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Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Ferragosto

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As we were planning our trip, we had no idea that we would have a chance to see a big holiday of Ferragosto on August 15. This day is celebrated everywhere – particularly, every hotel arranges a feast for their guests. Those restaurants that are not closed, also host parties. Of course, it would be absolutely foolish of us not to participate.

We were treated with very good live music – it was basically kind of a concert of old and new Italian hits. The food was really good as well and consisted of an aperitif with appetizers; assorted antipasti (ranging from ordinary bruschetta to exquisite oysters); pasta for entrée (spaghetti with seafood and ravioli ); a main seafood course (swordfish and king prawns) and a large variety of traditional pastry and fruit for dessert.

By the way, speaking about pasta for starter – this is not the know-how of our hotel. We were surprised to find out that the local cuisine (i.e. southern Italian) was totally devoid of liquid dishes, and meals very often start with pasta. Even the so-called mussel soup, popular in local menus, is essentially steamed mussels with a very small amount of liquid at the bottom.

Ferragosto Food

Ferragosto

The dinner ended with magnificent fireworks: right over our heads at 11pm, and then – somewhere in the distance at midnight. On this cheerful note, we said goodbye to Ischia – Naples awaits us tomorrow.

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

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Posted in Europe, Ischia, Italy

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Baia di Sorgeto

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Whoop whoop, it finally happened – the bustling Larissa’s efforts overcame the passivity of the Italian side: they managed to find the tour operator conducting tours in Russian, and its representative came to our hotel to provide all kinds of guidance to its Russian-speaking  guests.

A small group of the latter gathered in the pool area, dominated (or at least, so he thought) by a man from St. Petersburg, with traces of heavy drinking on his face, not speaking any foreign language, and trying hard to show everyone how rich and cool he was: he expressed the desire to have only individual tours, was only interested in Michelin-starred restaurants and said something like “One should use a choke chain on the tour guide, to make sure they only do what you tell them to do”. His aspiration for ‘separatism’ was actually quite convenient for us, as this specimen would be extremely unpleasant to be around on any tour. His wife, by the way, looked quite simple and seemed to feel uncomfortable with her husband’s statements.

As a result of the conversation with the representative of the tour operator we got vouchers for a tour on Wednesday, and also learned about the Sorgeto bay located right here, near Sant’Angelo, and Le Fumarole beach located on a volcanic basin, heating the sand up to a hundred degrees centigrade. It sounded, though, like all you could to at Le Fumarole was baking potatoes and eggs in the sand, so we decided to abstain from a trip there and visit Sorgeto. As we were explained, the beach there pretty much consisted of natural stone beds with trickles of thermal water at 90-100 degrees Celsius flowing into them from under the ground. Combined with sea water, it results in overall temperature of around 35-40 degrees.

We took a water taxi to Sorgeto. The sailing was very pleasant, and we saw the “Elephant” rock on our way. However, Sorgeto itself, where we had been even encouraged to go at night, did not impress us that much: it was basically a jumble of huge boulders, looking scary to even step on (to us, at least), and even more so to try to lie on – it seemed absolutely impossible. Therefore, we returned to Sant’Angelo on the very next taxi.

Can you spot the elephant?

 

Baia di Sorgeto

 

Posted in Europe, Ischia, Italy

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Ischia Porto

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All this sightseeing is nice and interesting, but who said one shouldn’t be shopping when abroad? We’d been thinking for ages how to do it, and were first planning to travel to Naples, but then realised it would take us two hours to get there and two more to get back, especially that the opening time of the shops wasn’t very clear. Due to summertime many places here are closed from 1pm till 4pm, working a little in the morning and till midnight in the evening. And besides, August is the month of holidays, culminating on August 15 , the holiday of Ferragosto, which is an ancient pagan festival of the sun and harvest , adapted in Christianity as a day dedicated to the Madonna. Therefore, the working hours of shops (if at all? ) were under big question.

As a result we compromised . We had already mentioned that in general shopping in Sant’Angelo is virtually inexistent, so we were taken to Ischia Porto, the “capital” of the island. We were told that under the order of Mussolini each Italian city should have its own Via Roma, that is the street of Rome – usually it is the main street with all the shops concentrated on it. Ischia Porto is no exception . We arrived there at 6pm, and the street was crowded . However, we saw very little brand shops as such – most of them, just like in Sant’Angelo, contained a hodgepodge of several items by various brands. Still, after walking along the street till 10pm, each of us ended up with some new clothes .

The taxi driver, which was supposed to take us back to our hotel, told us that the price was not negotiable, but would rather be calculated based on the meter. We were pleased with the idea of not having to pay 40 euros this time. Well, indeed, we didn’t have to – the meter counted 60! We tried to argue, but the driver’s reply was that this was the night fare. Why 11pm had to be considered as night already – is an altogether different question, but arguing any further was simply pointless.

Posted in Europe, Ischia, Italy

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – La Mortella (Ischia)

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From time to time we are promised that a Russian representative of some travel company will come to the hotel to “tell us everything” and organise a tour. But we do not believe in anything any longer and try to entertain ourselves as much as we can. Having gone through the available booklets, we decided to visit the La Mortella gardens.

These gardens were planted by an Argentinian gardener who was the wife of the famous English composer Sir John Walton. They settled in Ischia in 1949, and, for the inspiration of her talented husband, she created the lower garden, full of the most rare plants from all around the world, including the giant Amazonian water lily Victoria amazonica, a leaf of which, as we all remember from our school books, can easily hold a month-old baby (dedicated to those lilies is the Victoria House, where water pours into a pool out of a  the ‘bocca’ (mouth) bas-relief); the Chinese paper tree, lotus, bamboos, Araucaria , bromeliads (that’s all I could remember, although there were lots more).

La Mortella - Bamboo

La Mortella

La Mortella

La Mortella

La Mortella - Lotus

La Mortella

La Mortella

La Mortella - Victoria Amazonica

La Mortella

La Mortella - Lazy Cat

The upper garden was created after the death of Sir Walton , in his memory. He is buried right here (and so is Susana – his widow, who died later and who is referred to as the soul of the garden). Clambering up, we saw the Greek theatre , a pool with a bronze crocodile, the Temple of the Sun, the Thai pagoda and a concert hall, where they show a documentary with Lady Walton herself talking about the garden. We did not watch it all, but caught the moment where Prince Charles of Wales was admiring her replicated version of the Victoria House at Chelsea Flower Show in London.

La Mortella

La Mortella - Thai Pagoda

La Mortella - Templa of the Sun

La Mortella - Temple of the Sun

Posted in Europe, Ischia, Italy

Adventures of the Azeris in Italy – Ischia

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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