Pizza by a Piazza

Looking back after years of traveling, I realize I've learned something from every trip I've ever taken.

Visiting Naples recently is a prime example. A city that bustles with high energy morning, noon and night, almost everything they say about Naples is true — even its faults.

With almost two million inhabitants, Naples is the third largest city in Italy. Known today for its enormous pile of trash that, at times, seems to invade even the most elegant neighborhoods — it even sits (and smells) in front of luxurious five-star hotels — Naples has had its share of occasional political corruption, even giving rise to tales about the Mafia.

It is also a town filled with excitement, great food, happy people and amazing history.

Sure, you probably won't be able to chow down on bagels and lox, but if you're a pizza lover, as I am, get ready for the real thing. Naples is where pizza was born.

And while everyone probably has a favorite spot to indulge in the tomato-and-cheese pie, many swear by the legendary Da Michele, a bustling bistro that claims its elastic dough makes the pizzas delicious and easier to digest. Add me to the list of patrons who agree, even though you might have to wait in line for an hour or more as the feeding frenzy gets under way.

Greeks founded the city of Naples back in the 7th century BCE. The ancient design of the city still exists today. Three long parallel streets cross the center of the city, with many small, narrow and dark streets connecting them.

Naples is a walking city, like so many others in Europe. But beware. Its traffic jams are historic and its streets often noisy and crowded. Chaos can be the watchword here, especially in the old district where there are no rules, no sidewalks and no traffic lights.

Pedestrians and motor bikes share the same space yet, amazingly, it all seems to work.

Perhaps one of the best — and safest ways — to view Naples and get a realistic feel for its beauty, as well as its flaws, is to climb aboard a city sightseeing bus that wanders through the area of Santa Lucia, Mergellina and the hills of Posillipo, all the romantic places mentioned in Neapolitan songs that have helped make the city famous.

Naples is situated on a bay with views of Capri and Ischia Islands, which can be reached easily by ferry or hydrofoil. Do take the time to go to the islands and enjoy a marvelous afternoon outing, plus the chance to buy some terrific souvenirs

Later, visit the Sibyl's Cave of Cumae, site of mystic rites; the Argaonese castle in Baia, a magical museum with a modern and extremely atmospheric exhibition of recently discovered findings in the area. Then it's off to the Solfatara, a fascinating dormant volcano where you can still see bubbling mud pools.

Aside from being able to visit many museums here, you'll find many references to religious architecture that belong to the Baroque and Rococo styles, although there are also some interesting medieval samples as well that attest to the importance of Naples during this period.

For example, the first Jews to settle in Naples are recorded around the 1st century under the Romans. Today, the Synagogue of Naples still exists at Via Cappella Vecchia 31.

The building is located in the Palazzo Sessa and was inaugurated in 1864, thanks to the influence of Baron Rothschild.

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