The question seemed simple enough – although in Italy, questions about food preferences are rarely simple.
I was on board a train, speeding my way from Rome down to Naples. There are many reasons why tourists might choose to visit Naples, but I had only one: pizza. I wanted to find the best pizza in the city that invented it. I planned to eat slice after slice until I discovered the finest.
Any old pizza would not do. I didn't want TripAdvisor pizza. I didn't want Lonely Planet pizza. I wanted to find the most authentic local pizza joint around. I wanted the gems that no one else knew about.
And I was in luck, because this train was full of Neapolitan locals commuting back to their home town, and one of them spoke English. We'd been chatting for a while before I put the all-important question to her: where is the best pizza in Naples? Where would you go to eat?
It was a simple question without a simple answer. Pretty soon the entire carriage, men, women and children, was involved in an impassioned argument – or, as the Italians call it, a "conversation" – which I could only assume had something to do with where to find the best pizza in Naples. Hands were waved. Voices were raised.
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Eventually, after 15 minutes or so, the girl I'd been talking to turned back to me. "OK," she said, "we think it is a place called Da Michele."
Da Michele! That was my spot. That was my local treasure, my secret to finding Naples' best pizza in one easy attempt. I'd been steered that way by genuine, hungry Neapolitan locals. How could I go wrong?
Well – easily. Because here's the problem with locals of any country, or any city, or any neighbourhood: they don't always know best.
It's assumed wisdom among travellers that if you want to find the best places to see, to experience, to eat, to drink, and to explore, you have to ask the locals. And sometimes they really do give you great advice. But not always. Because the truth is that some locals don't have any idea what they're talking about.
First time I went to England I was told by some Londoners in a pub to avoid going to Scotland at all costs. "In fact," one of them said, "I wouldn't go anywhere north of Birmingham. They're all a bit weird up there."
I was too young to realise that that advice came not from a place of experience, but from a place of ridiculous parochialism. Scotland quickly became one of my favourite countries in the world. Northern England is amazing.
See also: Naples travel guide: Embrace the chaos
In plenty of other cities locals have warned me not to use the public transport, or not to trust local taxi drivers, or not to go to a certain bar in a certain neighbourhood because it's full of undesirables. All of them turned out to be fine.
Travelling in India, I was even sent to the wrong place entirely, often because the locals I'd asked didn't know what I was talking about but wanted to help out anyway. "Ah yes, it's just this way, ah, left at the next street and then, ah, right…"
Perfect. Sometimes locals will send you to the places that they think you'll want to see, the big-ticket attractions that the tourists love. Sometimes they'll send you to some obscure place they think of as an undiscovered local gem, which turns out to be terrible.
And then sometimes they'll send you somewhere like Da Michele in Naples. A whole train full of people, their combined knowledge and passion and experience all pooled together, and that is where they sent me.
I was pretty excited as I walked the streets of Naples after that train ride, checking my phone to see if I was going in the right direction, hungry for pizza and experience. I rounded a few corners, stepped over some debris, and then finally came to the street that held the city's best slice.
And my heart sank. Out the front, queued up around the block, was a long line of tourists just like me, who'd arrived to experience what turned out to be Naples' most famous pizza joint: Da Michele.
Everyone knows about Da Michele. Elizabeth Gilbert ate there in Eat Pray Love. It's been awarded a certificate of excellence by TripAdvisor. That wealth of local knowledge on the train, and I'd ended up a joint that was as touristy as it gets.
Sigh. Still, the pizza was delicious, so it could have been worse.
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