Tuesday, 4 September 2012

ITALY: Capri by Vespa. A journey involving shopping, eating, swimming and a bright yellow scooter.

As we negotiate around another tiny three-wheeled truck, this one laden with building supplies, I realise that riding a scooter on the island of Capri is a relatively simple proposition.  Despite the narrow roads and heavy traffic of all kinds, the locals are very used to scooters, and show great courtesy and common sense around them.  In fact, we find it less of an extreme sport here than in our hometown of Sydney.

Our trusty yellow steed!
Confident handling the peak hour traffic at home, we decide a bright yellow Vespa will give us the freedom to explore the island at our own pace on our day trip.  Our only concern is the traffic and unfamiliar road rules, but it turns out to be easy.  Far from being assaulted from all sides by stereotypical crazy Italian drivers, the only issue we have all day arises from an inexperienced tourist riding so slowly we are worried he will simply flop over from lack of momentum.  The twisting, steep roads offer spectacular scenery, and the slower pace allows us to easily stop, park the scooter and pop in to wherever takes our fancy.  Even navigation mistakes, normally a source of great angst and marital discord, are easily dealt with - it's a simple matter to pull over and u-turn on the scooter if need be!

The jovial man at the scooter hire shopfront gives us a map and detailed directions as well as the keys to a bumblebee-yellow 200cc scooter, the extra grunt necessary to power the two of us up the steep hills.  Complete with helmets (though still obeying the unwritten Italian rule of flagrantly dismissing any other safety gear and wearing shorts and sandals) we roar off towards our first destination - Grotta Azzurra.

Ignoring the crush of people jostling towards the boats that will take them out to the Blue Grotto, we park our yellow steed in a row of its fellows and cross through the restaurant on the far side of the lot.  Sure enough, a tiny path leads out the other side and down towards the cliffs.  Five minutes later, we are joining a small group of mainly locals companionably sunning themselves on the rocks in between launching themselves off the cliffs into the navy water below.  More sedate matrons climb down a ladder set into the rock wall, and breaststroke carefully to ensure their hair remains dry.  Everyone, teens to grandmothers, is wearing a very small bikini with not a shred of self-conscientiousness.   We swim, bake lizard-like on the rocks until dry, then head back up the steep path.

Antonio hard at work on my sandals.
Next stop is part of my wish list - the store and man who used to make Jacqui O her famous "Capri sandals".  To my delight, Antonio himself is perched outside at his table, deftly assembling bright leather straps, jewelled buckles and a choice of 11 different soles into custom sandals for clients.  My just-slightly-obsessive fashion research has resulted in a very clear idea of what I want, and in less than 15 minutes, I am paying for a pair of elegant wedge heeled, aqua blue suede sandals.  Antonio promises they will be ready in an hour, so we find a cafe next door and eat while we wait. 

Bellies full after a delicious three course set lunch (usually an antipasto, a pasta main and a gelato) and laden with my precious sandals, we decide to take the gondola up to Capri's highest peak, Monte Solaro. We've been assured the view is worth the 10 euros each, so we park the scooter once again (each time parking has been free, or less than one euro per hour in clearly marked parking lots) and ascend. The gondola is ski-lift-style: single, open chairs dangling from a wire, but they afford interesting glimpses into everyday life, as we glide over homes and backyards packed with vegetable gardens and fruit trees.  The view from the top is indeed breathtaking, with the Amalfi Coast, the rocky coves and inlets of Capri and billions of dollars worth of super-yachts all clearly visible against the sparkling sea. 

View from Monte Solaro.
Hot again after our ride down the gondola in the blazing afternoon sun, a quick swim is in order before our ferry.  Unfortunately, we don't have time to hike to the Roman villa perched on the cliffs a few kilometres out of the main port, but apparently it is well worth a look.   The Roman emperor Tiberius' island residence, the villa was constructed more than 2,000 years ago.  Obviously, Capri has been catering to the tourist crowd for quite some time!

We ride to the much closer Scoglio delle Sirene, and walk down to the tiny, pebbled cove.  Less than 20m across, the beach is tiny and packed with people, umbrellas and snack stands.  I go to buy water and return with a bottle of aqua naturale and a small coffee gelato the flirty Italian behind the counter has added as a "little gift for your lovely self".  Have I mentioned I love Italy?! 

We return the scooter, thank the store owner for his helpful tips, and depart, still in one piece, laden with new shoes and a sense we had seen just a glimpse of the "real" Capri beyond the reach of the average day-tripper. Amo la Vespa!

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