Giovanni’s Home, Naples
November 19th, 2009
We spent four nights in Naples, and I need to write about the place we stayed. The hostel was called Giovanni’s Home, quite literally because that’s what it was. It’s a dorm-style hostel with bunkbeds. It has a well equipped kitchen, although it’s really small. None of the toilets have toilet seats. The showers have hardly any water pressure and very little hot water. It’s on the third floor in a building on a small street, with a staircase that’s steep and tiring no matter how many times you go up it. And it was the most enjoyble, most fun hostel that we’ve stayed in yet.
You might be wondering what this hostel’s redeeming quality was. The answer is simple: it was Giovanni himself. As our host, he single-handedly transformed his little hostel into a charming refuge from the busy city. On our arrival, before we even dropped our bags, he brought us cold water to drink – which was especially delicious after the stairs. We then sat down and listened while Giovanni told us about Naples. Over the course of an hour, he drew us a personalized map, recommended places for pizza and gelato, warned us of the dangerous streets to avoid, explained how the mafia in Naples actually reduces petty crime (a bonus for tourists, as bad as that sounds), and talked us through pages of guidebook recommendations while suggesting which he thought were worth our time and which weren’t. It was one of the best orientations we’ve had, of any city. And what makes it especially impressive is that we watched as Giovanni gave this same courteous treatment to every new guest that arrived, one to one.
The first thing we did was to try his recommendation for pizza. The place was called Gino Sorbillo’s, and it was right around the corner. It was awesome – I’ve never had pizza that good, and I don’t expect I will again (unless we make it back to Naples one day). Apparently Gino had 21 children, all with the same wife, and almost all of them have also gone into the business of pizza making. The pizza was fresh and cheap and huge. A few days later we also tried a place called Da Michele, which was recommended by a friend. It had only two choices of pizza, a margherita or a marinara, both of which cost more than the Gino’s equivalent. It was also very good pizza, but as Giovanni said himself, “the worst pizza in Naples is the best pizza anywhere else”. Back at Gino Sorbillo’s, which we visited nearly everyday, one of my favourites was the Ribieno, which was like a calzone, with mozarella and spicy salami inside, and tomato sauce and basil outside. It was a must-try for anyone visiting Naples.
Having been so impressed by Giovanni’s first suggestion, we followed his advice on many other things with similar success. We walked through the streets of Naples, dodging cars and scooters, and learned to avoid making eye contact with motorists (unlike back home, in Naples that means that you see them, and they take it as a sign that you’ll avoid being run over by dodging out of the way. The better method to cross the street is simply to look straight ahead, step out, and hope). We decided as we walked that the city has a really grungy character that’s somehow different than “dirty”. Mostly that means that there were a lot of street vendors, a lot of graffiti and a lot of run-down looking buildings. Naples is a city that has a reputation for being dirty and dangerous, but we quickly felt comfortable and safe thanks in large part to Giovanni’s advice. We took a tour of subterranean Naples, where we saw ancient aqueducts and cities buried beneath the new city. We ate excellent gelato, visited castles, and marvelled at Naples’ booming miniatures market.
The icing on the cake, however, were the two nights that we stayed in for dinner, and Giovanni cooked for us. Not only for us, but actually for everyone who was staying in the hostel. He made fresh pasta, deep fried pizza, and marmelade desserts. We drank wine that we bought for one and a half euros from a barrel in a shop downstairs. And the result was that we actually met and befriended everyone who was staying there with us. After the first dinner, Giovanni brought out his guitar and taught us all some traditional Italian songs to sing with him (we still have them in our heads). After this warm up, Giovanni passed me the guitar, and I tried my best to entertain with some Flight of the Conchords tunes. Meg happened to mention in passing while I was playing that I also play the violin. It turned out that Giovanni also had a violin, which he promptly brought out. I haven’t played since I was about 14 years old, and I’m afraid that the performance was quite terrible, but it was fun anyways.
We can’t recommend this hostel strongly enough. It was a fantastic four days, and we owe much to the fantastic time we had with Giovanni and the people we met at his place. Naples is a great city, but this experience made it even better. Grazie Giovanni!