Why I Hate Naples

(originally written Wednesday, November 29th 2006)

Naples is a shithole of a city.

There, I said it. I should have learned my lesson much earlier but I was seduced this morning by a first class seat from Rome on the Eurostar. Everyone was classy and smooth-looking, so it didn’t hit me that I should take advantage of the amenities that were being offered. You know, things like a fully functioning bathroom. Instead I waited until our arrival, and by then it mean hovering over a seatless toilet, and realizing that a lack of toilet paper would make the entire experience end badly. At least I’d kept the wet-wipe the train stewardess had handed out to the first-class passengers, which kept the trip from being an utter disaster. And so, vowing to burn my boxers when I got home, and listening to broadcasted warnings about pickpockets every thirty seconds, my Naples experience began.

Boarding the Circumvesuviana commuter train that connects Naples and Sorrento (with 34 stops between them), it was a different world than any other train or subway that I’d visited in Italy. On the ride down I’d snapped numerous pictures of the countryside, marveling at the various sights. Here, I was afraid to take my camera out of my pocket for fear of exposure as a tourist. At least with dark buzzed hair, leather jacket, and a Firenze Marathon bag, I could come across as a fellow countryman in a crowd so long as I kept my mouth shut, thus not revealing myself as prey.

On board the train, I watched young toughs with a vague sneer of disinterest on my face, kept half an eye on the hordes of wandering beggars, and desperately wished I could covertly snap a picture of the ever-looming Mount Vesuvius. The two Asian women sitting across from me looked fairly nervous as the Circumvesuviana lurched from station to station, their facial features and skin color making them stand apart from everyone else. I half-expected to see them exit the train with me at Pompei Scavi, or perhaps the lesser attraction of Ercolano Scavi (Herculaneum), but instead I left them to their fate as they rode on the filthy, run-down rail car after I made my escape.

When I returned to the Pompei Scavi station quite a few hours later, I strode up to the ticket seller and firmly stated, “Sorrento.” I had known before I went to the station that Sorrento was the opposite direction of my return trip, but somehow, subconsciously, I couldn’t ask to return to Naples. It wasn’t until I’d sat on the platform for almost 15 minutes that I realized my error. Rather than buy another (correct) ticket and admit my mistake, I merely hopped across the tracks to the other platform and boarded the eventual train to Naples. I therefore cheated the Circumvesuviana of about half a euro, but somehow I didn’t feel so bad about that. After all, I was returning to Naples, that was punishment enough.

Once more in Naples, for several minutes I couldn’t find where the train station’s automated ticket machines were located. “Clearly,” I thought to myself amidst the return of the pickpocket warnings on the intercom system, “this is because someone stole the machines.” It finally turned out that the machines were located in an off-the-beaten-path room, where I discovered I had the choice of leaving Naples immediately for a two-and-a-half hour rain ride (with stops along the way) back to Rome, or I could wait an hour and then take a direct hour-and-a-half train ride back. That’s when I made my second, really bad ticketing mistake of the day. I decided to take the later train and kill an hour by wandering the streets of Naples.

Now I know that it is perhaps not fair to judge an entire city based on one neighborhood. That said? Yuck. What I saw of Naples was run down, filthy, infested with dubious-looking businesses, and—this is the kicker—populated by unhappy-looking Italians. No one wants to be here, it seems. Everyone seems sad about their lot in life, which involves being in Naples.

Naples street sceneHow depressing must it be to be perpetually surrounded by over a million people who hate where they are? And that, really, is the Naples experience. Nowhere are people standing on the corner and talking, or laughing, or getting a bite to eat. Instead people are charging forward with perpetual scowls on their faces, looking like they’d just seem someone killed in front of them. After a while, it begins to get to you, if the dirt and grime and poor conditions of the buildings hasn’t already.

I was walking by a newsstand and there was a kitten huddled next to it, mewing sadly while everyone ignored it. Now I’d like to say I brought it with me back to Rome and found it a home, but of course I didn’t. The lack of caring, or joy, or basic happiness that permeates Naples had rubbed off onto me. It took me about five minutes to even walk back to the newsstand to get a gift for a friend, because Naples made me hate life.

I ended up only taking one picture of Naples itself. I didn’t really want to remember my trip here, I had told myself. That, and taking out my camera seemed like a quick way to lose it. But alone in a relatively calm section of the city, I ended up snapping my single shot. Looking at the picture now, it’s as I remember it. Featureless, soulless, slightly dirty. Welcome to Naples.

By the time I got on my train I was relieved. I’d left all the garbage and grunge and disdain behind. I ended up closing my eyes and napping for much of the trip. When I stepped off the train and onto the platform at Rome’s Termini station, everything seemed so different. Was it the physical structure of the station? No, it was more than that, I quickly realized. It was that the people in Rome were happy to be there. And so was I.

12 thoughts on “Why I Hate Naples

  1. luigi mosca says:

    dear Mr. McElhatton,

    I’m a journalist writing for the local Neapolitan section of the major Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. Currently working on travel blogs about Naples. We wonder whether you could send some little personal data about yourself (such as where are you from, age, profession), so to include your report in our article.

    Sincerely Yours,

    Luigi Mosca

  2. Dave Wade says:

    After living here for 1.5 years I am ready to volunteer for duty in the Middle East, actually I have served for 4 months in Kuwait and worked 1 month in Bahrain and I honestly feel Naples is a worse place to live than the 2 places I have been in the Middle East. Just an opinion, but honestly the place is the grande shithole.

  3. Link says:

    Imagine my surprise when I first arrived in Italy, for the first time, at Naples! Napoli! It was not the Italy I had seen in TV or read.

    Anyway, six years later, for personal reasons, I have to either fly into Naples or take a train that requires me to switch train at the Stazione Centrale. I have explored various neighborhoods of the city, around the train station, the city center, bad neighborhoods, Surrento, etc. However, I still dislike and cannot get used to the lack of respect for public property, the dirtiness and the messiness. Sure it’s better than Congo or most parts of India, still, I don’t see how they can be even close to a European city as part of the EU.

    Regardless, while I would watch my back as I would in any other cities. I wouldn’t hesitate to take all the photos I want. Heck, I even turned down a good offer at a good IT company just because I didn’t care to live there.

    I didn’t live in Naples, I still don’t and I wouldn’t in the futuer. However, even as a visitor, I only got used to passing through the biggest city in southern Italy.

  4. juan says:

    All the things that are dais are true, but that’s only the “pretty” part. I have to stay 3 days in this shithole, or Naples as others said, and i only wish i never wolked these streets. It the worst place i ever been, and i’m an latinamerican. The people is the worst human being in the world, nobody knows english or spanish and no one care. For the assholes -or napolitanians- there’s no other world that the shit that they call napoli. If you are passing by, the people, the motorcycles and cars think that you’re invisible. I will say no more, because i don leave this shit, and i don’t want that nothing arruined my scape.

  5. pietro says:

    Hi. I’m Neapolitan so I can say you that what you’ve written is ABSOLUTELY false. Naples is the CONTRARY of your description and I REALLY don’t know which part of my city you visited! The snapshot illustrates one of the WORST parts of my beautiful city. If you’d had a city map on your hands ad if you’d reached the city-centre (patrimonio dell’UNESCO since 1995 i HAVE to remember) you would have discovered a colourful and vibrant city with a lovely way of living life. The happiness and friendliness of neapolitan is well known all over the word! These are the places where you should have gone: http://www.italyguides.it/it/napoli/napoli.htm !! Our panorama (Posillipo, la Certosa di San Martino, especially at night) is one of the most beautiful in Italy! There is a famous song about our liveliness: “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aS6-b7CONDI” that’s amore! WHEN THE WORLD SEEMS TO SHINE JUST TO HAVE TOO MUCH WINE…A GAY TARANTELLA..VITA BELLA! How you dare to define my sunny city featureless and soulless!! Probably you aren’t a good tourist and you have visited the ugliest part of the city (N.B every city has its own touristic places, also Naples: you HAD to visit THESE places..not the ugly periphery!). VERGOGNA!

  6. Cairo001 says:

    Hi,I have been living in Napoli for three months, it is a very interesting city, the pizza is the best, the buildings are beautiful but the majority of the people….mamma mia!! Very ignorant, rude and impatient!! I know it is the culture of the majority of Neapolitans but the mentality is incredible…..I am sorry, there are very few good points…I have been ripped off so many times, been classed as a ´tourist´ and shopkeepers and restaurant workers just think i am stupid…..dont get me wrong, there are beautiful places here, more so than places that i have been…..it´s just the mentality, no order, no rules…..and the police and officials…..phewwww….sorry, anybody else agree??????

  7. Damian says:

    I am an American that has been living here for the last 3 years. Having said that I can honestly say Naples is the arm pit of Europe. The “proud” people here both men and women(not all but almost) are the scum of the earth. conniving, whoring, liars and dirt bags. Can’t wait to leave…

  8. J.L. says:

    Hi guys,

    I live in a city near Naples and I’ve honestly to say that the problem is only for the city of Naples that doesn’t rappresent the whole cities of South-Italy.
    Near Naples there many amazing and interesting cities like :

    Castellammare di Stabia (80000 peoples)
    In these places you’ll never find theves or something else and the people know how to speak English and others foreign langueges because we’re more used to receive the tourists with our wonderfull beaches , our history ,our clubs and our good food.
    The next time come and see these cities and you’ll never forget your holiday!

  9. Nate says:

    I think you should never travel again in your life! Naples is a city in another country. This ain’t America buddy. You sound so closed minded and soft. Please do is a real favor and never really travel to a third world country (3/4 the world over) I’d hate to see you outside a comfort zone of perfect traffic and impoverished citizens. You insult every traveller by your fancy “can’t bear to see this” Victorian views on the world. Next time just stay home.

  10. valter says:

    Napoli is the uglyest city in europe. dirty city and dirty people. Lots of thieves, really dangerous. All monuments are in terrible conditions. The garbage on the street is worse than you can imagine. Everybody is corrupted there.

  11. […] Greg McElhatton says “Naples made me hate life.” Leif Petterson says he went around looking for gems in Naples and found none. He ends his travelogue with a passionate suggestion “Don’t go to Naples!” Hal Licino issues a similar advisory “Avoid Naples” but in much stronger terms. […]

Comments are closed.