Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rose goes "shopping" on the way to Capri, Italy.

After a quiet relaxing week in the Cinque Terre we hopped a train to Naples, on the way to the resort island of Capri. Stepping off the train in Naples, you immediately know that you're in a big city; oodles of people, lots of hectic traffic and constantly beeping horns. They seem to beep just to say hi, to warn of an impending sideswipe or other collision, out of anger or maybe just for the fun of it.

We were only there for a night but our impression of Naples was not favourable. What we saw was a noisy, dirty, chaotic little patch of the city around the train station and our hotel, the UNA Napoli. Fortunately the hotel was easy to find, it was nice and close to the station and we just walked through the big square, Piazza Garibaldi, until we found it. Meanwhile, trying our best to cross streets safely, dragging our luggage behind, dodging scurrying locals, scooters and cars until at last, the soothing oasis of calm of a hotel lobby!

It seemed at first like a nice hotel with efficient staff, nicely decorated and modern with all of the bells and whistles that one would expect of a chain hotel. Of course there was an amazing special on for only $12, free wifi, upgraded room and you could suck the minibar dry, (all the aqua minerale with gas that you can drink) and that alone was worth $27 I was assured, very good deal!

Naples from our balcony

Ok, sure, we'll go for it, especially after I was informed the wi-fi cost is normally $5 an hour, ouch, that would definitely hurt. A porter took our bags, showed us the location of the safe, mini bar, and terrace, featuring a lovely unobstructed view of garbage strewn streets, loafing ne-er do-wells and peeling paint obscured by hanging laundry and colourful graffiti.

Sounds great, right? Well as soon as I tried to log in to the wi-fi, the spell started to unravel. No open wi-fi, but I figured "no problem" I'll call the desk, "hello, this is room 417 we paid for the upgrade with free wi-fi." "Yes sir, if you want to use it, you must come to the desk and sign a form." Me, "But I was just down there, you signed me up." Desk, "yes but if you want to use the wi-fi, you must come down to the reception." Me, "thanks, (with an unseen eye roll) I'll be right down."

Snatching the room card from the little holder by the door, (they never give you more than one key here unless you remember to ask for one) I returned to the lobby, signed a form saying the charge would be zero and returned to the room with a login password. As soon as I got to the room, Rose told me the power had gone out, "did it go out everywhere?" she asked. "Nope, did you do anything, move the little computerized light controller?" It turned out she had moved the little controller and there is a "do not disturb" button and an "override" and a "sleep" button and a bunch of other incomprehensible buttons, so we fiddled with that for a while, working on the premise that it was the problem.

Finally giving up, I called the desk, "the power has gone out in our room, all the lights just all of a sudden went out." Desk, "yes sir, I will send up a technician." "Ok, thanks."

As I went into the hall, a light went on, so to speak, "I wonder....." I took the room key-card and slipped it back into the holder by the door, click-lights on, "Ohhhh, nice of them to tell us about that feature!" Problem solved, I called the desk, wondering why that wouldn't be the very first thing they thought of when I called to report the problem? Me, "I got it fixed, the key card wasn't in the holder." Desk, "Oh, (duh) of course sir." Me, after I had hung up, "of course? Of course? What did he mean by, OF COURSE!!!?"

It got worse.
We were a bit reluctant to leave the sanctuary of the hotel, so we went upstairs to the "roof garden restaurant" big mistake. The view was actually nice, all you could see was rooftops, a giant dome and the mountains south of the city, none of the grunge of the neighborhood.

The place was empty, but we put that down to the time, it was 7:15 and it didn't even open until 7:30. Let's just say the food was not at all good and when the officious maitre de' asked how it was and Rose answered with her usual tact, "it was the worst meal we've had in 3 weeks in Italy." The poor fellow didn't know how to react, "very good madame, may I get you anything else, dessert perhaps?" "Nope, just the bill and a one way ticket out of here!" (She actually said, "just the bill, thanks.")

The next morning we fled by taxi to the port and a fast ferry to the island of Capri. It started off okay, it was supposed to be a one hour ferry ride, how bad could it be? Well remember Gilligan's Island? It was sort of like that, it seemed to go on and on, the boat rising and falling and rolling and plunging until many of the passengers started to go a little green around the gills, looking desperately around for something, anything that looked like a handy waterproof container.

Fortunately the crew could sense where all those desperate looks were heading and jokingly handed out little white bags "for shopping" (we took 2 and needed them both) Rose just loves "to shop".

She was the first to pop (and by far the loudest) and that seemed to kick off a tidal wave of puking that quickly spread throughout the boat. I did my good husband bit, holding the bag, patting her on the back and murmuring soothing dry land sounds in her ear.

When we finally arrived in Capri, Rose solemnly informed me that unless I was going to spring for a helicopter ride back, we were stuck on the island forever, she was definitely NOT in the mood to contemplate another ride in a boat of any size!

Capri harbour with the cliffhanger road in the background
Capri was beautiful though and with her feet firmly planted on terra firma, Rose soon recovered her positive attitude. The shuttle picked us up along with a mother, daughter from Colorado and we chatted the whole way to the Hotel Weber Ambassador.

The hotel was very nice, on the quiet side of the island overlooking a lovely little harbour, called Marina Piccola, the bay where they say Ulysses was seduced by sirens in Homer's Odyssey. Our room was quite adequate, a little dated  (about 3,000 years) just kidding, it was fine, with everything we needed, especially the terrace with an absolutely amazing view over the soft turquoise blue waters of the harbour and the "siren's rock".

Looking up at Hotel Weber Ambassador from Marina Picollo
After a rest we headed down to the marina and the many restaurants clustered around the beaches and rocks jutting out into the sea. I had my little camera so after lunch we explored the area, discovering gelato stands and bars serving the sun worshippers spread out on the sand.

Rose was tired and wanted to rest at the hotel and just read in the sun, but I wanted to explore the areas that she might not be interested in so we went our separate ways for the rest of the afternoon.

I jumped the hotel shuttle to Capri town and from there the local bus to Anacapri, the second town of Capri higher up and around on the other side of the island.

What a ride that was! I do not do heights, and I don't like the narrow windy roads that these people somehow manage on. It was a bit of a nightmare ride.

I like to think of the way they are forced to drive here as cooperative driving. The only way it works at all is that whenever two vehicles meet on these roads, most of the time one will be forced to pull right over against the wall, especially if there is a slightly wider area on their side of the road. Sometimes one vehicle will have to back up to allow the bigger one to squeeze through. There are blind switchback corners all over the place and most of them have mirrors hanging there so you can see if you might be about to have a head on crash. Often they beep their horn, grit their teeth and probably say a quick prayer before rounding the bend.

It's a game of inches and it amazes me that it works at all. Good for them that they somehow all cooperate and make it work because in Alberta where we have so little to complain about, road wise (except a few suspension crushing potholes) we would likely all kill each other if forced to constantly give way like they do here.

The trip to Anacapri was a bit like an episode of Worlds Deadliest Roads, except I don't think we were ever actually driving with half a wheel off the cliff (there is a railing) but it seemed like it.

A bus returning from Anacapri

Once we got there, I was feeling a bit lightheaded, invincible and a bit like superman so I searched out the craziest, scariest, most dangerous thing I could find to do.

There is a chairlift to the very highest peak of the mountain so I quickly forced down the fear and bought a ticket. No-one else seemed to be going up, "hmmm what to make of that?" I got into position on the platform standing on the green square, the chair came swinging around like a wood slatted juggernaut bent on taking me off at the knees, the attendant motioned me to be ready....and I sat down.

A "selfie" on the chairlift
I was pretty proud of myself as I zoomed up the mountain even though I was clutching the bar in a bit of a death grip, until I began to meet dozens and dozens of bored looking tourists off of some cruise ship or somewhere, coming down in a seemingly unending row. Every 200' I would meet another one, usually with a grimace or a stoic, bored look, "weird, what are their regular lives like if this incredible view bores them?" I thought to myself, "I must have run into a group of fighter pilots or astronauts, wow their lives must be REALLY exciting!!"

When I got to the top it was amazing. I was wishing Rose was there to see it, but I was pretty sure I never would have gotten her into the chairlift, not after the ferry ride that morning! And besides, the chairlift traveled over peoples gardens and yards and the chairlift didn't issue "shopping" bags to it's customers like the boat did so it was probably better she took the afternoon off.

The view from the top, looking towards Sorrento
The views were great and I spent a lot of time snapping pictures of the Amalfi coast and the bay of Naples. Eventually I made my way down and along the way came upon one of the great questions of life, at least for a photographer.

Picture this: there is an amazing view, but you're coming down the mountain in a windy chairlift, alone and.....the memory card runs out! Ahhh, what do you do, what do you do?

Passing the chairlift going up

If you're like me, you play it safe. I just couldn't imagine taking the risk with a memory card full of photos from a vacation of a lifetime and trying to change it on a moving chairlift dangling 100' above a lush carpet of trees and gardens and risk losing it.

Or I could just quickly delete a couple of bad shots (there are always a few) to make room for some fresh shots of the view on the way down and chock it up to a lesson learned? I'll take door number two, thank you very much.

That evening we had a great dinner at the hotel, listening to a live piano player playing old jazz and swing songs, very nice and romantic.

The next day we spent exploring the streets and alleys of the town of Capri, shopping, watching people pose for pictures in front of the Gucci store, and eating gelato. We took the funicular down to the harbour and admired the sailboats.

The Rolex taught sails into Capri

We heard rumors that Capri was gearing up for a big crowd of people who actually have a reason to wear boat shoes. Apparently the next evening there was a big party and regatta planned for about a thousand guests sponsored by Rolex and we watched them sail in over the evening, some anchoring below the hotel in Marina Picolla.

The next day we sadly said goodbye to Capri, not that we could afford to stay any longer, it turned out to be the most expensive couple of nights of the trip ( so far).

The Piazetta, in Capri town

Fortunately the day of our departure dawned clear and warm with blessedly calm seas. Add to that the fact that we learned never, ever, to sit anywhere near the front of a boat in rough seas (unless you're in the mood for "shopping") and we had smooth sailing all the way to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.

Rose took one look at the cliffs of Sorrento and declared, " I love it, this is us!" But that's another story!

All Contents Copyrighted by the Author, Doug Petry


  1. Haha, great story. I told you not to stay the night in Naples! (unless you pick an awesome hotel like we did). Ugh, I can't imagine being on a boat of sick people. Sounds disgusting! I would be shutting my eyes, playing music and humming loudly. Your adventure to the top of the mountain sounds great!

  2. Amazing story Pastor Doug. Learning and adopting/adapting to other cultures is challenging and fascinating for sure. Puke bags, good warning to what is to come!. I am sorry, Rose missed riding the chair with you. I think she would have enjoyed it, specially when there was no puke bags involved.
    Miss you guys. See you soon I hope.