Giovanni’s Home, Naples

Giovanni

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.

Pizza miniature

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.

Subterranean Naples

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.

Mark on violin

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!

Comments

  1. Mother Goose

  2. Fantastic story. Wish I could give Giovanni a big kiss from Mama for taking such could care of his Canadian guests.

  3. Bruce the Moose

  4. Napoli is great – I love the bit about the Mafia keeping down the petty crime…
    Good to see you are having fun at every turn.
    Pa

  5. Cougar pack

  6. I have to go meet giovanni one day. I can’t imagine better pizza then the pizza at teeny’s, but if Naples has better pizza, I’m there!

  7. Paul RICHARDSON

  8. Mark,

    Did you play some “Hurt Feelings” for Giovanni? Did Giovanni tell you that you are not a rapper, if so hopefully you didn’t cry tears of a rapper.

    The song of choice was “Most Beautiful Girl in the Room”. It’s a classic. It’s about Meghan, of course.

    mmm. I’m glad you enjoyed Italy so much. and so sad that you didn’t get to see the Vatican museum, as it’s the richest museum in the world, to my mind. Looks like you’re still goin strong, trying some of the best pizza in the world, from what I hear the Italians talking about. Maybe one of the Gino kids went to Canada to form the amazing “Gino’s Pizza”..who knows..best pizza in Canada..
    Keep at it Mark+Meg!

    ciao for now.. Love reading your stuff on my phone..slow as heck, but it still comes around..

  9. Aussie girls

  10. dunno if he has any children, but he definitely had the dad-vibe down pat! He warned us about going out, advised strongly against it, and even convinced some of the people staying there to stay in one night.
    Not that this is a bad thing, and we had a nice night sitting round talking around the outside table, but really, a few of us went out despite the dads wishes the next night n saw that there were loads of young people standing around at the pubs, in giro, buying penis pastries, and having a good time. Sure there were some home-made fireworks going off every now and then, but thats the beauty of Naples. a city living by the side of a sleeping volcano, ready to blow any minute. the same volcano that covered pompeii in ash just under 2000 years ago, and the less-known town of Herculaneum, Ercolano, also destroyed by the eruption. point of story, the napoletani (xcuse spelling) people are crazy! feeling the energy of the brewing volcano – perhaps like living constantly on the edge of death. crazy! beautiful!
    anyway, he’s a very interesting, strange man. makes a mean (goood) pasta, and very helpful in terms of telling you about some history and expressing his opinion on other places in Italy and around the world (a man very passionate and proud about Napoli – not in to water and rocks though!) haha
    I do recommend, but just remember to take your dancing shoes and hit the streets to see some the Pazzisimo Napoli!
    Giovanni, a good representative of Napoli. Kind, crazy, and particular!

    Do visit. I recommend spend at least 4 days.

    We’re going to Italy in April! We hope to see Giovanni :)

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