We have discovered that Naples is one of those cities that people either love or hate. In fact, when planning our visit we read so many conflicting reviews that we had a difficult time deciding if we even wanted to visit.
We planned to at least go to Naples to catch the ferry to Sicily, but the overnight visit was somewhat of a last-minute decision. We were still sore from our hike on the Path of the Gods (mainly, all the stairs at the end), so we figured one more day of “taking it easy” would be good!
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Before leaving Salerno, we found a great hotel in Naples via Booking.com, Hotel Piazza Bellini. This was our first time using Booking.com and it was great. The site/app took a little getting used to, mainly due to how it displays pricing, but we found it was an easy way to find a good hotel or bed and breakfast. We now use Booking.com almost exclusively for finding hotels overseas.
We walked from the train station to the hotel. Yes, we walk, even when we’re sore and “taking it easy,” as long as the walk isn’t too ridiculous… and even sometimes when it is. Our walk quickly affirmed our original plan of not spending much time here. Most everything in Naples is dirty and covered in graffiti, and there is trash all over the streets and sidewalks
Thankfully, the Hotel Piazza Bellini was very much the opposite. It was clean, comfortable and inviting! This actually ended up being one of our favorite hotels in Italy. The only negative is the Wi-Fi would only allow us to connect one device… First World problems, I know.
Unfortunately, when we tried to book the ferry to Palermo (Sicily) online, we had trouble with the credit card. We ended up having to go down to the port and book it in person, which required another walk through the streets of Naples.
On the way there, Grant is pretty sure we walked right past a drug deal in progress. On the way back, we walked past a large gathering of SWAT-style cops. We can only guess that they were about to bust someone for something, but we knew we didn’t want to be around when it happened!
Thankfully, we made it to the ferry and back successfully and even managed to get the tickets cheaper than they were coming up online. And, just for the record, we stayed in one of the “better” parts of the city…the city is just a shit hole.
Our plans for Naples were to visit Pompei and the National Archeological Museum (which has all the awesome “finds” from Pompei) and then get on the ferry to Palermo, which is an overnight trip. Seriously, that is all that interested us here.
Pompei (yes, it is spelled with only one “i” in Italy) is very cool! After seeing other ruins in and around Rome, it was apparent that these were in much better condition due to the fact that they’ve only been exposed to the elements for about 200-300 years, rather than about 2,000 years!
When you walk through, it actually feels like you’re walking through a town, not just a bunch of old bricks, etc. You can see the wheel ruts in the road, for example.
The downside is 1) pretty much all of the really cool stuff has been moved to the museum in Naples and 2) there are a lot of fences, ropes, and other restrictive barriers. Overall, we enjoyed the visit and would recommend going if you have the chance.
Pro tip: We thought it would be easier to go via Naples… We were wrong. Sorrento is a better base.
Back in Naples, we went to the Archeological Museum, where all the cool stuff from Pompei is housed (along with a lot of other cool old stuff). Lots of statues and mosaics, along with other artifacts, most of it from the first few centuries AD.
Of course, the most interesting part of the museum is the “Secret Room” which is actually a very well-known room full of “secret” (pornographic) stuff!
It has all the statues, paintings, and mosaics from the brothels of Pompei (apparently, brothels were popular back in the day). The art served as both a “menu” of the brothel and was meant to be educational. It was very interesting! And while it certainly was not stuff that you would see in a “normal” museum in the states, it really wasn’t that bad.
Ferry From Naples to Palermo
We ended our day by finally getting out of Naples! We took the overnight ferry to Palermo, Sicily. The ship is huge (as in cruise ship huge)…of course, it has cars and quite a few semi-trucks in addition to the passengers!
We ended up in a cabin with separate twin beds – not what we planned for (though we knew it was a possibility), but as Grant said, “It’s a small price to pay to get the hell out of Naples!”
The ship was fairly nice…a lot like a cruise ship, just not as “much.” There is a restaurant, a buffet/cafeteria, a bar, a game room and a cinema. Of course, since we arrived in Palermo at 6:30 a.m., all we really cared about was getting to sleep decently early!
First, we thoroughly enjoyed Sicily! Second, public transportation is still better than the US, but nowhere near as efficient or wide-spread as the rest of Italy (at least what we’ve experienced so far). Third, despite this, we are VERY glad we did NOT rent a car!
We initially planned on Palermo being our base city, so we got the ferry to Palermo. Then we decided we wanted to go over Taormina and stay there. Alas, waiting until the day before to book our ferry still ended up being “too early.”
After we arrived in Palermo, we quickly realized that it would be somewhat costly, and very time-consuming to get to Taormina, especially if we wanted to visit Mt. Etna. So, we decided to stay in Catania instead. It’s a bigger city and closer to Mt. Etna and ended up being a good decision.
We took the bus across Sicily from Palermo to Catania. Once we got into town, we found a nice hotel (Best Western Catania) and found a local diner for lunch. We had a stout, tasty lunch, then made our way back to the hotel to meet our tour of Mt. Etna.
The hotel organized a tour of Mt. Etna. Our driver picked us up at the hotel along with a pair of Danish nurses. One of the things which surprised us about Europe is how English has become the lingua franca. This was the second tour on this trip we went on where there were several nationalities on one tour and the only common language (even without us there) was English.
We are firm believers in doing our part to learn at least the basic phrases of the native language in whatever country we visit. We were surprised, however, at how easy it was to navigate Italy in English.
Our tour of Mt. Etna took us all the way up the mountain and we saw some really amazing views. While we would love to have seen it erupting, my curse struck again. Every time I go to see an active volcano, it seems to be quiet when I get there.
Back to Palermo
First, let me say we completely screwed up on our routing on this portion of our trip. If we had done a bit more research, we would have known we could have taken the ferry directly from Naples to Catania and avoided the bus ride altogether. Ultimately, though, the ride across the island was pretty and relaxing.
We took the bus back to Palermo. The trains here run just around the coast and it generally takes a long time to get anywhere as you have to take multiple regional trains which have a lot of stops. The roads, however, go through the center of the island, thus the buses tend to be much more efficient, though not necessarily a lot cheaper.
So, after a leisurely morning, we rushed to catch a bus so we wouldn’t have to wait another hour and safely made our way back to Palermo. We ended up just sitting in the airport for the afternoon before flying to Venice. Not terribly exciting, but getting around isn’t always the easiest thing to do and definitely isn’t always easy to find/figure out. Hanging out at the airport was a much better option than potentially missing the flight!
Travel to Venice via Ryanair
We flew Ryanair to Venice, which really is very cheap. Of course, you pay extra for reserved seats and priority boarding (which we skipped) and all the other usual stuff you pay extra for in the US. The kicker is that you can only have one bag, period. No bag from the airport shop, no purse, nothing extra…at least that’s what the website says. And, the somewhat tense part, carry on bags must be under 10 kg, which is roughly 22 pounds.
We were just hoping that our luggage scales at home were fairly accurate; our bags weighed in right at 20 pounds each. I had to get my purse crammed into my backpack, which was a challenge.
Boarding the flight went off without a hitch but was just the beginning of our adventure that night. Flying Ryanair was a bit of an experience, but it was not that bad for a couple of hours, especially at the price we paid.
We screwed up our routing again here. We could have flown directly from Catania to Venice, saving us another bus trip across Sicily. But, we bought our plane tickets before we decided to go to Catania. The only good thing is the interior of Sicily is really pretty. While I would not want to rent a car in Italy, I am very tempted to rent a car to tour the interior of Sicily.
I chalk up our errors to having limited access to the Internet at the time.
Arriving in Venice
When we arrived at the airport in Venice (around 11:00 p.m.) we called the hotel we were staying at to see if they would send a courtesy van to fetch us. They said sure and sent it. After waiting for about 45 minutes, we realized something was wrong. Eventually, we figured out we were in Treviso, another town about 20 miles away.
We had to take a cab (one of the few times we used one on this trip) and the train to get us to the hotel. The hotel was gracious enough to send the courtesy van to pick us up at the train station after the mix-up. One reason we love staying at Hilton properties.
It was at this point in the trip that we really started to learn that you shouldn’t visit a city (or attraction) just because others say you should. That saying, “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” goes for travel as well. Cities that some people love, others will hate.
Naples was one of those cities that we felt we “should” visit because it’s a big, well-known city that a lot of people enjoy. We had read enough reviews to know that we might not like it, but we went anyway. While the Archeological Museum was interesting, it was the only redeeming feature of the entire city, other than our hotel.
Make sure that you do your homework for yourself. Sure, take advice from others, but remember the decision is still yours! We hated Naples, but you might love it. We loved Salerno, but you might not. Make the decision that is best for you and your interests!
And do all the homework you can in advance! Poor transportation decisions cost us some time on this leg of our trip. If we had it to do over, we would certainly make some changes. Ultimately, though, we still saw some amazing things and enjoyed most all of it. That is the key – enjoy what you are doing and don’t focus on the mistakes!