Today the skies were blue, the air was warm and the sun hinted that it just may skip right over spring and move directly into summer. It’s been like this on and off for the last few weeks and I’m finding it harder and harder to stay indoors working on any of the many projects I have going.

No research, no writing. No blog posts, no website entries. I’ve been on sciopero.

Maybe it’s because I’m a city dweller and have no green expanse to look out upon, tiding me over until the next time I’m outdoors. No smell of fresh-cut grass or the sweet scent of flowers wafting in the air.

Or maybe it’s just that restless feeling I get from time to time. I can’t concentrate, can’t sit still, and I feel as though I’m ready to jump out of my skin. Either way, I am under some mysterious spell. Powerless until the feeling passes, it’s better to embrace it than to fight it.

So I’ve been wandering the city in search of some respite from the hustle and bustle, some fresh air and sunshine, and a bit of the green and the blue.

If you’ve never been to Napoli you’re probably thinking that would be in short supply. A densely populated and chaotic city, narrow alleys, crowded and bustling streets, buildings one on top of the next, screeching autos and motos. It must be a challenge to find a bit of nature’s bounty.

Clearly, Napoli is no rural paradise. If that’s what you are looking for best to go to Ischia or Capri. But it’s not all concrete, glass and steel either. And while I know even those who have been here before have this perception, I was still surprised when I read this a few years back:

With more than 2 million people, Naples is the third-largest city in Italy. It also has almost no open spaces or parks, which makes its position as Europe’s most densely populated city plenty evident.

Naples: Italy in the extreme, Rick Steves Tribune Media Services, CNN Travel, July 11, 2008

Somehow, Mr. Steves characterization of Naples doesn’t reconcile with the city I wander around in everyday. The city in which I’ve found an ample supply of lush green parks and gardens and miles of coastline and beaches. Where I’ve found solace in long walks through the city’s residential districts and respite from the hustle and bustle in tranquil cloisters hidden in some of Naples most chaotic neighborhoods.

Chiostro dei Santi Marcellino e Festo
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The Cloister of Saints Marcellino and Festo

In fact, Naples boasts over 50 parks and gardens, some 15 or 20 private and public bathing establishments and two natural reserves.

In Naples hill districts you’ll find large city parks with lush flora and fauna replete with walking and nature paths and sweeping panoramas of the bay. Parks like Bosco di Capodimonte, Parco della Villa Floridiana and Parco Virgiliano a Posillipo.

At the very top north-west corner of the city a fifth of Naples 8th Municipalità, the quartieri of Piscinola, Chiaiano, Scampia has been turned into a 2,215 hectare natural reserve known as Parco Metropolitano delle Colline di Napoli. And at the sea, stretching for over 1km is the people’s park, Villa Comunale.

There are historic parks like Parco Vergiliano a Piedigrotta and Parco Pausylipon, small community parks and playgrounds in nearly every neighborhood in the city, and even a Botanical Garden.

Along the Posillipo coast are Naples historic bathing establishments Bagno Elena, Ideal and Sirena, public beaches like Spiaggia Rotunda Diaz, and plenty of places where you can rent a boat and while away the day at sea.

Around the tiny island of Gaiola there is a large  protected marine area, natural reserve and underwater park. And stretching from Mergellina to Castel dell’Ovo is Naples own version of the New Jersey boardwalk, Lungomare.

And that’s just for starters.

So while I hate to take exception with the esteemed and beloved travel guru Rick Steves, except for the fact that Naples is Italy’s third largest city, the rest as they say… well it just aint true…

Even his population statistics, which I will leave any detailed analysis for another day. Suffice it to say that according to ISTAT’s 2010 data, Naples population was 959,597 (963,661 in 2008) residents sharing an area of 117.27 square kilometers. That works out to roughly 8,183 people per square kilometer.

Dense to be sure and in fact, although Milan and Turin are very close seconds, Napoli is the most densely populated city in Italy. In Europe however, I’m fairly certain that at least Paris and Barcelona have Napoli beat on this one.