A Traffic Snarl at Sea and a Patriotic Salad

September is one of my favourite shoulders. The travel season kind of shoulders that is. The only downside, compared to May, the other shoulder, are the shorter days. By the time my daughter and I got back to Capri the sun was already beginning to set.   Happily, the fewer hours of daylight are compensated by an earlier aperitivo hour.  But before settling down in the Piazzetta, the social hub and only real piazza in the village, to what quickly became our evening drinks of choice – Aperol for my daughter and a glass of white wine, sometimes Prosecco for me –  there were two things I wanted to show her.  There was a good view of both of them from the Garden of Augustus, a 10-minute walk.  We made it just before the gates closed.

Off the south-east coast of the island are three rocks.  Iconic is a much abused word I generally avoid, but these rocks really are icons.  They’re the official symbol of Capri and decorate the tickets for the island’s public transit.


This ticket is good for the funivia and the buses around the island. You’ll probably go through quite a few of them as you explore the island.

The rocks are called Faraglioni.  Faro means lighthouse.  The other letters turn them into big lighthouses.  (By the way, this is another one of those ‘DO NOT PRONOUNCE THE G’ words.  It’s fah-ral-yoh-nee.)


The Faraglione di Mezzo and the Faraglione di Fuori in the last moments before they are swallowed up in the long shadows of Capri’s cliffs.

By the railing at the far end of the garden is an overhead and, for some of us at least, butterflies-inducing view of the Via Krupp.  (By the way if some of this post sounds familiar you may have read the post from my previous visit – A Piece of the Continent – Part I, Jan. 4, 2015.  Hopefully the revisit is as fresh for you as it is for me.)


The next morning we set off for un giro (gee-roh) in barca.  A boat ride around the island.


Setting off from Capri’s Marina Grande. Big Harbour.

As we headed west along the north shore a stretch of the road up to Anacapri came into sight.  Locals affectionately – or maybe not – call it the ‘Mamma mia!’ road.  On our way up later that day the young woman in front of us crossed herself every time we made it past one of the heart-stopping, hairpin turns.


A stretch of the ‘Mamma mia!’ road is visible halfway up the mountain on the right.

I was surprised when we started heading west, since on the previous two boat trips I’d taken we had headed east from the harbour, but the reason for the change in direction soon became apparent.  Unbeknownst to me – the manager at the B&B we were staying in had made the arrangements for us – this giro in barca included a visit inside another of Capri’s icons – la Grotta Azzurra.  The Blue Grotto.  As my daughter and I knew from a trip to Capri years ago, the otherwise rhapsodic website is totally accurate about the ‘few magical moments’ visitors will enjoy inside the cave. And since the sea was calm, I knew there was no chance the grotto would be closed. (The opening to the cave is less than a metre high, making entering extremely dangerous when the sea is at all mosso – literally, moved.)   As we rounded the bay and the grotto came into sight my heart sank.  Despite the early hour, there was already a long line-up of boats, as well as people (who would have come by bus) on the staircase waiting for their turn in the little row boats.


As our captain inched our boat closer to the grotto entrance, things looked even worse.  My hope (delusion?) that none of the people on our boat would want to go into the grotto was short-lived.   When the captain asked if anyone was interested, at least half the passengers raised their hands.  I wasn’t at all happy about the thought of wasting some of our precious time on the island, twiddling our thumbs while all those people had their few magical moments.


However, I have to admit, that with all the antics, the time – we ended up sitting there for well over an hour – passed surprisingly quickly. Apart from watching how close the boats could get without hitting each other, there were other distractions, like Mr. Numero 1, the cool dude who pulled his ultra luxury craft next to ours and proceeded to ogle my daughter.  (She and I were the only ones at the back of the boat and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t leering at me.)


As the name of the boat says, Grotta Azzurra Numero Uno.


While my daughter undoubtedly enjoyed the attention, she studiously ignored him. Brava!  Eventually he backed up.


If I’d known that in addition to ignoring the dude she had been busy taking photos like this one I would have been even prouder of her.

After a while I noticed something.  One of the fellows rowed his boat around a lot, but he never seemed to pick up any passengers.  I pointed him out to my daughter and we started to watch him more closely.


Eventually we figured it out.  He was the Vigile!  Vee-gee-lay. The traffic cop.


He lacked the elegant uniforms and whistles of Italy’s city traffic controllers, but he was definitely in charge of the boat activity in front of the cave.

It was one of those times I wished I had a better camera and could have taken a video.  I don’t understand napoletano, the local dialect here as on Ischia, but the gestures were pretty self-explanatory.  He got really agitated when one fellow with a huge barge of a boat tried to cut in.


In the interests of maintaining a level of decorum, some gestures are better left untranslated.


Don’t even think of it!  The fellow on the right is not happy either, but I think it’s best to leave his gesture untranslated as well.


Finally the capo had everything under control again. For the moment.

Finally everyone was back on board and we set out again.  A few minutes later we rounded the north-west tip of the island, Punta Carena, where a real faro has been guiding  the way since the late 1860’s.  Every three seconds it sends out a white flash with a range of 25 nautical miles, which is why, although it is clearly on terra firma, in the mysterious ways of seafarers, it is considered an ‘offshore’ lighthouse.


I had hoped to walk to the lighthouse later on, but as things turned out this was as close as we got.


The traffic jam at the next grotto was much smaller, but with no capo to keep things on the up and up, the captains showed how aggressive they could be.


One small boat went right through the opening, but for the rest of us, it was unnerving and satisfying enough to come this far into the grotto.

In 29 B.C., while returning from a trip to the Far East, Cesare Ottaviano disembarked on Capri. The future Emperor Augustus was so enchanted with the island, which had been under the rule of Naples for three centuries, that he swapped it for the larger and more fertile island of island of Ischia.


One of the island’s main attractions for the future emperor was its inaccessibility.


The Pompeii red villa built for Curzio Malaparte, one of Italy’s leading authors, is considered by many to be one of the finest works of modern architecture. Most locals hate it.


Grecian white is the colour of choice on Capri. Just one question – how do they get groceries up there?


It blends so well into the landscape that you have to look hard to spot the path of the Via Krupp up to the Garden of Augustus.

There are three ‘lighthouses’  –  Stella (Star), the highest at over 100 metres and the only one still attached to the island, il Faraglione di Mezzo (Middle Lighthouse), perhaps the best-loved, and Il Faraglione di Fuori, (The Outside Lighthouse) which, despite its prosaic name, is the only place in the world where the spectacular lucertola azzurra – blue lizard (‘Podarcis sicula coerula’ for the initiated) – is found.


The same wave action that has eroded the rock, cutting the ‘stacks’ as geologists call them, off from the island, has also created a tunnel at the base of the Faraglione di Mezzo.  When the sea is calm, astute captains, perhaps looking to increase tips, drive their boats through the Galleria dell’Amore.


Kiss your loved one as the boat passes through the tunnel and you will enjoy lifelong bliss. Getting the timing right and a selfie – in focus – to prove it can be tricky.

By the time we got back to the marina we were famished.  We made our way to a simple trattoria I had discovered on a previous trip. Since we were on the island it came from, I suggested we start with an insalata caprese. My daughter is a bit of a foodie so I was surprised to learn she didn’t know that caprese meant ‘of Capri’.  One of the blindspots, I’ve discovered, of learning another language is that you sometimes lose sight of what you didn’t used to know.

Like so many of Italy’s sites and dishes, the origins of the humble salad are surrounded with legends and urban lore.  The most likely theory is set in the secondo dopoguerra, the period of hardship and extreme poverty following the second World War, and involves one of the island’s stone masons.  Extremely patriotic, he took the colours of the Italian flag and made a simple sandwich of them –  tomatoes for the red, mozzarella (preferably mozzarella di bufala from the region) for the white and fresh basil leaves for the green.


Capri’s patriotic salad. Ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella di bufala, basil leaves, and a sprinkling of oregano and olive oil.  Deliziosa!

Next – when going down is a lot harder than going up







4 thoughts on “A Traffic Snarl at Sea and a Patriotic Salad

  1. Loved this post! I’ve never been to Capri but remember howling long and hard at a very funny Dave Barry column on his visit there. The guide taking him in and to demonstrate how special it was kept saying “You putts you hand inna da water, you hands look blue!” Still makes me laugh. Would love to see it one day. And the story about the Caprese salad! Fabulous. And easy to remember!! And, yes, no surprise that bello Napolitano had eyes for your daughter. She really is a beautiful young woman!

    • Hi Lauretta, Glad you enjoyed. The full Blue Grotto experience can be a tad kitschy but it’s hard to resist. I hope to have the second half of that lovely day finished soon. In the meantime, Grazie. Donna

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