Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Tour Di Italia 4. The Last Leg

The Amalfi Coast & Capri

Kelly makes a boo boo with the suncream. We’re being good with the creams, wearing 30 most days since being closer to 30 than I’d like to admit, I have a new found obsession with getting wrinkled or leathery from years of summer holidays and cheeky sunbeds. But despite good intentions, Kelly is bright red - as in full-on beetroot, roasted tomato red.
“I don’t understand!” she exclaims, skin sizzling - “I’ve been putting cream on!” She fishes out the bottle to show me.
“Kel, that’s not suncream, that's aftersun.”
After a hot and gorgeous night wandering along the bay of Naples, we pick up our friend Arjun from the station and head to the Amalfi coast. Naples had taken me by surprise, rough round the edges and sweet on the inside, the city was a ball of energy. The people were so different here, the Neapolitans wild and loud and wearing the most incredibly terrible fashion as if in rebellion to the rest of their country. But they owned it; the brash colours and odd combinations of trainers and leather skirts, of long t-shirts and hard-earnt hair dos. It was so fun to watch the city come to life as the sun went down on Vesuvius, the bay a hub of life and great food.
We leave the city and head for the mountains, and having tackled five cities in seven days we sack-off the public transport and take a cab the whole way to Ravello. Despite its world famous coastlines, Amalfi is not easy to reach. There are no direct trains, and a lot of buses and changes. It’s worth it though, and this minor inaccessibility makes it feels authentic, with no well-tread tourist path in the green mountains.
Winding up and up and up impossibly high and narrow Cliffside roads, I find my stomach going; all three of us are car sick, our driver Maurizio laughing in amusement at our English stomachs. When we finally reach the heavens I have a slight worry that I’m not going to be able to look out any windows for the next few days but It doesn’t take long to adjust, and when I do, Ravello has me reeling. It’s the kind of beautiful that doesn’t look real, that can’t be caught on camera. We are on the top of a mountain looking down into the bay of Minori, over vineyards and lemon orchards. The sky blends into the sea, and colours I have never seen in an ocean or sky rise with the sun over the mountain each morning. It’s unforgettable.

The only problem about being on top of a mountain is getting back down. We miss the bus on more than one occasion down to Amalfi, and when you do catch it, be prepared for the ride of your life. Buses reverse on mountain edges, the fly round corners that have 200 metre drops, and they don’t have air con. From amafi the best adventures are by boat. There are so many towns that are within easy reach ad we speedboat the whole way to Postitano without so much as a provisional licence - my over-enthusiasm sending Kelly two-feet into the air when I hit a wave.

We get all dressed-up and ready to party in the evening, then accidentally get so drunk on gin, we miss the last bus down so are stuck on the top of the mountain for the night. We teach the local Italians lads the ‘Head up’ game on our iPhones instead, and secure with this new friendship a lift down and an invite to the coolest party on the coast - Atrani’s secret party where they have taped fireworks to the side of the houses in the caves and set them off in time to the best music I’ve heard all week.

Hungover and happy, there is a slight misunderstanding the next morning and we find ourselves chased out of Ravello by the crazy Italian hosts, wanting blood for having had Arjun in the house instead of just the two of us. If it was a supplement or money she wanted, an email to Airbnb would have sufficed, but instead we nearly end up with a black eye and run for our lives with our oversized luggage, hiding in the local bakery as we pray for a taxi to rescue us. Arm yourself with language; the more you can communicate when travelling, the more you are safe from misunderstandings.
An easy one-hour ferry sees us escape to Capri, where we are greeted by a much more agreeable host who helps us with our luggage rather than throwing it at us, and makes us fresh bruschetta on arrival from the tomatoes grown in his garden. Genny is a fashion designer who has rented out the annex of his super mansion on Air BnB, and I stare open-mouthed finding a Mac computer and a Nespresso machine in my room along with a Tempur mattress. Now that’s more like it!
With all great discoveries whilst travelling, it’s usually by accident - this was our best Air BnB find, and having picked this place because it has a hot tub, we spend the first evening in it drinking prosecco by the bottle, watching the sunset and the stars come out with startling brightness.
Genny and his wife think we’re funny because we don’t want to leave their land, in fact we don’t move out of their garden for 24 hours and when we do we simply walk the little path down the cliff and find ourselves at the famous blue grotto cave entrance - another reason this location is perfect. We jump in a boat with a beautiful smiling Italian called Raffaelle who sings Neapolitan songs to us from Dean Martin and the Rat Pack. I am in love immediately. The entrance of the cave is a bit tricky, with a tiny mouth that forces you to catch a wave to gain entry.
“Lie down please,” Raffaelle tells us, “heads inside the boat.”
We duck, sat in the little wooden boat, waves splashing, he pulls us through the rock and suddenly all is still. The water in the cave is completely and utterly luminous, as if there are stadium lights at the bottom of the sea bed. The echo in the cave means Raffeale is having great fun, singing soprano and splashing the oars to catch the light. It’s truly mesmerising, an experience that photos cannot do justice to, although myself and Kelly give it a good go with the selfie-stick.

What to do with your last day when your flight isn’t until 10pm and you are on one of the most beautiful islands in Europe - cocktails. Unfortunately, we go a bit over-board and get so drunk we miss the boat, despite being in a bar on the harbour. We miss the next boat too having the wrong tickets and with the sun setting we start to panic, Raffaele rescuing us once more and getting us to the right place.
I cry on the boat back to Naples. I’m pretty drunk, but I mean my tears. Kelly and Arjun console me before passing out cold at the back of the boat on the floor with their luggage. I wonder how we’re going to get on the plane. Holiday romances are perfect for their imperfection; they exist only for a moment. There is a deadline before you begin and so you kiss with urgency, share stories with ease, you are another version of yourself in a place that isn’t home. I enjoy salty kisses and swimming and driving around the mountains, boating in the caves, being bought ice-cream and lunch and wine. I try and change my flight to stay one more day, and we hug and kiss as if I am boarding the Titanic when we say goodbye, chasing the gangplank as I leave the magical island. The sweetest, kindest Italian I have ever met.
This is the real secret with Capri - you need a resident to really see it. There are two completely different prices for everything - boat tickets, drinks, bar entrance. If you are a resident the boat is 6 euro to Naples. If you are a tourist it is 13. Now there’s nothing you can do about that (as we discovered having got Raffaele to buy us resident tickets and then being denied entry to the boat, missing it and nearly our flight). But with the night life you need a buddy - club entrance to the main hotspots was 20 euro including a drink on the arm of Raffe, without him it was 60 euro. Parking is impossible for tourists; but Raffaele is handing friendly policemen 20 euro notes and parking in taxi bays no problemo.
Capri at night is a sight to behold, feeling as if we had stumbled upon something between an extravagant wedding/Royal Ascot/Dubai/meets lottery-winners and oil merchants. I have never seen so much money or plastic surgery in one place. There are tight faces and oiled hair, incredible couture outfits fit for a ball, boob jobs that make your eyes pop and enough Valentino shoes to start a shop right there in the square. It’s a super show and a great one to watch.
But there is a Ying to the Yang; Anacapri is the older and more naturally beautiful part of the island, away from the money and the noise and we are heartbroken to leave. This adventure has reminded us of the utter necessity of travel, to see things outside of our comfortable circles, and on my return I am jarred at my lack of enthusiasm for nights out and pubs that had kept me happily entertained before. I’ve got the itch…
Next stop Norway!!

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