Capri out of hour

I heard of Capri. I wanted to visit Capri. I knew it would be expensive as everyone seemed to pour into this tiny little island off the gulf of Sorrento. It is the crown jewelry  of the Tyrrhenian sea.

There are 2 sides – Capri and Anacapri. Capri, closer to Sorrento, is the port, with many restaurants, hotels on top of hotels, boutiques inside boutiques. It’s the land of 15 euro pizza and overpriced pasta. Anacapri is the sister village, only 20′ on bus from Capri yet hold some of the island main attractions – mount Solaro and its famously scary chairlift , Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto), Villa San Michelle and a few more. I opted to stay in Anacapri to soothe my funemployment pocket.

So at first I booked in one of the cheapest airbnb but has great view and a pool in Anacapri. Then I decided against it to spend more time in Almafi Coast. Then I was convinced by Isabella to just go there even to stay only 1 night and make some nice pretty sandals there. Using up my hotels.com award, I managed to get a hotel in Anacapri just the day before getting to Capri.  The ferry took me from Ischia to Capri port in less than an hour, where the hotel manager greeted me at gate 21 in a tiny van. There were another English lady on solo trip and a young couple. As we squeezed our way out of the packed marina, we started climbing up the mountain road between the 2 villages. I was relieved I did not plan to ride a scooter here. I would freak! The driver skillfully took us through the smallest alley that somehow still fit the car and arrived at Hotel Il Girasole (which means Sunflower).

The hotel is a little run down, 1980 styles, yet it has a pool and a large veranda with impeccable views of the ocean and Ischia island. That’s a nice surprise! I asked the hotel manager about a nearby restaurant called Da Gelsomina and got his approval. He also offered to help me arrange for the pick up service. Hospitality at its grandeur!

After arranging my little things and taking many good photos of the view, I headed down to the main square for a walk and some  late lunch. Anacapri around 12-2pm is nice and quiet as all the day-trippers are now flocking down Grotto Azzurra to catch the best time of the light. There were an ongoing Pizza festival that weekend I learnt as I saw random colorful pizza ovens were set up on the street. In front of the big cathedral, a small stage was being prepared for the yearly outdoor concert. A few people sat down for the rehearsal performance. The streets are small and clean and crammed with restaurants, bars and boutiques. Handmade leather sandals, linen fashions, ceramics, Italian condiments, lemon and all its products – to name a few. I found Antonia Viva shop as from Isabella’s recommendation. In total honesty, I was not crazy about the all complicated dedicated strappy look of the sandals here – I had become way too practical and minimalist in my attire for the last 2 years. I tried them on and made my final no as the soles were so stiff and slippery. Really just for show sandals.  I settled at a small cafe with a humble 4 star on Google review and order just a seafood pasta. I really wanted to save myself for dinner (I did had a massive dinner at Ischia’s Nano Cantino the night before and still stuffed!). Here even in the cheaper side of the island, you still expect to pay 25 euro for a very average lunch.

The island was baked under the sun. 39*C is not my forte. A lot of A/C and some swimming later, I sat on the porch watching out to the sunset, the best I had ever seen. The sun was glowing like a fireball falling down casting its dark shadow on the calm sea. Far away is the symmetrical cone shape of Ischia. The sky changed its coat from blue to orange to red to mulberry. Everything was still, so still at that moment, wondering what an incredible chore that universe had done. Even my mind was calm.

At 8.30, a tiny van from Da Gelsomina picked me up and climbed up the hill. In the car there were 2 more ladies from the accent of whom I knew they were American. The restaurant lied on the hill top, even higher than hotel Il Girasole with its outdoor pool and al fresco dining room. As I waited to be seated, the host come and took a couple, then the 2 ladies BEHIND me. I looked at him and said politely “Excuse me, would you ask if I need a table please?”. He looked at me in dismay like the first time in his life he was asked to wait on a customer. “Only you?”. I didn’t say anything. The 2 blonde yelled “Oh you can sit with us if you want”. I turned around eyes in a bullet shape “Thank you, but no thank you”.

Then I was seated in a corner of the restaurant, the darkest corner where mosquitoes were await for their Asian dinner. And I seated. I finished 2 glasses of wine and I was still seated, the idiot waiter was still busy serving the blonde. After much of a hassle, I wandered to the fish tank, counting fish to take attention from the CHEF. Then finally I was served. Food was delicious and expensive (very) and I shall not return.

The next day I aimed to explore the Capri side in the early morning before the 10am mark of day-tripper arrival. Taking a small local bus to the other side, at some point, i thought i was thrown out to the seas and at another point, i thought we had crashed a scooter to the rock! From the bus station I started walking toward Faraglioni passing many fancy boutiques. I wondered what a boring holiday it would be – trapped in a beautiful and expensive island with very limited beach time, tiny hotels, drink limoncello, and do nothing but shop at Versace, Prada, Misoni, etc.

 

The rain started as i reached the beach club down the cliff, stormy to be true. I looked out to the sea to all those tiny dingy boat and it scared the s*** out of me. I have always been scared of open water, especially choppy open water.

On the way back to the main square to visit Via Krupp, I heard a shiny voice singing O Sole Mio – it’s the lemonade seller. Her Granitta di Lemone is the most expensive  as well as the most disgusting in town. I forked out 3 euro just to hear her sing. And guess who else? Everyone.

The famous Via Krupp was one of the most beautiful road in the world zigzaging from the cliff down the water toward Marino Picolo. The view from the top down the silk like road to the turquoise water is very charming. I was rather disappointed the Via Krupp was no longer accessible and will never be completed due to  falling rocks. It would have been amazing to walk all the way to Marina Picolo listening to the ocean waves.  And you paid a fine 5 euro just to get in the tiny Augustus garden to look at the walkway.

By the time I left Augustus garden it’s around noon and the town is so so crowded. I wandered around checked out a few restaurant and get into one with many celebrity review. 25 euro later, I had a pizza and a glass of wine. Pick up a pretty leather sandal (not strappy!) on my way back to the bus stop, i squeezed myself in a full of teenagers ride back to anacapri, ready for a good nap. Should i go to the blue grotto? Should I stayed in this heat for an hour and then pay silly money to get in a cave? Lucky me, as the sea was rough, the cave was closed that day. A perfect afternoon to chill on the porch!

On my last day in Capri, I decided to take the famous chairlift to mount Solaro instead of 2 hour hiking up. It’s scary as f***. just a chair, with a handle across your front, and off you go, all airy up the mountain. You can walk around and take in the entire island in your eyes. So so beautiful! This is definitely the best 11 euro I had spent on the island.

My verdict – if you have money to splash, go to Capri and stay a few night. The island is way better at night, before 10 and after 5.30pm as only the true holiday makers are left behind. Calmer and quieter.

 

 

 

 

When in Rome, eat like the Romans

Let’s talk about how Italian eat.

img_2070As I observed, Italian did not seem to think “Breakfast is the most important meal” of the day. It’s normal to skip breakfast (Colazione)  and only have a quick caffe (simply espresso). Having an espresso at a bar in Italy took less than 5 minutes. Order, coffee out, drink and pay. The coffee is not scorching hot and an Italian would just down a whole espresso right when it touches his/her hands. When they have the chance, it’s still rather a quick affair. Simple caffe or milky drink (cappuccino, latte, macchiato) and some pastries. In my post “Forgetting the checklist in Italy”, I noted my wonderful experience at those little bars, where you could brush shoulder with the locals over a a an espresso, breakfast or had some wine after work. It’s a social place, not a drinking place. In fact I opine it’s all go down to socialization for Italians.

Italian also have meranda (afternoon snack) like kids in all school. They eat meranda similar to breakfast.

Then we have Pranzo (Lunch) and Cena (Dinner), the main meals. First you have il primo (first course), typically involving carb (rice, pasta). Then you have your Il secondi (the main course), with meat or fish and a side dish (“contorno” – typically salad – this can be a a separate dish as well). Then you can choose to have dolce (dessert). Then absolutely an espresso to finish. Wine is optional too. This is a normal meal structure.

In a more formal way, you will have Aperitivo (light appetizer) and Antipasto (heavier appetizer) before Il primo and also Insalata (salad, can be skipped if contorno is a salad) and Fromaggi e Frutta (cheese and fruit – easily skipped) after il secondi and prior to dessert and caffe. . Aperitivo is some simple stuff like olives, sauces, cheese, nuts, tiny little quiche. Antipasto is my favourite – it has antipasti! Prosciutto, salami, ham, charcuterie, cheese, bread-base dish (think Bruscheta – which pronounce brus-ket-ta not brus-Shet-a), vegie, salmon or prawn. I like this so much that so often I fill up myself with this. All these would end with a digestivo (grappa, limoncello, etc) to ease your digestion of  an absolute feast!

Pranzo is seen as the most important meals of the day for Italian. These days, it often comes down to pizza and panini with the young due to the work hours. Talking of pizza, you eat a pizza freshly made at a pizzeria, full stop. Only a few restaurants offer pizzas. A fancy pizzeria in Florence cost you 10-12euro each. A top pizzeria in Salerno cost you 4-5 euro (the southern region of Italy is poorer than the north, hence the price). An average pizza in Capri would cost you 15-20 euro. A slide of pizza can cost as little as 50 cents. If you have the whole pizza, you eat with fork and knife and you can excuse that and use hands with a slide of pizza.

Do you know pizza is NOT originally from Italy? The flat bread was brought first to Napoli (a main port) by Greek merchants. The locals , mostly poor workers, then added tomato sauce on top. Gradually, more delicacies are added and the dishes become popular in all classes!

So that’s how you eat in Italy, in theory. I really don’t understand how Italian and eat all that and still look so doped! during my few weeks in Italy, as i must have dessert (such sweet tooth!), I normally have either il primo or il secondi. When I can resist to order both, I would skip the next meal. In fact, toward the last week in Capri and Salerno, I have dinner every other day!

So how do Italian eat at home? If you have guests, all hells break loose! At my airbnb experience in San Miniato, we started with champagne (to celebrate a newly wed couple), aperitivo, MANY antipasti (a few dishes), pasta, 2 desserts, endless wine and limoncello! In a normal day, as Gabriele showed me, just simple pasta would do for dinner.

And at last, Italian are very proud of their seasons local products. Cinque Terre for the pesto, San Miniato for white truffle, campania for lemons, Tuscany for its wine and wild boar, Napoli for pizza, Ischia for rabbits and biancoella, Bologna for bolognese sauce, Capri for caprese (both salad and pasta!) and the list go on. Everywhere you find incredible olive oil, tomatoes and GELATO!

There, that’s how Italian eat. Remember when in Rome, act like the Romans.

Love,

Kate

 

 

 

Ischia, as reality sinked in

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Ischia in sunset from Capri

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.

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walking down to Via Sorgeto

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.

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pool time