Monday, July 28, 2008

Capri : )

July 28, 2008

Before I start, I just have to say that in no way could my words ever convey just how incredible bella Capri is. This past weekend was like being in paradise, and it was a much needed break from the hustle and bustle of Rome. Kathryn, Susan, Kat, and I left Friday after class, first taking a two hour train to Napoli. The train had been double-booked though, so many people had been assigned the same seats and ended up having to stand the whole time! Luckily I got a seat and no one questioned me about it. The train was super hot and crowded though, so a nap wasn't exactly possible. We finally made it to Napoli, and from my first impression, it certainly lives up to it's skeazy reputation. We headed to the Porto Massa where our ferry departed from, and were able to get the cheap ferry (10 euro instead of 17 euro!). The ferry reminded me of the ones I used to take up in the San Juan Islands of Washington on vacation when I was younger. The ferry ride was really nice, with great views of surrounding islands and plenty of fresh air. It took about an hour and 45 minutes, and we were lucky enough to arrive at Marina Grande in Capri around sunset. Our first glimpse of the island was beautiful, with high cliffs, white houses tucked in the middle, and boats everywhere. After getting off, we watched the sun set for a bit and took plenty of pics while in absolute awe of where we were, and then found the bus stop for Anacapri (the island of Capri has two towns - Capri and Anacapri). While waiting, I saw a man picking up a woman and her dog on his scooter, and they literally just put the dog on the seat between them! After waiting a while, the bus still hadn't come according to schedule and it was getting late and quite dark, so we decided to split a cab with these two girls we met who were doing Semester at Sea and who happened to be staying in the same hostel as us. The taxi was totally worth it, too. In Capri the taxis are convertibles with space for up to six people, so driving along the edge of the cliffs, with the marina lit up, gave us an amazing view of the island at night. It took us a while to find our hostel though since the directions were not very clear and it was already dark out. We finally made it around 11pm, and the guy who checked us in was super nice, giving us info and tips for our weekend there and even giving us a complimentary bottle of wine! The hostel, Bussola di Hermes, was really nice and very clean. It's also a three-star hotel in addition to a hostel, so the whole facility was really pretty, with crisp white walls, tiled blue floors, and lovely paintings adorning the walls. Our room was very basic, four beds and a small bathroom. Not great, but totally doable. We were all really tired and knew we had a long day Saturday, so after having a late snack of brie, crackers, and wine, we called it a night.
The next day we all got up pretty early and had breakfast at the hostel (it was a nice surprise that is was included!), consisting of croissants with jam, juice, and cappucino of course. Then we headed to the bus stop for the Grotta Azzura, aka the Blue Grotto, Capri's most famous attraction. The residential area of Anacapri was exquisite, with gorgeous houses covered in flowers with ornate iron gates at their entrances. It was the kind of place you see in pictures; I wanted to just stop and stare at every house. We stopped to ask directions at a fruit stand, and the woman sent a boy named Luigi with us to show us where the bus stop was since he had to catch it, too. After waiting awhile, we decided to just walk down to the Grotto. It took about a half hour, but we saw some more amazing houses and got some incredible views of the island and the sea. We passed by this great little bright blue convertible car with a bamboo top that I was just thrilled by. All the cars there, including the buses, are quite small becuase the roads are super narrow; some are really just one-ways.
We made it to the Grotta Azzurra, which wasn't crowded yet as it was still early in the morning, paid our 10 euro each and hopped in the boat. The grotto is basically a cave in the base of the cliff with a very tiny opening that then opens into a much larger cavern, so to get in all the passengers have to lay flat in the boat while the guy pulls on a chain to get through the opening. We waited a bit as all the boats were vying to get in next, and when it was our turn to go, I had my camera ready, tied to my wrist, only to realize too late that we get splashed on the way in!! Luckily I was able to make a tight enough seal around it with my hands and it didn't get wait, but I just about had a heart attack! For not being much on the outside, the inside of the grotto is truly breathtaking, living up to it's name with the most clear, bright turquoise water I have ever seen. It was absolutely surreal; I was amazed that something like that could occur naturally in nature. Our boat "driver" sang us an excerpt from O Sole Mio while we tried to take the best pics possible and after a couple minutes we exited (and this time I was prepared with the camera in it's case!).
After the grotto, we caught a bus to central Capri. The town sharing the name of the island is super ritzy, with designer stores and expenisive caff├Ęs everywhere. There were a ton of tourists of course, but there were great little benches where we enjoyed the view of Marina Grande for a bit and had a snack we brought from the hostel before doing a bit of window shopping. The atmosphere of the town was nice, but a little too high-class for my taste, so I was more than ready to check out some more of the natural charms of the island.
We ended up on this secluded little road/walkway lined with flowering trees with gorgeous villas and hotels on either side. There were some great views of the sea, so we kept going for a while. When the walkway ended, we decided to take the stairs down toward the water. But little did we know, our "walk" was about to turn into something much more extensive! Instead of heading down to the water, we found ourselves on a path around the edge of the island, high above the water with GORGEOUS views; massive, jutting rock structures, sparkling turquoise water studded with dozens of white boats, all with a foreground of lush greenery and a background of clear blue sky. The hike was pretty manageable at the beginning as it alternated the ups and downs, plus we were quite distracted by what was in front of our eyes. We spotted a sign pointing in the direction we were heading for the Natural Arch, which was one of the big things we wanted to see, so we figured we had stumbled upon a great way to get that done. On the way, we even stumbled across a cool cave with ruins inside the wall of the island. After about an hour and half I started to feel a little light-headed from the heat and dehydration, plus the fact that we hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast. I pushed on, but then at the end of the hike, in order to get to the Arch, you have to climb up about 500 never-ending, super steep stairs, and that was the end of the line for me. I started seeing spots and stars and feeling woozy, but there was nothing to do but keep climbing since we were kind of in the middle of nowhere! I made it to the top, and we found the Arch, but it took me quite some time to recover. The view of the Natural Arch was totally worth the hike though! It was a massive stone Arch coming out of the sea, with beautiful turquoise water at it's base. After resting a while, we found out that there was actually a much easier and faster way to get to the Arch from Capri, a 15 minute walk through little streets lined with houses and covered in flowers. After such an exhaustive hike, it was nice to take this route back, nice and flat and shaded in contrast.
We all decided we needed a little sugar fix to give us some energy, so we took a gelato break before catching another bus back to Anacapri. We walked around the much quainter town of the island, although certainly no less expensive, looking into little shops here and there. Capri is well-known for their limoncello, a lemon-flavored liqueur, so there were tons of shops selling the locally made drink. One store offered us free tastes, and although it was a little too much on it's own, it would be very good mixed. I ended up buying a small hand-painted shot glass with "Capri" and a lemon on it as a cheap little souvenir. Next Susan decided to check out Villa di San Michele, but I opted out since it cost 5 euro, so I kept walking and found a spot with a fantastic view of Marina Grande, filled with boats, and relaxed on the benches there for a while. Finally we decided to head back to the hostel to freshen up for the evening.
After showering, we took a bus to the lighthouse on one end of the island where the hostel owner had recommended going to to watch the sunset. We got there early enough to grab seats on a cement structure right on the water, below the quaint red lighthouse, and basked in the last rays of sunlight with the cool wind blowing. We headed back to the bus stop before the sun had already set, and but we still were able to see the beautiful sunset in line and then on the bus as we drove on the winding roads. Speaking of, it is an absolute miraculous feat of driving, the way the cars, and especially buses, are able to fit on the tiny island roads... When one would pass the other, there was barely two inches between them, and yet they would never hit! Every time our bus would pass another one, all of us couldn't help but hold our breath! Anyway, by that point, it was late and we were pretty hungry from our hike and skipping lunch, and we had decided earlier to "splurge" and go to dinner in the piazza of Anacapri. The prices were actually pretty decent; I ordered fresh ravioli stuffed with eggplant and ricotta with fresh cherry tomatoes and a glass of the table white wine, and with service, only ended up paying 18 euro (considering how expensive and touristy the island is, this was really good!). Kathryn and Susan both ordered pasta with various fresh seafood, and I have to admit I was a little jealous : ) The food was delicious of course, but while we were waiting for our dinner, we noticed the restaurant's pizzas selling like hotcakes as take-out for locals and tourists alike, and decided this was something we must check out the next day for lunch. After dinner we went back to the hostel, and while Kathryn and Kat went to bed, Susan and I headed up to the terrace on the roof to sit in the bench swing, drinking wine, and ended up having one of those really great, deep conversations, that somehow make two hours seem like they flew by : )
We got up early again Sunday as it was our last day, ate breakfast and checked-out. We left our bags there and headed to Marina Piccola, the small marina on the other side of the island, to beach it up. The free beach was this really cute little rock beach, and since we got there around 10am we were able to actually get spots near the water. The rocks were actually super smooth, worn-down pebbles, making a nice change from the sand beaches I'm used to. Plus, walking on the pebbles was kind of like a massage, albeit a painful one, for my very sore feet from hiking the day before in flimsy flip-flops. The water was incredible; clear, turquoise, warm, and clean. Their were even big rocks sticking out of the water where a bunch of kids were jumping off of. It was a pretty warm day so it was really nice to alternate laying out in the warm sun and swimming in the cool water.
After a couple hours at the beach we rushed back to Anacapri to pick up our bags at the hostel and change out of our swimsuits, then we went to the restaurant from the night before and ordered pizzas for lunch to take with. We were on a strict time schedule because we wanted to catch the cheap ferry back, so we rushed to the bus stop, but the bus to Marina Grande wasn't on schedule, and as time continued ticking, we decided to share a cab (we still came out ahead compared to if we had waited for the bus but missed the cheap ferry) with a man from the States who was also heading to the marina. We got on the ferry no problem, but it was still a little annoying that we had to spend money on a taxi just because the bus was being inefficient. I ate my wonderful pizza, with thin crust, mozzarella, and mixed roasted veggies (including kale!) in it's entirety while waiting for the ferry to leave. It was also nice to see Marina Grande in the bright sunlight since it was near sunset when we arrived Friday evening. I have to say I was both sad and happy about leaving; the island was so beautiful and I had a really good time, but I was also exhausted and ready to return home to Rome. It had also been tough for all of us dealing with the stress of traveling as well as with each other in such close proximity to each other the whole weekend, and there were a few quibbles as expected, but for the most part we did ok. Kathryn and I sat on the deck for the whole ride, enjoying the cool wind and laughing at all the stares we got from italians for who knows why. Arriving in Napoli again was even more unpleasant than before, and the weather was really ugly, too. We were able to get tickets for a train that left for Rome in a little less than an hour, and thankfully this train was not, double-booked, was air-conditioned, and we even had our own compartment! There was a nice italian guy in it with us, who spoke very good english, among other languages, who we spoke to all the way back to Rome, getting tips on traveling, going out at night, food, etc. We got home late, and I just wanted to pass out, but not before uploading all my pics! My roommates and I had a bet going on how many I would take throughout the weekend and the total was... 195! A lot, I know, but can you really blame me in a place like Capri? If you have read this far, please, please, please go the the photo album post and look through the three albums from Capri to see all of them. Nothing is the same as seeing it in person, but I think these photos come pretty close, and will maybe inspire others to make a trip to bella Capri!
*p.s. I found out about housing in Padova today. Unfortunately, no one in EAP got a flat, only dorms : ( I'm living in a single in Copernico, which is the same hall we'll all be in during the 4 weeks of ILP, so I will only have to move rooms, not entire buildings, at the end of September. Also, Carly is in Copernico with me in her own single, so that should be fun! On the down side, apparently there is construction in Copernico, so we won't have access to the gym, computer room, and laundry rooms : ( But I'm sure we will make the best of it and have fun!

buongiorno : )

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