Talking about islands in Italy, the first name that comes up would be Capri, the second being Sicily. The former is famous for its beautiful turquoise sea and the latter for its incredible cuisines and endless story of the mafia world. I’d save Sicily for a long trip next time.
Little did I know about the Tyrrhenian sea and only after a quick google search, I found out besides the lux and fabulous Capri which is near the gulf of Sorrento, there are also Ischia and Procida which sit north-west of Capri, closer to Napoli. I know Capri is for the kind of luxury experience and a “must do” day trip for many visitor to the south of Italy. The island is known to be flocked with dozen of thousand visitors everyday from 9.30am till 5pm, not to mention the inflated cost for everything. This turned me off. I’m on my sabbatical and wanted somewhere relaxed, local, fewer people. I found a few article on Ischia, a volcanic island with nice beaches, some thermal beach and a not so crazy road for scooter ride. I made up my mind and made some arrangement to visit this unpolished pearl of the Tyrrhenian.
I booked an airbnb in Casamicciola, one of the 2 ports of the islands, with a hill-top location, pool & ocean view for 60 Euro a night, one of the top options. I’m so very pleased when I got the approval from my Firenze host Gabriele as well as Francesco and Isabella (who also convinced me to still visit the “magical Capri”). 3 trendy Italian, it must be good!
As I got off the ferry from Napoli after a long day of traveling from Florence including lugging my suitcase from Napoli Centrale to the ferry terminal in the 39*C heatwave as the city metro went on strike, I saw clear water right my the marina and a sheepish town in my view. At the marina grande piazza, there are a few restaurants and bars, some convenient shops, a few people sitting at the park benches, chatting. after 30′ I found the house, at the top of a very steep slope, outlooking to the port. I instantly went for a swim and dozed off on the sun-bed for a large part of the afternoon. Julio woke me up around 4.30pm to say hi and let me know stuff around the house. I envied his living quarter on the top floor, open veranda with an unblocked view.
I was in Ischia at the midst of July, right during the World Cup final . The day i arrived was the boring match between England and Belgium. I had been great support for England team till their odd performance at semi-final. They could not break the circle! There wasn’t much action on the island for this match, either. I had a sundowner down the piazza and then head east toward the end of Casamicciola, passing a local beach club and many souvenir shop, up the hill to find a restaurant called Le Stufe, known for its view. Hadn’t I been eaten up by mosquitos, I would have loved it more. A kind French couple loaned me their spray, bless them! The fish and desert were delicious, so was the local wine. I watched the sun go down and shut its door to the island. Under this heat wave, the sky were cloudless, turning from a whitish blue to a fierce orange-red on top of mulberry blue and it got darker and darker by the minutes. The night went down quickly in this part of the world and everywhere you see a clear deep blue colour, which of the sky overlapped the ocean. The light came back from the ships or the stars I wouldn’t know.
I slept soundly that night.
The next day was spent rather chilled with a short walk around Casamicciola, a hideout in an A/c restaurant, some planning, lots of pool time and then the World Cup Final – French vs Croatia. I shared a table with some Swiss people, next to some Croatia people, cheering for both teams. the atmosphere was calm and friendly, a degree from the crazy crowd I joined in Florence for England vs Croatia match. I did some digging that day with google map and head to Nando Cantino for dinner. “A water hole restaurant with only 5 tables but serve some of the best Italian food” – said some reviewer. Nando’s wife was kind enough of offer me a table that would be free for an hour and a half. Food was delicious. Local Pino Grigio was refreshing. Service was spectacular and honest. At the end of my meal, I booked a table for the next day.
Initially I wanted to do some hiking in the island. The longest route took me to one of the view-point took like 8 hours return. Judging the killing heat wave from the day before, I decided to get a scooter! I could easy do the whole island with a few stop in a day. The next day started with a slight panic as the scooter shop down the marina ran out of scooters. It’s 8.30am, opening time! I really didn’t want to sit by the pool for the whole day. Lucky me Julio came to the rescue and guided me toward the uphill square – “I think there is a shop there”. I climbed my way up hill, found the life savior shop and finally set off for the day at past 10, counter-clockwise from the marina following SP270 route. I hadn’t rode a scooter for a while and the hilly road scared me a little. I stopped a million time to check on the direction for the first 10km, which irritated myself so badly. looking back now I was surprised on how “scared” I was. 5 years ago I took a scooter and go around Kos island in fairly bad wind conditions around some edgy cliff without any worry. What happened to me? Age? Insecurity? Mental exhaustion? I still don’t know. I do know for a large part of this year, I had been very doubtful of myself.
I stopped at a local beach just pass Florio to beat the late morning heat. The water was so pleasant – cool, clear, salty and full of pebbles. I love pebble beach. No sand, no sand! The beach scattered with local and tourists lazily swimming, sunbathing. I found a spot and dived in. With my wet butt and sticky salty body, I gathered my stuff and continue to Panza to check out Ischia Via Sorgeto, where there was a natural thermal bath, avoiding to pay premium at some of the fancy thermal spa. I wasn’t disappointed. After quite a ride and climbed down many many stairs, I reached the bottom, hooked my bag on a fence like the local did and jumped in one of those natural pebble bathtub. The hot stream coming out from the mountain and was met with the cool wave from the ocean. At a corner I could feel the gentle warmth of the water. It’s one of the popular spot in Ischia and in this weather, the small bay flocked with people. Old people were soaking and the young and happening were swimming & sunbathing. I moved my location gradually toward the young and happening for a good swim before heading up the only bar here for quick lunch. There I met the couple from Rome I met at Nando’s the night before. I felt like we were in an escape room! The rest of the afternoon I raced on the SP270, passing Punta Saint Angelo and end at Ischia, the main port, having a cappuccino looking up to Castello Aragonese d’Ischia. It’s 4pm and I’m long for some air-conditioning! After the dreadful winter in New York, this Italy summer was too hot for me. I quickly retreated to my room, icy cold shower and dozed off till sunset. That night, I thought I had the best meal in Italy ever. And I ate rabbit (a local special) for the first time. My my!
At this point, I was a month and a half into my career break and a week into my 4 week trip in Europe. The last year had been a roller coaster – moved to New York, started from ground 0 with work there, started from almost ground 0 with social life there, nurtured a distance relationship, took care of an ill relative, my mum got really sick. For the first time I said I wanted to move home. My bf said for the many years he knew me, this was the first time I had ever said this. I had hit a rock then and learnt my lesson- setting up at a new place at the point of your life when you wanted to settle down wasn’t a breeze. It took tenacity. It took faith. I knew my “battery” wasn’t charging very well for a while. I knew I wasn’t moving to New York all excitedly (which I thought I would as finally after 5 years, I realized my relocation desire). Both tenacity and faith were bring used without proper charging. Ironically, I took a leap of faith (all the remaining) to go on this journey hoping to give my mind a proper rest to recreate some thinking energy in me. I wanted to be able to accept myself as I was to be honest. As reality sinked in, I was still not 100% convinced with my decision to quit my job in New York, drop everything and take a break. But I had no way back. So I kept on going with my choice, with a little faith.