When Plans Change: Turning Lemons Into Limoncello in Naples

Posted by on Jan 12, 2016 in Italy | No Comments

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You could almost hear the collective echo of disappointment throughout the ship when our captain announced that the Tyrrhenian Sea was too rough to anchor in Sorrento. Instead, we would be docking in Naples, about 14 nautical miles north, with some excursions cancelled and others continuing as planned. I, however, couldn’t believe our good fortune. Sorrento’s famous limoncello would have to wait…we were heading to the land of the world’s best pizza!

After reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s fabulously drooling account of Pizzeria da Michele in Eat Pray Love, I had jotted down the name and tucked it away in my travel ideas file. I didn’t bring it on this trip because Naples wasn’t on the itinerary. But after a quick Google search, I was armed with a name, address and anticipation.

We were able to do our Sorrento-booked morning excursion to Pompeii from Naples, and when we returned to the port, we hailed a cab and headed out on our pizza quest. Our Pompeii guide had warned us to be very firm with Neopolitan taxi drivers. He said the drivers were aggressive and would offer a tour of the city – which ours did – and to firmly say, “no.” He also recommended not carrying large bills because drivers typically say they have no change. Bingo again. The taxi ride took us away from the dock, through a business and financial district, past residential streets with freshly washed laundry dangling from window-to-window clotheslines, through some areas that looked like places where we wouldn’t want to be walking.

Then suddenly, the taxi stopped in front of an old, almost square-like area that was the side-by-side convergence of two streets, Via Pietra Colletta and Via Cesare Sersale. On the Via Cesare Sersale side was Pizzeria da Michele. We practically leaped through the door with excitement, but instead of a table, we were given a number – fourteen. We quickly realized that the line outside the café was for people holding numbers, and we also quickly realized that we had no idea how we would recognize “14” in Italian. A woman in line offered to let us know when ours was called, and after a 15-minute wait, we were headed to our table.

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The side-by-side streets of Via Pietra Colletta and Via Cesare Sersale.

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Waiting for our number to be called.

The menu was posted on the wall and featured two varieties of pizza – Margarita and Marinara – and four beverages – Cola, Fanta, mineral water and Italian beer.  At first we ordered one pizza, thinking it was meant to be shared, but we quickly realized these were individual pizzas and ordered a second Margarita. “Quickly realized” was becoming our mantra here. We were catching on!

With all the anticipation and great expectations it would be easy to be disappointed, but our meal at Pizzeria da Michele was nothing short of spectacular and one of our most memorable.  A dictionary of overused food adjectives couldn’t begin to describe this heavenly pizza. And even with its bustling, take-a-number, intense-but-friendly atmosphere, I got the feeling that we could stay as long as we wanted.

With our stomachs full and happy, we headed outside on the intersecting streets and easily found a taxi. The ride back to the dock was uneventful and interestingly, more direct. Before returning to the ship, we stopped at the cruise ship terminal and found shop after shop filled with local souvenirs, foods and crafts. We picked up some flavored candies and several small bottles…of limoncello.

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The port of Naples, Italy.