Wanderer

Christmas has found Italy!

I’m feeling all Christmassy!

So I spent a couple of days in Naples after meeting the lovely Davide in Rome, who was kind enough to offer me and my friend a place to stay. I’ve visited Naples once before, very briefly in order to meet Pompeii, and frankly, I didn’t like it. It’s noisy, smelly, dirty, the people are often pretty rough around the edges (Davide being the exception there!)

In fact, one thing that I noticed pretty much about Neapolitan guys on this visit, is that they are often questionable in one of two ways: either they seem like pretty dodgy, probably belong in the Mafia kind of guys. The kind of guys who you cross the street to avoid because they can’t help but same some ridiculous comment towards every girl they see. Or, they’re questionable as in.. you just can’t tell if they’re straight or gay. Guys are very comfortable around other guys; cuddling (yes, as in, in bed in the evening while discussing their day with everyone else in the room), holding hands, taking a bite from each other’s rum baba’s (not a euphemism – a rum baba is a cake. Google it, it’s delicious!), and so I think, ok, gay, nothing wrong with that, it’s just a shame because they’re both cute… and then one of their girlfriends arrive, and the guy will give her a kiss while still holding hands with his friend. And this is perfectly normal. Ok, different cultures and blah blah blah, but… I for one found it confusing. And more than once I’d meet a guy and say ‘oh, so this is your boyfriend’ and be met with ‘no, he’s just my friend/cousin/neighbour who I hardly know’.

My bad.

Moving on from the Mafia and confusing sexuality of Neapolitan men… Italy is getting ready for Christmas!

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Naples is famous for it’s Christmas streets or presepe: San Gregorio Armeno, which sells nothing but Christmas decorations and Nativity sets all year round. Lord knows how they can afford to sell Christmas decor all year round, but they manage, somehow. Tourism? Do people flock to Naples in June to decorate their tree just because they can? Who knows.

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They really know how to make a nativity set! Really elaborate miniature houses – towns, even – made from wood, twigs, moss, beautifully crafted. And then there is such a range of figurines and items to fill them with! I saw figurines of bakers, butchers, seamstresses – every profession you can think of (well, every “old-fashioned” profession, so no photographers or tech-wizards, unfortunately) with little motors so that they move their little plastic pies back and forth in and out of the LED oven, or constantly ironing the same dress, or hacking at the same lump of plastic meat.. or whatever.

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Not being one to think much about the religious side of Christmas, needless to say that no, I haven’t bought myself a twigs-and-moss nativity, and there are not little motor run, palm-sized bakers working through the night on the same pie in my suitcase. They’re cute to look at, but definitely not for me. I have, however, started a cute little Christmas tradition; collecting Christmas decorations from around the world. Obviously it’s a collection limited to my winter travels – unless I can find more cities with year-round Christmas markets like Naples – but I think it’s pretty cute to have a tree decorated with memories. Nothing cheesy though, no ‘Rome 2013’ baubles, so I’ll have to make a note in my travel journals as to which were bought where for when I’m old and forgetful.

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Oh, and I ran into someone who was clearly a celebrity (screaming girls, lines of people having their photo taken with him), but I had no idea who he is… clearly his fame hasn’t reached the UK!

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So Naples wasn’t all about Christmas markets, of course. FYI, if you want to try the best pizza in Naples, go to Sorbillo on Via Tribunali. Best. Pizza. Ever. I recommend both the margherita and diavolo (me and a friend of mine shared so that we had half of each – delish!) I’ve already mentioned baba cake, which is basically rum-soaked cake, also delicious but can be a bit sickly after a while… or I found so at least, but everyone else cleared their plates and asked for seconds! There’s also sfogliatella, which I have to refer to as ‘that one, please *point*’ because I just can’t pronounce it to save my life. Sfogliatella comes in two forms; frolla (smooth) and ricca (curly), and basically it’s a sweet pastry. Layers and layers of pastry – to me, it looks like a sea shell! – with a ricotta filling, or most commonly at least. A must try!

And… despite the noise, insane traffic, dodgy reputation, piles of rubbish and general Naples-ish ways of the city.. it can still be so beautiful.

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And then what did I find on returning to Rome? Christmas!!
As ever when I arrive in Rome, even if I was there just a few days ago, I head straight to Piazza Navona, my absolute favourite spot in the city. So imagine my excitement when I round the corner and see this scene!

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The words ‘giddy’ and ‘schoolgirl’ spring to mind.

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They were in the middle of setting up while I was walking around, but I did spy some familiar-looking twigs-and-moss nativity sets lurking in the back of a lorry. No mechanical villagers yet though!

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I’ve been told that Christmas celebrations don’t officially begin until 8th December, on which the Feast of the Immaculate Conception takes place. That’s Mary’s conception, not Jesus’.. apparently the ‘immaculate’ part of of the tradition is because she never sinned.. or something like that. But anyway, so me and my friend will be heading back to Piazza Navona to see the finished market, decorations and celebrations next week. I’m. So. Excited.

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