Capri (pronounced CA-pri) brings to mind movie stars, jet setters, and risque behaviour. This isn’t something recent. The island’s louche reputation goes back to the time of Emperor Tiberius in 27 AD who is said to have thrown tiresome ex-lovers off the island’s steep cliffs.
The list of notable thrill-seekers who’ve been drawn to Capri is very long, including the Marquis de Sade, Oscar Wilde, and D.H.Lawrence.
Capri was also held to be home to the Sirens, whose song lured men to their doom, though other cities, even Sorrento, make the same claim.
We, too, can not resist the Sirens' song so we catch a ferry to Capri, which is a half-hour from Sorrento.
Capri is an intriguing island even viewed from afar. It rises almost vertically from the Mediterranean, a mix of rocky cliffs splashed with lush greenery.
The Caremar ferry (27€ return) makes me really appreciate BC ferries. This Italian ferry is a mess: rusty, dishevelled, almost scary in its apparent lack of maintenance. For the same price BC Ferries delivers an impeccable service.
The ferry delivers us to the port of Capri town from where we catch the funicular (1.8€) to the town proper.
Capri town is very pretty with car-free walkways and whitewash buildings beautifully appointed with greenery and flowers. Bougainvillea, lantana, and cyclamen are just a few of the plants flowering, and it's only November.
Of course, this being a playground for the rich and famous, Capri is well-stocked with spendy stores, restaurants, and hotels.
But I digress. On arrival in Capri town we take a small bus (1.8€) up a windy cliffside road to Anacapri, another pretty town that looks a lot like its lower-altitude and similarly-named twin. From here we hike to the highest point on the island, Monte Solaro (589m). The views from the peak are well worth the trek even though some clouds are moving in.
We hike back down to Anacapri where we visit Giardini di Augusto, founded by the Emperor Augustus. The garden’s high point is the view of the Isole Faraglioni, three limestone pinnacles that rise vertically from the sea, as well as a wall of rocky cliffs that rise up above.
From Anacapri we head back to Capri town to catch the ferry to Sorrento.
For such a small island there is lots to see, much more than we had time to do in one day. I’ll definitely keep Capri in mind for a return visit.
The pictures are all from Capri.
We say goodbye to Siracusa and Hotel Gargallo. The Gargallo is a fine little family run hotel. Mom prepares breakfast and cleans, the front desk is staffed by one of the kids, and everyone is friendly. Weaknesses are the too-hard bed, crummy pillows, and the all-too-common leaky corner shower. If you've used one you know what I mean, there is no way to shower without water going on the floor.
We walk a half hour to the Siracusa train station which is next to the bus station. Our choices are the 10:10 Trenitalia or the 12-something bus. Most take the bus but we take the train. The two tickets are a cheap 15€.
The train is sad-looking, worn and of course tagged with graffiti, but the seats are new and it’s not packed with passengers. It’s an odd looking train as it has two passenger cars and no engine car. The engine is underneath somewhere. What is really odd is that we feel the transmission shift as the engineer moves through the gears to get up to speed. I pull down the window to enjoy the breeze - the temperature is great - and snap a few pictures of the country going by.
After a couple of hours riding through gently rolling agricultural land and making a half-dozen stops we arrive in Ragusa.
We step off the train and are immediately approached by a small man in a sports jacket. He speaks nothing but rapid-fire Italian. I figure he's a taxi driver looking for a fare. I smile, say no, and start to move on.
Turns out it is Angelo, the owner of the b&b. He grabs one of our bags and leads us to his Citroen.
He doesn’t stop talking - in, of course, Italian - for the next 45 minutes as he drives the short distance to the b&b; explains the three door keys; demonstrates the espresso machine (pointing to his stomach with disapproval when i tell him Paul drinks Coke); gives us a tour of the b&b; maps out a walking tour of Ragusa; tells us where to go for dinner and what to order; takes our breakfast order (croissant with chocolate or riccotta); and copies our passport details into a notebook. Whew. That's a lot of Italian.
We spend the rest of the afternoon walking the old town. The old town is called Ragusa Ibla as opposed to the newer part of town which is called Ragusa superior.
We also check out the churches. Italy has a church on almost every corner. The churches in Ragusa are very beautiful so we've a pleasant time spent marvelling at the architecture and interior adornments.
The pictures are of Ragusa Ibla.
It's another beautiful blue-sky day in Sicily. I down an espresso and take the stairs up to the rooftop patio. Angelo greets us. Angelo is a small, trim man, maybe 65, who dresses neatly like most Italians past 40.
We are the only guests in the b&b yet Angelo has set out enough food for ten. Breakfast at the b&b i soon discover is like eating with a dad who hovers over you, correcting your meal habits all while saying eat, eat.
Angelo has laid out our croissants (chocolate, or is it nutella? for me, ricotta for Paul) but stops us as we start to eat. No, we must start with the bread, cheese, and tapenade course. Next, Angelo stops us when we use the same plate. Courses cannot share plates. I feel like a Neanderthal.
I put a few baked apples slices on my plate. Angelo stops me. He wants me to use a bowl and then he adds more Apple slices to my bowl because i haven't taken enough. They are delicious so i do not mind.
As we eat, Angelo occasionally goes to another table and smokes. Everyone in Italy smokes. They are worse than Canadians.
Finally, my non-dessert courses are done and I dig into my chocolate-filled croissant. It is good but i am stuffed. If Angelo weren’t watching i’d skip the first two courses and just eat the croissant but i can’t so i don’t. When all is done i want to say thanks dad.
Breakfast over, we head out to hike the Cava della Misericordia. The hike begins in Piazza della Republica so we take the stairs down to Ragusa Ibla, the old town, then we walk down another set of stairs to the trailhead.
We soon hit a river crossing too deep to attempt. So we walk the stairs back up to town and then down again, an alternative approach indicated by the openstreetmaps phone app. Success. This route has a bridge.
We spend the rest of the day hiking through a forested canyon surrounded by rocky outcroppings, then we circle back via a road which cuts through farms and cow pastures which are separated from each other and from the road by stone walls. The rocks, the olive trees, the stone paths, and the clear dry climate is how I imagined Sicily, and here I am, on this beautiful day, walking with Paul on this island in the Mediterranean so far from home. I am very fortunate.
We return to Ragusa mid-afternoon. After a snack at a patisserie (espresso, arancini, lemon cake that looks like art, and a whipped cream and berry pastry) we stop to trade travel tips with a young German couple we saw on the train, then we return to the b&b to shower, rest, and plan our dinner. Some days i think that life is composed of meals broken up by short periods of non-meals.
The photos are of the b&b's rooftop patio followed by shots from today's hike.
I haven't mentioned why we are in Italy. Tomorrow, November 22, I am 60, so we are here to celebrate. I cannot understand how i've arrived at 60. Well I understand how i've arrived at 60 i just do not understand where the time went. If you are my age or thereabout you understand but if you are young you do not. The point is, we are travelling to celebrate that i've lived to a ridiculous old age.
But back to Italy.
After another delicious breakfast with Angelo where i bravely skip one entree so as to make room for dessert. We then walk to the station to catch the bus to Modica.
It's about a 20 minute ride. Modica is a little smaller than Ragusa but otherwise it is not much different than Ragusa. Hills, stairs, old churches, narrow windy streets, and little cars that somehow squeeze through. In other words, Modica is fine but if you are in Ragusa you needn't bother even though the guidebooks say it is worth the trip.
A funeral mass is taking place in Modica's butterscotch-colored church so we sit and listen for awhile. That could soon be me, dead in a box. Well maybe not with all the Catholic bits.
Modica's fame is chocolate so we stop at a couple of chocolate shops where we sample and buy. The chocolate is dark - no milk chocolate here - and has a curious grainy texture.
We walk back to the bus stop for the return. We’ve three bus schedules to consult - one from the Ragusa tourist office and two posted in Modica - and each has a different time for the return bus to Ragusa. The 3:10 never appears, nor the 3:30 so we end up waiting for the 5pm.
We walk down the many flights of stone stairs to Ragusa Ibla for dinner and find Ibla almost empty. It is post apocalyptic in its emptiness. The upside is there are no tourists. The downside is that many restaurants are closed. If you come off season expect to hunt for a restaurant. Paul makes a list of restaurants from trip advisor and we then hunt for those that are open. This isn't to say we totally trust trip advisor but it is a place to start. Fortunately we find one open, Quattro Gatti, and dinner is very good. We drink a lot of wine and then walk back to the b&b.
Tomorrow we head for our final stop in Sicily, Palermo.
The pictures are of Modica.
A whiney post today, sorry. I expect to be in a better frame tomorrow.
After breakfast we walk to the bus station where I start to feel sick. Bad tap water, too much red wine, too many rich foods, maybe some combination of causes. It doesn't help that the Ragusa bus station is a parking lot and waiting at the station involves standing in the parking lot inhaling a mix of diesel fumes and cigarettes. As mentioned previously, it feels like everyone in Italy smokes - though maybe i should qualify this and say southern Italy - and since indoor smoking is prohibited (yay) when outdoors you are continually surrounded by smokers chain smoking. The diesel plus cigarettes combine with my shaky digestive tract to make me feel nauseous.
I don't want to be sick on the bus - it is a long ride with no toilet - so I decide we should stay another day in Ragusa. But I learn to regret this decision since tomorrow is Sunday and transport options are limited.
The same thing occurred last winter - one of us sick on a day of a long bus ride - but we were able to fly at the last minute. But Ragusa isn't Buenos Aires; we've few options and none include an airplane.
We head to the train station but it is closed. They've a sparse schedule on work days. Sundays just won't work.
The bus is our only option but we spend what seems like hours trying to decipher the Sunday (Festivi) bus schedule. The printout is surprisingly complex and it doesn't help that it is in Italian.
We ask the fellow at the hotel's front desk for help as he speaks English - we didn't return to the b&b because of communication issues - but we don't trust his interpretation of the schedule. That he says the bus to Palermo goes via Modica after Ragusa makes no sense as it is the wrong direction. And he wouldn't go online to confirm. Jerk.
And we can't get our phones to connect to the AST bus website. So tomorrow morning we'll walk to the bus station to see if we can get an answer.
Yes, I know, too much complaining.
Much of today is spent on the bus to Palermo (13.5€), time spent binge listening Serial podcasts and watching the agricultural scenery go by.
Serial makes me think about the challenge of creating a just judicial system. For example, in one episode the judge instructs the jury to disregard the defendant’s refusal to testify. But in the podcast this is followed by a statement from a juror who clearly did not do as instructed. The juror states that Adnan’s failure to testify made her think he was guilty. I don’t blame the juror. When i watch tv court dramas (I really enjoy the Good Wife) the same thought hits me when a judge tells a jury to "disregard that last statement". Just how does one un-hear something? This is a pretty serious weakness in the jury system.
Anyway, I digress. Back to Italy.
We are in Palermo. Our b&b is only steps from Via Maqueda and the Piazza Verdi, home of the Massimo Theatre, Italy’s biggest opera house (see photo).
Shortly after arrival we head out for dinner and find Via Maqueda vehicle free and filled with people young and old promenading through the old town. The city has a lively and festive atmosphere. We look forward to our last days in Sicily exploring Palermo after which we will catch an overnight ferry to Naples to begin the journey home to Canada.