Monday, August 16, 2010

If I were a movie star, I'd buy a house on Capri

Ah, Capri. I realized pretty quickly after planning my trip to Naples that I would have to spend a day out on Capri at some point, partly because it inspired so many artists who painted out there, but partly because I wanted to see it for myself. Now that I've been there, I'm really glad I made the time to do it, even though getting there was much more of a pain than I had expected.

Yesterday morning, I didn't have a blog post to write, and I had taken care of anything else I had to do the night before, so I was free to leave relatively early - I think I was out by 9 or even a little before, which is pretty good given my track record this week. I followed Giovanni's advice, walking down to the port and taking some photos of street art along the way (they will appear in a future post), but then when I got there, I realized that I had no idea where to buy my ticket, and there were no signs to make this clearly obvious. And then, my ankle suddenly went all wonky - I think I may have strained it on Mount Vesuvius the other day, and it chooses to remind me of this at inconvenient times. So for the better part of an hour, I wandered up and down the shoreline, stopping in different ticket offices and getting nowhere. Finally, a kind man pointed me in the right direction, and I was able to buy my ticket (after standing on another long line - I think lines will be one of my major memories of Italy!).

I stood out in the sun for about twenty minutes or so waiting for the boat, because there was no shade, and the crowd kept getting more and more intense and pushy with anticipation. When the boat finally arrived, I had a decision to make: sit on top in the bright sunlight and the wind, and risk a bad sunburn, or sit in the enclosed cabin below, and risk seasickness. I chose the latter:


I chose wrong. I was desperately, desperately seasick on the way over to Capri. The ride was about an hour, and became increasingly choppy as the relatively small boat made its way out of the Bay of Naples and into the open sea. Seasickness is caused by confusion between your eyes and your inner ear - your inner ear informs the brain that your body is moving, but your eyes perceive the boat around you as stable, even though it is actually moving. This makes your brain super confused, and nausea is the result. The best thing to do when you're seasick is apparently to stare at the horizon or other land (I didn't realize this yesterday) and the worst thing to do is to sit in an enclosed cabin, because the walls, seats, windows and everything else around you add to the confused signals that your eyes send to your brain.

I was only in the cabin for about twenty minutes when I started to feel awful. I staggered out onto the back deck, which was a little better, but I couldn't get close enough to the railing to get a good breeze. I ended up curled up in a corner on the stairs leading to the upper deck, my head in my hands, and I may have whimpered a bit. At one point, one of the workers on the boat came up and handed me a plastic bag - I must have looked like I could use it. I managed to keep everything down until we reached shore, but I was pretty intensely miserable. Once I got onto the island, it took me a while to feel normal again.

But was it worth it? I think so. After sitting for a while and drinking a bottle of water, I decided I was ready to see Capri's upper reaches. Capri is a very hilly island, and there is a funicular line leading from the marina up to the town. Initially, I decided to take this transportation, so I waited on a long line in the sun for a while. When I got close to the front of the line (maybe 10 minutes), I realized that this was the line for people who already had tickets, and if I wanted to buy tickets, I would need to wait on another line. So, that was that. I didn't really want to get into a moving vehicle at that point anyway, and I figured a good walk would clear me of the last bits of my nausea.

So I found the pedestrian walkway to the top, and started up:

Walking around on Capri is pretty awesome. I'm not sure how anyone gets around any other way, because I didn't see too many roads, and I didn't hear traffic at any point when I was on the pedestrian paths (and one would - these little Italian motorcycles are LOUD). Most of the pedestrian paths look just like the one above - paved with large stones and flanked on both sides by walls, with openings on either side into private villas and gardens. The gardens are all marked by painted ceramic tiles, some bearing the name of the owner or the house, and as my souvenir of Capri I bought a ceramic tile to take home.

When I got to the main piazza of Capri after climbing for about 15 minutes, it was time for lunch. I selected this restaurant:

It was right on the edge of the bluff, and the view of the water and island below was just spectacular. I ended up paying more than 17 Euro for a meal that would have cost me less than half that in Naples, but I decided not to worry about it too much. At this point in the trip, I am well under budget, and I needed the chance to relax and let the atmosphere of Capri capture me after the stress of traveling there.

I had my Fodor's guide for Naples, Capri and the Amalfi Coast with me, and after lunch, I decided to try the walking tour that it suggested for the eastern side of the island. Generally, I'm kind of over Fodor's guides - I've had a lot of stupid experiences on this trip trying to use their directions, and I don't think they do a good job of providing really useful information - but it was all I had, and actually, in retrospect this particular walking tour was pretty good.

The tour took me along the northeastern part of the island, up to the ruins of Tiberius' villa, then down to two natural features, an arch made of stone and a grotto, and finally along a bluff where I could get full views of the coastline on the southern end of the island, and back into Capri Town. On the way to the villa, I kept catching mysterious glimpses of the gardens behind the wall:

I found all the columns, pergolas, and plantings truly enchanting. It is very expensive to live on Capri, and I don't think you could afford it unless you were a movie star or a CEO or a Mafioso or something, but if I had the money, I would love to live on this island. There's also a real sense of privacy - my impression was that the people living behind these stone walls could be anybody, and I would never know. Maybe I did walk past some famous people yesterday, but I would have no idea if that were true. Capri seems like a secret place, and I can see why it has inspired so many people.

It was a long upward climb to get to Tiberius' villa, but the view was so worth it:

And this was only one direction! I took lots of pictures, and stood for a long time to absorb all 360 degrees of the amazing view. I've noticed at a lot of points on this trip that hymns have come into my mind as the only way to describe things I'm feeling, and yesterday it was "For the Beauty of the Earth." Easily, this was a trip highlight.

And on the way back down the hill, I found some friends:

Tee hee.

After leaving the Villa Jovis, I was off to visit the island's natural wonders. I'm not going to post my pictures of the Arco Naturale, a giant rock hollowed out by wind and waves, because my vantage point was much too close for my camera to do anything interesting, but I bought a postcard that I'd be happy to show anyone who asks. After the arch, I walked down hundreds and hundreds of stairs to find the Matermania Grotto, a cool cave that was once a site for worshiping the goddess Cybele:

Is it funny that I walked into the cave and immediately thought of Bilbo Baggins and the goblins? It seemed like it would be a good goblin cave.

After the cave, it was a long walk on a very up-and-down path along a bluff, looking out at lovely things like this:

And I finally managed to snap a decent picture of one of the little lizards that seem as numerous in Italian tourist sites as squirrels are back home:

All in all, a successful day. After my walk, I did a little souvenir shopping and bought that pretty tile, and then headed back down the hill on the same pedestrian pathway to the harbor. When I got back on the ferry, I wanted to head upstairs, but the guards wouldn't let me because they said it was full, and indicated the lower cabin. I refused to go down there, and ended up hanging out on the back deck for most of the ride back. After a while back, I noticed lots of people were sneaking up and down the stairs, so I headed up, and found myself a comfortable place to stand by the railing for the rest of the trip back. I snapped this cool picture of Mount Vesuvius:

And I avoided a repeat of the seasickness in the morning! Seriously, I don't know why these boats even have enclosed cabins. They don't do anybody any good.

So I think this was my last major excursion for the trip - today, I'm going to walk around Naples and say goodbye, and tomorrow I'll be heading back to Rome for one last night before I catch my plane on Tuesday morning. This has been a lovely trip, but I am definitely ready to head home.

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