled out of Cocco’s groaning, I was so full. The bill for the food was more than double what we expected to pay when we first ordered.

Both Explorason and I believe pizza in the north of Italy (Reggio Emilio) is way better, but that is just us.

Heading South On The Train

After a day of great shopping, we ventured further south on the train the next day.  We used our Eurail and this was only a six Euro booking fee to go all the way to Sicily.

A Train On A Ship

The unique thing with this slow ride is that the train goes ON the boat.  You can get off and wander around. We took turns going to the bathroom, and managed to go in circles looking for each other until one of the train staff helped us find each other! (Mother panic).

Arriving in Taormina

This train isn’t fast, but the tracks occupy prime real estate right along the coastline.  We arrive at Taormina, Sicily to find only two taxis and four lots of people waiting. We end up agreeing to share a cab with another couple and we are dropped off last as we wind way up the hill and snake our way through town in the one ways streets.  I’m in love.  What an adorable town!

Standing Up For Our Rights

But – I woke earlier today with a sense that something was going to go wrong today, but that God is with us (or for those without faith – gut feel). And the outcome would be OK.
The cab pulls up to the apartment I’d booked which was further out of town than we hoped, and up steep hills with no restaurants/shops around.

Note: This is the 2nd apartment we had booked as two days earlier we had been cancelled on us, and so we had spent an extra day in Napoli.

This is the 1st time ever it made me pay up front on my credit card on this on-line booking site and not just reserved it. Never again!
Neither will I ever promote this Booking site in any way, and I will make sure I tell all my friends should they ask me about this incident.  
This company has already lost more money from me not booking our accommodation through them and by not assisting me.
When I told them of this problem than the small amount we paid out for this incident – crazy. I have emails saying they refuse to assist me!

When we get to the apartment and the taxi is gone, the owner appears from nowhere (so over-friendly and nice) and shows us this old 1960’s or 1970’s apartment with a foam mattress bed and cheap furniture. Not the lovely ultra modern apartment we booked.

We told him it was not the right apartment as it did not match ANY of the photos on the main photo area on the site. But we felt fooled as the owner had loaded of pictures of the nice apartment on the site first. At the end of about 40 nice photos of an upstairs apartment, there were photos all ‘glammed up’ of his old place.  We told him we felt that he had deceived us so he threw fifty Euro at us and he told us we had to get out, but we paid much more and he did not have the money. 

He got angry and grabbed Explorason who was by the front of the door, and I think he was going to tried to throw us out in the dark and rain on the street. I told him I would contact the police and this seemed to concern him, but we are from overseas and I had no international SIM card in the phone.  I’d have to wait to get on the internet and use SKYPE but at that time we had no password for the wifi.

So at this point, we have been yelled at, threatened, demanded to leave, and given less than our money we paid.

He left the apartment for 1/2 hr, and I was so shaken, petrified, and scared and my son was so upset, I had to try and think how to handle this situation.  We couldn’t think straight. We were alone in the night and threatened and we didn’t know where he was!  So, we walked the area in vain trying to find somewhere to stay – it was really hilly and we had no map, (and my phone needed charging as we had been traveling all day on the train and their power wasn’t working in the train carriage, so we couldn’t even use Maps With Me, an app we usually use offline).  I told my son we would have to stay and he was crying, so we walked back up the hill – we felt like we didn’t I know what to do. We had 2 large luggage cases and 2 small and it was wet and dark! Were we even safe to stay here? This was a nightmare!

Then as we walk back to the apartment, the owner appears down the street asking me what I was going to do!  

I was sooooo calm and he said he didn’t want us to stay. I told him to apologise and give me ten Euro we paid for the taxi, as well as the balance – he said he didn’t have it – and he said he would have to get it.  I said “we will need all the money or we wouldn’t leave”.

He then kept cutting me off when I tried to speak, and yelling at me angrily in Italian as I tried to talk, and I admire Explorason who asked him to “stop and let me finish speaking”.

He left once more and again came back again with the forty Euro – and had called a taxi.  But because I had no idea if he was even coming back with the money it gave me no time to make an online reservation on my computer – I’d just managed to write down a couple of names and addresses of accommodation.  We didn’t want to leave, this owner was forcing us to leave something we had already paid for.  

Then, this owner started rushing me telling me the taxi would not wait, and pulled out our luggage out, but we had nowhere to go!

Taxi Driver Saves The Day

Thankfully the nice taxi driver called a friend who owns a lovely BnB – right in the old town.

Sicily
©Exploramum and Explorason – Joan’s B&B is lovely and a fabulous location.

Joan’s Heritage B&B

We’ve paid more for a lovely place called Joan’s Heritage B&B but it’s so nice to be in the old town. It was a small room and filled with antiques (I adore the bedhead). Patricia was a really helpful lady who basically took us in when we had nowhere to go.

This room has a balcony right on the corner of the main walking street entrance of old town.  Incredible!

Exploring Taormina

Next day we spent the day wandering the streets of Taormina.  Lovely alleyways and great shopping.  As it is my birthday Monday, Explorason was on the hunt for a few gifts, cards and wrap and he achieved his goal.

We also bought a ‘shot glass’. It has a Mafia man and the handle is a gun – we thought this was appropriate for Sicily!

Ancient Theatre of Taormina

We also managed to spend a good hour at the Ancient Theatre of Taormina dating back to 3 BC. For the most of the time, we were alone. It was incredible. We role-played what would have happened years ago imaging wild beast and men below being flung in the pits. We visualised the regal members seated and standing above sneering and cheering on as blood splashed onto the brick walls. Oh if these bricks could talk.  It was great.

Not only that, but the view over the bay and along the coastline is incredible.

Taormina
©Exploramum and Explorason – The Taormina Bay below where rough seas and high winds prevail

More Problems

Our plans changed when we discovered that the catamaran to Malta was cancelled due to high winds and choppy seas in the channel.

We had booked a Food Tour tomorrow with Wandering Jack, but we had to cancel that! They were so nice about our problem – I’d really recommend them too!

Thanks to an email to the hotel in Malta, (and finally finding the guest house manager two hours later), we were able to book a flight at an incredible price with Malta Airlines (who were fantastic) for 7:00 a.m. the following morning.  That mean a taxi ride of over $100 to the airport, and would see me up at 3:00 a.m. packing!

That mean a taxi ride of over $100 to the airport, and would see me up at 3:00 a.m. packing!

Taormina
©Exploramum and Explorason – Older men sit and talk outside the church

Our Time Has Come To An End

So here we sit at our window watching old men wearing coats and hats (and some carrying a small case or bag) talk and walk in the streets below. It is just like a scene from the movie ‘The Godfather!’ 

We have our own in-room Sicilian picnic – A bottle of yummy local red wine for me, creamy milk for Explorason, Italian bread and cheese – and a peaceful lovely place to stay with a killer location right at the arch entrance of the old town.

Does the Mafia still exist in Sicily? As world travel experts, even I honestly don’t know.  Maybe you will have to visit and see what you think for yourself!

La Dimora di Garibaldi Address: Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, 26, 80142 Napoli
Phone: 081 1991 7908
 
Joan’s Heritage B&B Address: Villa della Zecca 3, 98039 Taormina
Phone: +39 320 021 7268
 
For Tours of Sicily, please contact WanderJack. They also have a special Spring Family Break.

If you enjoyed this article or found it useful – please consider sharing it.

Taormina©Exploramum and Explorason – Older men walk the streets of Taormina, Sicily

 
 

 

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