Naples - It's true that Italy is every girl's shopping paradise. The streets of Rome and Milan are full of designer shops and hand-made shoes. But for the rest of us who can't afford to shop on Via Condotti, there are other options. Despite the ever-present threat of drive-by motorini bag snatchers, Naples is a welcoming city. Yes, there's theft, but don't let that keep you away from some of the best outdoor market shopping you'll ever find.
The first market that I found was in the Vomero section of Naples, where I lived during a year-long stay. It's a pretty posh, upscale neighbourhood, (which means less dog feces on the street than the rest of the city). My local market was at the end of Via Luca Giordano, just before Piazza degli Artisti.
I could hear the market long before I saw it. The sound of the stall owners hawking their wares was one of the few noises audible above the omnipresent buzz of Vespas. Each Neapolitan seemed to be competing to see who could market his or her stall with the most stentorian voice.
My favourite owner was the woman selling ladies' underwear for 1 euro. She was grabbing and throwing them up in the air, screaming, "Una euro, una euro," which made shopping at her stall a bit difficult. I'd see a thong I liked and it'd be whisked away and thrown about.
The zigzagging stalls and screams of "Prego! Prego!" (Welcome! Welcome!), were a shock. In North America we don't see such chaos and carnival barking even in our downtown markets
There's no best place to start in the market. It's large, not set up on any discernable plan (not to any non-Neapolitan anyway) and always packed with people. To deter theft, I usually carried a small purse clipped to my belt with a locking D ring.
There were deals on leather jackets (99 euros or less), hand-painted bathing suits (10-25 euros, depending on the stall) and clothes from the previous season.
Housewares abounded along with fabric by the metre, beautiful Italian tablecloths much cheaper than in the shops (by at least 10 euros), fresh fruit and vegetables trucked in that morning by local farmers and, of course, the best pizza in the entire world.
Personal best deal: black Ann Taylor leather boots, 5 euros. Don't be afraid to bargain, even in broken Italian. Lots of people speak English and are eager for the practice, and they'll know from your accent that you aren't from Italy. As one laughing man said to me while I was trying to buy a roast chicken, "Your Italian is very bad!"
My favourite trade in Naples, not only at the market, but also all over the city, were the illegal purse sellers. Usually illegal immigrants from Africa, these men displayed knockoff Gucci, Louis Vutton, Prada and Guess purses on sheets on the sidewalk.
Stop to bargain with them. Most will lower their prices very quickly, and if you begin to walk away they will follow you, saying, "Sorry, sorry." They aren't actually sorry about anything. My guess is that someone translated the Italian "scusa" (used as both "sorry" and "excuse me") to "sorry," and they're not aware the context is wrong.
Once in a while, the local police cruise by and the purse sellers quickly tie up their sheets and run off. If they don't disappear, they could easily get arrested and sent home.
Best ending to a shopping day in Naples: pizza and a gelato while the sun sinks over the bay behind the island of Ischia.