“I’m not panicking,” I growled at Rich. “I’m just saying all the coffee sellers appear to be on strike.”
I’m rarely at my best for early morning flights; I sleep fitfully, sure that I’ll miss the alarm and worried I’ll forget to pack something vital in the final mad rush to get out the door. There hadn’t been time for so much as a sip of coffee at the hotel, and arriving at the Barcelona airport to find every caffeine dispensary closed with a hand-written sign reading “huelga” (strike) was a low blow indeed. Fortunately for my sanity, we eventually discovered one barista on the job, possibly bribed by airport officials to prevent a riot. We inhaled café con leche and stumbled onto our flight to Naples, Italy.
By local standards, our cab ride to the B&B in Naples’ Spanish Quarter was sedate, with a minimum of horn blowing and only one instance of driving into oncoming traffic going the wrong way up trolley tracks. We didn’t get into real trouble until we entered our building and stepped inside the building’s ancient elevator. It wouldn't budge. We kept double-checking that the doors were shut tight, pressing the button for our floor, over and over, to no avail.
Finally we noticed a coin-fed meter on the wall.
“You have to pay to go up in the elevator?” Rich said incredulously, fishing out a five cent coin. I was exceedingly grateful he had the correct change and we weren't obliged to hike up the four flights of stairs to the B&B.
Our landlady, Anna, proved to be nearly as ancient and eccentric as the elevator. “I am a shy person,” she told me — then proceeded to talk my ear off, providing a wealth of unsolicited advice about sightseeing. “You must visit the Royal Palace!” She gave us a set of enormous keys to carry with us when we went out. “But when you come in, you must put them here,” she said, indicated a table underneath a poster showing a prehistoric statue of two men having sex. “I need to know who is in my house.”
Leading us through a labyrinth of hallways lined with tables piled with dusty books, Anna gave detailed instructions about light switches — “This goes on, this goes off!” — to make sure we didn’t burn any extra electricity. At the end of the last corridor, she led us into a spacious bedroom with high ceilings, lots of light, and artwork with erotic themes. I looked around for the bathroom. There wasn’t one.
“We were told the room came with a private bath,” I said.
“Yes, it is here,” she said, leading us back out into the hallway and past another bedroom to indicate a door. We were sharing a bath? I recalled an old movie in which, under similar circumstances, the host said, “When the brochure said ‘private’ it meant your bathroom is not open to the general public.” Luckily, it turned out that we didn’t have to share the bathroom with other guests, but still I wasn’t thrilled with the arrangement. Note to self: from now on check to make sure the description includes the words “en suite.”
The intake process involved committing to an exact time and menu for breakfast, and we soon learned she prepared the eggs and toast precisely at the appointed hour, so if we wanted them even slightly warm, we arrived on time. At 9:30 we were asked to vacate the room so the maid could come in and clean. While the maid worked, Anna rearranged our things, rehanging my toiletry kit in a less convenient spot on the towel rack, tucking my slippers into a basket, removing my underwear from the bathtub wash line to drape it on the radiator. Returning after lunch, we would find her waiting for us. “Be sure to put your keys on the table,” she’d say. “Did you see the Royal Palace?”
“It’s like living with Frau Blücher,” Rich said, referring to the officious housekeeper in the classic film Young Frankenstein.
Anna’s quirky B&B was one of the highlights of our trip to Naples. Oh sure, we could have stayed in the Hilton and had an en suite bath, the luxury of setting our own hours, hot food whenever we wanted it, free elevators, and no interrogations about our activities, the light switches, or the keys. But what fun would that have been? What stories would we tell?
So I know what you’re wondering: if we never got to the Royal Palace, how did we manage to fill our time in Napoli? Here are a few highlights.
Everyone in Naples lives as if they’ve just downed their fifth espresso, and they probably have. To adapt, Rich and I started drinking coffee in thimble-sized cups, ordering caffè (pure espresso) or macchiato (espresso with a few token drops of milk as a courtesy to our stomach lining). It’s a great way to fuel up for strolling the streets, seeing the sights, and dodging rampaging Vespas.
We’re proud to report that we survived the chaos that is Naples, and we are heading onward to new adventures in our most unplanned, disorganized trip ever.
Stay tuned for updates on our trip. I’ll be posting at unplanned, disorganized intervals, so if you’re not already on my mailing list, sign up now to make sure you don’t miss a thing.
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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