April-May 2005 in Italy and Malta
Click on any thumbnail to see a larger image
April 24-27 Capri
May 6-7 Sicily, Scilla and Charybdis
May 7-8 Tropea (Capo Vaticano)
May 10-12 Abruzzi National Park
May 12 Tivoli, Villa Adriana
The Isle of Capri
Capri is a very special place. The first time I was there, around 1990, it seemed to be totally magical. The second time, I knew more of what to expect, but it was still a very special place. On this trip, I managed to start a fairly severe cold, but even so, Capri still held magic.
Capri is a small island, about 6km by 2 km. It is formed a bit like a saddle, with two high ends that fall in steep cliffs to the sea, and a lower central portion. Each side of the central portion has a marina or harbour, Marina Grande, where the ferries for Sorrento, Naples and Ischia come and go, and Marina Piccolo, on the other side of the central ridge where the town of Capri is.
Be that as it may, before you can enjoy Capri, you have to get there, and you do that by ferry from Sorrento harbour. Our plan was to drive from the Casa Susy and park at the base of the cliff by the ferry docks. Visiting cars are not allowed on the island. The problem was that a policewoman stopped us from going down that road, saying that the parking area was full. She directed us to another lot well past the Imperial Hotel Tramontano, but it turned out that this lot would be closed when we returned from Capri to continue our holiday. Having with difficulty extricated ourselves from there, we decided to go back to the Casa Susy and see if Nicola would allow us to park there for three days. He would, so we got a taxi to the ferry.
At the ferry terminal there was an enormous crowd lining up to get tickets to Capri. We learned that it was the "Holiday of the Liberation". We eventually did get the tickets, and then stood for nearly an hour in the heat, in another huge crowd awaiting the hydrofoil (the "Aliscafi"). It seemed unbelievable that everyone would get on, but they did, though it was crush-packed standing room only. We wondered how we would ever get transport up to Anacapri when we arrived, but as it happened, we got a taxi quite quickly.
At this point in the holiday, we were not accustomed to climbing cliff faces on hairpins and on roads cantilevered out from the cliff, so the drive up was a bit scary. But we went up and down that road several times in our three days on Capri, most of the time in a packed little bus that seemed tailored to the road,
and nothing fell off the road in that time. We got rather used to it, in fact.
When I had been booking hotels before the trip, I had wanted to stay in the Hotel Caesar Augustus, on the cliff edge, where we had stayed for a weekend before the 1990 Sorrento conference. But it turned out that their cheapest room was now €320 per night, somewhat out of our range, and we booked at the Hotel San Michele, across the street from the Causar Augustus.
The Hotel San Michele may not have had the ideal location of the Caesar Augustus, but it is a very nice hotel, and the view from it is nothing to be sneezed at! In fact, when we first looked out of our bedroom window, it was literally breathtaking (perhaps because I was beginning to feel my cold).
Once we got settled we started to explore the Anacapri part of the island. We walked along a main road (actually not suitable for cars) to the Faro (lighthouse) cliffs. Near the end of the road is a scrub-covered hillside called a "Philosophy Park". Many trails lace the hillside, and along them one finds plaques with aphorisms from philosophers of all stripes (mostly Western) and all eras. The designer has taken particular care to expose arguments that seem reasonable, perhaps incontrovertible, when considered alone, but that seem to contradict other equally incontrovertible statements. You can wander for hours, sitting on the rocks and benches to contemplate the contradictions and arguments and looking over the sea toward Ischia.
Capri Day 2
This panorama composite gives a good idea of the layout of the island, at least the part below the Anacapri highland. What you see here is the region of the second day's exploration of the Isle of Capri.
The weather was not as nice as yesterday. Light rain fell much of the day, and there was a ferocious wind some of the time, especially near the tops of cliffs on the south side of the island. All the same, we did a lot of walking.
First we went to Capri by bus down the Anacapri cliff, and then we walked up the other end of the island up the hill to the Villa Jovis, one of Tiberius's palaces, of which there were reputed to be seven on the island. Three of them are known, of which the Villa Jovis is the largest.
The walk would have been very pleasant, if a little strenuous, if it had been dry. As it was, some of the steep parts and some of the round stone steps were a bit slippery. The roads were decorated with many flowering bushes and trees, with much wisteria, and the views back over the town of Capri to the Anacapri cliff and down to Marina Grande (or occasionally Marina Piccolo on the other side of the island) were rather special. So we didn't mind the rain too much. However, at the top, on the cliff side, the wind howled up so that we had to steady ourselves against using the guard rail, making a deafening noise in the trees and making it quite pointless to try to use an umbrella.
The Villa Jovis is perched on the highest cliffs at the eastern end of the island, looking back toward Sorrento. It is reputed that Tiberius used to throw his boys off that cliff when he was tired of them, but some say that this was a slander put about by his political opponents.
Just below the Villa, beside the road, there is a park that runs along the cliff edge. It has marvellous views of the shoreline, as in the bottom-right picture above. An old man was sitting near the entrance to the park, as if he was asking for an entrance fee, but he wasn't. Apparently, he was looking after some goats, which made me wonder whether the name "Capri" came from the Latin word for goat, and the original name of the island would then have translated as "Isle of Goats".
After we got back to the town of Capri, we had lunch and then a walk in the other direction. We had intended to go down to Marina Piccolo by way of the Augustus Gardens, but the path was blocked off by a locked iron gate, perhaps because of the wind and the rain, which might have made the walk down the cliff a bit too dangerous. But we did see the Gardens, which were nice, and the views from them, which were rather spectacular.
Capri Day 3
Today was brilliantly sunny, but cool and crisp. Ideal for exploring the island on foot. We went down again to Capri, and this time took the path to the Natural Arch (right-hand bottom corner on the map picture). There isn't really much to talk about, so just look at the pictures.
Afterwards, we went to look at the Faraglioni, the rocks in the picture above. In Capri and in much of southern Italy, there are lots of quick little lizards called geckos. Mostly, they are green, like the one in the picture, but I was told on an earlier visit that the ones on the Faraglioni are blue. As it happens, on that trip I saw a blue one on the path near the Faraglioni, so they do exist.
Next, knowing that the best time to visit the Blue Grotto was in mid-afternoon, we took the bus back up to Anacapri, and then another bus to the Blue Grotto.
The bus in the picture is a standard Capri public bus. There are blue ones of the same shape and size that are privately operated, mostly for tour groups. The size seems to have been designed to allow the buses to negotiate the road between Capri and Anacapri with about 1 cm to spare in lenght and width!
When we got to the Blue Grotto, we were disappointed to see that there were no boats waiting to take us in. All the same, we walked down to the boat landing, and we could see then why there were no boats. The waves were occasionally pounding up against the roof of the entrance, and could easily have smashed a small boat that found itself there at an inopportune moment. It was a pity, because the Blue Grotto on a sunny afternoon is quite an experience. Another couple on the bus told us that they had come in the morning, and had been unable to get in then because there was too much of a crowd. They would have to try another day, for "third time lucky". No such luck for us, as we were leaving in the morining.