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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