Sunday, 24 May 2015

Anacapri, a top spot

Capri, known as a resort for the rich and famous, seemed an unlikely destination for two people travelling with their tiny wardrobes of three t-shirts, two pairs of jeans and a shoe collection encompassing thongs (flip-flops), trainers, 'dressy' desert boots and the essential puffer jacket.
Capri port with the town Capri spreading over the hill behind.
But, when we read about the other Capri, Anacapri, the little village on the top of the island where B&Bs, not luxury hotels, are the main accommodation on offer, and walking, not clubbing, is the activity of choice, we thought it might be a lovely spot for a short spring break after the hectic pace of Naples.  And, our limited clothing choices might be less noticeable than down the mountain in the other Capri.
From the port we caught a local bus which zig-zagged its way up and over the steep escarpment of the island mountain to Anacapri, where we found gentler slopes of vineyards, orchards and olive groves going down to the sea.
Though it is also a tourist spot, albeit a second cousin to Capri town, Anacapri has managed to maintain its local village feel.  In the evenings when we were there, the locals took their usual passaggiata before dinner through almost empty little streets as most of the tourists had left for the night.  
During our three days we enjoyed some spectacular walks.
From the famous Villa San Michele, we took the path, which was mostly a series of stairs, down all the way to the port.  Definitely the best way to see the dramatic views of this beautiful little island.
Then once we reached the port we caught the funicular for a short ride up to the town of Capri.
Its streets are scented with their own fragrance, and even the stalls selling lemon granita look as though they come from the pages of Vogue Living. 
The town was in spring cleaning mode with workmen everywhere preparing for the opening of the summer season.   We stopped for a quick photo and then walked through the town down to the other side of the island, Marina Piccola.
Marina Piccola
More spectacular views and a delicious Caprese salad, as you do on the Isle of Capri.  
Wherever we walked from Anacapri it was always down. Luckily the buses traverse the island so sometimes, rather than climb back up, we enjoyed sitting in the sunshine while we waited for the next bus.  
On our second day we walked down the slopes from Anacapri to the furthest end of the island, Faro di Punta Carena.  In summer, this is the only place on Capri where the sun shines all day so it is a very popular swimming spot. At this time, although the water was sparkling and the sun was shining it was too chilly for us to swim. 
We had the place to ourselves, apart from the workmen preparing the concrete terraces for the rows of deckchairs that will be filled in the summer ready for the many who want to perfect la bronzata.
Walking back up to Anacapri there were reminders of spring everywhere with wildflowers and blossoms dotting the pathways and stairs.
A highlight of our stay was dinner at the Trattoria da Mamma Govanna, only a short walk out of town.  They had just reopened for the summer season but already the restaurant was half full. The freshest of fish cooked and served perfectly.  Could just be the best fish we've eaten in Italy. 
After a pleasant few days of walking in the sunshine, we took the ferry back to Naples and that evening we crossed our fingers hoping that the sea would be calm for our overnight ferry to Palermo.
It would be our first cruise, of only one night. Rather than catch the train from Naples to Palermo we decided that an overnight ferry trip arriving in Palermo at 8am after a good night's sleep would be the most comfortable way to travel. Speriamo!

Where we stayed:
There are lots of B&Bs in Anacapri but not many were open when we arrived in Anacapri.  We stayed in B&B that was okay but we wouldn't recommend it.   
Holiday apartment rentals in late March were difficult to find.  

Where we ate:
Trattoria da Mamma Giovanna
Via Chiusarano, 6
They offer a shuttle bus service for guests staying in Anacapri.  
It has a lovely verandah where we enjoyed the best baked whole fish we've eaten in Italy.  Moderate prices.  

Marina Piccola is the little bay where we enjoyed a delicious Caprese salad and fresh pizza but unfortunately we forgot to take a card from the pizza bar. 

If you can avoid eating at the port, do so.  We had another Caprese salad while waiting for the ferry and it was ordinary and expensive.  Silly us.

Guardando l'ora di passare un mese in Sicilia.  

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Herculaneum highlights

Our first Herculaneum highlight actually happened at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.  Lots of friends had recommended that before visiting either Herculaneum or Pompeii, we should spend half a day or so there. 

This museum houses many of the extraordinary frescoes, mosaics and classical statues that were removed from the ancient sites during excavations in the 18th and 19th centuries to preserve them from the elements and protect them from looting. 
The collection is incredible.  The mosaics, in particular, are exquisitely beautiful.  These photos don't do them justice at all. 
So having seen the museum we set off for Herculaneum, and were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get there.
We caught a Circumvesuviana local train from the clearly signposted platforms at Naples Central station and in less than half an hour we arrived at Ercolano Scavi train station. From there it was only a 5-10 minute walk downhill through the very ordinary modern town of Ercolano.
Initially Stefano was a little dismayed by the small size of the site, but after spending five hours exploring the ancient streets, ruined houses and public buildings, and reading ALL the information, he decided that Herculaneum's size was indeed an asset. 
An unexpected highlight of Herculaneum is that included in the price of the ticket is an excellent, small guide-book and map in English.  The ruins are numbered and the numbers matched the map! Plus, there is a description for each of the buildings clearly explaining their original purpose etc.

And, if you follow the numbered order on the map the history of Herculaneum unfolds as you walk. A perfect way to tour the site without the need for a guide, or even an audio-tour. You can be sure that we saw it all, leaving no doorway un-entered and no column unseen.
One of the reasons we enjoyed Herculaneum is because many of the walls and structures of the buildings are still standing.  Internal walls and stairways gave us a real sense of the dimensions of the houses and public buildings.  Even more incredible was that some of the structures still contained the original wooden beams.  While they had been scorched black when the town was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, they remain in tact due to sudden pyroclastic surges from the volcano that had the effect of carbonising them in a protective layer of dry heated ash.  The hot ash formed a sort of shell which paradoxically preserved the wood of doorways, beams and windowsills, even in the blast of heat estimated to be as hot as 500 degrees Celsius.  CLICK HERE to read more about the destruction of Herculaneum.
Many of the mosaics have been removed from the walls and floors of the ruins, as we saw in the museum in Naples, but there were still quite a few to view throughout the site.
While some of the mosaics are roped off, many are not.  We were amazed that a few of the ancient tiled floors have been restored but are not protected at all, so we were free to wander over them and inspect them closely.  
More carvings and decorative columns remain on site and have been restored, but unfortunately most of the frescoes that remain are fairly weathered.  
We were fortunate with the weather as it was a mild, bright sunny day.  Finally we were able to leave our puffer jackets behind in our apartment and enjoy the spring sunshine.  
Thanks to all who suggested that we visit the archaeological museum in Naples before our day trip to Herculaneum.  Excellent advice that we now pass on to others.  It gave us a much better perspective from which to appreciate the luxurious lifestyle of the ancient Romans and the wonderful art and treasures that would have once adorned their homes.

How to get there:
It is very easy to reach Herculaneum from Naples.  From Central Station follow the signs to the Circumvesuviana local trains.  It is a little confusing as these trains leave from Garibaldi station, but this is actually just part of the Central station complex.  The line from Naples to Sorrento goes through Herculaneum.  Ercolano Scavi is the stop for Herculaneum.  Walk down the hill for 5-10 minutes through the modern town and purchase tickets once you walk through the main gates to the ruins.  The train trip takes about 20 to 30 minutes.  One word of warning.  The trains are always very crowded so watch daypacks etc as the trains are famous for pickpockets.

Ticket prices
Train ticket from Naples to Herculaneum - one way, per person 2.10 Euros.
Herculaneum ticket - 11 Euros  which includes booklet.
Archaeological museum ticket - 8 Euros
There are also 3 day passes to several museums including the sites of  Pompeii and Herculaneum for 32 Euros approximately.

Tips for visiting Herculaneum
There is very little shade or shelter so it would be very hot in summer.  We bought water with us and while there are a few vending machines, there is only one cafe on-site, which was closed when we were there.  By the time we left the site in the late afternoon, very few bars were open in the modern town.  We wished we'd taken lunch as well as water.

Tip for visiting the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.
Because of budget cuts the rooms of frescoes were closed on the day we visited but the ticket office kindly offered to endorse our tickets so we could return free of charge later in the week to see the frescoes.

La nostra prossima fermata e' Capri.