A Weekend in Procida: 3 vignettes. By, Ilana

  1. The Story of the Nun on the Train

We took an inter-city local from Rome to Naples, which was just over two hours. The five of us were seated around a table, and just across the aisle was a lovely English nun.

The nun got interested in helping Eva & Jordan with Eva’s homework. Eva has hours of homework each day, and of course it takes extra long because it’s in Italian. Jordan translates, Eva answers, Jordan translates…it demands a huge amount of patience and good will from both of them.

Luckily, those two have loads of both.

They began with something they thought would be easy- a history exam. However, it turned out to be a review of everything the class had learned the year prior. They’d clearly covered a lot of ground that year  – the test began with the dinosaurs and ended with the fall of the Roman Empire.

At any rate: Jordan and Eva began working their way through the exam.  The nun was immediately engaged, leaning across the aisle to help with translations and puzzle through some of the questions. The train took us from Lazio into Campania; the exam from the Jurassic period to the Middle Ages.

At last they came to the final question, which asked Eva to put the following events in chronological order:

  • The fall of the Roman Empire
  • The discovery of fire
  • The beginning of agriculture
  • The birth of Jesus Christ
  • The building of the pyramids
  • The age of the dinosaurs
  • The beginning of the Roman Empire

Now keep in mind that this was all in Italian, so just translating everything and remembering the translation required significant effort from Eva. But slowly she began making her way through the list, easily establishing that the dinosaurs came first, and then fire. She hesitated over Egypt versus agriculture, but together with Jordan she worked her way through that one.

(My singing “Seven years of bumper crops are on their way,” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat was deemed not helpful, despite its obvious description of crop storage & rationing.)

Moving along: Eva knew Rome came after Egypt, and she knew the Roman Empire obviously began before it ended. So that left just …well, Christ.

“Was Christ born before or after the Roman Empire began?” Jordan asked.

Eva looked at him blankly. “I don’t know.”

The nun looked surprised, but decided to try another tact. “Think about Peter and Paul,” she gently suggested. “What do you remember about them?”

Eva turned to her. “Who?”

I cringed. I was pretty sure that now not just the nun but everyone within earshot was listening.

Surely I could think of something to remind her of the answer. “Do you remember when we read Great Men of Rome? I asked.  Back in Victoria, we’d borrowed that book from our Catholic homeschooling neighbours and I’d read it aloud to both girls over many bedtimes. I knew the details had blurred in all our minds – so many victories and defeats, consuls and emperors- but surely something had remained. “Do you remember when Rome conquered Jerusalem- how we talked about that?”

Eva shrugged. “Nope.”

Jordan remained undaunted. “Do you remember watching Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’?” he asked.

Had he really just asked that?

The nun turned away.

Eva perked up. “Yes.”

“And do you remember – well, do you remember that Bryan, who was kind of Jesus, was crucified?”

I was ready to dive under the table.

“Yes.”

“And do you remember who did that? You know- the ones who built the aqueducts and corrected the Latin graffiti?” He quoted some lines in a mock-English accent while I studied the floor.

She answered without hesitation: “It was the Roman soldiers.”

And so Eva was able to insert the birth of Christ between the rise and fall of Rome thanks to the history she’d learned from Monty Python.

And the lovely nun didn’t attempt to help us again.

2.  A Foodie’s Guide to Garibaldi Train Station

We arrived in Naples at 11:30.

To get there, we’d taken a Rome city bus to Termini, Rome’s main train station. And then of course the inter-city train to Naples.

To get to Procida, we now had to take the subway to the ferry terminal, where we’d catch either a slow (60 min) or fast (40 min) boat-ride to the island.

Meanwhile: it was lunchtime in Napoli.

Planning the trip, I had become a bit obsessive over this particular lunch.

I can’t really claim foodie status. For one thing, I don’t cook.  Really, I don’t. Jordan loves to cook, and I have a kind of learned helplessness thing going.  For another, I’m not capable of- or interested in – the pause/savour/analyze every bite kind of eating that real foodies do.

But I love delicious food. Which I define as: delicious food.

And so does Jordan, who can remember details about excellent meals from decades past and can even do the pause/savour/anaylze thing if called for.

I couldn’t stand to think of not eating well in Naples. But we were really just passing through, and we had the children, the stroller, two small suitcases, and one extremely heavy knapsack filled with Eva’s schoolbooks passing through with us.  And so the question became, for me: how best to eat well without exhausting the troops?

First, I familiarized myself with where we might want to lunch in Naples. The pizzerias, osterias, mozzarella lounges (okay, the one mozzarella lounge- but really, how cool is a mozzarella lounge?) and even an entire mall devoted to slow, regional food. 

Then I began mapping each one, hoping to find something either just beside the train station or just beside the ferry terminal.

It wasn’t working. Nothing was that far, but everything was far enough.

Adding yet another bus ride onto an already long day of travel felt excessive.

I contemplated just taking a taxi- but then we’d need to shlep along the car seat.

I reminded myself that legally one doesn’t need a car seat in a taxi.

I chastised myself for even considering going sans car-seat– surely Naples was not the place to ditch child safety standards, no matter how good the pizza.

And so it went.

(Are you thinking: this woman has too much time on her hands and needs to get back to work? Fair enough. But, just consider- if you had one lunch in Napoli, might you not obsess a little too?)

Finally, in desperation I turned to google.

And google did not disappoint.

I googled “good food near the Naples train station,” and was rewarded with a Walks of Italy blog-post titled: The best eats near Naples’ train station: a 45-minute food tour.

I knew Walks of Italy: a well-regarded tour company well out of our price range. But the article was free, and the advice was fantastic.

After our nun-fiasco I fortified myself with a quick espresso – a drink that I have sampled regularly for years and always hated, and yet, suddenly & conveniently, find myself loving in Italy- at their recommended Cafe’ Mexico. And then we were off into the crowded streets of Napoli, on a hunt for Da Pellone pizzeria.

Was it worth the obsessing?

So. Worth. It.

Jordan refused to let me photograph our pies, claiming it’d be “derivative,” but you can see some images here. And I did manage to photograph the scrumscious fried-stuff-in-glass-case offerings outside the pizzeria. The arancini (read: fried rice balls) were perfection, and the children gobbled them up.

Afterwards, we retraced our footsteps,  hopped on the Metro, arrived at the ferry terminal, and set sail for Procida.

Many a warrior has crossed that sea in triumph. That afternoon, I counted myself victorious.

3. Don’t Get Dead

Lonely Planet describes Procida as Naples’ “Best-kept secret.”  Revealed Rome writer Amanda Ruggieri calls it “idyllic.” No less than three Airbnb reviews mentioned the “sleepy” feel of the island, just 4km long and overshadowed by its glamorous neighbours Capri and Ischia. And everyone seemed to praise it’s walkability- leave your car at home, we were told, which was just fine, as we don’t have one.

Here’s the thing: those people who called the island sleepy, walkable, and idyllic?

Those people are not from Vancouver Island.

Procida is not sleepy. Our Airbnb host said 10,000 people live there – for a 4km island, that’s pretty impressive urban density.

As for walkable- it’s true that everything is close. But if an island has almost no sidewalks, does that perhaps effect walkability? I’d say, just maybe, yes.

Our first night, we followed food blogger Katie Parla’s advice (who, to her credit, pronounces Procida wonderfully “chaotic”) and trekked across the island for dinner.

The streets were narrow, dark, twisting.

Tall walls lined both sides of the roads

Did I already mention the lack of sidewalks? I repeat: no sidewalks.

The walk was charming and beautiful.

And totally terrifying

We quickly realized we needed to fall into some kind of formation. Jordan took the lead, the girls were in the middle, and Avi-strictly forbidden from exiting his stroller- and I took up the rear.

We walked slowly, pressing ourselves against walls whenever cars roared past. And something about all that stone- they did seem to roar. Public buses no bigger than minivans honked their way around each curve while cats watched serenely from atop the old walls, vaguely curious, it seemed, to see a tourist get squashed.

 

procida-road
Picture walking with 3 children down this street

Exhausted not by the actual walk but by the traffic-dodging journey, we finally reached our dining destination.

We ate fresh fish while overlooking the Bay of Naples, the lights of Ischia twinkling in the distance.  And the next morning we repeated the walk, on the hunt for a lone croc that had slipped off Avi’s foot while he slept easily during the harrowing journey home.

(The Croc shoe was found, on a ledge beneath a pomegranate tree. Thank you, anonymous croc-shoe saver of Procida!)

 

Was Procida sleepy and forgotten?

Definitely not.

But my oh my was it beautiful:

img_4293
Coricella Harbour

 

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Still a fishing town
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What’s in the bag?!

 

 

 

 

PS: We went to Pompeii too:

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Elyse Chouinard says:

    Beautiful description of your weekend. How did you feel at Pompeii? For me it was like I had butterflies in my stomach the whole time, very eerie!
    Fall is in full swing here mornings and evenings are getting cooler and the evenings are getting darker earlier, but the changing of the colours and the smells in the air are lovely. Looks like it’s still warm where you are?
    Take care

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stangerroo says:

      Thanks, Elyse! Honestly Pompeii was amazing but also a bit of a slog- Avi was asleep, and it turns out that pushing a stroller through the ancient streets of Pompeii on a hot day …sucks. But I want to go back. It is an incredible place.

      Like

  2. Daphne Dumbrille says:

    OMG love this post. The nun on the train story was hilarious – we will be showing the girls Life of Bryan this weekend. Too soon for Maeve? Perhaps. But they need to learn about Jesus somehow – what better way?? And glad you found your amazing lunch, so worth it! Thanks for sharing all your adventures, it’s so fun to read. You are an amazing story teller, but we already knew that. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stangerroo says:

      Thanks, Daphne! I did worry I’d offend everyone with that nun story so I am glad you saw the humour too!

      Like

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