Let me be honest; a chance to sip hand-crafted espresso and to get a taste of an authentic, stone-oven baked pizza was the real driving force behind booking this trip to Naples. However, we never anticipated the lesson that we were about to learn.
It was a new city for both of us and Franklin’s first time traveling to Italy. We both speak Spanish so reading Italian is not too difficult to understand but I still decided to brush up on the one semester of Italian that I learned at university. I wanted to make sure that at least I had the basics.
We did just a bit of research about Naples since we had a few weeks before the trip. Other travelers had suggested that it was not exactly the safest city in Europe. They wrote that the tourist areas were riddled with pickpockets; nothing a couple of New Yorkers couldn’t handle. Just pack light and keep your money in your underpants!
When we arrived we had to try to figure out how to get to the city center which is where the hostel was located. This was no easy task. There was no public transportation that connected the airport to the city center. We found a privately run bus company that shuttled travelers between the bus station and the train station (pickpocket haven). Then from there we were able to take the train into the center which left us within walking distance to our hostel.
We arrived in the early afternoon so we were excited to get our accommodations situated, unload our backpacks, and start exploring. One problem, we couldn’t find the building where we were supposed to be staying. We were walking up and down both sides of the heavily congested street with the address in hand, dodging impatient scooter drivers using the sidewalk as an alternative route to escape waiting at the red light.
Suddenly, we realized that the building we were looking for was right in front of us, covered in scaffolding and construction tarp. It hardly resembled the pictures we had seen online. Finally, we made it! We felt a sense of relief as we found the hostel name on the list in the front doorway and rang the bell. As we stood in the doorway laughing at each other about not being able to find the building right in front of our eyes, we quickly recognized that the bell had gone unanswered. We rang again. Waited in silence this time. Nothing. Again. Nothing. We weren’t laughing anymore.
Finally, someone came to the door and unlocked it from the street and so we sneaked in behind him. Ok! We were back on track! We walked through the inner courtyard and found the stairs. The hostel instructions said that they were located on the second floor and so that’s exactly where we went. We found the door but our hearts sank into our stomachs. There were flyers stuck into the crack of the door that had piled up. Despite knowing that this was a clear sign that the door hadn’t been opened for some time, we had no choice but to knock and hope that these flyers were stuffed in there that day. Knock, knock, knock. Predictably, there was no response. Just gut wrenching silence.
By this time, it was already late afternoon. We knew that we only had a couple of hours left until the sun was gone and we were unsure how the neighborhood would transform under darkness. We needed a plan. We left the building, along with any hope we had of staying there for the weekend, and returned to the chaos of the street.
As we stepped out, Franklin said, “Let’s start walking and see if we can find a hotel somewhere.” It sounded like a good strategy but since I was the one to book the hostel, I remembered that the majority of the hotels were not in this part of the city. This was also a holiday weekend and I knew we could have some trouble finding a room. I decided it was time to exercise my Italian skills. I spotted two women and a man standing in a doorway of a shop chatting. As we were passing the shop, I mustered up the courage to approach them. I abruptly broke away from Franklin’s side and turned to them asking in Italian if anyone spoke English. They all looked at each other and shook their heads and my heart sank for the second time. Panic crept in with the thought that we might end up sleeping on the street tonight in a city that was already flagged as not being so safe. Then, as all hope was crumbling, one of them motioned for me to come into the shop. We followed. He said something to another man in Italian and like a refreshing, cool breeze on a hot summer’s day the man turned to us and asked in English, “You need some help?”
We explained our situation to which he responded in disbelief. He told us that his friend comes to visit from Milan and always stays at this hostel down the street. He said that it was a very nice place and his friend was just there a few months ago. He said, “Come with me!” We followed him back to the building where he found the name and rang the bell and you guessed it: no answer! The disappointment on his face almost matched ours. He told us to come back with him to the shop and he would help us. Along the way, he popped into another shop to chat up the owner and ask about the hostel. She confirmed our fears. According to her, they packed up and left suddenly and no one knows exactly what happened.
Our new companion went above and beyond for us once we returned. He started searching online for hotel accommodations and started calling places for us. He said that he should speak with them in Italian because he would be able to get us a better deal. He found a place and negotiated a deal which was higher than we would have liked but we were out of options. The shop owner drew a crude map on a scrap sheet of paper meant to guide us through the narrow, winding, maze-like streets of the old town. He told us that we had to arrive there within 30 minutes to claim the reservation. We quickly thanked him for all of his generosity and took off to find the hotel.
By the time we got to our room, night had set in and we decided to use the free WiFi to search for cheaper accommodations. Franklin found a husband and wife online that ran a B&B in their apartment. They had a room available at a very decent price. He sent them a message asking to book the room and we were elated to actually receive a positive response.
The next day we canceled the rest of our stay at the hotel and found out way over to the B&B. The couple welcomed us with the overly enthusiastic personalities for which the Italians are famous. The place exceeded expectations being a rooftop flat with a large outdoor patio, 360 view of the entire city and Vesuvius looming in the background. There are no words to properly describe the incredible hospitality of our hosts. They shared traditional foods with us and we stayed up late drinking wine while we listened to the adventures of our host Mario and the incredible stories that he collected as he traveled the world as a photo journalist.
Needless to say, things turned out well in the end. Just in case you were wondering, we did get a refund from the site which we used to book the hostel and we haven’t booked through it since. Lesson learned: Make sure your hostel exists before you arrive! An easy way to do this is to check the website of the place where you’re going to stay for recent reviews. If the last review was posted six months prior, abort booking process!
Bonus lesson: if you like your local pizza, don’t ever travel to Naples and eat pizza. It will ruin all other pizza experiences for you.