Thursday, November 15, 2012

Anniversary trip to Italy, part III.

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The Pantheon and Colosseum in the early morning when Robert left to run

Monday, 15 October

I had read an article in the NY Times about a chapel in the Roman Forum called Santa Maria Antiqua that had been closed to the public since 1980 and had recently gone through extensive restoration of its Byzantine frescoes which date back to the 7th century. In early October it reopened to limited numbers of tours for just a few weeks and only on weekday mornings. I booked slots for us at the only time we could go (today at 9:30), though unfortunately the tour at that time was only in Italian! We walked to the forum in the rain and enjoyed seeing the frescoes (it was especially interesting to watch the restorations in progress that morning - what painstakingly tedious work), but I can't say that I know any more about Santa Maria Antiqua than I did before we went because we could not understand one word of our tour!

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Robert awaiting our tour of Santa Maria Antiqua (the chapel itself is around the corner to the right)

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Exterior of Santa Maria Antiqua - the roof and exterior windows have been added to protect the interior

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Ongoing renovations - this was fascinating to watch

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Our tour guide - no idea what she was telling us!

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Beautiful restored frescoes

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Robert by the Temple of Castor and Pollux inside the Roman Forum

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Trajan's Column


Leaving the Roman Forum, we returned to our hotel to retrieve our bags and catch a taxi to Termini, Rome's main train station. Termini was a zoo, perhaps because there had been a strike by the railroad the previous day. The "fast ticket" machines were malfunctioning for everyone, not just American tourists, so it took us much longer than expected to purchase our tickets. We climbed aboard a nonstop train to Naples and found our seats with only a few minutes to spare, but in just over an hour we were in Naples.

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View from the train

As we climbed into a waiting taxi, a heated shouting match erupted between our driver and another, accented by lots of Italian hand gestures. I never figured out what the fuss was about, but I gathered that either the driver or I had jumped the taxi queue. Yikes. The area around the Naples train station was as gritty and garbage-strewn as I recalled, so I was none too sorry to be away from there. Our taxi took us to the Beverello port where we caught a hydrofoil for Capri. The waves were very choppy and I was glad to have an empty seat next to me to lay my head on to ward off seasickness. After about 45 minutes on the boat, we arrived in a light drizzle to the lovely island of Capri.

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Approaching Capri

Porters greeted us and took our suitcases, asking for our hotel name but offering no receipt. I had read that this was how the system worked, so we left our bags and made our way to the dock.

A nearby funicular transports people from the main harbor (Marina Grande) to the town of Capri. We purchased tickets and climbed on board one of its little cars. (Several people on our funicular struggled to lug heavy suitcases up stairs and onto the car; I don't think they trusted the porter system!) In less than five minutes we alighted and walked the short distance to the Piazza Umberto I, known as "La Piazetta."

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Funicular

The day was rainy and overcast, so although I could tell the view from La Piazetta was lovely, it was far from spectacular. I liked, however, that most of the streets in Capri were pedestrian-only and that on the main road the cars were primarily taxis and skinny buses.

We wound our way down charming cobbled streets past exclusive shops with very fashionable window displays to our hotel, La Minerva. Antonino and Marco welcomed us warmly, and, lo and behold, our suitcases had beaten us to the hotel. Marco showed us to our room, which was bright and lovely with a beautiful blue tile floor and a spectacular view of the Mediterranean.

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The lovely lobby of La Minerva

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Balcony off our room

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Our room at La Minerva


After we settled in for a bit, Robert and I walked back to La Piazetta and caught a bus to the neighboring town of Anacapri. The road that connects Capri Town and Anacapri is very narrow and extremely steep and winding. When two buses pass, they are so close to each other that it seems unbelievable that they don't touch! In addition, the road is carved into the side of a cliff, so the entire drive is quite hair-raising.

Anacapri has a chair lift that takes riders to the top of Mount Solaro, the highest point on the island. When we arrived at 5:15, however, the lift was closed. I had read that it was possible to walk to the top of the peak, so blissfully heedless of the increasing precipitation and impending nightfall, we set off down a pathway behind the chairlift.

For about 20 minutes we walked upward along a decent, recognizable path. There was not a clear moment where we realized we had left the trail, but at some point we were clearly bush-whacking and what appeared every so often to be a path was likely a trail used only by mountain goats! Rain was now falling steadily, but Robert and I continued upward, thinking that if we could just make it to the peak, surely we would find a better path down the hill.

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The town of Anacapri viewed from our hike up

When we finally reached the top, we discovered it was a ridge with a fairly steep drop-off on the other side. The views looking out over the island were spectacular; even with limited visibility we could see the towns of Capri and Anacapri and the sea beyond. However, no human path was anywhere in sight, there was no sign of the chairlift, indeed, there was no indication other than a cell tower that people had ever even ventured up to that ridge! By now our shoes and clothes were soaked and it was nearly dark, but Robert remained calm and reassured me that getting down would be much faster and easier than going up had been.

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Self-portrait at the top - eek!

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View of Capri town from the top - the harbor where we arrived is to the left


We walked along the ridge until we thought we could see the way the goats traveled down. We then set off through the brush and worked our way slowly down the steep hill. About an hour and a half after we had started on this ill-conceived walk, we arrived back at a gravel road. Robert and I high-fived and celebrated the rest of the way back to Anacapri and then caught a bus back to Capri Town where we were decidedly the least fashionable pair ever to set foot in La Piazetta.

We barely made it back to our hotel in time to shower and change for dinner. Following the GPS on my iPhone, we walked up one steep street after another to a restaurant called Lo Sfizio. I had read many reports that the restaurants in Capri were overpriced and mediocre, but Lo Sfizio was purported to be an inexpensive local favorite. Robert and I enjoyed a great meal of fresh bruschetta, caprese salad, pizza and seafood pasta. We were surprised to hear someone say, "Hello, Mr and Mrs Meachum" because we knew no one else on the island, and we looked up to find Marco from our hotel dining next to us with his girlfriend. After two complimentary glasses of ice cold limoncello (the local specialty liqueur), we returned to our room where we slept really well!

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Enjoying dinner and a glass of wine at Lo Sfizio

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Caprese Salad - look at those beautiful tomatoes!

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My Pasta Frutti di Mare

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Toasting our adventure!

5 comments:

Katie Clooney said...

Looks like a beautiful trip. Love your blog.

anne said...

I love your blog too!! Thanks for sharing your trip with us...

Maureen said...

You are a wonderful writer - love your descriptions of your trip and your adventure in Capri.

What a memorable trip for your anniversary!

Maureen said...

You are a wonderful writer - love your descriptions of your trip and your adventure in Capri.

What a memorable trip for your anniversary!

linda said...

OMG- Such a great trip, and I am so enjoyong your beautiful writing and pictures!
-linda,ny