Corso Umberto is an eclectic yet leisurely shopping street. The shops keep their distance from each other, dignified in their fronts adapted from well-to-do gentry buildings. There even is the occasional pair of trees to line a particularly important doorway, between a watchmaker’s and a high end fashion shop with the most adorable baby clothing you’ll ever see.
Of course, this being Napoli, there street is being worked from every angle imaginable, and as you walk along a bustling army of street vendors reappears from the side alleys, to set up their stalls advertising high quality knock-offs of your favorite bags to watches and shoes, and everything else that can be quickly wrapped up in a bedsheet should the police decide to sweep the street.
Since you’ve made it this far, it’s time to reward yourself with a powerful espresso and maybe a cream-filled pastry, in one of the many bars along the way. The tiny-looking entrances often bely long establishments that somehow managed to fit a full length bar and a few tables inside what must have once been an over sized shoe-box.
Sit back as the sun caresses the treetops, and enjoy the chill in the air while it lasts. The waiter will be along shortly, either a husky young Neapolitan man, or a trim dignified career professional, both clad in an immaculate uniform that would make most generals look sloppy. In any case, enjoy the view as your personal liveried bellboy takes your order, and heads back to have it prepared.
Coffee in Napoli is a quick affair, and lingering overlong is often frowned upon. Besides, we’re still barely halfway across Corso Umberto, and there is so very much to see still. Give one more wistful sigh in honor of your waiter, and let’s keep moving on, past the shops and traffic. By now, all that is left of the rain is the memory and the musky smell in the air, as the sun’s heat starts washing over stone and flesh alike.
Move past the main squares and stately university fronts, and you’ll soon reach the end of Corso Umberto. It’s been a long walk, and there’s another guy on a horse in the square. Time for a change of pace. Instead of continuing up the main roads towards Via Medina, turn right instead.
Only a short walk downhill through some of Napoli’s famous alleyways lies the sea. There are fewer shops here, more bars, more people looking at a decked out tourist out of curiosity, in case she accidentally bursts in a cloud of money.
This is as much Napoli as the promenades and hills, bars and pizzerias. Here, the rain still clings to windows and walls, still drips from clotheslines and yet somehow did not manage to make it down to the grime in the corners. The road is short, but worth the small walk, as you step out across from Napoli’s great ferry terminal.
Here, the view is closer to what you might expect from a postcard of the city; its two great arms right and left, trying to grasp the horizon itself. Boats, cars, sun-blasted alleyways and water as far as the eye can see.
Depending on the day, you’ll see none to half a dozen cruise ships docked on the calm, surprisingly clean waters. That’s not what we’re here for, however. Cross the road, carefully, and reach the terminal itself. Then, turn around, and try not to gape too much. Welcome to Napoli.