Travelling Leila

My impressions about the places I visit

Archive for the month “September, 2013”

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Capri

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

We got our Capri trip almost with a fight. Poor Larissa was really struggling to arrange it for us, but all her efforts met a “brick wall” of the complete apathy of her Italian colleagues. Her requests were passed from one to another, delayed by half an hour, then by another half an hour, and it looked like the trip was about to burst like a soap bubble, when finally, totally desperate, she explained to us how to get there pretty much on our own: take a taxi, then board a boat and then find a tour at the port. She didn’t possess any maps of Capri or guide books, so just had to draw some directions using pen and paper.

Ischia

Ischia

Forio

The boat took about an hour to get to Capri. Fortunately, the day was more or less cloudy, and there was a delightful breeze at the top deck of the boat. We boarded it in Forio and sailed around the whole Ischia, stopping to pick up passengers at all the Ischian ports: Lacco Ameno, Casamicciola and Ischia Porto.

IMG_6481

Larissa had promised us that there would be Russian-speaking tour guides chasing tourists right at the port, but we didn’t want to entrust ourselves to chance and signed up for the Italian/German/English language tour offered directly on board.

Having got rid of this concern, we immersed ourselves in observing other passengers, and were not generally too impressed by their looks. There were quite a lot of sweet couples, gently kissing and hugging, however some of them seemed just plain unattractive. The men looked like a mixture of Julius Caesar with Danny DeVito or Savely Kramarov and the women looked sloppy, scruffy, ready to become coarse in a few years – I’m not trying to be mean here, but you just so imagine them in hair rollers and robe, yelling at their screaming kids!

For reference – the area of the Capri island is four times smaller than that of Ischia, making a total of ten square kilometres. The island is essentially a limestone mountain (as opposed to the volcanic Ischia), so it doesn’t have beaches per se. There are only two towns here, the lower one being Capri, and the higher one is called Anacapri. The water washes away the limestone, which results in the formation of grottos. We took a bus to visit the most famous one of them – the Blue Grotto – once we got off the boat.

The Blue Grotto

We turned out to be very lucky: the Blue Grotto can be entered only forty days a year (at least, so we were told!), at low water, and we just made it before it closed for today. This is how this all worked: the bus drove us right up to the stairs running down to the water, where there was a myriad of row boats with rowers. We had to wait in a queue; then manage to climb into the row boat, which was not that easy at all; then sail on it to the floating box office and pay there; and then lie down on the boat floor, as the entrance to the cave was very low. We entered into absolute darkness, lit only with occasional camera flashes, and accompanied by many-voiced rendition of “O Sole Mio”. We understood why the cave was called blue only once we turned back: illuminated with the light coming through the inlet, the water and ceiling coving got an amazing blue colour.

The Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

After seeing the grotto, we were taken to the central square of Anacapri. Here our opinion differed with that of Larissa, who had been convincing us that there was nothing to see in Anacapri, and praising Capri – we actually liked Anacapri better, with its magnificent view from the observation deck and a lot of very nice shops. It seems that the symbol of the island is lemon: there are loads of lemon-related souvenirs; there is a lovely refreshing drink made of lemon juice with crushed ice  sold everywhere, and the crown of all is the famous limoncello liqueur. Unfortunately, we only had time to catch a glimpse of all this beauty, as most of the free time we were given was taken by lunch, which our guide Cecilia was so ardently advocating to have right there, that we thought she was receiving commission from the restaurant for referring clients.

View from Anacapri

Anacapri

Later we were taken down to Capri. Here we saw (from the distance) the house of the “stormy petrel of revolution” Gorky, and Cecilia told us that in 1907 he had been visited by Lenin here – there is even a monument to the latter in Capri (which, by the way, no one thought of destroying!). We were told that here is where he was planning the revolution.

Capri

Capri

Capri - Gorky

Monument to Lenin

How did we find Capri? Very cramped, too posh, bristling with villas and gorgeous boutiques with crazy prices. On the narrow roads of what is assumed to be the pedestrian zone there are electrocars constantly scurrying around – we have them in Sant’Angelo too, but there they are not flowing continuously and are therefore not so annoying.

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri - Shoemaker

By the way, all of this splendour functions only from April to October – in winter Capri becomes dormant, and any connection with Ischia stops. Therefore, as Cecilia said, most Ischians have never been to Capri – in summer they are employed in the tourism sector, and in the winter it’s difficult to get there (via Naples), and there is hardly anything to do as well.

If Anacapri was cool and pleasant, in Capri, despite the occasional drizzle, and perhaps because of it, it was very hot and humid. In this swelter we visited the Augusto Gardens and took numerous pictures of the famous Faraglioni rocks.  This stuffiness made the above mentioned lemon drink (la granita) the main highlight of the garden visit. Oh, Larissa, Larissa, we thought, this is where we should have been sitting on a terrace of some restaurant, staring at sauntering tourists and scurrying electrocars, instead of doing so in Anacapri, which instead was perfect for walking.

The drizzle finally ended with a magnificent rainbow that we saw on our way back.

Ischia Porto

Ischia (Casamicciola)

Ischia (Lacco Ameno)

Ischia

IMG_6567

Ischia

Ischian sky

Sant'Angelo - way back

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Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Ischia

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

On our first day in Sant’Angelo we took a look around. At first glance our hotel seemed small, labyrinthine and beachless. We stared in disbelief at a small stone slab under our balcony with a couple of sun loungers and pool ladders leading into the sea. Look, we were saying to each other pointing into the distance, that hotel there has got a magnificent sandy beach. Had Booking.com simply duped us like that? It hadn’t, as it turned out. A huge spa area, covering the entire hillside, with a variety of pools – with thermal water, sea water and fresh water, hot and cold – and also part of the same beach which we had been drooling over – were all part of our hotel complex. Then we faced another problem: in order to reach it, we had to walk quite a long way up and down the stairs and paths under the baking sun. Looking ahead, I can say that in the following days this road did not seem as painfully long, as for me personally, I sometimes swam all the way from the stone slab to the sandy beach instead of walking there (about five hundred metres across the sea).

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

The Tyrrhenian Sea is clear, blue, moderately salty (not as salty as the Adriatic), the only problem is going in and coming out: the sand here is quite different from the dense and compacted one we have at the Caspian Sea, on which one can walk without falling through, the local sand actually looks more like tiny pebbles.

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

So what can I say about Sant’Angelo? It is a village, situated in the south of the island and is connected by a thin isthmus with a small peninsula, which is basically a lava formation. In the very heart of the village there is a pedestrian zone comprised of a square and a few adjacent streets, dotted with restaurants and shops. The shops look tempting at first glance, with closer examination, though, it turns out that a lot of them sell very cheap trash or the same kind of trash, but at exorbitant prices.

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

The food here is quite good, but rather unvaried: seafood, pizza and pasta. Interestingly, there are virtually no soups. The atmosphere in this area is very Italian with music playing, people dancing, children screaming, their mothers yelling at them, someone fishing and small mongrels barking furiously. Somehow the children are mostly girls: it’s either that a century of peace awaits Ischia, or for some reason boys are kept at home.

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

The vacationers here are mostly Italians themselves, there are also a lot of Russians, some Germans, French and British, and that’s pretty much it. There are no Chinese or Japanese tourists, which is surprising – I think you’d agree that places without crowds of either, cause some suspicion.

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

Sant'Angelo, Ischia

Here our observation of the locals’ laziness got developed and validated. To begin with, the vacationers swim surprisingly little – if you see someone swimming in the sea, most certainly they’ll turn out to be French, or Russian, or those writing these lines. Italians prefer to float lazily on mattresses, or not to go down to the sea altogether, lying around the pool instead. As for the staff, it is astonishing that any simple request grows into a big problem requiring a vigorous discussion between a few people.

For instance, on our very first day, as we usually do arriving to a new place, we tried to book tours and excursions, naively believing that this should be an easy and usual practice for the hotel. We came to the reception, and the girl working there readily laid out several maps and brochures, noting the places which she would recommend to visit, and considered her mission completed. We let her know that we weren’t going to call any tourist organisations or taxi services ourselves and clearly hinted that we expected these services from the hotel, in accordance with the notices on the walls. The girl was surprised and puzzled, and called a colleague to help. He pulled out a few more maps and brochures, and, in his turn, showed the places, which, in his opinion, would be interesting for us to visit. We stood our own and tried to persuade them into organising something for us. Finally, he remembered with relief, that they had a Russian lady named Larissa working for them, and she would come in the evening and help us.

Unlike the Italians, Larissa took up the matter enthusiastically. She told us that only the day before she sailed to the Amalfi coast on a private yacht with a Russian couple for 1,500 euro. We asked her to take us at least on a tour around Ischia – and a cheaper one preferably! – and agreed for the next day. Larissa had been living in Italy for the past seventeen years, so had perfectly mastered the talkativeness of the locals. However, these talks ended with zilch: she didn’t manage to get the day off.
Then we went back to the reception and importuned the girl until she finally called us a taxi. This is how we literally wrung out of them a trip to Forio and Ravino Gardens. Gino, the driver, turned out to be a nice fellow, who couldn’t speak a word of English, though – however, he knew a couple of phrases in German and for some reason was using them every now and then communicating with us. Here it’s worth pointing out another feature of the Italians – they are normally nice and willing to help, unless they are playing the big boss. So Gino voluntarily offered to take us not only to Ravino Gardens and Forio, but also to drive us around the whole island, for just a little extra payment.

The Ravino Gardens are basically a small botanical garden dedicated to cacti and succulents only, which are more numerous and diverse than in the famous glasshouses of Kew Gardens in London. The specialty of these gardens is their own very tasty cactus cocktail.

Ravino Gardens, Ischia

Driving us around the island, Gino still somehow managed to give us explanations in his Italian-German and diligently stopped in the most beautiful panoramic places for us to take pictures. So we pretty much saw almost all of the towns of Ischia: Forio, Lacco Ameno, Casamicciola, Ischia Porto (where we took a look from afar at the Aragonese Castle, a local landmark on the top of a cliff), Barano.

Forio, Ischia

Lacco Ameno, Ischia

Ischia Porto

Ischia Porto - Castello Aragonese

Ischia Porto

Ischia Porto

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – day 3

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

We still had a half more day in Rome. Our company had to split as part of it vigorously decided to go shopping. The other part, including me as well, didn’t mind shopping either, but somehow felt the urgent need to verify our own honesty by putting our hands into the Mouth of Truth. Here we were particularly lucky: a whole cavalcade of Japanese tourists arrived in several buses exactly AFTER us and formed a hopelessly long queue, while we reached the Bocca della Verità pretty quickly. It was only allowed to take one picture per person. Having confirmed that our hands remained intact, we left this place without visiting the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin – we weren’t really up for it. We tried to find a taxi to catch up with our shopping companions, but there was none anywhere in sight, so we willy-nilly had to go back to the tour bus stop and spend ages (at least, 25 minutes or so!) waiting for the bus under the scorching sun.

The Mouth of Truth

Between this stop and the one leading to Via Corso with lots of shops, there was a trap awaiting us: the Vatican with its non-visited Sistine Chapel. We looked at each other: “Shall we get off here?” – “Yeah, let’s get off. As for the shopping, the hell with it!”

At the Vatican we were delighted by the virtual absence of a queue. Little did we know then, and only later we could appreciate the full extent of our mistake – this time people were entering the Basilica the proper way: through the Museum and the Sistine Chapel, which is completely the opposite side.

And then we met either a fairy godmother or a snake temptress who was persistently inviting us to join a private tour to the Museum, which would allow us to skip the queue, as there was no way to get into the Chapel other than via the Museum. But the tour was to take at least two hours of pure time (i.e. without all the preparation) and by the time it ended we were already supposed to be on our way to the airport. So we basically decided to waste our money: pay the full price, and then skip not only the queue, but also the Museum itself with this 1000+ chambers.

Our Italian-American guide apparently took after his Italian father in being extremely talkative – he eagerly explained us every single step we would have to make, starting from the purchase of the tickets. For us, however, his every word felt like a sharp knife, as it was stealing our precious time. Somewhere in the middle of his speech he was joined by a compassionate Italian lady, who tediously explained us that there was absolutely no way their company could charge us half price for the tour, even though we were going to skip the Museum. Although we hadn’t even asked for anything like this, we had to nod understandingly.

Eventually, we have our tickets in hand, our guide bids us farewell and starts his tour for the others – and off we rush through the museum chambers, full of sculptures, tapestries, maps, mosaics, etc. We only manage to catch a glimpse of this and that on the run, lingering for literally a second in front of anything particularly eye-catching. Very beautiful indeed, but terribly stuffy and packed with people – by and large we would hardly be able to survive a two-hour tour anyway!

The Vatican Museum

 

The Vatican Museum

And the Chapel is still quite far, we accelerate and accelerate…  Finally, swathed in shawls once again (it’s also a holy place!) we enter the Chapel. Michelangelo’s paintings on the walls and ceiling are utterly amazing, it is a pity, though, that we can’t appreciate all the details – the unpleasant surprise is that it is so crowded that there isn’t even room to sneeze, therefore no chance to walk around and look. By the way, taking photos in the Chapel is not allowed, but I managed to sneakily take one or two – it is quite blurry, but at least you get the idea.

Sistine Chapel

Still, we anyway felt great satisfaction by the Chapel itself and the fact that we had chosen contemplation thereof over meaningless shopping.

We were lucky to find a taxi right next to St. Peter’s square, and as a result we reached our hotel even before our companions.

Then we headed to the airport where our flight was delayed by about an hour. The transfer in Naples worked perfectly: a minivan took us to the port, where the driver got us tickets for the boat, and on our arrival to Ischia we were picked up by another minivan with a frail elderly driver, who nevertheless famously placed our luggage on the car rooftop.

We had been perceiving Ischia as some kind of a small town – it turned out to be a large island. The minivan drove us for about an hour in the dark until it dropped us at the start of the pedestrian zone of Sant’Angelo, where it took us ten more minutes to drag our suitcases to the hotel.

 

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