We have been here in Casamicciola for three days now and have managed to visit most of our favourite places, frequented the usual shops, bars and restaurants and found a few new ones.
We made sure to visit the garden, La Mortella on Tuesday, when it is open. As usual we took lots of photographs as there are always beautiful new flowers to record and the place itself is always compelling. At this time of year the tropical plants are in full spate, some of the pathways are submerged in jungle and there are flowers that defy belief. What we took as empty pots of sand and water in spring are lush with what look like a cross between a water-lily and a nasturtium. In the ponds the tropical water lilies are in full flower, each vibrant colour and waxy form more enticing than the last. We had recently seen many lilies in the glasshouse at Kew; here they are flourishing outside, despite the fountains and waterfalls. Even specimens of the giant lily have been moved out of the glasshouse here to take their chances in the crocodile pool. The hibiscuses are in full bloom and all the pathways are lined with fragrant jasmine, honeysuckle and what looked like a deep purple wisteria. The garden was busy with tour groups, but we managed to find a quiet table in the tea rooms for a cuppa.
On day two we visited the Castella, taking a taxi there so we had the energy to explore the steep passages of the citadel. On our arrival in the square at the foot of the causeway we were greeted by a lorry full of the tall filigree metal archways of electric lights used in the festival at Lacco Ameno. The archways were being set up along the causeway, so a festival must be afoot. We wandered out to the base of the citadel, paid our entrance fee and began to explore, winding up the steep cobbled streets. There is an elevator to the top, but there was a long queue for it in a dank tunnel, so we decided to walk. It is like St Michael’s Mount or the old town in Ibiza, but without obvious residents. The cobbled streets are punctuated by museums and churches, some partial ruins others well maintained, giving the weary pilgrim a chance to pause for breath. Indeed the views from the various terraces and balconies are spectacular. There was a gallery of modern art and a café with views across the Bay. By the time we came out we were both rather hot and weary, but glad we had made the effort. We walked back into town along the sea front and could not resist a pizza restaurant in a glasshouse with tables outside under bright umbrellas. I had a classic Neapolitan pizza and John chose pepperoni, both had thin crusts with puffy charred edges, oozing molten cheese, not the food of supermodels me thinks. After lunch we wended our way down the main shopping street into town and caught a taxi back to the boat.
Today we woke to the sound of heavy rain drumming on the deck above and thunder rolling round the hills. Time to catch up with the blog. It is due to clear up this afternoon, if so we will go for a walk along the sea front to Lacco Amino.
In order to avoid arriving in Cassamicciolla during the luncheon void, we had quite a leisurely start to the day and then puttered across the windless bay under engine. At first the log was not working, which annoyed John as he had spent some time the previous afternoon evicting small crustaceans from the paddle wheel till it ran freely. This problem sorted itself out, though the engine hours refused to make an appearance and then the rev counter went blank. A couple of hours in and the wind vane pirouetted wildly before settling down to show wind direction the stern, the exact opposite of observation. The wind speed was also reusing to admit to more than a slight breeze, even though we could feel it building. John went below and clicked things, coming to the conclusion there was a persistent malfunction of some kind in the instruments, but nothing to worry about. Not to be outdone the steering wheel had developed a distinct wobble, though fortunately the autopilot was still performing admirably. Still it was better than an engine fire and we continued boldly. We crossed paths with two of the ferries and saw a large silver tuna flipping over in the water astern. As we came into the channel between the islands we were busy watching the progress of a small yacht on our starboard bow, when I spotted a large school of small grey dolphins busy fishing alongside us. This is always a thrill, though when we looked back at the yacht he was heading straight at us, also dolphin watching. Fortunately the dolphins span off to where he had come from and he turned again to follow them away. John tested the steering and said he thought the wheel was ok. I asked as to the location of the emergency tiller and was not thrilled by John’s rather vague response. We sat keeping our thoughts to ourselves, I was imagining being lowered into the large aft locker to ferret about for the tiller, whilst John made secret plans to bring us in on the autopilot if need be. As we came up to the harbour mouth two ribs came racing out towards us and we wondered if competition for yachts between the local ormeggiatori had reached fever pitch, but they sped on by, so John radioed in and we lingered slowly turning in the harbour as usual. The main man came out and indicated a narrow space between two yachts. He had a colleague in a rib standing by to nudge us, should the need arise. I held my breath and stood firm on the windward line, but John made a textbook docking, so much so that our host said “Brava Capitano, Brava”, telling us it was a pleasure to welcome us back.
Once we had stopped John managed to reset the wheel with surprising ease, but we have yet to solve the problems with the electronics.
It is a great pleasure to be here, relaxing into the holiday feeling. There is something very satisfying about sitting on a boat at night, looking out over the lights of the town and hearing the traffic noise at a distance, being at the same time part of it all, but other.
We arrived back in Italy on Saturday in time for a late lunch. It is hot and sunny here, just as home was beginning to feel quite autumnal. Still it has been a splendid summer to have spent at home and we have happily bothered John the gardener making changes to our plot.
On our arrival Lyra looked remarkably clean, no sign of the usual dust from forest fires during summer or red Saharan rain. We unzipped the cockpit cover and were met by a wave of hot, stale air, so the first job was to take the cover off and put the bimini up instead. It was cooler inside the boat, as a good part of the interior sits below the water line. We tossed in our bags, opened the hatches and headed for the bar. The barman shook John by the hand and welcomed us back. Cold beer, cold wine and pasta stuffed with aubergine followed by great coffee. We toddled back along the harbour and the Captain made the unprecedented decision that we could leave the chores till the following day. Naturally the shore power had stopped working, but John plugged into another supply and we set the fans going and fired up the fridges. Not that we have much to put in them, but John has checked Google and the supermarket is open Sunday morning. Scratch supper of tinned and dried goods tonight, but we won’t want much after such a big lunch.
We went back to the bar for breakfast today on our way into town to stock up at the supermarket with our trusty red trolley. Castellemara is looking rather smart these days, the trees on the road into town are a reasonable size now and the acacias were flowering pink and white. The railway line has been cleared of litter and there are some smart new planters with various cactus plants set at intervals. The sea front now has a wide modern promenade and the Edwardian bandstand is fully restored. Apparently the cable car has also started running again, but unfortunately yesterday was the last day of the season. After filling our trolley we walked back along the cycle path and so had done over twelve thousand steps before elevenses. By a stroke of good fortune the electrician was on the pontoon as we arrived back and he has shown John how to reset the fuses when they trip out. The shore power is under our control. Then came the usual deck swabbing and cabin cleaning. Caprese salad assembled from our newly acquired perishables for lunch and then on to engine and radio checks. Broadsword came through to Dannyboy, so if the nav lights are working when it goes dark tonight we will have completed the usual weeks build up in one day and are off to Ischia in the morning.
This part of the year’s voyaging has been brought to an unexpectedly sudden close, when John’s tooth had an unsuccessful altercation with a roast peanut, one of the beer snacks given away by the bars here. Obviously there is no more terrifying prospect than a close encounter with a strange dentist, so we have booked flights and are off back to Blighty. Fortunately the tooth is not hurting – yet – so we have been able to enjoy a couple more days in Ischia.
Yesterday we made a much more thorough exploration of the old town and made our way as far as the castle on the peninsula we pass on our approach up the channel. It took a while and we were hot and tired by the time we reached it and there was a ticket booth at the base, so we decided to leave exploring its’ steep alleyways for another day. On the way we passed a small white dog asleep in a shop doorway, which was so like Scamp we did a double take. Scamp himself is nearly home after adventures with French police and customs on the Mustard Bus. We had lunch in the restaurant overlooking the harbour entrance, sharing the lemon pasta to start and then sharing an amazing mixed fish special. That evening we are too full to even contemplate starting on our contraband supply of baked beans brought over by Johnsey in the bus.
Today the garden was open and as we had been unable to go with the girls and Johnsey as we volunteered to look after Scamp, we set off eagerly. La Mortella did not disappoint us, so many different flowers to see as well as the lovely structure. We did see a small sausage dog that must have made it past the gate in a backpack. Probably just as well we didn’t try to smuggle Scamp in he would have been bound to draw attention to himself chasing the garden cat.
Tomorrow we are bound back to base and thence to the enchantment of East Midlands airport and home. By the time John’s tooth is sorted the football will be due to start so that’s the end of sailing till September.
Once upon a time a poor woman was martyred for her Christian beliefs. To make sure she was well and truly destroyed those responsible put her body in a boat, towed her out to sea and set the whole thing on fire. After drifting about the charred remains of the boat finally made landfall on Ischia, where it was discovered that amazingly the woman’s body was completely unmarked by the fire. A miracle, clearly this was a restored saint. She was given a Christian burial and a shrine was set up in her honour at Lacco Ameno, where she is believed to have landed. Every year in May the burning boat is brought ashore, the next day a plaster statue of the saint is carried out from her shrine and parades around streets lined with fairy lights, then she is taken out to sea for a ceremony and it all ends in a firework display.
We wandered into Lacco Ameno in time for the sea pageant. We could see the dais with the saint on the largest of a flotilla of small boats at the edge of the bay. Gun salutes were exchanged between the shore and the boats, followed by a display of daytime fireworks, flashes of magnesium bright lights and puffs of coloured smoke, exploding in ricochets from points along the cliff. Finally a huge bang summoned the little fleet back to shore. John and I wandered into town past a children’s funfair doing a roaring trade. The streets had been transformed by an array of massive fretwork arches festooned with small clear light bulbs. We had seen these white structures stacked in a series of trucks the year before, but this had given no idea of the scale of the display. It was small wonder they had been hastily packed away as the huge archways were merely resting on the ground, held up by a network of tensioned wires. There was a Moorish quality the white lacy monoliths. Beneath them the streets were lined with market stalls trading food and wares. Notable amongst the stalls was the candyfloss man. He was a young man with a winning smile. At the chance of a customer he set going a small record player and did a little shuffling dance away from his candyfloss machine, spinning a sticky ectoplasm across the ever increasing gap he was creating, whilst he serenaded the client and maintained terrifying eye contact. We watched one woman begging him to stop, as he had a good meter of spume trailing from an already loaded stick, destined for her small entranced child. Then the lights came on in a tinkling wave of blue and yellow and we were wandering through a fairyland. We had a meal in a harbour side restaurant and then headed back to vantage point overlooking the cliffs for the spectacular shells of the evening fireworks. All in all this is a spectacle to plan a holiday round.
Next day the weather was fine and the wind had dropped so we set off back to Casamicciola, to the festival we had all but missed last year. This was to be the first days actual racing in the Rolex Cup and we were keen to be out of the way when they started at noon. The dredger was at the mouth of the marina, so John radioed the control tower to ask if it was safe for us to pass in front of it. The answer came from the hand held radio of the marinera in a dingy just ahead of us, he said yes but kindly went ahead to show us the channel. This was a relief as passing the groaning leviathan with its’ rattling chains was disconcerting. We waved and thanked them and then set off on another rocky crossing under engine. About half way across an all ships Pan Pan call came over the radio from Napoli. A light aircraft with two people had come down in the waters near Capri and boats in the area were asked to keep a look out. We looked over to Capri and hoped the two people would be picked up.
When we arrived at Casamicciola the marinera asked how our new battery was suiting us and gave us a discount for our stay.
The festival we had come to see was La Festa di Santa Restituta, a three-day pageant of lights and boats, the story behind which is convoluted and incredible. Lara had witnessed the extravagant firework finale when we stayed here last year looking out of her cabin skylight. The fireworks had taken place a day early as a pragmatic response to a poor weather forecast for the scheduled event. By the time we wandered into town on the following day, not only had the fireworks already happened, the light show had been folded up and loaded onto open trucks. This year we planned to see the lights and fireworks, but the wind caused us to miss the opening day when the saint came ashore. This is quite a spectacle as she arrives on a flaming boat in the manner of Kirk Douglas at the end of The Vikings. Ah well, maybe next year we will see the whole event.
Fine, but windy weather after the deluge and we are back to the exercise program. John swabbed the decks, I ferried washing back and forth and then we both went to the shop. They must have lit the fire in the cold weather yesterday, because there was a tray full of smoked mozzarella for sale. We added it to the lettuce and tomatoes to make lunch. The older lady also sold us on a large punnet of apricots and then the younger one came in from the back with a sprig of basil from the garden, a gift to compliment our purchases.
With bedding and towels to hang as well as our dirty laundry John needed to string up three lines between the foresail and the shrouds. It was such a windy day, we threaded on as much as we could and just pegged the sheets. It all billowed together like Monday mornings in the terrace houses where my Grandma lived when I was small. As we finished pegging out a man on our neighbouring yacht started to sing the verse of O Solo Mio to us in Italian and made us all laugh. There were three men on the boat next door, all busy doing something mechanical to it, involving a rather handsome wooden box. Later as we sat out eating our salad lunch our serenader came over and asked if we had garlic as they had forgotten to bring some. John went below and checked, but the girls had used it all in the feast. We were sorry. He shrugged. We finished our salad and were trying to decide if we had room for some apricots when he came back with a plate of pasta for us. He hoped it would be good without the garlic. It was more than good, the pasta perfectly al dente and tasting of sardines with a good kick of chilli. We must learn how to make pasta that seems to have no sauce, but actually has absorbed all the flavour and has some bite, but no chalkiness. I felt we should offer them something in return and washed some of the apricots and took them round. They acted really touched and our singer shook my hand, introduced himself, Bruno, and bid us welcome, as though we had not been moored beside them for two years.