June 1st, the first day of Summer. I’m dreading the summer holiday period, and all the crowds that we’re going to experience everywhere.
It took us far longer than expected to leave Rome. The caravan park we’d spent the last three nights in, LGP, had a large range of spare parts. We’ve been having a few gremlins with the taps leaking a small amount of water, so I thought I’d try and find some replacements. I pulled both taps out, to make sure that the dimensions were suitable, only to learn that Italian motorhomes use a different style of water pump, and don’t require microswitches to turn it on – they have inline pressure sensors/pump, and our German motorhome has microswitches and an immersion pump. While I remember, I’ve also learnt that most countries here have different standards for their gas bottle connectors – but that is future Ross’ problem for when the gas finally runs out…
I found a free camp area near the next attraction that we wanted to visit, Reggia di Caserta. It was about 240km away, and by choosing not to use the motorways (which are rather expensive for this distance in Italy), it took us close to five hours.
Capua was a non-descript town, with the same nightmare traffic we thought we’d left back in Rome. On the outskirts of town, there is a large space dedicated for motorhomes to camp – including dump facilities, which is rare for this price range (free).
We were exhausted, so we cooked dinner, and prepared for sleep. As we were eating dinner, admiring the peach and apricot hues of another beautiful sunset, we noticed the ruins just beside the car park. I had a quick search, and learnt that it was the second largest amphitheatre, only smaller than the Colosseum in Rome.
This piqued our interest, so we sent the little drone to go investigate! We were pretty surprised with what we’d stumbled upon. They were indeed large, however, they were far more ‘ruined’ than the Colosseum in Rome.
We couldn’t believe that we accidentally parked next to such a site, and were looking forward to a quick visit in the morning before leaving.
We woke to the sound of fireworks at 7:30AM. We are now entering our third month on the road, though I think it’s un-related – something about Italian Day. Time is going fast, but it’s incredible to also think that we have another four-to-five months left! It already feels like we’ve had such an incredible adventure, and seen so much – but Europe is a big place, and there is really so much more to be seen.
After breakfast, and a quick rinse, we went to visit the ruins of the Anfitheatro Campano. I’d hoped it was going to be cheap, and I can report that it was only €2.50 each to enter! I think this is officially the cheapest attraction that we’ve visited. Once the sticker shock had worn off, we enjoyed the Gladiator Museum. There was zero English information, but still, it felt we were learning more than we got from our English guided tour at the Colosseum – OK, not quite. There was a collection of old armour, some amazing mosaics, featuring the names of some famous gladiators, and fragments of the detailed marble that once decorated the amphitheatre. It was a shame that the Colosseum didn’t have any of these artefacts, or displays. Either way, I’m going to have to re-watch Gladiator again when I get a chance!
We walked around the amphitheatre, entering spaces that were open to public. They had redone the wooden flooring of the amphitheatre, however, it was closed to public. It’s amazing that this is the second largest amphitheatre, as it felt much, much smaller than the Colosseum. It was also far more ruined than the Colosseum, with only the inner walls remaining. I soon understood why the entry was so cheap – there was very little here to see, though what we saw we enjoyed.
I took the drone for another quick flight, the flight that I wanted to do in the Colosseum, however, I didn’t want to fly over other people if possible. The footage was alright – nothing amazing – and as we were leaving, we were approached by a rather irate man – the same man who validated our entry tickets. He kept asking for my papers, which I didn’t understand. I followed him back to the ticket office, where the lady inside was able to translate. It turns out that to film over this area requires written permission, as it’s considered professional filming. I apologised, explained that it was just for personal use, and returned back to the car, melting under the increasingly oppressive heat.
Reggia di Caserta
Our big attraction for today was the bonkers Caserta Palace. I read that when it was built for the Bourbon kings of Naples back in the mid 18th century, the goal was to make it larger than Versailles. We haven’t visited Versailles yet, but I’m looking forward to comparing it when we visit. A little further research, and I learnt that it is the largest royal residence, with some 1200 rooms, spread over some quarter-of-a-million square meters! It is UNESCO listed, and is considered the ‘swan song of Baroque’.
As we had unexpectedly decided to do something on a public holiday, we were faced with rather large crowds. There was the usual shenanigans with ‘car park pimps’ that were asking for €20 to park in a small sandy space on the side of the road. We politely declined, and found a free park some 50m down the road – which was actually closer to the entrance of the palace, so win-win.
It wasn’t a great start when we saw that there was a rather solid queue ahead of us. I thought that this place was a little under the radar. It took some 45 minutes to get our tickets and enter the palace.
And what an entrance it was! The staircase was ridiculous. I don’t think even the insane Hermitage in St. Petersburg comes close to this opulence. I later learned that some scenes from Star Wars were filmed here. If I’d had known earlier, we could have attempted a recreation, just like we did in Seville!
There was an equally over the top private chapel, with enough marble for a mid-sized apartment block.
There was a small section of the palace open to public, which include several galleries of modern art – which I liked, but felt an odd fit for such a grand building.
It was also possible to walk through the rooms that were once the private residence, as well as public spaces used for official purposes. As you can see, the opulence and luxury continued into these spaces, with insanely high ceilings, giant chandeliers, decorative marble floors, and almost as much gilding and frescoes as the Vatican Museum.
It was only a small space that was open, and it appears that large sections of the palace is either under renovation, or in rather strong need of renovations.
There is an equally enormous garden, which we were hoping to cycle through. However, with the crowds, we were 25th on the list for some rental bikes, and decided it wasn’t worth the wait. The far end of the gardens is a small waterfall. It didn’t look that far, and if it hadn’t been for the heat, I could have been tempted to start walking. Out of curiosity, I checked out far it was – 2,700m! We caught the bus, which was €5 return.
I couldn’t believe how long the bus ride took, and we must have passed by a dozen or more fountains and water features before finally stopping underneath the waterfall. We walked through the English Gardens off to the side of the promenade, but got a little bored/tired after a while, and decided the most impressive part was the view back down towards the palace. It still looked enormous from a little over two-and-a-half kilometres away!
The view from the waterfall was impressive, but I really wanted to see it from the air. I really wanted to fly over the palace, towards the gardens, but we realised it probably wasn’t a very wise idea with this many people around. I found a quiet spot, and sent the drone up to get an aerial perspective. It’s still difficult to judge just how large it is, but it’s quite easy to see that it is enormous.
Rather than staying in a motorhome park inside Naples, we opted for one between Naples and Pompei. It was nothing special, but it was €15/night, had hot water, WiFi and walking distance to a train linking Naples and Pompei – and a steel fence and security, protecting our van from the famous burglars of the area.
I’d been looking forward to visiting Naples the entire trip. It’s no secret, but I love pizza. As soon as we’d parked and settled in, we jumped on a train bound for Naples to feast on pizza.
I’d expected Naples to be a bit of a dive, with dirt, grime and noise all around. It was a bit of a shock when we arrived in the centre of town and found it very, very true. Risa did some prior research and was so worried, that she requested that I leave my camera at home – which I thought was a little unnecessary, but since we were only going to be eating dinner, I didn’t really need it anyway. Apparently, Japanese tourists do ‘safari’ tours here, as they aren’t (or don’t feel) safe walking the streets.
If we thought that Rome was dirty, then we were in for a shock here. It was hot, people were loud, and there was so much going on everywhere we looked. It wasn’t bad, or unsafe, it was just a little chaotic. It is the closest we’ve been to a third-world country.
Before pizza, Risa had some seafood that she wanted to eat. We walked through the back streets, past the markets and street vendors, to a tiny little local restaurant. She ordered a seafood soup, some fried dough/algae balls, and a tomato pasta. The soup was interesting, because it wasn’t really cooked, it just had some hot water poured through it, plated, and some sauce poured on top. It was tender and delicious, probably because it was basically hot and spicy sashimi. The tomato pasta was delicious, so simple and fresh. And… I’m not quite sure about the fried balls of dough. They were salty, but kind of flavourless.
There is a famous pizza restaurant, Gino Sorbillo, a little further from the main station. I’d read that Gino Sorbillo was busy, and to expect queues, but I wasn’t prepared for what we found. There must have been 50 people waiting, and the queue didn’t appear to move. We only had a short time before the last train home, so we opted for a nearby pizzeria instead. We really could have shared one, after having already eaten dinner, but greed set in. I can happily report the chance paid off – they were some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, and only cost €4. They look enormous, but they are so thin and light, that it’s quite easy to eat an entire pizza.
I’d read that the street food in Naples is fantastic, and that there are small pizza-like treats sold all over town. We skipped our usual muesli breakfast, and opted for a pizza breakfast. Arriving in central Naples, it wasn’t quite so easy to find these stalls. We found plenty of markets selling handbags and sunglasses, or small cafes with coffee and pastries. As always, as we were about to give up, we chanced on a small café selling fried pizza balls, just as described in Lonely Planet. We both grabbed something, but neither were really hot, and the taste of the oil that it was fried in overpowered the taste of the filling. We’ll probably stick to muesli for breakfast.
The plan for the day was to wander around and explore Naples. We started out by the waterfront. The first view was this lady sunbaking on a bench. As we walked closer to the water, we saw more and more people just out there, sunbaking and relaxing. They weren’t pretty locations, but it’s what they had, and they were making the most of it. We’ve become far too precious about things, and would rather swelter in the heat than swim in dirty water.
We realised that this part of Naples was much, much nicer. If this had been our first sight of Naples, we might have held a different view on this lively city.
We’d stumbled on what seemed like a popular wedding location, as we’d seen four large wedding parties in a 200m walk. They were incredible, with the members looking like something out of Jersey Shore. In fact, most of the people here are fascinating to watch. They seemed loud and tacky, but they wore it with pride.
We’d worked up an appetite with all the walking we’d done, so we stopped for pizza! Risa found a list of good pizzerias, so we went to the closest – Mondo. The menu was quite extensive, and I was feeling adventurous, so I went with one that had a lot of ingredients that I liked, buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto, parmesan. I was a little surprised when it looked like a salad on a pizza base! But, gosh, it was incredible. That’s two from two in Naples. And, again, it was only €6.
We went on a bit of a pizza crawl, and went to where they claim to have invented the pizza, Pizzeria Brandi. After being adventurous with our last pizza, we decided to stay classic, and got the Margherita. It was €3.50, and it was incredible. The sauce was so refreshing, the base was light and fluffy, but still incredibly thin. Three from three.
We killed a little time, waiting for a tour of the underground tunnels in Naples. Right next to where we sat to eat our second pizza of the day, was a large plaza, with an arched colonnade, and a church with enormous Greek-style columns – San Francesco di Paola. They were preparing it for a wedding, with blue carpet laid down the aisle, but we were able to step around this carpet and have a look inside. It was just like the Pantheon in Rome, and again, it came as a surprise to see this giant open space above us. I tried to remember if this was larger than Pantheon or not – I don’t think it is, but it seems higher.
We had wanted to join an Adventure Tour of the caves and tunnels below Naples, but being a long weekend, it was already fully booked. Instead, we joined the regular tour. The tunnels were built and used over several different periods. Originally used as cisterns, and quarries, they were expanded by the Bourbons as a secret escape route, and further expanded for air raid shelters during WWII. The tour started from the top of the hill, just behind the San Francesco di Paola church, and descended down a dizzying number of dark and narrow stairs. The area alternated between narrow tunnels, and large open spaces, most were originally cisterns, and repurposed as bunkers during air raids.
It was really interesting seeing this side of Italian history, as I never really think of them and WWII. They brought down electricity, and built working toilets – though, it sounded like a rather unpleasant place to have spent time.
Following the war, the tunnels were abandoned, and later used by police as a place to hold seized motor vehicles. Inside there were dozens of cars and bikes, held for different crimes, though mostly due to illegal modification.
The Adventure Tour actually travels via raft along some of the waterways below Naples, and sees a little more of the hidden city. They also have a more extreme version, which is a cross between urban exploration and cave diving! If we ever return to Naples, I will be sure to book one of these in advance!
It blew our mind that when the tour finished, and after walking past all the rotting old cars, we ended up in a car park and an enormous night club, lit with neon blue lights. A few more steps and we were back at street level, and the heat of the southern Italian sun was in full effect.
Leaving the tunnels, we decided to walk back towards the Sorbillo Pizzeria, rather than using public transport. This took us through a very, very colourful part of town. Little by little, Naples was starting to win me over. I still think it’s a dirty, noisy place, and I’d not wish to live here, but the people here are fascinating. I’m generally not one for people watching, but there was just so much to enjoy!
The scooters with five passengers, the crazy out-there fashion, the markets and street stalls, and the fiery language across alleyways (OK, for me it was just body language, cadence and volume that I could read). We snacked on some street food and just watched the world pass by. With glee.
We eventually made it to Sorbillo Pizzeria, only to learn that there are actually TWO of them – one is the cousin/relative of the original, Gino Sorbillo. The queue for the original, Gino Sorbillo, was out of control, so we queued for the secondary, Antonio e Gigi Sorbillo instead. After thirty minutes of watching kids have arguments about their spinning toys, and all the other street scenes that unfolded in the public, we were seated. They didn’t seem happy to only sell us a single Margherita pizza, but we weren’t that hungry, and really only wanted to try it, for comparison sake. Again, a stellar pizza, and I honestly couldn’t fault it, nor any of the others that we’d had here. I think the favourite would be from Pizzeria Brandi, but only because of the incredibly fresh and light sauce, but I’d never say no to any of these pizzas if I had the opportunity again.
Today we went to visit Pompei, which is in its own post here – Euro Road Trip – Pompei Ruins.
After a day at the ruins, we seriously considered heading back into Naples for another pizza. But it was a long way to go for pizza, and secondly, it was too late to catch the final train back. Instead, I grabbed a pizza from a small neighbourhood pizzeria, and it was every bit as good as the four I’d had from the top rated pizzerias in town. I don’t think you can go wrong in this part of Italy! I’m truly going to miss this pizza.