There is a problem in Naples nobody brags about.
After the Pee-Nahl-Tee incident at the Napoli train station, we checked in for our midnight ride to Sicily. Then we hit the streets, stoked that we had a few hours in Naples. But I’m not sure we were quite ready for what was out there. Noise, traffic, masses of people. But mostly it was garbage like we’d never seen. We had been told by a guy earlier to be ready for it. Something about the mafia being in charge (or not) of waste removal. It’s been an ongoing problem in the city for years. On the Pompeii train cutting through suburbia, we noticed side streets so literally covered in garbage, you couldn’t see pavement.
When we stepped out of the air-conditioned Napoli station (50 Euros poorer after our pee-nahl-tee)), the heat hit us like a wet blanket. And the smell hit us like a mixture of sweaty socks, sour milk, and sewer fumes. I wish this blog was scratch’n’sniff. Hard to describe the smell. Garbage was decomposing absolutely everywhere. A huge pile of it right in front of the station in the middle of a bus terminus. Welcome to Naples. The original home of pizza. The smell, however, wasn’t conducive to having a slice.
We decided to brave what our senses were attempting to compute. So noisy, so smelly, so hot. We crossed the street intent on seeing the city, at least a little. The sidewalk here was 12 or 15 feet wide. On the street side of the sidewalk, in among garbage, vendors were selling everything from socks to phone adaptors while on the inside, plastic tables were set for restaurant and bar patrons. That left pedestrians a single file to negotiate the sidewalk. We were searching for a place to sit and have a drink waiting for Il treno to Sicily.
Though an open window, a young guy behind a bar caught our eye, smiled and waved us over. There was no room inside the bar but he gladly brought out a cheap plastic table and chairs for us to sit outside – arm’s length away from a mobile phone case display, in the pedestrian bumping zone! I kept thinking pickpockets were on me. As everywhere else, a Coke Light was 5 Euros, a pint of beer 2 Euros. I gave the guy a 20. We were thirsty and downed our drinks in a couple gulps. Before the young guy even made it back to the bar, we motioned for another round. But an older fellow served us this time (the owner?). He had my 20 in one hand and our drinks in the other but was wanting an additional 50 Euros. Far as we could make out, it was a “Table Tax”. Realizing this guy was for real we excused ourselves. The bastard never did give us change back either. I was floored. 50 Euros table tax. It’s not like we pulled up in a Rolls Royce.
So we heaved our backpacks and walked around the block, hoping to find another place where tourists are not seen with a sign around their necks that say Screw Me. The city was insane around us. We eventually found a small independent grocer. Ice cold quarts of Heineken were 1.80 Euros (roughly $2) which I thought was fantastic. We swept trash off the edge of a tree planter so we could lean a cheek and enjoy our frosty, delicious beer. We were still trying to make sense of the scene around us while keeping an eagle eye out for our backpacks. If we were to get robbed, this would definitely be the place. This was so bad, Naples became a highlight of our trip once we got home.
Yours truly sitting in the garbage after a sweaty day of fines, blisters, and ripoffs.
Our planter was next to a jet black sports car that’d been boxed in due to the fact that people were double and even triple parked outside the train station. The owner of the car was a dapper looking older man, sort of a Grecian Formula poster boy (he left just a little gray!), with a well-pressed open shirt, bling around his neck and wrists, and Gucci loafers. Nice slacks too. Obviously here to pick up someone from the train. He was pacing the sidewalk when he noticed he got boxed in. He looked at us, throwing his hands in the air. I said Sonofabitch, eh? But he took it that I was calling him a sonofabitch. Just what I needed was to piss off a guy I’m thinking is from the Cosa Nostra. I quickly explained in bad Italian (and equally bad sign language) that it was an exasperation, I did not actually think he was a sonofabitch himself. No sirree. Now the guy with the crappy Peugeot who boxed him in, HE is the sonofabitch!
Napoli Centrale. Completed in the late 1960’s.
Crisis averted we had several more beers from the small grocery shop, making friends with guys at a cheap plastic table behind us, trading cigarettes, making small talk (Where are you from is invariably the first question). Now I had a nice glow on and felt quite comfortable here on our garbage covered planter. But this was certainly not the place to drink until we passed out.
Our dapper friend returned once again. He still hadn’t found who he was looking for and had given up. As he slid into the front seat of his car – he wasn’t boxed in anymore – he looked over and gave me a knowing look. Sonofabeech, eh? he says with a smirk.
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Disclaimer: I’m sure the Naples Tourist Board would not approve of this blog. After all, you cannot possibly expect to get a real city experience in just a few hours. We might have tried, but the smell pushed us on. Would we go back? Only to get to Capri!
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Dianne & Mike