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Vesuvius Sunset

She is a beauty, Napoli.

From a coastline that wraps beneath Vesuvius toward the long outstretched arm of the Sorrentine peninsula, it is blessed by an ethereal natural splendor. Awaiting those who venture even farther south than Sorrento is the spectacular, rugged coastline of the cerulean sea-washed Amalfi Coast.

Such proximate beauty, such struggle, such passion. What a confounding place is this city. I’ve traveled into and around Naples for many years, yet never have quiet made sense of it all. . .until now.

Energy hovers over Vesuvius like an invisible veil. In the nearby towns of Vico Equense and Castelmare di Stabia, the ruins of Pompeii to the confining, choking lanes of Naples’s quartieri Spagnoli, that energy ignites the lives of Neapolitans. Such energy can be fierce or frightening, energizing or enervating.

Geologists and seismologists are forever anticipating the terrible loss of life and infrastructure when (not if) Vesuvius deigns to yield to her enormous, growing pressures. That veil of invisible power, of a tension that builds beneath our very feet, becomes palpable.

On an afternoon visit to the Capella Sansavero in the heart of Naples, I studied Giuseppe Sanmartino’s Cristo Velato, the Veiled Christ. This is baroque sculpture at its finest, highest art. Intricate lines of linen cloth lay across the face of the deposed body of Christ, the veil so intricate and fine that it tempts visitors to pull the fabric away. Don’t, however, be deceived. The veil, the entire work, is solid marble: cold, intractable, unyielding.

Read on.

Giuseppe SanmartinoCristo Veluto, 1753

Giuseppe Sanmartino
Cristo Veluto, 1753

That unseen yet palpable energy from Vesuvius pervades Campanian air. It is as thin and intractable as Sanmartino’s veil. In Naples, life happens in the street; there are few other places to go. In the narrow lanes of this ancient city, people live on top of each other. Secrets are rarely held.

To ride the bus in Naples is to ignite every human sense. Everyone, to a person, seems on alert. While many people believe that life in Naples is one of reckless abandon, nothing could be farther from the truth. Everything is an issue; from where to park, to the lackluster and unpredictable schedule of the city’s transportation system, to how to avoid paying any bill, to the intense odors of a Monday morning’s bus ride. This city is – in every possible sense – alive. Lover’s quarrels, negotiations for apartment leases, arguments over bills and marriages all happen in the open, for all to see and hear.

Then, there are the churches, by location pattern-less, constructed in many parishes in the most haphazard manner imaginable. They seem scattered by some enormous hand, as if they had been dice tossed during matches of religious zeal to ‘own’ human faith.

Naples is a dream; existing between love and hate, blood and life, the sacred and the profane. When visitors consider that unemployment hovers near forty percent, that there is little room to breathe in the quarters of the city and that the Neapolitani exist within a culture of struggle every day to protect their own sanity, an acceptance and understanding settles. There is, indeed, a veil that falls across Naples. It is one of life, of nature’s unpredictable whims, of human furies, of fading religious zeal. Underneath she simmers like Vesuvius, incites vent to human emotion, all the while giving an impression, to the uninitiated, of careless ease.

Naples is a city of passion, of life; raw, engaging, frightening and inspiring.

Don’t reach for the veil. It’s cold, solid rock.

Of and Age in Naples

Of an Age in Naples

As I made my way along darkened lanes, barely illuminated by streetlamps, I came across one such church, an open door, and the sound of voices. Beckoned to enter by an elderly woman, I shuffled up the worn, roughly carved, steps and entered. From within candle lit stalls rose the voices of passionate belief, of that rare and elusive beauty that is our human voice. A moment’s peace from within as the unending cacophony of life that is Napoli droned in the background.

Visit Naples? Absolutely. She is a jewel, a challenge, a confounding conundrum of love, art, passion, of life!

I will be presenting, in this blog, details about the treasures of Naples in future posts.

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View of the FaraglioniBelvedere, Capri

View of the Faraglioni
Belvedere, Capri

Ah, Capri. Azure blue seas, spectacular vistas and narrow lanes. Bougainvillaea, roses and the scent of lemon blossoms afloat sea borne breezes.

This island, located an easy ferry trip from Naples, Sorrento or many of the villages along the Amalfi Coast, is a must for those who wish to experience the new and the old of southern Italy in a day’s excursion. From the playground of wealth that is Anacapri to the ancient Villa Jovis on the dizzying promontory overlooking the bays of Naples and Salerno, there are easy ways to navigate away from the hoards of tourists who daily flock to the isle to experience, if even for a day, ‘la dolce vita’.

Regardless of where you begin your ferry trip, by commercial ferry or hydrofoil, you always arrive on Capri at the Marina Grande. This is a cacophonous, crazily busy and crowded place to begin your visit to the island, but it your only option.

After you disembark at the marina, you want to find your way to the ferry ticketing building which sits (as you face away from the island and across the docks) on your left. There is a large departure board which posts the departures for various locations across the Bay of Naples and the Bay of Salerno. It is good to review how the system works so that, upon your return, you can locate the correct dock and ferry to your ‘home port’.

You will note no reference in this article about the Blue Grotto. Why? Given that you must change boats at least twice, mid-water, that the grotto is incredibly crowded and everyone associated with entering the grotto expects to be tipped, I would avoid visiting this place. Often, the water is too rough to allow the small boats you must be in (and must lay down in to get into the grotto) can’t enter. Usually travelers don’t find out that they can’t enter until they are already on an excursion boat and are at the entrance site of the grotto. So…some advice.

On to several options for a one-day visit on Capri. If you get an early enough start, you can easily handle all of these options.

Villa Jovis Church of Santa Maria del Soccorso Capri

Villa Jovis
Church of Santa Maria
del Soccorso
Capri

VILLA JOVIS

For those who wish to visit the ruins of the Villa Jovis, where Tiberius chose to rule the Roman Empire for most of his reign, you can choose a taxi to carry you up to the high promontory (the drop to the sea is breathtaking) to the Villa for a visit. You can also walk from the village of Capri, though given the narrow (VERY narrow) roads, this options comes with a higher risk of injury!

Tiberius had the structure built on a dizzying plateau facing the mainland – and what a view it is.

The villa was completed in 27 A.D. and Tiberius rarely left. Stories abound about those who disagreed with the Emperor found their landing after being pushed off the precipice a bit final. Regardless, it is a spectacular ruin and, while you are in the area, you should visit the Church of Santa Maria del Soccorso. I have always smiled when I think what Tiberius would have said about, first, a church on the grounds of his villa and, second, what he would think of a building dedicated to the holy mother and to her intercession and relief.

Boggles the mind!

ANACAPRI

My best recommendation, upon arrival at the Marina  Grande, is to escape the crowds and take a Capri taxi, famous for having only a fringed canvas cover over the driver and passenger compartment (they are lined up at the marina and at other locations across the island), and head directly to Anacapri.

If there is a soul to the island of Capri, I believe it resides in Annacapri, Upper Capri. The word “ana” derives from the ancient Greek word for
‘above’. You will discover a lovely central shopping area (where you can easily locate restroom facilities), access to the chairlift to Monte Solario and many good restaurants for lunch or dinner. This is a much less crowded place than the town of Capri above the harbor.

Seggiovia (Chair Lift) Monte Solario

For those who wish to ride the spectacular chair lift up to the summit of Monte Solario, the highest point on Capri, the chair lift ticket office and

View from Monte Solario Capri

View from Monte Solario
Capri

boarding area are just off of the main piazza in Anacapri. The approximately ten minute ride provides breathtaking views and an opportunity to experience something you may find difficult to discover on Capri: silence.

There is a small cafe and sun terrace at the summit where you can take photos of the Faraglioni, the lava rock formations that have helped define Capri. The cafe offers sandwiches, coffee, a few alcoholic drinks. Most visitors simply sit in the sun, or stroll with their cameras in hand to record their day on the island.

If you descend to the village of Anacapri, you will find a good restaurant, La Rondinella, located to the left of the piazza along the Via G. Orlandi. The shady terrace, as well as the lovely main dining room, offer fair prices and a relaxing place to take a breather during your visit to Capri. (See IF YOU GO, below, for details)

When you have completed your visit the Anacapri, I again recommend taking a taxi down to the village center of Capri town. It is a small and very intimate space, hence the often incredible crowding.

Belvedere and the View

From Capri’s piazzetta (small piazza), you should walk up the stairs directly to the left of the steps to the Cathedral of Santo Stefano. Follow the well marked walkway to the “Belvedere.” Keep walking up through the protected cover of shady lanes, along winding paths that front gorgeous villas. Your exertions will be well rewarded. You arrive at one of the most gorgeous overlooks on the island, directly above the Marina Piccolo on the north side of the island. This is a photographer’s dream and a dreamers never forgotten view.

Villa San Michele

The Swedich physician,Axel Munthe, made his home in the gorgeous villa on Capri. In 1929, his “The Story of San Michele” was published and has a strong following for those fascinated by the social history of the island. Perched over 1000 feet above the sea, the pergola and gardens are now revered among Italaophiles, who have given them the name “Grandi Giradini Italiani”, the Grand Italian Gardens.

After your visit to Anacapri, you can easily make a visit to this spectacular villa part of your day. (See IF YOU GO, below, for details.)

Giardini di Augusto

From the small piazzetta in the center of Capri, you can descend in about fifteen minutes to the spectacular Parco Augusto / Giardini di Augusto. The views of the Faraglioni from the high ground above the sea are unforgettable. You can walk back to the piazzetta in Capri in about thirty minutes…for those whose health does not permit much strenuous exercise, take a taxi!

When you tire of Capri and your explorations, you can either take the island bus (often very crowded), the incline railway (funicular) at the piazzetta in Capri or you can take a taxi back to Marina Grande for your return ferry trip to the mainland. (See IF YOU GO, below, for more details.)

IF YOU GO:

Capri Tourist Information site, in English

Welcome to Capri

Ferry Schedules

Ferry information from all major ports to Capri

Taxi Cost, Marina Grande to main piazza  in Anacapri, Euro 14 per taxi.

Taxi Rates – Anacapri Taxi

Taxi Rates – Capri Taxis

Seggiovia, Chair Lift, Monte Solario (from Anacapri)

  • From March to October, the lift is open from 09:30AM to 17:30PM
  • From 1 November to end of February, the lift is open from 10.30AM – 15.00PM
  • Price for the lift ticket, round trip: Euro 10.00

Villa San Michele

Open every day, year round.

Museum & Bookshop
Hours: January, February, November and December: 09.00AM – 15.30PM
March, April and October: 09:00AM – 17:00PM
May – end of September: 09:00AM – 18:00PM

Entrance 7,00 €

Giardini di Augusto

Entrance:  EUR 1.00

Restaurant

Via G. Orlandi, 295, Anacapri Napoli, Italy +39 081 837 1223

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