Naples: Pizza #3 at Di Matteo

Round three of pizza this morning. Our first stop was Di Matteo’s, which was less than a kilometre from our accommodation. We got there so early that it hadn’t actually opened so we stopped at a cafe for a rather expensive cappuccino (Luke) and lemon granita (me).

I absolutely hate queuing for things and so I like to arrive, if at all possible, when an attraction or restaurant opens. We keep watching docos or seeing pictures of pizza places here that are swamped with people but so far we haven’t had to wait for a thing.

Di Matteo only have a serving window so we bought one Margherita then walked down the road to a church and sat on the steps. When they hand you the pizza here it is in a sheet of paper and they fold the pizza in half then quarters to make it easier to take away. It cost all of €1.50.

We took photos and video before we ate, which isn’t as annoying as it sounds because it takes a couple of minutes for the pizza to cool down to eating temperature. I had brought along my trusty scissors and cut the pizza in half. Luke thought it would drip everywhere but using scissors worked well and I’ve been glad to have them on me.

We both liked the pizza a lot – Di Matteo has an excellent reputation. The sauce was piquant and the crust had a good texture and char but I think I prefer my pizza served flat. Folding means the topping and crust get squished. Plus serving on paper means the oil does inevitably start to drip and you have to watch out or it gets on your clothes.

After the pizza we took the funicular up to the Castel san Elmo and admired the view. There’s not actually a whole lot to do there apart from a small modern art gallery in the centre but the view from the ramparts is 360 degrees and positively stunning.

Tonight we’re going to another restaurant so I look forward to eating my pizza on a plate and maybe having another Aperol Spritz. I think it is a drink that will now always remind me of Italy, much as peach iced tea now reminds me of Turkey.

Lovely!

First Pizza in Naples!

I have never really heard anything good about Naples that wasn’t pizza-related. Perhaps a rumour about good museums, but when people talk about the city it is always as something of a cesspool of humanity and actual garbage.

To be honest, this photo could just have easily been taken in Rome or (language aside) London.

Perhaps it was to see if it was really as bad as people say that I decided I wanted to come here. I mean, could it really be more filthy than some Asian capitals like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh? And of course with Luke’s pizza obsession we were going to come here eventually.

We arrived by train and I was surprised at how new and shiny the main station was and linea 1 was entirely air conditioned too.

Also can I just show you this outfit that I took a sneaky photo of as this lady was getting off the train? Totally irrelevant but what an amazing item of clothing. Where would you even buy something like that? Not that I need to know since I’d never do it justice but… wow. Also I’d have it soaked in massive and undignified sweat patches within about five seconds of getting off the train but that’s a different matter.

When we reached our Airbnb flat the owner told us that the station is so nice because it is only a year old and it wasn’t representative of the rest of the network. Too bad!

Our Airbnb has also recently been done up and has some rather interesting lighting features – three colour-controllable LED strips in one wall and strip lighting around the ceiling. It’s more tasteful than it sounds and it’s actually a spacious apartment too, with lots of food available for breakfast and snacks. Pastries, biscuits, milk and juices. Very nice! We bought a litre bottle of Bombay Sapphire in the Croatian duty free ($35 AUD – bargain!) that we are taking with us from place to place for our evening post prandial drinks.

Also the apartment is on the ground floor, which is always nice! Especially in Naples where there are miles of stairs everywhere anyhow.

The atrium of our apartment block.

Now I have a travel tip for you!

We have gotten into the habit, if there isn’t an ice cube tray in our freezer, of pouring water into the bottom of some glasses before we go out exploring then freezing the whole. This means a nice cold glass into which you can pour wine or whatever when you get home after a day’s hard sightseeing.

So refreshing!

Luke had done some research and made a map of pizzerias that are generally considered top-notch. One was quite a walk from the others so we decided to hit that one first. Plus it had tables so we could dine in. Quite a few Neopolitan pizzerias are just grab-and-go storefronts.

It opened at 7pm so we had time to walk around a bit. Naples street art seems to be a cut above anything we saw in Rome. Which wouldn’t be hard since all we saw in Rome was tagging. Urgh.

We tried to find a bar for a drink but they all seemed to be stand-up affairs. I found a blog that said drinking isn’t big in Naples. What? Italians not big on drinking? This didn’t really fit all my stereotypes of Italian culture. More research will be required.

We got back to Starita as they opened and had already decided what we wanted. We were having their traditional Margherita and their specialty, a deep fried pizza. For this one the crust is deep fried until it is puffy then quickly baked with topping on.

I preferred the traditional, Luke preferred the fried crust but both were excellent.

While I would not go anywhere near so far as to say we are experts, we know a reasonable amount about pizza. Luke helped kick-start a pizza documentary that we have watched several times and if you read our entry on pizza in New York you’ll know how much we love it. I also like making my own from scratch at home so I was keen to get ideas on how to improve it.

Naples is the birthplace of pizza, but from Naples pizza spread via migrants to New York and Boston before being popularised in the rest of Italy. It began as a way for bakers to slightly cool the base of their ovens so that loaves of bread would not burn. To stop the pizza inflating like a balloon (as pita bread does), tomato sauce would be spread on it. This became a cheap early morning food for workers in Naples and then its popularity meant pizza was served all day. Putting cheese on pizza didn’t happen immediately – the Margherita was invented to honour a queen and the basil added to pay homage to Italy’s flag.

In Australia we think of ‘marinara’ as a seafood pizza but here it means a pizza with only tomato sauce and herbs, no cheese. Pizza here is very different to pizza in most other places. It is cooked unbelievably quickly – in as little as a minute – and the sauce is pure pulped tomatoes. The base is charred but the whole thing is a bit soupy in the middle and there isn’t as much cheese as we like to pile on at home. The joy of Neapolitan pizza is in the freshness of the ingredients. For the true traditional pizza the tomatoes must have been grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. The tomatoes taste so tangy and salty-sweet that, combined with the olive oil and cheese there is a buttery-richness that is magical.

All styles of pizza are good and pizza is a dish that is reinvented over and over around the world. Experiencing it in Naples doesn’t mean you have had the world’s best, it means you have added a dimension to your appreciation of it. At least that’s my feelings on the subject!

I would love to know what other people have thought of pizza they have eaten in Naples – or anywhere around the world! Where have you most or least enjoyed it?

Eltham Palace, a Medieval Festival and NEON!

I spent a rather varied day yesterday. I discovered a medieval tournament was going to happen not too far away so I caught a train, then light rail, then a bus, and arrived at Eltham (pronounced elt-am) Palace just after the event started. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that the thing was going to be held in a field so I only ended up staying for two hours (hay fever) but they were very enjoyable!

Tickets to the tournament also entitled everyone to wander around the buildings.

Eltham was originally a church, then a royal residence for one of the Henrys, then fell into disrepair. At the beginning of the 20th century it was bought by a very wealthy couple who restored it and built on a stunning art deco house.

They were keen entertainers and everyone from politicians and royalty to movie stars came here to get away from it all. The ceiling in the photo above was my favourite part – not lights, it’s a glass and cement dome.

However much of it was damaged in the Second World War and the owners moved away. Eventually it was taken on by the National Trust and is used today for a range of events including weddings.

The tournament was happening in a field out the back and so I had a wander around, watched the falconry show, and chatted to the guys in the beer tent who told me that rubbing nettles on myself might cure my hay fever. Nice try, I said, and didn’t.

I drank some rhubarb cider…

And ate a traditional medieval burger…

And listened to some story-telling…

Then it was time for the main event! The jousting!

The jousting was an entirely authentic experience (well, as much as could be). The four men and horses who performed the jousts were professional jousters, which I didn’t realise was a thing, and I learned ( in the beer tent) that each horse cost a thousand pounds to insure for the day.

The jousting, once the talking-it-up and the make-the-crowd-hoarse-with-cheering bit was over, was quite fast paced and very impressive. The rules were explained and everyone in the crowd got right into it.

If my eyes hadn’t been filled with pollen or grass seed or whatever I would’ve stayed all day.

Before I left I had a walk around the interactive tent-displays and chatted to various stall holders about how they got into doing what they were doing and historical accuracy and the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism, a global medieval revival group that I was once part of) which is not very big in the UK, since they probably had all their historical recreation stuff in full swing before the SCA got going in America.

After leaving Eltham I caught a dizzying array of public transport to Walthamstowe. Even though I had to change buses and trains a bunch of times the longest I had to wait was 10 minutes and having Google maps to direct me at every stage made the whole thing so painless I couldn’t help but reflect on what a difference technology has made to travel in the last two decades.

I was in Walthamstowe because I’d read there was a neon store that was Instagram-tastic.

And there was.

God’s Own Junkyard was terrific.

It was glorious. I love lights and colour and this place immediately lifted the spirits.

I think I heard someone say all the signs were for sale!

When I win the lottery I will come back.

There was also a craft brewer and a gin place next door. If you have time and you’re in east London on a weekend I highly recommend making the trip and trying the apple pie, which I feel goes well with something as all-American as neon.

The Museums and Galleries Of London

I have been to so many museums in the last week or two that I hardly know where to begin. I had no idea London had so many and I didn’t even make it to all the ones I wanted to go to – I haven’t yet been to the Garden Museum and I saw a poster for a Goscinny and Uderzo (who created Astrix and Obelix) exhibition at the Jewish Museum and I didn’t make it to the Geology Museum or the Foundling Museum either.

I’ve already written about the London Museum and the Natural History Museum (both worthwhile and both free entry) so here are the others.

The Wallace Collection (fine art and armoury)

The WC (an unfortunate abbreviation) is an excellent collection in an outstanding building and, if you like design, worth a visit for the wallpaper alone. Check these rooms out!

It is home to some very famous artworks, my favourite was The Swing. When I was little we had one large book in our house on the history of art and I loved this painting most of all. To come upon it unexpectedly made me very happy.

Although the building isn’t huge it is like a jewellery box, fully of shiny and delightful things.

I could’ve posted a dozen photos but this entry is going to be long enough as is. Just trust me, if you like fine art get to this gallery!

The Wellcome Museum (medical history)

This museum is just over the road from Euston Station and free to enter so if you’re interested in medical history I’d recommend going, just be warned that despite being in a big building the displays aren’t huge, possibly because the Science Museum is about to open a big medical exhibition using items from the WM collection. Either way, the real draw of the Wellcome is the gift shop, which has a fun range of quirky things I haven’t seen elsewhere.

The exhibitions that were on while I was there included one on …

It was kind of gross but interesting.

… and weird. Pretty weird.

There was also a small display about obesity and an art exhibition. I couldn’t tell you what the theme of it was, but one room had giant pictures of cows wearing artwork woven out of insemination straws. I’m not kidding.

Another room had a display on HIV and gay culture. I liked the wallpaper. The art was mainly messy paintings that didn’t really appeal to me.

If I had to pick two themes of my photography in the last fortnight I’d go with stairwells and wallpaper, which is not what I would’ve expected on arriving in London, but there you go.

The last Wellcome exhibition piece was a group of films by a woman who learned to free-dive and each film was a single dive. It was very atmospheric and doesn’t translate well to photography but if you’re reading this and in London, it might be up your alley. I liked it but it felt quite claustrophobic after a while.

Anyhow, go browse the gift shop!

The British Museum (ancient history)

I’m doing these all out of order – the BM was the second last museum I visited. Another great piece of architecture but it didn’t take me long to wander through and recall why I didn’t spend long here when I visited last time. I love ancient history but I have almost zero interest in sculpture or historical relics. I read through the displays in the Alexander room and that was about it.

Going to all these museums has really made me think about what interests me and what is worth my time. Admittedly I’ve had heaps of time in London thanks to my hay fever but if I only had a few days I’d think really hard about what I wanted to see because there is an almost endless variety.

The Victoria and Albert Museum (um… everything?)

I was a bit blurgh on the day I went to the V&A and the thing I liked best was putting my feet in the pool. The V&A is a weird museum, it has a bit of everything and I think I would’ve had a better visit if I’d researched and gone to see a specific thing. I did admire the William Morris dining room but otherwise I wasn’t terribly inspired. I’d certainly give it another go when I felt a bit more energetic.

The Science Museum

I wandered in here on the same day I did the V&A and therefore wasn’t probably in the best frame of mind. However I can see the SM would be an amazing place to take kids and there’s something there for almost anyone.

I didn’t even take many photos in the SM. it was certainly deserving of more attention than I gave it.

Tate Britain (art through history, excepting whatever goes into the Tate Modern I suppose).

This was the first place I visited on this trip and I loved it. LOVED IT. I love fine art and the TB (another bad acronym) has a large Pre-Raphaelite collection. It was like a ‘greatest hits’ parade of romantic paintings.

There were lots of people sketching artworks and it made the gallery feel very lived-in… if that makes sense.

The thing that tickled me most in the TB was the entry hall installation. The artist had covered the entry in tiles…

And scattered sculptures around but also had a person dressed as a squash lounging around, just stretching and wandering.

Watching people watching this person-vegetable was terrific. People smiled, made eye contact with strangers, wondered out loud what it could possibly mean.

The TB, while not as outrageously fabulous as the Natural History Museum, had its own architectural beauty.

The John Soane Museum (architecture and Victorian life)

The JSM is an unusual museum on several levels – literal and metaphorical. It is the collection of one man and displayed in his house. John Soane was an architect and I wish I’d learned a bit more about him before going to his house because there aren’t labels on anything, to help preserve the feel of the experience. Photography is not allowed in the building, however I did take this sneaky shot in the toilets.

First time I’d used an original!

There were a lot of staff around who were happy to explain things but I wasn’t feeling talkative that day. Plus most of the collection is sculpture so not entirely my thing. The house itself was quite interesting with much of the original furniture in place.

The Cartoon Museum

The very last museum I visited! Almost over the road from the British Museum, the Cartoon Museum is quite small and costs £7 to enter. However if you are interested in cartoons I’d recommend dropping in.

Danger Mouse! One of my childhood favourites.

Some of the displays were familiar, some new. Some were one page of a book or series, some were one-off pieces.

The Saatchi Gallery

More like an Australian art gallery than any of the others, the SG has big white rooms and big artworks. When I went there were four or five exhibitions. I particularly liked one by a collage artist who did huge works on photographed backgrounds.

So my advice, if you want to see museums and galleries in London, is to do some research and think about what you like. Don’t waste time on a big name if you don’t actually like that style or period – for example I think the Tate Modern is outstanding, but don’t go unless you like modern art or you’ll waste half a day and walk five kilometres around the gallery for nothing. I’ve learned not to bother with miles of rooms of statues.

I enjoy variety when I travel and I think I’ve had my fill of high culture for now – the next week is all about visiting family, Luke arriving (yay!) and then back to Andrew’s and a visit to Luke’s family before Lauren arrives and we’re off to sun ourselves on Croatian beaches.

But first I need to finish writing up what I’ve done in London. I hope you didn’t think this was it!

Horses, Horticulture and History: A Day Out In London.

I was up early and decided to walk some of the way towards Kew Gardens from my Airbnb room in Lambeth.

I was walking along Grosvenor St beside the Thames when I heard a great clattering noise behind me.

About fifty horses out being exercised! It was both a magnificent sight and sound. All the more special because I was virtually alone on the street when they went past. I daresay this is a regular occurrence so if you want to see them try going to the spot at about 8:30 on a Sunday morning.

Alternatively, you could also hang out at Sloane Square, where I saw them again ten minutes later.

I caught the tube from Sloane Square to Kew Gardens and then had to wait a short while to get in. I was glad I’d bought my ticket online as I walked straight through when 10am rolled around and by then quite a queue had formed at the ticket window.

Kew Gardens are huge.

A whopping 326 acres in which there are a wide variety of themes gardens, artworks, wide avenues and, most famously, architecture.

The structure above is the Palm House, the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world. I imagine it would be a treat to step inside on a cold, winter’s day. On a stunning 24 degree English summer day it was far too hot and steamy. Still interesting though.

I wandered all over the gardens and admired it all. My favourite aspects would have to be the wide grassy avenues…

The walled gardens…

and the absolute highlight was the rose garden behind the Palm House.

Obviously it looked outstanding but the magic was the scent. So many roses so close together on a hot, windless day – the perfume just hung in the air like a heavenly cloud. I cannot, in words, express how delightful it was – you’ll just have to go see for yourself.

As I left the gardens (it took me 3.5 hours to see nearly everything) many more people were coming in. The parts of the gardens round the entrances and cafes were heaving with people but it was easy to get away from them by walking only a few hundred metres.

Next stop was the British Natural History Museum, a weird but wonderful hybrid of Victorian Gothic and fanciful Egyptian architecture. I don’t know who designed it but I can tell they had a great time.

I didn’t really have anything I wanted to see, I just thought I’d wander around. Apparently the other half of London (who weren’t at Kew) had thought the same thing.

Lucky it’s a huge building! I first had a look at a display of shells. It reminded me of a conversation I’d recently seen on Facebook about political correctness and insulting people effectively. If you want to be creative try one of these on for size:

I wouldn’t be pleased if someone called me a ‘three knobbled conch’! Baffle your enemies by letting them know they’re a…

‘Distaff spindle’! That’ll really leave them worried. Or how about a ‘distorted anus shell’?

Maybe not.

There’s a lot to be learnt about self defence from our underwater friends.

All this was getting a bit HP Lovecraft so I went to have a look at rocks.

Now I’m hungry.

Two kilos!

The pyramid of little sparkly stones shows all the colours diamonds come in. Not too impressive in a photo but very interesting in reality. Also many glow under uv light!

There was also an interesting display of taxidermied pheasants (interesting to me and no one else probably) and apart from that I just wandered about trying not to run into people or get frustrated at all the slow walkers.

Eventually I exited through the gift shop and walked home via a pub for dinner.

All in all a great day out! Here’s a few more photos of Kew to finish with.

Lovely in both the macro and the micro.

A Bit of Buttermere

I camped the night by the lake in Keswick and then caught the 77a bus to Buttermere via Honister Pass. Last time we were in the UK we risked death and drove Honister Pass ourselves in dark and misty weather. This time I wasn’t driving and it was broad sunshine. Far superior!

It is still one of the most dramatic roads I think I’ve ever been down (almost equal to Canada’s Icefields Parkway and certainly more hair-raising) – if you’re in the Lake District do yourself a favour and catch the bus and see for yourself.

Although I wasn’t driving I didn’t manage any decent photos through the bus windows so you’ll have to take my word for it and go.

The bus was packed and it was a relief to get off in Buttermere village, a tiny hamlet that sits between the two bodies of water that are Buttermere and Crummock Water. Naming towns and lakes the same thing is annoying and it happens a lot in Cumbria. There’s also about a dozen each of Angle Tarns, Castle Crags, Raven Crags and Blea Tarns, to mention but a few. Also you wouldn’t believe how many Grouse Butts I’ve found on the maps (tee hee).

The bus stops at the picturesque Fish Inn.

Buttermere has been recommended to me by many people and also features heavily on Lakeland Instagram communities but nothing really prepares you for the beauty of its steeps mountains and crystal waters.

First I walked up the side of the valley towards Bleaberry Tarn until the path became too steep (story of my life) then I did a lap around the lake.

The water was so inviting that I took off my shoes and socks and hobbled a little way along (some of the stones are a bit sharp) and was surprised at how warm the water was.

It was good 6km round and there was a man in a van selling ice creams halfway.

There were many people and many dogs all the way along, a great deal of whom seemed to want to speak in a shouting volume or walk in large groups across the path and at a glacial rate. Still, I was there, so I suppose I can’t really resent everyone else for wanting to be there as well. I just wish they’d all pipe down.

The bus back was even more packed than the bus there and we got to experience that classic moment when two large vehicles come around a bend and one has to reverse, with a stone wall on one side and cliff wall on the other.

I had complete faith in our driver as he reversed the bus about 20 metres back around a sharp corner so a truck could get by.

We all gave him a round of applause after, obviously. As the truck indicates, it was indeed pure Lake District;-)

Back in Keswick I felt in need of an early night but first had to take a few photos of the canada geese that had brought their goslings up the bank to ravage the grass.

On my Instagram and Facebook I’ve posted a video of the moment one of the geese took offence at my presence and I squealed and scurried away.

Into town for a bite of dinner and a couple of little bottles of gin and I was set to lie in my tent giggling away to PG Wodehouse’s ‘Joy in the Morning’, which is the best Wooster and Jeeves book I think I’ve read yet.

I’m not really achieving my reading goal for the year but it’s mainly because I’m so tired each evening – not a bad thing at all!

Belfast Bits and Pieces

Belfast is certainly a different city to the place I visited in 2003. Admittedly the amazing weather and longer time I’ve had to see it have played apart, but it can’t be denied that there is a much more cosmopolitan vibe to the place now.

On our last day of driving around we kept things low key and stuck to Belfast, seeing Danny’s new house and a few tourist attractions, starting with a ‘Melbourne breakfast’. Obviously it was avocado with fancy bits on sourdough but also a smidge of vegemite too. Very nice!

Ulster Museum was on my to-do list after I’d seen it online and it was a great place to get a feel for Northern Ireland’s history, from prehistoric times to the current day.

They used to have dragons!

On the very top floor of the museum is a display dedicated to Ireland’s current #1 tourism drawcard – you guessed it – Game of Thrones.

An enormous tapestry (currently 84 metres and growing) tells the story in the style of the Bayeux Tapestry. Having seen all but the most recent season, it was interesting walking along and picking out the plot points.

The signs warning people not to touch the cloth were also in keeping with the theme.

The Museum also has a partially-unwrapped mummy. Danny said it gave him nightmares as a child. I can’t think why.

The Belfast Botanical Gardens are worth a visit if you like that sort of thing, and if you’re there on a cold day I’d definitely recommend a stroll through the heated Ravine building, which contained tropical plants from around the world.

There’s also a Victorian glasshouse with some very interesting specimens.

We took a stroll around the gardens of the big building (um… parliament? Danny, help!) in the very first photo and also drove up to Belfast Castle. It was built in the Scottish Baronial Style in 1862 by the Marquis of Donegal.

A little bit Hogwarts?

It is always nice to see historical buildings being in regular use and this castle is now a function hall and restaurant. The gardens contain sculptures, topiaries and mosaics of cats. We walked around and found a few after having a drink and a sit in the sun.

A post about the sights of Belfast would be incomplete without some photos of the murals that can still be found in various places around the city. Since my knowledge of NI history is far from complete I won’t comment on the political situation except to say that many of the more violent murals we saw years ago have been replaced but there are still a few giant paintings of men in balaclavas with machine guns in hand.

In the city centre there is plenty of (what I think of as) Melbourne-style street art. Beautiful and quirky images that go well with the new bars and restaurants.

The last bar we had a drink in was The Sunflower. Years ago people had been shot in this bar, hence the gate at the door. Now it’s a gay friendly meeting place with ukulele jam nights.

How things change!

I was sorry to leave Belfast but felt certain I’d be back.

Thanks so much to Danny and Peter for their outstanding hospitality and I look forward to repaying you in Australia!

Next stop: Carlisle and finishing off The Cumbria Way. But just before I go, a last Ulster Fry…