Ponza is the main island of the Pontine group, higher and more rugged than Ventotene, its’ coast riddled with geological features. We were careful to avoid some of the more outlying ones on our way in. The main harbour is a pretty town of square pastel houses climbing the hill, a bit reminiscent of Capri back in the day. Despite the fact that anchoring is supposedly forbidden most of the yachts there were at anchor and we were in splendid isolation on the end of the pontoon. The water was again crystal clear and as we looked down into it small mauve jellyfish swirled round each other down into the depths like Dementors, tentacles trailing. The crosses on top of their heads glowed purple from above, shading to metallic burgundy shot with gold as they tilted, fascinating to look at, but a definite deterrent to swimming.

After the quiet of Ventotene the traffic along the front and the press of people seemed hectic.

Having skipped lunch we ate out early at a taverna on the side of the harbour. It looked rather pretty till the patron started stringing up individual battery powered plastic light bulbs from the umbrellas over the tables as people were trying to eat. He had a slightly distracted manner and even with the help of the young waitress managed to confuse our order, so that though my modest rocket salad starter was as expected, John was served a huge bowl of shellfish followed by a big plate of much the same shellfish in thick pasta as a main, while I was given an empty plate with which to share it. As it turned out there was actually plenty for both of us, hopefully making up for some of the indulgences of the last two days and it was very cheap. We headed off before the lighting became dependent on the motley distribution of dim bulbs and explored the town in the gathering dusk. Narrow passageways of steep steps led up to a cobbled terrace of shops and candle lit bars, enchanting in the twilight. We stopped off in one and identified a restaurant for tomorrow night and a patisserie for breakfast. Along the length of the street were white filigree metal archways of fairy lights, like the ones used for festivals on Ischia. As night fell none of the lights came on and John consulted the Google oracle and found a two-week festival starts at the coming weekend. We shall just miss it.

Next day after our pastries and cappuccinos we had decided to take a boat tour to view the sea stacks and arches up close without risk to the gel coat. There are several concessions along the port, each offering a five-hour tour around the whole island with lunch and swimming stops or a one-hour to the point and back.  Five hours sounded like another days sailing and we did not fancy swimming if the jellyfish were spawning, so opted for the short tour. We were joined by an Italian couple, which worked out very well as the boatman kept stopping to come round from his little wheel house and offer them a booming commentary in Italian as we rode the chop and dodged the spray. The coastline is a spectacular mix of rock features, full of folds and intrusions and I clicked away happily with the camera. On the way back our Captain road up onto a nearby beach to drop the young couple off. The beach looked pretty quiet and we could see the jellyfish washing about here too, though our companions managed to climb over the bow and paddle to the shore unscathed. Our man stayed behind his wheel for the remainder of the trip back and as he kept the prow nosed up against the harbour wall for us also to climb over and out, rather less nimbly in my case. I had thoroughly enjoyed the tour, but was glad we had not opted for the longer one. We had pizza for lunch from a wood-burning oven, very crisp and oozing cheese; our first of the year. To walk it off we climbed to the top of the town and walked a little way along the cliff top, but then realised we were on top of one of the overhangs we had seen from below and hastily backtracked. Climbing in the opposite direction we reached the cemetery, the dead being kept away from the living by being interred high above them, traditionally segregated, men according to status with women and children allocated separate spaces.

Our evening plans looked set to fail at the first hurdle when we arrived at the bar to find it heaving. We walked to the end of the street, but did not find an alternative. On our second pass a group at the end table at the front were standing and gathering themselves ready to leave, so we hung back and jumped in their graves. After that the evening progressed as planned. We watched a complex cars cradle of wires being woven along the far harbour wall and more fairy lights being strung up. A huge party of adults and children all very dressed up gathered behind us and we held our breath, but they were booked into the other restaurant, which they filled. We were very pleased with our choice, which was run entirely by women. We shares had a very fishy supper, sharing penne with monkfish to start and them plaice in lemon. After our coffees our waitress offered us shots of the local fennel liqueur, which was less fiery than anise with a more complex taste. Unfortunately the shops were closed by the time we made our way home and we have an early start tomorrow for the long journey to Gaeta. A fierce wind came through in the early hours and woke John, he looked out and all the festival lights had been turned on, no doubt to test them. Luckily I woke shortly after and he told me to look out, so I saw them too and very pretty they were.

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Island Life

After breakfast we set out to explore the island. John had spotted the tourist office at the top of the zigzag slope up to the square. The door was open, with a wooden chair set invitingly at one side. We approached and found ourselves on the threshold of three steep steps leading down into a small, gloomy room, built well below street level. We were looking down on a blonde woman sat behind a lovely old wooden desk, looking back at us in a coy sideways manner. John asked if she spoke English. “A little.” We descended the steps. John, “Do you have a map?” drawing a square with his hands. “No.” We all looked at one another. “I am not the Tourist Office, I just take care villas, houses. The Tourist Office is …” At which point she lapsed into Italian and pointed down. John, “Down on the port?” “Si, porto” she stood up and came outside with us and pointed to our right, “The pink house.” We exchanged smiles and said thank you and grazie and she went back down into her room and we went back down the slopes. We circled the tourist office on two levels but it was comprehensively shut. John took out his phone and we consulted the map and worked out a route round the island. It was not difficult there being only one main road to the far point and a bit of a loop round the town. The road was made of concrete and followed the dramatic coastline before heading across the island. A party of school children in yellow baseball hats were ranged painting the views from the cliffs. They had smart matching tunics and each had an impressive box of new paints. As we passed them they were enjoying an ice cream break, while their work and the paints balanced precariously on the sea wall. We headed out through fields of wildflowers, poppies, fennel and such along with crops of lentils and eruptions of prickly pear cactus, some covered in yellow flowers some in bruise coloured fruits. The air smelled of summer and a huge yellow butterfly danced around us, but would not land for a picture. Occasionally we stood in to make way for small three-wheel trucks, and a couple of motor scooter wound past us, but mostly there was quiet and the song of birds, determined cheeping from the many sparrows and the woodwind notes of pigeons.  We passed people busy in their gardens, a couple of men power walking and the site of the Roman cistern, which we peered at through the gate as it was closed. The sanctuary for migrating birds was also shut, we said hello to a couple women reading the noticeboard outside it. Obviously the tourist office was closed because none of the attractions were open. The island itself was attraction enough; we headed out to the point, with cliffs dipping steeply to our right. Far below in the azure sea a yacht was at anchor for a lunchtime swim. The end of the island was less dramatic. Although the map urged us onwards we arrived at a no entry sign and a dirt turning circle. We stopped retraced our steps to the junction with the road to the opposite coast. We came to the school, empty and quiet, was it a holiday or had the whole school been shut so the pupils could paint en pleine air? The graffiti art, showing the school perched like a coning tower on the back of a smiling whale, was testament to a commitment to art. Above the whale floated hot air balloons, a motif we saw repeatedly on tiles and woodwork all across the island. With a bit of help from Google the Captain discovered that a balloon festival is held here in September every year. Balloons fly overhead and of course there are fireworks, so we hope to come back later this year.

Coming back into town we had to step into doorways to be passed by the fleet of the small vans and cars heading up from the harbour. The ferry must have arrived. We came down to the Roman harbour worried the restaurant might be swamped by trippers, and we fancied trying the local speciality of bruschetta with lentils and seafood we had seen on their blackboard. Fortunately this early in the season there were just a few other couples like ourselves. We sat in the shade under the pumice arches after shaking the gritty dust from the white cushions. The cliffs are shedding crumbs of rock at a steady rate as the seagulls shuffle about above. The waitress came and dusted the table for us and took our order. The bruschetta was excellent; the bread really crisp, I think it had been fried, so much for our light lunch.

After lunch we changed into our swimming gear, broke out the mats and parasol and headed to the small beach across from the boat. There was a larger more glamorous looking beach through a rock arch from the Roman harbour, but that faced the open sea. John reasoned the beach inside the arch of the new harbour would have warmer water and we knew from the crystal clarity of the harbour, the sea urchins on the rocks and the big shoals of bream we could see from the pontoon that this harbour is very clean. The sight of young children dashing in and out of the sea barefoot was also encouraging from the sea urchin point of view. We wandered round and set up camp in front of the graffiti mermaid sprayed onto the sea wall. The graffiti artist here has a talent for haunting faces, there is another on the wall of the marina. A pity neither of us had brought a phone to capture her and I had been too busy with the fenders on our way in. After giving our lunchtime to settle we dipped a toe in the water. It was definitely fresh, but we pressed on inch by chilly inch until we had reached a depth to take the plunge. John took it first and assured me it was like a warm bath. I prudently ignored him and dithered around a bit longer splashing my arms before launching past the point of no return and swimming madly till the burning sensations stopped. After that it was bliss. We spent the rest of the afternoon alternately swimming and drying off looking across at Lyra. We packed up around four and it was just as well, for we arrived back on board in time for John to fend off a charter boat full of Germans intent on ramming us as they came in. They were of an age, around forty, and oddly all dressed in identical matelot sweat shirts. None of them thanked John for averting disaster, which is odd, as other German sailors we have met have had immaculate manners. Mind you they could also sail. They were joined by another boatful and began playing schlock seventies music very loudly as they swam from their respective boats and yelled to one another. We had planned to return to the wonderful garden restaurant we had dined at on our first night and decided to shower and go out early. To delay things we had a glass of prosecco in the bar, but were still the first customers of the night. They were all smiles to see us again and promptly brought out a plate of raw fish to tempt us with its glistening freshness. Of course we succumbed, this time accompanied by homemade pasta in a tomato sauce.  By carefully selecting different deserts I nearly completed sampling the menu, which I rank as follows:

Equal third place – Mixed Berry Tart with crème patisserie and Dark Chocolate Mousse Cup with cherries

Second place – Éclair with burnished white chocolate (think whipped Caramac) topped with citrus meringue, (light and crispy, though very sweet)

First by a nose – Bronte biscuit with roasted pistachio ice cream. The ice cream was extraordinary. All definitely worth the calories. By the time we trundled back all was quiet on the pontoon and we slept like logs.

Next morning our neighbours left early, but we had only a short sail to Ponza, so went up to the square to the supermarket and afterwards had a luxurious cappuccino served with fresh whipped cream from a café with a small, round King Charles Spaniel with very soft ears. They had a wonderful selection of patisseries and croissants, so we cursed ourselves for not coming for breakfast, though it’s probably just as well or I will be as round as the dog, but less cute with it.

We stopped at the marina office to pay and the young man at the desk asked where we were from and yes, he knew, Sheffield near Manchester, he supported Manchester United. At this point our taciturn hairy marinera became positively chatty, we discovered he spoke fluent football teams. He supported Manchester City, no United. He nodded politely about John supporting Bournemouth and shrugged sympathetically about Sheffield Wednesday, but Manchester City was his, a good team, they had… here his English faltered and I said plenty of money rubbing my thumb and fingers together and they all laughed and agreed. He followed us out to the boat to see us off and continued the conversation. His team from Germany… Bayern Munich, no France, Lazio from Italy, which we assume was his first love and Real Madrid from Espania. As we were about to set off the ferry came into view, our man squinted at it and then nodded that we should go, pushing his fist forward on an imaginary throttle. By the time I remembered that I had intended to take a picture of the graffiti art the ferry was in the way and it was too late. I really hope we have the chance to go back.


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To Ventotene

Ever since we arrived in Naples we have been meaning to visit a set of islands further offshore, reputed to be unspoiled and beautiful. So far we have been thwarted by lack of time or poor weather, but today the winds are forecast to be light, so the moment has finally arrived and we are due to set off for the first one Ventotene. It is a low island and said to be one to avoid in poor weather. Our pilot book describes it as an ex prison colony covered in prickly pears and scrub, not exactly selling it, but the waiter at La Calise and the marina boss here act as though it is a lovely place.

Frank came to say goodbye as I was waiting for John to come back from the office, so I asked him about Ventotene. He said there was a wonderful festival there in September, with fireworks and hot air balloons. “They always say if you can see Ventotene from here it’s too windy to go there”, pause, ”that’s it over there.” I squinted at the horizon, but could make nothing out. “Course it doesn’t always follow.” Thank you Frank! John arrived back at this point. I decided not to mention Frank’s rough rule of thumb, especially as I could see no island out there and we set off. Three hours later, the wind was much stronger than forecast. It seemed a bit late to say anything. The low shape of Ventotene rose before us, with the adjacent rock of Stefano with its’ abandoned penal colony sitting on top like a pillbox to port. There were several yachts sailing about, but we were making purposefully for Porto Nuova, the larger of the two harbours. A rib came storming up and tried to entice us into the Roman harbour of Porto Vecchio. Frank stays at this one and the pilot book covers it first. Mooring involves turning ninety degrees to starboard on entry and going bows to against a quay with underwater rocks. Other members of the cruising association strongly advised against going in. We took their advice. The rib roared away and we turned into the other marina, where we had a booking. A hairy guy in another rib came out. He was a man of few words, most of them Italian and in sharp contrast with his competitor seemed reluctant to take us on. He checked our details over the radio, looked sideways at us and quoted the price for two nights and only when we agreed set off for the pontoon and waved us in. We managed a nigh on perfect docking and he disappeared into the office and came back with a till receipt, which turned out to be the Wifi password.

It is a beautiful spot. Very peaceful with crystal clear water and unusual low rippling tuff cliffs. We walked through to the other harbour where the tuff rock had been sculpted by the Romans into caves to hold their galleys and produced structures worthy of Gaudi. The caves now are used for restaurants and bars and we stopped at the first one, because it was so beautifully decked out with vases of wild flowers and baskets of petunias. It was also a shop selling local produce and pottery, had a wide selection of wines by the glass and the bar snacks were samples of the cheeses and deli treats the island had to offer. The end of the tiny harbour was rammed with small fishing boats and we watched a few old boys come in, though none had any fish, so we think they must have been out setting pots. The edge of the harbour in front of us turned out to be the main road to the ferry dock and when the cavernous ship came in a number of small vans and cars rattled past us, in both directions. After our drink we walked further along, past a number of dive schools and climbed the sloping ramps up into the town. Looking down on the yacht harbour we were glad we had not been persuaded in, it looked pretty tight down there. Further round was a lovely beach, with more restaurants and bars on which a few umbrellas fluttered. Up the narrow streets we came to a large square with some very fine municipal buildings, John speculated convict labour was responsible. He spotted a gelateria and we indulged in a couple of cones of the Nutella flavour to munch on our way back down.

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Day of Pasta and Roses

A lumpy crossing we had of it. I spent most of the time lying down to offset the nausea, having failed to put my wristbands on soon enough. Both of us were none the less thankful to at last be underway, all the more so as we were forecast to leave a rainy day in Stabia and head for sunshine on Ithaca. As I lay down Vesuvius glowered at us beneath rolling black clouds; it was raining on Naples too, but ahead were bright skies. Unfortunately as I surfaced four hours later when we reached the calmer waters of the channel between the islands Ithaca itself was under a towering black cloud. The air temperature dropped dramatically and we both donned our fleeces. Matters did not improve as we came into port and it started to spit with rain. A marinera was ready for us, wearing a bright white cap, but looked keen to withdraw back to the shelter of the office. Unfortunately for him another boat was following us in. We made a decent go of our first docking of the season; we were secure front and back so our chap headed off to bring in the other boat as we were finessing the lazy line. John was at the bow pulling us in and I was motoring slowly forward against the rear dock lines when the engine cut out. John came back, filthy but satisfied and I broke the news. John knew straight away what had happened. Something had become wrapped around the propeller. We both looked over the stern and realised it was the lazy line; we could see it through the water looping up from the dock to our rudder. We were joined in our survey by the marinera, who was equally glum and shook his head. We all agreed our arrival had appeared to go so smoothly, but there was the line and Lyra had a firm grip on it. “We will get a diver” he announced, shrugged, sighed and headed back to the office. Well we had planned to stay here a few days. The people in the office were very nice about it. John went in first with the paperwork and the boss, Fausto, sent him back for me, to have a coffee. We were both gasping for a cold beer, but it seemed churlish not to take them up on the offer. They were in the middle of a revamp, workmen and wires all over the place. Fausto took us away to the new coffee bar, an area of tables and sofas set out under stretched sails at the end of which stood the bar, mainly empty but with a large glittering coffee machine. He made us coffees powerful enough to put hairs on your chest and sat chatting about the new plans for the marina. It certainly looks more beautiful every time we come and they have always been extremely helpful to us. We came away buzzing and headed straight past Lyra and on to the bar of the Hotel Calise.

By this time it was well past lunch, but they bring such a variety of beer snacks as to constitute a personal finger buffet. We fell on the warm sausage rolls and pizza squares, crisps peanuts mini ham rolls and tiny bruschetta with a vengeance. School had turned out and a party of children were running to and fro in the square, tumbling up against the portentous body of the local priest, a huge man with glasses and a long black cassock. They pealed off in front of him as he made stately progress across the front of the hotel and into the church next door, smiling benignly at them. Moments later they all reappeared, strung out behind the priest in a dancing Pied Piper column disappearing into the mouth of the hotel, closely pursued by three mums. They came back out in twos and threes carrying ice cream cones and ranged themselves on the tables opposite. Priest and mums re-emerged also with cornets and they all sat chatting together, teasing one another and laughing. The children finished eating first and were off again, whirling like swallows in a game of tag. There was a holiday atmosphere to it all and we had to remind ourselves it was only Thursday. Sunday morning and we ran into the children again, or very nearly did, though on this occasion they were very dignified and orderly.

We had spent the previous two days revisiting favourite haunts, Ischia town on Friday and the garden, La Mortella, yesterday. In an effort to try something new we planned to take a taxi to Forio, the harbour with the long beach one overlooks from La Mortella. We decided this over a yummy croissant at La Calise, where the square was decorated with flags for Republic Day. There was to be a speech this evening by the newly elected mayor. We had to go back to Lyra to slather ourselves in sun cream for the day and fell into conversation with our neighbour, who flies the R.A.F. service personnel’s ensign. An obviously very experienced sailor he was phlegmatic about our recent attachment to the lazy line, ‘everyone does it at least once!’ He made us feel rather better by telling of when he had left his boat on the pontoon to return to England and had the marina call him, “Hey Frank, your boat it is sinking, but not to worry, we are pumping!” He has sailed in Greece and Croatia as well as Italy and was off to visit family at their nearby villa. On hearing our plans for the day he very kindly offered us a lift to Forio. He had a small Fiat parked across the street from the marina. I climbed in the back and John road shotgun. It was very hot and stuffy, so they wound their windows right down. That was the first mistake. We set off, started to turn right into the service road and came up short in front of a procession of children, dressed all in white, the girls in long dresses, each solemnly throttling a trio of long stemmed white lilies held in front of them. I think they were chanting or singing as they processed, but it was hard to tell because of the torrent of abuse coming at us from the lady in charge. She wanted us to reverse, but by this time we had been flanked by a second file of children coming slowly but inexorably down the other side of us. We had to sit there, half turned into the road as they slowly swept by. Frank apologised profusely in Italian, but the lady ended the discussion, with a rather rude gesture. “Oh dear”, said Frank with a smile, the children kept straight faces and eyes front. The priest had obviously trained them well.

After that the rest of our journey seemed uneventful, even with the hairpin corners and oncoming buses. Frank was even kinder than we though, because Fario was well beyond the turn off to his sister in laws villa. He dropped us by the port and we headed to the harbour to look at the boats before striking up into the town. A standing band was playing in the little square and the main street was lined with the arches of filigree lights they use for the festival in Lacco Amino. After exploring we went back to the sea front and found a table for two in a restaurant called Romantica, a name that brings back memories of our flotilla holidays in Greece. There were pots of red roses on the table, the food featured Roman speciality dishes, the first time I have associated romance with the toga and tunic brigade. I chose tortellini in broth followed by baby linguini alla limone, and John had a salad and then spaghetti with seafood. It was all very good. I was just on my first lot of pasta, (there being rather more tortellini in the broth than I had expected), when a large family came from inside the restaurant and began to fill a round table in the corner beside us. There were rather more of them than there was table, but they kept coming and a rather imposing lady with a commanding voice organised the waiters to sidle more and more chairs past us. In the end I was sitting virtually amongst them, with my back to the table. The woman set up a loud banter with an equally loud man. John and I tried to sidle our table slightly forward and were helped by a waiter, so we were still very close, but not quite so overwhelmed. We had just finished our main courses and our plates cleared when the waiter brought out their pasta dish in a huge earthenware pot. It smelled fantastic. There was a great roar of approval, mobile phones were brandished and the waiter proudly displayed the contents to be immortalised on phone. The waiters spread plates on a side table and began dishing it up. The pasta was the muscle bound spaghetti that looked to be fresh, but every so often a large bony lump of what looked like an oyster appeared. John and I speculated to each other that it might be ox tail. The fulsome lady turned to me and touched my arm – we were still very close – to explain it was a very special dish. I smiled, nodded approval and said “Aroma” in what I hoped was a manner that conveyed how impressed we were by the smell. I turned back and John said I think you are being given some. Sure enough a small plate was set down between us, rabbit in cooked with notes of sage in the sauce. Reader it was wonderful. Despite having eaten three lots of pasta I mopped the plate clean with bread. Obviously we thanked them profusely. She thought a moment to find the English to tell us it was rabbit and said I should order that next time rather than tortellini. The waiter looked horrified, I think at the prospect of having to cook a whole rabbit for two, but I smiled and said we would bring the family.

That evening we were too full to eat again but went to the jazz bar in Casamicciola as the population and their dogs washed around us, greeting each other, hugging and kissing. We could not hear the address of the mayor for the general air celebration and chat, but later back on Lyra we found we had a front row seat for the spectacular firework finale in the colours of the Italian flag.


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Wednesday, several soggy, windy days after our weekend away and the life raft has at long last arrived. All the jobs have been done – some have even had to be redone! But tomorrow we are set to go on our first voyage of the season, weather permitting.


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A Weekend Away

The life raft service man e-mailed John to say that he will be able to bring the life raft back early next week. We had hoped it would be back this week, but it was good that he let us know. The weather is due to turn warm again for the weekend, but we cannot sail without a life raft. John did some research and reckoned that at this time of year we go to Capri for the weekend and stay in a hotel for not much more than it normally costs us to rock and roll in the marina there. I did not need much persuading. We packed our small backpacks and set out walking into town, caught an early train to Sorrento, where we paused for coffee, crossed on the ferry and had lunch at around two in Lo Zodiaco on Capri watching the turmoil in the harbour and keeping out of the crush ashore. It is one of the restaurants near the marina and we have enjoyed eating there before of an evening. We shared stuffed courgette flowers and I had fish cooked in ‘crazy water’. I asked the waiter what the crazy water was, but he misunderstood me and just said ‘sea bass’ and was obviously very busy, so I still don’t know. John had a fabulous mixed seafood linguini. Fortified by all this we set off shrugging our way through the milling crowds; up the funicular, through the square, along the avenue of posh shops and down a side street to our hotel, immaculate in its blue and white tiles. Our room overlooks the pool and one of the Faraglioni Rocks and had a bath. I had a long soak before going down to have G&T’s on the terrace prior to heading out to a restaurant, which on booking had offered views of the sun going down on the famous rocks. Sadly from my seat a man in a red sweater obscured them, but we were soon plunged into an inky blue night and I did enjoy the combination of mussels, saffron and linguini. Half a day and two meals in to our stay in Capri wandered back along the narrow streets.

Day 2: John heroically offered go up the chairlift with me to the top of Mount Solaro. I love the chair lift, sitting with my feet dangling in space being drawn slowly up and up above the wildflowers and gardens with just the quiet hum of the machinery and all the busy bother of humanity melting away below. John is not at all keen on it. To get to the chairlift we took a taxi to Anacapri, a thrill ride in itself not even Top Gear have tackled. When we arrived the mountain was swathed in cloud so we went for a coffee at one of the cafes by the steps. The owner quietly suggested we change table, as a tour guide was due to address her party from a table just behind – in Danish. We moved and sat in the sun drinking coffee for a while. Then we explored the shops. Finally John decided to bite the bullet and I had a lovely ride up in front of him and he enjoyed arriving at the top. The cloud mostly still obscured the Faraglioni Rocks, though we were afforded glimpses as vapour streamed up from the cliff edge of the whole toe of the island with boats speeding towards it from all directions. I bought John a well earned Peroni and we had a wander round the stony garden at the top before queuing to catch a chair back down, which is even more exhilarating as the chairs fly over the edge into space. An added bonus of taking the trip at this time was the many sparrows nesting in the hollow horizontal sections of the pylons. Each approaching support was heralded by a cacophony of cheeping, with adults darting in and out and at one point two youngsters poked their heads out of an end to have a look at me. Once back at Base Camp 1 we headed off to the Villa San Michele, to wander in the lovely gardens and have bruschetta on the rooftop terrace, where a wedding party was in full sway.

The Villa is so peaceful, even with a wedding on, that it was a shock to come back into the throngs milling about the steps at the foot of the chairlift. There was a relatively short queue for the bus, but as each tiny bus arrived already packed to the gunnels and either only took on a couple of people of drove straight past without stopping, this line steadily increased. After another tour of the nearby shops we joined the unruly scrum waiting for a taxis, which came in feasts and famines. A shiny blue bridal car arrived for the happy couple from Villa San Michele, its’ driver cheerfully repelling would be boarders. A collective murmur of appreciation broke out as the bride in her stunning frock cut a glamorous passage to her carriage. Then the wedding photographer set about stage management of the scene, pushing back the crowds and dictating terms of departure to the bride and groom, but his reign was cut short by the arrival of four large open top taxis. A large bearded man, responsible for allocating taxis to the waiting throng set matters straight as to who was actually in charge, the muddled crowd milled forward under his direction and John and I were allocated a taxi right on the edge that managed to whisk round and set off down to Capri at speed leading the charge. The centre of Capri town was heaving with people, so we headed back to our hotel and a very relaxing afternoon by the pool, sunbathing as the olive trees dropped tiny flowers onto us and swimming in the bracing waters looking across the infinity drop to the Faraglionis.

That evening we made our way back into town, in the peace that follows the departure of the main ferry services. We had a table booked at Da Giorgio a ristorante with a wood fired pizza oven and a stunning location overlooking the harbour. This time our table was right on the edge of the fabulous view. We shared a saffron risotto and baked fish and it was all so good we reserved the same table for tomorrow night.

Day 3: After breakfast we set out into the early morning peace, mindful to move aside for the silent but numerous electric vehicles weaving around making deliveries up and down the steep street. Most places were still closed, so we paused for a coffee in the square, being careful to pick the café where all the old locals were sitting over their morning espressos. I’m sure we paid triple the amount they all did. As we sat the first tour parties began assembling at the head of the funicular, so we set out to have a look at the garden before it became overrun. The doorways of the designer shops were still furnished with bin liners and the bougainvillea draped passage to the garden the province of dog walkers. We paid our 2 Euros strolled around until the place became besieged by a large group with a strident guide. Following the garden we had planned to walk down the snaking Krupps road to Marina Picola, the other smaller harbour on the island, but the way was barred to us. A notice sited the danger of falling rocks. Undeterred we decided to find the alternative path from the square, but before that headed off to look round the monastery, which we can see from our hotel room.

Entry to the monastery was free on account of the building work going on. A large bank of seating was being erected on in the cloister over the meadow. We will have to look and see what event is in the offing. The sound of power tools and hammering rather shattered the usual peace of the buildings, but the half abandoned gardens were still an oasis of calm. We celebrated with a selfie in front of the Faraglionis, not easy given how far below us they were. We went to have a look in the exhibition rooms, but they were between shows, though the passage through the empty spaces was pleasant. The overgrown courtyard garden could have been a show garden at Chelsea; full blown roses, citrus trees, swathes of sage and rosemary set in a matrix of feather headed grasses and tiny wildflowers set inside mellow walls. Clusters of green embryo grapes were beginning to hand from the pergola, perhaps when we come again there will be fruits.

Onwards to Marina Piccola, retracing our steps back to the square, out along the road to Anacapri and down onto the footpath leading steeply down to the far shore, just us and a few locals heading home with their bags of groceries. Eventually the steep path gave way to sets of steps and we met the end of the road, cobbled area where the buses and taxis could turn round. It was hard to see the shore below for the terraces of swimming platforms and restaurants, but we found a way down to the tiny harbour and a pebble beach reminiscent of Cornwall. We sat on the edge of the path in the sun calmed by the rhythm of the sea. Next to us sat a chap swigging a bottle of cold beer, so after a while we went in search of our own. The nearby beach-bar was clatteringly busy and we were avoiding the young man at the harbour trying to inveigle us onto one of his deckchairs as we passed on principle, so we went back up the cobbled square. The bar there looked more interested in avoiding custom, the waiter topping up a wine glass at one empty table and a woman talking incessantly on her phone holding the back of a chair at the other one. To our right a hot looking man in a starchy white uniform stood holding a menu at the entrance to a beach resort. We looked over the edge to the lido below and a stout individual in shorts waved for us to come down. This went slightly against our principles of ignoring those who tout, but the restaurant and looked busy and a man was chiselling away at an interesting mound of salt crust, so we went half way. “We just want beer”, I said, very firmly, “No Problem”. We were waved through and passed baton-like through a series of smiling young men as we wound our way down the steps and onto a wooden platform to a table in front of the full glory of the Faraglioni Rocks. It made for the ultimate beer photograph. After a respectful interval our young man sidled a snacks menu onto the table, “In case you want “. There were variations on sandwiches, wraps and toasties. We opted for Crostoni, which he explained as being big versions of Crostini. It was a round of toast on which had been piled a chef’s salad of rocket, tomatoes, mozzarella, tuna and olives. After coffee he offered to take our photograph in front of the rocks and I swapped my seat accordingly. It is definitely somewhere to go back to for a full meal in the shaded restaurant, but we had a date with Giorgios for the evening. We climbed up to the cobbles square and stumbled into a taxi, which spirited us up to the top. Mindful of the forecast of rain to come we bought umbrellas, which proved very necessary. Our early evening drinks stop was called short as the rain began and we arrived at Da Giorgios half an our early, but they had our table ready and nodded sympathetically about the poor weather.

Day 4: Raining steadily. We set off straight back after breakfast, passing sodden tour groups making the best of it. The connections came thick and fast and we were soon speeding across a slightly bumpy sea to a dripping Sorrento. We had just missed a train, so waited about an hour, but at least were able to secure dry seats. Back on board it was as if we had never been away.

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Monsoon Weather

A storm of heroic proportion rolled in around lunchtime. Rain teemed down and the wind lashed the palm trees like a scene from Key Largo. Fortunately we were inside the Marina bar at the time, midway through our pasta of the day watching it all through the glass walls. The waiter rushed to fasten the doors and we hunkered down as tables and chairs skedaddle along the terrace outside. A couple of the marineras had been having lunch too and reluctantly set out in the lull as the eye of the storm passed over, the waiter holding onto the door as they passed through. Coffee seemed the better part of valour and sure enough the second round had started thrashing the vicinity before our espressos arrived. We waited till the worst of the fury had dissipated before making our way back, hoods up. Once onboard John put the heating system on for the first time since leaving Lymington. Once the dust had burned off it was very cosy.


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A Day Trip to Sorrento

The weather was due to take a turn for the worse, blustery with occasional showers, but it dawned fine, so we decided to chance it and go to Sorrento on the train. By walking briskly and an element of good fortune we caught a train before ten and so found seats, but we arrived gasping for coffee. Mindful of the grim stuff on offer at some of the pavement cafes we opted for one in the old town and kept it black. Fortified we wandered down to the front, to look over the edge to the lido and harbour. It was blowing strongly in from the sea, piling clouds up ominously ashore. We had a look in the cloister garden, where a display of marquetry landscapes had been set on easels along one wall and admired white roses in the square outside, before heading back to the warren of narrow streets for shelter. After a bit of window shopping we checked out the art gallery, but were not enticed by the comic art work currently on show, so made our way back into the labyrinth and looked round the art shop, Terrerosse, instead. John bought himself a new mug for the boat and we admired a rather splendid wall clock. Carrying on into the street of the wild rabbits we managed to find yet another route round to the tiny harbour of Marina Grande. The wind was still bowling in from the sea, but we were pleased to see the Taverna Azzurra da Gennaro was open and had all the polythene walls down. We threaded our way along to it, past the movie posters of a young Sophia Loren. A large one opposite the restaurant is actually a blind hiding a door through which they take deliveries. Nothing much was happening today. A group of waiters and men from the boat hire businesses stood around smoking and laughing, clearly not expecting trade to pick up any time soon. After a stroll along the front we turned and headed back into the shelter of the plastic wrapped tables, the waiters sprang to life and brought us crab ravioli in a glorious bisque with a bottle of chilled local white. The afternoon became suffused with a warm glow as we headed back into town and completed our shopping. We bought biscuits and chocolates from the irresistible Nino’s, John replaced his sagging wallet and I bought two handbags from the big leather shop, quite a spree for us. We headed back with all our parcels and an evening in front of the wireless.


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Up,Up and Away!

We had another early start and a long stroll into town in the sunshine to the station. This time we bought tickets to the cable car and turned to the right along platform one. We walked parallel to the tracks, scrub on either side and came to a deserted building, with cables running to the pylons striding up the mountain. Inside it was not clear where to go to access the car, but there were posters giving the history of the cable car, so we were in the right place. A sprightly gentleman with a beard appeared and we looked at him expectantly, but he and his wife were fellow travellers, just arrived on the train from Sorrento. We all sat in plastic chairs and waited. The timetable had us down to leave in two minutes. This did not look likely to happen, until a cab came hurtling down the cable and stopped somewhere above us. People then arrived, people coming out of the car and people coming into the building from the station. An automatic metal gate slid open and we climbed the stairs to the operating floor, showed our tickets to a man in uniform and boarded our cab. He followed us in, locked the doors and we began our accent. I had headed to the back of the car so as to see the Bay laid out below as we rose, up above the tall buildings of Castellemarre, up above the trees. Magnificent.




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The weather for the next couple of days is forecast to be good, there is still the washing to do, but we are not yet in extremis, so set out for Pompeii. We visited two years ago on with Lara and Katie on Lara’s birthday in September and were amazed by the scale of it. That and the heat proved very difficult for John because of the pain from his knee. Heroically he managed to cover much of the site, but was not fully able to enjoy the experience, so we have been meaning to go back and the cooler spring weather was an opportunity to do so. We walked into town and at the station discovered that the cable car was operating again. The washing may have to wait another day too!

The train journey to Pompeii is relatively short, some of it backtracking the distance we walked from the Marina to Castellemarra. The train station at Pompeii is just across the road from the entrance, where the queue for tickets was already on its’ third loop. We threaded our way round, bought our tickets and then headed into a nearby room to collect our free map and guide. Armed with these we joined the throng going through the turnstiles and clambering up the boulders-like cobbles threading up through the ancient town walls. The site was much less dusty in spring, the grass lush and littered with yellow wildflowers and washes of poppies.

It was easy to picture the piazza of the forum in its heyday, the public buildings giving way to a gallery of small shops, the people milling about as tourists do now and one side dominated by the towering presence of the volcano. It is less easy to imagine the houses in the streets moving away from the forum. The guidebook speaks of some houses occupying a whole block, but which spaces were interiors and which courtyards and how to distinguish the many rooms of these vast houses from those of smaller dwellings side by side along the street? The guide book is organised into districts and the houses very comprehensively labelled, which is just as well as we often thought we were in one district only to find we were either in a completely different area or on the cusp between two. We ran into difficulties when the number and title of a house in the book was not to be found at all and were lucky to identify some places from photographs. The courtyard of the House of the Faun, named for a statue found inside turned out to be the house of a small boy wrestling a very large fish, prototype for many a fountain. The Faun turned up later when we were not expecting him and there were figures of a world war two soldier and a Pokemon we had not anticipated at all. Perhaps they move around of an evening. The guidebook gave no indication why the owner of the House of the Tragic Poet was any more tragic than his neighbours, the butcher, baker or publican. Certainly his Beware of the Dog mosaic doormat suggested an individual with a reasonable sense of humour. Before heading further into the site we stopped for a toasted wrap sitting on the steps of the café.

After lunch we set out along one of the long streets bridged by stepping-stones, set high so that Roman pedestrians could cross the road above the filth running along the streets. On the main thoroughfares mesh infills fitted between the stones allowed for wheelchair access, an innovation since our previous visit. There were other changes marking progress. Some of the villas we had been able to go into last time were closed by locked metal gates, but other areas that had been barricaded by rusting metal girders had been made safe and opened up. The afternoon was hot, the dodging the crowds by climbing up and down the high pavement edges beginning to take their toll. The road we were following was blocked by metal fence panels, so we backtracked and were caught by the allure of trees and a green space down a side street. A garden had been planted in one of the courtyards, a box parterre containing oleander trees and roses; probably not strictly Roman, but it gave a sense of a home. The green space was welcome after the parade of streets and walls. This was an area we had missed on our last visit. We continued down hill and turned into a small amphitheatre, where a choir of French schoolchildren were being coaxed into a performance of The Lion Sleeps Tonight by a rather glamorous music teacher. She stood at the front conducting and singing along in the manner of all music teachers, while her colleague filmed them on a mobile phone. The rest of the class sat on the terraces trying to look unconnected with it all. After a faltering start, held together by the determined voice of the teacher, they began to enjoy the acoustics and ended a strong second chorus with a deep thrum of Wimberways, before the teacher, bringing her forefingers and thumbs together, drew a line in the air that brought them to a resonant silence, to be broken by applause from the bystanders. After this welcome pause we carried on through the theatre complex to a cloistered area and then on to the large amphitheatre, where we had a seat in the stalls and consulted our book. According to our guide this was one of the first areas to be excavated. Amphitheatres are probably very satisfying structures to unearth, I can well remember the excitement of exposing the buried steps on Cleethorpe’s sea front as a child. It struck me that huge as the city of Pompeii seems, because it is the most complete Roman complex to which we now have access, it must have been a small town compared to some of the sites of really huge amphitheatres, such as the one we explored at Cartagena. We climbed up the steps and were rewarded by views across to the sea from the top, but there was no way out, so we retraced our steps down and headed for the exit.

We had not managed to find our way to the abandoned section with the exit we used last time, with the vast dogs, but I could not face the glass rooms in which where lay the cocoon-like plaster casts, capturing the last moments of poor souls entombed in the ash. Having reached saturation point we headed back to the main entrance, bypassing the museum and gift shop and headed for our train back. It was a long weary walk back from the station, but much less stressful than the dubious taxi journey of our previous visit.


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