Capri in retrospect

So does the sun always shine on Capri? Well I don’t know the answer to that but it certainly did on the 6 days I was there; and, boy, was it glorious. It really is a lovely place to visit on a short trip. Yes, it is expensive as everything has to come by sea, and, yes, during the day the ferries discharge day trippers galore to clog up the narrow streets and lanes in the two main centres of Capri town and Anacapri. Other than these two factors it is a great place to explore.

Capri town has a classy feel about it but as long as you keep to window-shopping and people-watching over your one coffee it is a busy but intriguing experience. It does help that the last ferry off the island is at 6pm so in the evenings everything calms down, the shops shut and some gentle nightlife can take over in bars and restaurants.

Anacapri is smaller and much more Italian with fewer columns of visitors. The one reason to visit the town is to get the chair lift up to the top of the highest peak. It is a peaceful 10 minute swing each way and is well worth the effort as the whole island and nearby mainland spreads out in below you in a landscape of rock and canopies, scattered white villas around hotels, and tracks of vessels sniffing around in the coastal waters.

I stayed even further west at a small B&B, il Paradiso di Capri, run by Guiliano and his family. The breakfast terrace and my balcony overlooked the sea and Ischia to the west, hence the sunsets.

Nothing was to much trouble for Guiliano. He made reservations for dinner, dashed up and down the hillside to collect and deposit visitors at the port, always had a smile and a happy greeting. A lovely man.

We ate at places he recommended. Restaurants on the island run this truly great service. Each one will collect their punters from their accommodation and take then back when they have eaten. Now that is cool. We took to Le Arcate in Anacapri and ate there three times. No view, no sunsets but the friendliest of welcomes, amazing service and great food. Papa opened it 36 years ago when he arrived from Naples with his family. Nico, the head waiter, looked after us- a lovely man with a dry sense of humour and a twinkle in his eye and always up to mischief whilst looking after his clients so well. On the last night he had our table waiting and set, with our favourite bottle of Chianti standing guard. The homemade lemoncello was to die for.

So thank you Capri. If any of you want to get away from it all for a while, I thoroughly recommend it.

 

Round and round the island in a tiny boat

So here we go, around the small island of Capri. This is Nico. He has a small, traditional boat painted blue. He meets his guests in the harbour, gives us a steadying hand to board,  settles us down and casts off. Leaving Capri behind us we set out into the open sea.

We sail, rather motor, anticlockwise around the island. It is a crowded procession of boats, all showing off their beautifully painted and varnished hulls and masts with bright chrome gleaming proudly in the sun. Most carry a handful of passengers but occasionally one of the harbour big boys tries to bully everyone else out the way with a hundred or so passengers pointing their iphones at the craft below.

Under blue skies and on turquoise waters, with gentle breezes cooling us down, we gasp in wonder at the ruins of castles and Roman villas perched high up at the tops of sheer cliffs. Down at sea level rocky ledges & platforms, laughingly called beaches, provide safe bathing areas for locals & tourists or acess to a private villa or an upmarket restaurant. In places ingenious designers have created formal bathing areas with bathing hits and rows of sunbeds.

The flotilla of boats hug the coastline sniffing out caves & grottos. Once one is found the skippers very politely allow each other in turn to enter the shady darkness of these arched cathedrals shaped by the sea. There is no queue barging here.

Around strong headlands arched villas or cloistered hotels appear. Natural rock formations address given human names like ‘the heart’.

Very high end, luxury craft, are moored off the coast, yatchts and sail, acting as bathing and sunning platforms for rich families and gorgeous gals & guys. A nice life if you can get it.

 

 

Amongst the rich and famous

The town of Capri is very different to Anacapri. The tourists arrive at the harbour and get a bus or the vernacular railway up the hill short distance to the small central piazza beside the church.

In this space four cafes have packed their tables and umbrellas leaving three narrow pathways to the archways and the town’s riches. Elegant & suave locals drink their coffee surveying the lines of  tourists come to disturb their peace.

They view the lines of chattering pale-skinned Chinese and the drawling large American from their wicker chairs, faintly amused by the endless stream of overheated, sunhatted visitors in columns of minipeded legs lead by the raised furled umbrella – a beacon to all tourists seeking that one image or piece of tat to impress their pals back home.

Taking one of the narrow alleys the town reveals itself.

Elegant hotels welcome high end visitors to relax in cool gardens after visiting those really upmarket designer stores that the rest of us pass by laughing in envy. Well, I love the style of the mature Italian gentleman but is this really my look: the total outfit costs £5,00 euros from the Dolce & Gabbana shop.

Tourist watering holes and rich oases need servicing. Special porters’ carts, delivery vehicles and even dustbin trucks squeeze through Capri’s arteries.

Evidence of the playground of many Caesars is dotted around the edges of the cliffs. These are the gardens of Caesar Augustus.

Most visitors head for Capri for the day. They crawl around the town, grab a piece of cold pizza and board a bus and head out to Anacapri. The little mini-mope buses scurry up & down the hill between Capri & Anacapri, the orange local buses and the smart blue private company ones, competing with each other to deliver their human cargo as quickly as possible. Out they tumble, “Ooooh, arhhh”; pizza or mozzarella & tomatoes for a tenner and back to the ferry; “ We’ve done Capri” shout American & Chinese voices “and we bought the bag”.

The rest of us can enjoy the peace of shady evenings in warm stoned streets once they have returned to the mainland.

Up in the hills around Anacapri

So how does this large rock called Capri work? The island lies from east to west. It consists of hard, rocky cliffs and hillsides covered in scrubby pines and cyprus trees. It doesn’t take long to drive from one end of the island to the other. There are two main settlements. There is the town of Capri which spirals around the cliffs above the harbour and there is the town of Anacapri which is situated high up amongst the crags & boulders of the dry hills. Each is very different to the other. My B&B is great over on the west coast near Faro, which means lighthouse and, yes, there is a lighthouse down at the bottom of a whole load of steps.

Capri and Anacapri and Faro are linked by narrow, and I mean narrow, roads that run between high, hard walls. These are wide enough to fit in three scooters side by side. So this is the ultimate game of chicken and the home of the the small car. Small buses, carrying locals & tourists alike, run around like sardine cans on wheels. 8 people can sit and up to 24 can stand as they jerk their way around and down the helter-skelter of alleys and aisles, competing with scooters and those little pop-pop three wheeled, wobbly trucks.

Occasionally big brother taxis push their way to the front. These are rather grand. They are cut off Nissan & Fiats. Instead of a roof they have a canvas canopy, beneath which punters laze and view passers-by.

Anacapri has all the elements of a small Italian town. Old streets undulate around the church.

Cafes and restaurants create their piece of umbrellared shade and mix it with smart clothes shops selling linen and kashmere. Above a small square a promenade provides a wonderful view of the harbour and Capri town down below.

It has a chair lift that takes punters up to the highest peak. Small streets provide homes for these classy tourist outlets whilst locals live, work and play and get on with their everyday lives.

As night falls the tourists ebb away leaving a dusky, eerie peace within shuttered streets.

 

 

 

 

On the Italian island of Capri with the rich & famous

Well, my loyal readers, I am back in my beloved Italy. I do love this country – the climate, the people, the way of life, the lyrical, lilting rhythmns of the language between gesturing locals, the elegant dress of the guys looking so cool whatever the weather, the wine, the linguini del mare, the blueness of the sky, the turquoise of the sea, the history, the cyprus trees, the peeling plasterwork and the bleached colours of medieval churches and temples and statues. I love it.

 

I am on the island of Capri with the rich around famous. It’s a short journey across Naples from the airport to the port through the tall tenement blocks of uniform windows above graffitied shuttered fronts and squiggled walls through horned traffic and yelling mopeds. No laws about using mobiles when driving through these streets. One hand on front bars of scooters, balancing the phone while swerving through cars & buses, the other dances over the key pad to text or to call then it is tucked into the crash helmet to enable a proper conversation whilst using two hands to negotiate the next junction. A skill all of its own.

So, I buy a ticket, have the espresso whilst I wait to take my place in the queue. I use the word lightly. It starts off nice & ordered until the boat comes in and then we are squeezed through the gate and along the quay, onto the ferry and deposited in a hard plastic seat somewhere on board.

But it is exciting as the turbos wind up and we leave the harbour, leaving the unmistakable shape of Vesuvious on the port side (or is it the starboard?). It takes about 45 minutes to cross. The sleepy harbour greets the ferry.

Guiliano is there to drive to his B&B. “Oh, Mark. Put you elbow in from the window as sometimes I have to scrape the walls”. A hairy 30 minute drive up & down narrow, stone-walled aisles/streets brings me to my accommodation on the cliffs of the far west coast of the island.

An afternoon on the balcony snoozing with a beer in the sun, occasionally opening one eye to check that the view is still there – the island of Iscia across the water, the trail of tourist boats popping in and out of grottos and caves like lines of earwigs exploring cracks beneath our skirting boards, sweeping, soaring gulls hang & glide like hang-gliders on a vortex of currents crying & crawing for company.

Yep, eating mama’s ravioli on the terrace as the sun sets confirms the view is still there.

Bring on tomorrow.

 

Real people live and work amongst the visiting tourists

When one visits Florence for the day, it is easy to forget that real people live and work and earn a living from the flocking tourists. The coaches unload their lines of gaping visitors, all processing after each other like goats on a hill path, the lead goat identified by the raised arm and the majorette’s baton raised aloof. The locals begin their daily routine of entertaining, feeding, quenching, sketching, guiding these columns of multicolored, umbrellared, sunglassed, overheated, dehydrated ants.

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Amongst this turmoil the locals go about their business. They shop in the market. They grab a coffee on the way to work. They celebrate their saint’s day. They deliver goods. They drive buses and take their children to school.

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But Florence is not all crowded piazzas of camera clicking guests where couples and groups shuffle in competition with other to take the best selfie in front of the duomo or medieval bridge or the statue of David or the one with the fig leaf over the necessary bits. Come late afternoon, the columns of exhausted, rather ratty guides show their charges onto their coaches and bid a fond farewell with a huge sigh of relief and a slight niggle at the meagerness of their tip. The city also sighs. Gradually the streets empty and life can go on uninterrupted, as it has done since the Medicis ruled this city centuries ago.

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