The Path (Best) Not Taken

It all started when someone told me – or maybe it was something I read – that the best place to watch the sunset on Capri was from the Faro – not the Faraglioni, the rocky outcrops off the south-east end of of Capri – but the real lighthouse at Punta Carena.  It made sense. Punta Carena is the most south-westerly tip of the island.   I had also read that there was a path from Monte Solaro down to the lighthouse.  After our morning boat ride around the island, it sounded like the perfect outing for the afternoon.

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On the left, the lighthouse at Punta Carena. In the distance on the right the Faraglioni.

On a previous trip I had taken the chair lift from Anacapri up to Monte Solaro and then walked down along the Via Crucis, which was pretty rough in parts, but for a path also known as ‘The Way of the Cross’ and ‘The Way of Suffering’ it was totally doable and the views were great. (Yearning for Light, Feb. 23, 2014)

Looking back I realize I was offered not one, but two opportunities to reconsider my plan. But as a sign I once drove past on a treacherous mountain road warned, you have to give your guardian angel a chance.

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As we drove along the south shore that morning I was somehow oblivious to the fact that the path I planned to take was somewhere up there in those craggy peaks.

When we got to the ticket counter at the chair lift and I asked for ‘Due biglietti, solo andata‘  the clerk looked at me, and clearly hoping to save me from myself, asked ‘Andata solo?’ (One way only?)

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Most visitors (wisely) take the chairlift down.

We wandered around the top of the mountain for a while, enjoying the views, taking photos of each other, and of other visitors who then took photos of us.  It was beautiful. But after a while I began to feel the first twinges.  We had pretty much covered the top of the mountain and I had seen no sign of the path.  Also, after a lovely, leisurely lunch, then the bus up to Anacapri and then the chair lift, by the time we reached the top of Monte Solaro it was late afternoon. This was September.  The shoulder with the short days.

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On a clear day the view from Monte Solaro stretches east all the way along the Amalfi Coast.

Finally I went back to the chair lift and asked one of the attendants.  Oh yes, signora, there is a sentiero.   One of them led us to a small gate below the station.  Eccolo!  Here it is, he said as he opened it and waved us on our way.  What was soon revealed as remarkable about this brief interchange was that in a region where dramatic expressions and grand gestures are part of everyday communication, at no point did he give any indication whatsoever that the path might not be suitable. At the very least not for one of us.

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As we set out the sun began what seemed like a precipitous fall and peaks to the west began to cast their long shadows on the path.

There had been many mornings when, in the interests of maintaining a blissfully companionable relationship with my now adult daughter, I had worked very hard to keep my mouth shut tight when I saw her footwear choice for the day.

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How had she known to trade the flip flops for running shoes on this particular day?

I on the other hand was wearing sandals. Not stylish, delicate sandals, but the comfortable, thick-soled, sturdy sandals I always wear and which I had worn on the Via Crucis.  But they were no match for the loose rocks and pebbles of what was more a mulattiera (moo-lat-tyeh-rah) than a sentiero.   A less travelled mule track.

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I’m coming.

On the few – all too few – flat stretches when I wasn’t consumed with trying not to sprain an ankle or smash my camera on the rocks, I had some very nasty thoughts about a poem that up until then I had always thought was quite lovely.  Especially the last lines – “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— /I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.

If you are of a certain age you probably recognize the lines from the poem by Robert Frost, a poem you may also have learned by heart as school children once did.  Of course that was in a bygone era when memorizing poems was viewed as an effective way to develop our memory skills, rather than a stifling impediment to our individuality and creativity.  In any event, like most readers and many professional critics, I had always viewed the poem as an ode to those courageous enough to set out on the lonely, less travelled path.  And like many of them – search engine data backs this up –  I was also under the MISTAKEN impression that the Frost had called his poem ‘The Road Less Traveled’.   Mistaken not because there is only one ‘l’ – he was American – but because he had in fact called it ‘The Road Not Taken’.

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Even carrying my bag my daughter made much speedier progress than I.

And, as it turned out, the difference between the mule track I was struggling along and the path I had expected was just about as big as the difference between Frost’s road not taken and his road less travelled.  Except that, as I learned in a fascinating article by the Academy of American Poets, the poem was meant to be a joke.   A gentle tease of his walking companion, Edward Thomas, who no matter how lovely the path they took, always lamented the path not taken.  Apparently all this ‘crying over what might have been’ got on Frost’s nerves, so eventually he sent Thomas a draft of a poem entitled ‘Two Roads’.  The fact that the ‘I’ in the poem was meant to be him went right over Thomas’ head.  A series of letters followed in which Thomas dug himself deeper and deeper into his mistaken interpretation and Frost got more and more exasperated at his friend’s obtuseness until Frost finally wrote a letter in which he berated his friend for missing the mock nature of the sigh in the line ‘I shall be telling this with a sigh’.  Thomas, his feelings obviously hurt, shot back ‘I doubt if you can get anyone to see the fun of the thing without showing them’.

About an hour into what for my daughter was clearly a thoroughly enjoyable outing, the ‘path’ led to a pine forest barely penetrated by the feeble rays of the rapidly setting sun.  At times we weren’t even sure we were on the path. Unbidden and unwelcome, an Italian poem about a road now came to mind.  Only this one wasn’t a joke.  It was a very serious oeuvre about losing one’s way in a dark forest.  « Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita/ mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,/ché la diritta via era smarrita. »  Literally (more or less) – ‘In the middle of the path of my life I found myself in a dark forest, for the right way was lost’.  With these words Dante begins his descent into Inferno (Hell) in his epic poem, La Commedia Divina.

By the time we made it out of our selva oscura my only hope was that we would reach the restaurant where the owner of our hotel had made a dinner reservation for us before it was pitch black.

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This is the closest we got to the lighthouse that night.

Luckily the restaurant was on the west side of the island where it was still light.  The pool bar – I hadn’t realized the restaurant was part of a hotel complex – was closing when we arrived, but the young man in charge told me we could get drinks from the bar inside the restaurant.   And then we sat down by the pool, wished each other ‘Salute!’ and watched a sunset that was made even more spectacular because of the path we had taken to get there.

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A Piece of the Continent – Part I

I had always assumed that Capri was volcanic.  Vesuvius isn’t far off, and Ischia, which is even closer, is part of the Phlegraean archipelago of islands strung out on the western edge of the Bay of Naples.  All volcanic.

The easter Faraglione, one of two rocks which over time have become the symbol of Capri.

The Faraglioni on the eastern tip of Capri certainly look volcanic.

So I was surprised to learn recently that not only is Capri not the result of a volcanic eruption, it isn’t even, in John Donne’s immortal words, ‘an island, entire of itself’.  It’s a limestone-based ‘piece of the continent’.

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Take a boat ride around the island and you’ll see no end of fantastical ridges and towers.

It’s what geologists call a ‘continental’ island, or Karst,  ‘a land formation underlaid with limestone which has been eroded by dissolution over the years forming fantastical ridges, towers and sinkholes in the rock’.

Amongst all the 'fantastical ridges' there is even an elephant.

Amongst all the ‘fantastical ridges’ there is even an elephant.

Whatever its origins, the result of all that geological dissolution is an island that is, ‘a dir poco’ (ah deer poe-koe) – to say little – utterly charming.

Unlike the Marina Grande in Sorrento, the one in Capri really is grande.

Like the Marina Grande in Sorrento, Capri’s Big Harbour oozes with charm.

Caesar Augustus was so taken with its charms when he visited in 29 BC, that he promptly made a straight swap for it with Ischia.  From a purely economical point of view, this was a very poor trade – Ischia is larger and more fertile – but such are the charms of the island.

Then he had a villa built, so he could enjoy its charms whenever he wished.  After Augustus came Tiberius, who, demonstrating a more refined sense of natural beauty and architecture than he did of other things, commissioned a total of twelve imperial villas scattered around the island on the most spectacularly beautiful sites. 

Augustus and Tiberius may have taken up the island's prime locations, but villa builders in more modern times still manage to find some pretty good sites.

Augustus and Tiberius may have taken up the island’s prime locations, but 20th century afiçionados still manage to find some pretty good sites.

Augustus and Tiberius may have taken up the island's prime locations, but with all those craggy outcrops, villa builders in more modern times have still managed to find perfectly acceptable sites for their refuges.  The villa of nick-named Il Ferro (The Iron) by locals not enamoured of the style.

Villa Malaparte 1939, aka Il Ferro (The Iron) by locals who are not not enamoured of the Italian Razionalismo style.

Nowadays most visitors have to content themselves with a day trip.  So every day, huge ferries from the mainland disgorge thousands of them, all bent on getting off those ferries as quickly as possible.

..but unlike Sorrento's harbour, this one really is grande, just the place for enormous ferries to dock and unload the hordes of tourists that invade the island every day.

Unlike the Marina Grande in Sorrento, this one really is grande.

This of course has a tendency to make the arrival anything but charming.  It’s even less charming if you’re a woman travelling by yourself and get hit on by a local the moment you step off the ferry.

Arriving for the first time on your own is xxxx

Even if you’ve done your homework, it’s easy to miss the entrance to the funivia.  It’s the arch behind the striped, red awning.

Hoping to make the arrival on this return visit somewhat less disagreeable, as soon as we entered the harbour I left the upper deck with its gorgeous views and positioned myself as close to the gangplank as possible.  Who would have guessed this was where all the smokers hung out?  In any event, I experienced slightly less jostling, although it never ceases to amaze me how many adults are evidently still at the  developmental stage – I think the child psychologists put it around age 2 – during which,  if you don’t see something – because you have covered your eyes or you don’t make eye contact – it’s not standing there, right in front of you.  On the plus side, there was no sleazy come-on this time.  (Age has to have some benefits.)  And the delivery vans, that some local admin people obviously think are fine to let mingle with the half-dazed tourists, weren’t quite as unnerving.

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Reminding myself of the plaque I’d seen at Villa Maria – ‘Even paradise is not for the faint of heart’ – I made my way to the biglietteria and was soon on the funivia heading for the town the island is named for.

Piazza Umberto was as crowded as ever.

Piazza Umberto, aka la Piazzetta, was as crowded as ever.

In 2012, the mayor of Rome passed a law prohibiting eating on or around the monuments of the Città Eterna.  Apparently things had gotten out of control.  Tourists had no respect for the ancient treasures.  They had been caught chopping watermelons in the fountains of Piazza Navona; setting up dining tables, complete with table cloth and cutlery, on the Spanish Steps.  The prohibition is strictly enforced by the Roman vigili urbani, who routinely hand out fines, ranging from 25 to 500 euros.

The police in Rome vigilantly enforce the prohibition against sitting and eating on the Spanish Steps, but evidently their  counterparts in Capri take a more laid back approach.

According to a plaque next to the steps in Piazza Umberto, a similar law had been passed even earlier in Capri.

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But it would appear that in Capri the vigili take a more laid-back approach to such things.

Given the abbondanza of charms found on the island, it’s surprising how small it is – just over 6 km long and, at its widest point, less than 3 km.  You would think it wouldn’t matter where you stayed, you’d be close to everything.  Accordingly, for my first visit, once I discovered that the town of Capri was even more expensive that it was charming, I decided to stay in the slightly more reasonable and down-to-earth village of Anacapri.

Capri may only be a few square miles, as the crow files, but down at ground level, it's another story.

Capri may only be a few square miles, as the crow files, but down at ground level, it’s another story.

What I hadn’t taken into account was how difficult and time-consuming getting around 10 square km. can actually be.

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With space at such a premium, there is little room, even in Capri’s most luxurious hotels, for private courtyards, far from the prying eyes of the passing hoi poloi. But maybe that is part of the essence of Capri.  To see and be seen.

So on my return visit I was glad when I managed to secure a room at a very simple, but lovely hotel only 5 minutes from Piazza Umberto.

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I loved the trumpet vine blossoms lining the path when I first arrived. Sadly, the next day when I returned in the evening someone had ‘tidied up’ the path.

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Paradoxically, the views from the little terrace of this simple hotel were absolutely wonderful.

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And as promised, the hotel really was just a few minutes walk to the Gardens of Augustus…

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I arrived in the middle of a photo shoot for the local dance school.

…and the terrace overlooking one of my favourite views – the Faraglioni.

One of my favourite views - The Faraglioni viewed from the Giardini di Augustus.

It’s surprising how mesmerizing it can be to watch boats flit around a few hunks of rocks.

A mio parere (a me-oh pah-reh-ray) – in my opinion – without a doubt, the perfect way  to start off one’s first morning on Capri is un giro in barca – a boat ride around the island.

We leave the Marina Grande and head east.

Leaving the Marina Grande and heading east…

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…past the rocky outcrop on which the statue of a little boy waves hello to all visitors.

The statue is of lo scugnizzo Gennarino (low skoon-yeats-so jen-nar-ee-no).   Scugnizzo is Neapolitan for ‘street urchin’.

Gennarino waves 'Benvenuto'.  Welcome.

Gennarino waves ‘Benvenuto‘. Welcome.

Augustus may have traded Ischia for Capri centuries ago, but both islands have remained in essence, napoletane.  With me the locals speak in italiano, but amongst themselves, always in the incomprehensible – at least to outsiders, which includes not just me, but Italians from other regions as well – Neapolitan dialect.  How strange that this small, upscale jewel of an island and the sprawling, gritty metropolis of Naples would be, in fondo (at the heart of things), so closely tied.

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This young couple gets ready to kiss – for buona fortuna –  as we pass under the arch in one of the Faraglioni.

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If I hadn’t seen Via Krupp from above on a previous trip, I had a feeling I might be wondering why everyone got so excited when we came to this zigzagging stone wall.

Via Krupp from the terrace of Augustus' Garden.

View Krupp, seen from the terrace of Augustus’ Garden.

The Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto) may be the most famous, but on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate some of Capri’s other grottoes a lot higher for overall viewing experience.  For one thing, as I explained in Una Passeggiata a Capri (Feb. 16, 2014), after you’ve handed over the supplement for the Blue Grotto tour, there are no guarantees you’ll even see it.  All it takes is a bit of wind and the small entry hole may be submerged.

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As a confirmed landlubber, I was somewhat taken aback at how close our captain took us to the entrance of the first grotto we came to.  But he was obviously as comfortable on the sea as I was not, and watching him, I got the feeling he took great pride in his prowess at the tiller.

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There might also have been a touch of competition and showmanship going on among the captains of the various boats as they vied for the best positions for their passengers.

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Marina Piccola, the only section along the south shore where the cliffs don’t drop precipitously into the sea.

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Il Faro di Punta Carena at the south-west tip of the island.

From the lighthouse we continued up the western shore of Capri.  The light was now all wrong, but I’ve included these shots to give you an idea of what the Blue Grotto experience is really like.

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All those boats jostling for position and all those people on the steps are waiting for their turn in the small, low boats that can fit through the opening of the grotto.

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The specially built boats can handle only two adult passengers, and, in a pinch, a couple of their offspring, at a time. This is because everyone aboard has to scrunch down to the level of the gunwales when they get to the entrance.  Is it just me, or does the fellow with the cell phone seem somewhat unimpressed with the whole experience?

The trip around the island takes about an hour and a half, so by the time you get off the boat, stroll around the harbour a bit and then take the funivia up to Capri, it’s time for  an aperitivo – and what better place than the social centre of the island – la Piazzetta?

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It’s hard to spend any time on the island without coming across some serious bling.

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I’d seen countless tourists walking around with bags decorated with this watch.  Curious, I finally went into one of the stores. It was packed with people who were not just gawking like me, but making substantial purchases.

this woman and I may have been the only people to enter the store and leave empty-handed in a long time.

The man in the orange shirt was, I’m pretty sure, this woman’s husband.  I overheard him encouraging her to buy something, but she seemed as mystified by the Capri Watch thing as  I was.  She and I may have been the only people to leave the store empty-handed in a long time.

and the stores surrounding la Piazzetta ...

It’s all about your priorities I guess.  Ironically, in spite of my ignorance when it comes to high-end shopping, I do have in my possession – it’s sitting on my book case – a pigna identical to the one in the window of this luxury store. I bought mine (it’s the blue, pine-cone) in Sicily, where they are considered a symbol of friendship and welcome.

Obviously this is a place where some serious shopping goes on, but it’s all beyond me, in more ways than one.  What I’m on the hunt for is a table where I can sit for a while and enjoy one of the most fascinating shows in the world.  I’m here for some serious people watching.

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A waiter and an elegant signora.

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Four young guys having a chat.

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But wait! One of them is a cop.

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There was something terribly intriguing about this fellow.

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He went back and forth, visiting with friends seated at the various caffès lining the piazza.

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I took this elderly man for a widow, who’d come out to the piazza to read his paper for a bit of company.

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A few minutes later, a group of well-dressed signore arrived, one of whom was his very much still alive wife.

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After a few kisses and words of greeting, he got up and left them to continue a very intense conversation.

After about an hour’s worth of people watching and having long since emptied my wine glass, I decided I’d better get a move on or I’d be tempted to order another glass and would end up spending the rest of the afternoon there – which is exactly what a lot of the people I was watching seemed to have every intention of doing.   But they were Italian – for them it was just a typical Sunday outing.  We tourists on the other hand don’t have time to sit around indulging in la dolce vita.  We have sites to see.  Photos to take. Things to check off lists.

I asked the waiter for the bill.

TBC

 

 

Yearning for Light

While I enjoyed visiting all the usual sites, the real reason I had wanted to come back to Capri was to visit Villa San Michele, the extraordinary fulfilment of one man’s dream.  I also wanted to get to the top of Mt. Solaro – the highest point on the island.

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The bits sticking up along the middle peak mark the path of the Mt. Solaro chairlift.

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At 1932 feet – almost 600 metres – above sea level, the summit of Mt. Solaro is often lost in the clouds.
No views on days like this one.

On one of my previous visits to the island, the seggovia (chair-lift) wasn’t running because of brutto tempo (‘ugly’ weather).

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Even when it’s bel tempo the clouds can hover close to the top.

On another, because of time constraints, I’d had to choose between the mountain and a boat ride around the island.  I happily chose the latter, but now I was back and the weather was bello.

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In fact the weather was so bello and the sun so intense,
this was the best shot I could get of the base of the chair-lift in Piazza della Vittoria.

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Even if you get there right at opening time, you still have to wait a few minutes.
The first ride of the day is reserved for containers of fresh water.

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Exhilarating seems a rather poor word to describe the ride up.  Heeding the warnings, I had tethered all my belongings tightly to my body.  Given the assortment of things on the ground below – mostly flip flops – others had been less cautious.  As soon as you recover from the ride, you can start enjoying the views.

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Anacapri and the Faraglioni.

I wandered around the mountain top until I could no longer pretend the white, fluffy clouds of early morning weren’t being overtaken by dark, brooding intruders.  I set off along the path down the mountain.

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There was no one else around.  It was a strange feeling after the hordes of tourists.

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I had bought a guide ‘Capri Blossoming – Botanical Walks’, but rather than stopping to look up all the plants – and I mean literally ‘all’ since I didn’t recognize anything – I decided to simply enjoy the walk.  I could always look them up later.  Besides, look at those clouds.

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I didn’t know the path was a Via Crucis – Way of the Cross. I must have missed a few stations.

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Orchis italicus.  Most of Capri’s wild orchids are now restricted to Mt. Solaro.

When I consulted my guidebook later, I learned that there are 258 types of orchids in Europe, 80 of which are in Italy.  A 1931 census recorded 27 species on Capri.  By 1990 that number had dwindled to 15.  Like so many plants that are now considered endangered, the problem is not climate change or pollution.  It’s poaching.  Even more tragically, because of a symbiotic relationship with microscopic fungi in the soil, the poaching is pointless because the orchids rarely survive transplanting.

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From the first Stazione a path led back to Anacapri.

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Unlike along the path to Villa Jovis, high walls hid these gardens.

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San Michele (St. Michael)

In 1876 an eighteen year old Swedish doctor spent a day exploring Capri.  That day changed the course of his life.  He described the intense and immediate sense of attachment he felt that day in his memoir, “The Story of San Michele”.

“To live in such a place as this, to die in such a place, if ever death could conquer the everlasting joy of such a life!  What daring dream had made my heart beat so violently when Mastro Vincenzo had told me that he was getting old and tired and that his son wanted him to sell his house?  What wild thoughts had flashed through my boisterous brain when he had said that the chapel belonged to nobody?  Why not to me?”

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Twenty years would pass before that student, Dr. Axel Munthe, by then a renowned doctor whose practice included Europe’s richest and most royal patients, could fulfill his dream and purchase the property.  Over the next five decades, come summer he would abandon his patients in Rome and sail south to his dream home.

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It took “five long summers’ incessant toil from sunrise till sunset” to build the villa, which Dr. Munthe designed himself.  It might have been finished sooner had it not been for all the times the doctor didn’t like how some part turned out – he had no training in either architecture or engineering – and, to the great dismay of the locals who were helping him, insisted it be knocked down.

Access to the garden is through the villa, which is surprisingly small.  “The soul needs more space than the body,”  was Dr. Munthe’s philosophy.

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In his dream home Munthe wanted “nothing superfluous, nothing unbeautiful.”

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Roba di Timberio.

An astounding quantity of priceless relics from antiquity are spread throughout the villa. There could easily have been many more. Up until Munthe’s arrival, whenever the locals  came across any marble or granite while working in their gardens, they would just toss the annoying pieces – they called it “roba di Timberio” (Tiberius’ stuff) – into the sea.

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Dr. Munthe had wanted flowers everywhere.
Cineraria is a nice enough flower, but here they looked absolutely spectacular.

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There was a lovely little  garden – really not so little when you think of all the effort that would have gone into creating the terrace – but I was eager to see the views that had been at the heart of Munthe’s design.  “I want my house open to sun and wind and the voice of the sea, like a Greek temple, and light, light, light everywhere!”

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Of course, in order to have a view you have to be above something.   ‘Ana’ is an ancient Greek prefix meaning ‘above’.  Anacapri, at 327 metres above sea level, is very much ‘above’.  When Munthe first came to the island in 1876, there was no road up to the village.  For years he, and his visitors, had to climb up an ancient path – the Phoenician Steps – all 777 of them. 

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Hermes, aka Mercury, the busy Greek God, was involved in an astounding range of endeavours – animal husbandry, roads, travel, hospitality, diplomacy, trade, thievery, language,  athletic contests, astronomy and astrology.  No wonder he is often depicted, not as this handsome youth, but as an old, worn-out man.   The younger version seemed to be more popular down here in the south.  There is an identical statue in one of the gardens I was going to visit on the Amalfi Coast.

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All around the villa “were loggias, terraces and pergolas (…) to watch the sun, the sea and the clouds”.

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The best view of all was given to the Sphinx.

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What the Sphinx sees.

I probably wasn’t the only visitor that day who would have preferred brilliant sunshine, but, as the Swedish doctor was to learn, there is a dark side to Capri’s intense light.  Tragically, years of exposure to the intense light he loved damaged his eyes and he spent the last years of his life in darkness.

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From Mt. Solaro you can see the terraces of the Gardens of Augustus.
The colonnaded building beyond is the Certosa di San Giacomo, a 14th century Carthusian monastery.

There was another garden on the island – the Giardini d’Augusto – the Gardens of Augustus.  It was just a short walk from the Piazzetta so I decided to have a look.

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On one of the benches, a surprising message in a country that seems to celebrate noise:
“Cleanliness and silence are signs of civility. Let’s respect them”.

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Another bench celebrated Capri’s lemons.

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Pansies and petunias.

I’ve seen cool weather pansies planted next to sun-loving flowers like these petunias in quite a few Italian gardens. These combos always strike me as strange. Pansies are spring plants and petunias are for the summer border.  I wonder, after years of gardening in a certain climate, do we develop unconscious notions of ‘natural’ companion plants?

I think the garden would be more accurately described as a nice little park (rather than a botanical garden as I saw it touted in one guidebook).   The focus of greatest interest the day I visited was by a little bridge to the side.

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Before you start shaking your head at the foolishness of some tourists, have a look at the path they have just trudged up.

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Via Krupp

If I’d climbed up that path, I’d try to get myself over that gate too.

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It was a lot harder for the young girl with that short dress.  After a couple of attempts she took off her flip-flops – I can never understand tourists traipsing all over the place in such flimsy footwear – and with a lot of encouragement and help from her boyfriend finally managed to get over the gate.  Having been stymied by many closed gates in my travels around Italy, I felt badly for them.  And relieved that for some reason, which I no longer recalled but was very grateful for, I had decided against climbing this feat of engineering prowess.  However, in the interests of fairness, and since I have frequently been humbled to learn that there is a very good reason for what to a tourist’s eye seem to be inexplicable and ill-natured closures,  I asked the attendant at the ticket office about the gate.  His answer?  “Non si sa.”  (It isn’t known.)

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I wandered around the island for another hour or so.

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L’Arco Naturale. (The Natural Arch).

Another view of the 'Lighthouses'.

Last view of the ‘Lighthouses’.

I am sure I could have happily spent a week – or two – exploring the island.  But for this trip two days would have to do.  It was time to return to the mainland.

Una Passeggiata a Capri

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that normally the ‘Passeggiata‘ post comes after the gardens.  But I figured with a place like Capri, it might be better to get all those famous tourist sites/traps out of our system before we visit the gardens.

Approaching Capri.

Approaching Capri.

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View from the ferry.

The views from the ferry are wonderful, but if you want to see the coastline close up you can hire a private boat to take you around the island.  If you do decide to splurge – it’s not cheap, but if, like me, you’ve already paid a small fortune to get here, skimp on the souvenirs if you have to and go for it.  And make sure your captain takes you around the Faraglioni – fah-rah-lyee-oh-nee (don’t get caught pronouncing that silent ‘g’ ) – off the north-east tip of the island.

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If the sea is calm enough, your driver may even take you through the arch in one of the ‘Lighthouses’.

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Depending on the light, the water varies from cobalt blue to a dreamy turquoise. Or is that ‘aqua’?

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Opening to la Grotta Azzurra.

The opening to possibly the most famous grotto in the world is astonishingly small.  The name may evoke all sorts of dreamy thoughts, but there is nothing dreamy about the actual experience. I’ve done it.  Once.  You clamber onto the boats that go into the grotto – low, primitive affairs with lots of alarming dents – from the small landing on the right. While you wait your turn, you get a close-up look at how things actually work.  This gives you lots of time for second thoughts.   It was somewhat reassuring to know that even for the dare-devil boatmen who run this little sideshow, there are days – like the one in the photo above – when the sea is too rough.

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Marina Grande.  Capri, the village, is beyond the harbour further up the hillside.

With Capri’s rugged coastline there is only one area where boats can land safely, so unlike Ischia, there is no confusion about where you are when you get off the ferry.  But I have talked to people who found their visit to the island a little bewildering.  It turns out they had mistaken the ‘Big Harbour’ at the water’s edge for the village of Capri.  I always hope they will one day be able to return.  There is so much to see on this tiny island.

There is a path up to the village, but save your energy – you’ll need it – and take the funivia.

There is a path, but visitors and locals wisely take the funivia up to the village of Capri.

Surprisingly, now and then it rains on Capri.  Even in May.

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It is rather unsettling to see how closely synchronized the trains are. It might not be clear from this photo but the car I’m in is heading down and the car you see is coming up. Presumably we’ll meet where the rails divide.

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Marina Grande below and Mt. Vesuvius in the distance.

When you get off the funivia the view looking back towards the sea is all bliss and calm.  Savour this view because, unless you’re travelling fuori stagione, literally ‘out of season’, (which, after one experience, I don’t recommend – it’s called ‘off’ season for a reason), the photo below gives you an idea of what Capri is like ‘in’ season.

Piazza Umberto I, aka 'la Piazzetta' is the hub os social life in Capri.

Piazza Umberto I, aka la Piazzetta (the little piazza), the hub of social life in Capri.

Fortunately, if you’re not keen on crowds – I’m not – as soon as you venture beyond Piazza Umberto things calm down a bit.  It takes just a bit of window shopping along the narrow lanes of the village to see that the global financial crises of the past few years have had little effect on Capri’s glitzy reputation.

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Even through the heavy glass there is no mistaking the price.
The question is – how do women manage to walk in these things?

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This one is a bargain, relatively speaking, at 320 euros.

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I think warnings should be given to anyone who’s crazy about shoes and thinking about visiting the island.

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And if shoes aren’t your thing, there is always home decor…

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… and fragrances. Somehow a siren as corporate logo doesn’t seem so strange here.

Half an hour is about all the window shopping I can take.  Time to head for the path that leads out of the village to an Imperial villa on the north-east tip of the island.  Tiberius built twelve of these villas in an orgy of excess around the 1st century AD.

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Villa Jovis, the most magnificent or, depending on your point of view, the most outrageous
of the Imperial Villas, dominates the north-east tip of the island.

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Barely five minutes from the hustle and bustle of Piazza Umberto and I was surrounded by vineyards…

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… and the most beautiful private gardens. They probably don’t even need to haul all those plants inside in winter.

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Many were open to passersby...

Many were open to passersby…

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…while others offered only tantalizing glimpses.

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I had been wondering how the nitty gritty of daily life got taken care of on the island.

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Fortunately there are lots of nooks along the narrow path for pedestrians to squeeze into.

I would have had to get a lot closer to the edge to get a better shot of the cliff's edge.  You'll just have to use your imagination.

I would have had to get a lot closer to the edge to get a better shot of this cliff.
You’ll just have to use your imagination.

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I was huffing and puffing by this point, but it was easy going for the goats.

There are a couple of theories at to the origins of the island’s name.  Island of the Caprika-pree – (goats), the name the Ancient Romans gave it, strikes me as the most likely. And yes, in Italian the stress is on the first syllable.  I have no idea why we pronounce it ka-pree, which is totally contrary to the normal stress patterns of English.  Did someone decide one day that putting the stress on the last syllable, à la française, would give it a certain je ne sais quoi that was more in keeping with the island’s allure?

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The ruins were impressive, but I had a hard time concentrating on past glories with the spectacular views all around.

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Definitely an agave.

After the post on the gardens of La Mortella, a reader wrote to confirm that my “Weeping Couple’ was indeed an agave.  He’d seen one on a trip to Hawaii.  Thank you, Rick.

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It was only because I knew that other parts of the island offered more views that were equally spectacular that I was able to drag myself away when I did.  That, and because avevo fame – a-vay-voh fa-may – I was hungry.   I headed back to Capri.

Pranzo con vista. (Lunch with a view_.

Pranzo con vista. (Lunch with a view).

After lunch I took the bus up to the other village on the island – Anacapri.

If you're in a group you might want to splurge on an open-air taxi.

If you’re in a group, you might want to splurge on an open-air taxi.

If you look closely, about half-way up the mountain, you’ll see a faint horizontal line. That’s the road.

The ride up is not for the faint of heart, and with all the twists and turns there is no point trying to get a seat on the ‘in’ side.  At one point or the other everybody gets to be on the ‘out’ side.

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Ana is ancient Greek for ‘above’.

Anacapri is smaller and more laid-back than Capri.  slightly more laid-back.

Anacapri is absolutely charming – just smaller and more laid-back than Capri.

La Casa Rossa (Red House) decorated for Christmas.

La Casa Rossa (Red House) decorated for Christmas.

One year I decided that a good way to avoid the commercial build-up to Christmas would be to escape to the Amalfi Coast.  But while that trip had its moments, I wouldn’t recommend it.  It wasn’t just that most of the hotels and restaurants were closed.  I swear it rained every day.  Those darker areas of the walls of the Casa Rossa?  That’s where the walls are still wet from the torrential downpour that started when we were on the ferry from Sorrento.  I have no photos of the approach to the island because we couldn’t see a thing.  My only souvenir of that trip was an umbrella, a very ugly umbrella, which mercifully broke shortly after I bought it, so I didn’t feel compelled to bring it back with me.

La Casa Rossa again, in May.

La Casa Rossa again, in May.

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I’m not normally a fan of the Baroque, but set against that blue sky, the pastel lemon and white pillars of la Chiesa Santa Sofia are absolutely perfect – for the place.  Vestiges of the original, unadorned church are on the left.

But the most interesting church in Anacapri – I was surprised to discover there was more than one church in the tiny village – is in a rather neglected little piazza and has a much plainer (we’re talking about the Baroque here) façade.

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La Chiesa di San Michele

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18th century Neapolitan Baroque at its height.
Unusually, in a country where so much of life is lived outside, the treasures of San Michele are all inside.

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The Expulsion of Adam and Eve. You can get a close up look at the maiolica floor from a series of narrow planks set up around the perimeter or you can climb a narrow, spiral staircase for a view from above.

Exploring all these wonderful sites had involved a lot of walking. Time to head for la Piazzetta for the evening’s aperitivo.

Imagine the views of the sunset from these villas.

Imagine the sunset views from that red villa.