Europa: Take III – The Isle of Capri (and other tales of Italy)

It’s been a long while, but I still wanted to write about this experience – mainly because it’s about one of my favorite places in the world. If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m talking about the Isle of Capri.

In my last travel post, I talked about our time in Zurich, Barcelona and ending up in Sorrento. If you are unaware, Capri is a small island off the coast of Italy in the Bay of Naples.

The Isle of Capri

We woke up extra early to take the first ferry out to the island, planning to spend the entire day there. This trip was one of the few things that we had planned out beforehand. I had been once before with a school trip whilst studying abroad. Since then, the place has become an even bigger tourist destination, so we wanted to make sure we had a plan going in.

First things first, we hop off the ferry and head to grab a bite to eat at the marina café. After a quick coffee, we grab our tickets for the Funicular and bus to make our way up to the city. Straight from the Funicular, we head straight to the bus stop for Anacapri. This was an exciting journey – then tiny busses drive erratically along cliffs and winding roads up to the top of the island. If you’re in for a thrill, I recommend sitting on the right side by the window… if you’re scared of heights, you’ll want to be on the left side of the bus.

From Anacapri, there is a chair lift to the actual peak of the island – sort of like a single-seat ski lift that takes you over the town and up to a park-like area. The sights from here are beautiful and you can see the entire island, including I Faraglioni and the marinas.

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We take some pictures and begin making our way around the ‘park’. Though we had planned out our day.. I clearly didn’t think through my attire for a hike. Within five minutes of walking, I trip over a giant rock and start bleeding all over my sandals.. whoops!

Not to worry – I’ve had worse.

We hang out for a little to enjoy the sights (and wait for the bleeding to stop). We still decide to hike down the mountain to the town of Anacapri. Along the path, there are random benches, Stations of the Cross statues and what appear to be random statues and sheds (though they may have some significance that I’m unaware of).

Once we get to town, we find a place to fill up our water bottles (traveler tip – bring water bottles and fill them with local fountains, rather than continuously purchasing bottled water for more than a bottle of wine!) and hop back on the bus to go down to Capri.

First stop: Gelato – there’s a place called Buonocore Gelateria that I highly recommend. Last time I went to Capri, I was told by a couple of locals that it’s the best on the island. It definitely didn’t disappoint.

After grabbing a cone to go, we start walking to find the gardens of Carthusia – a perfume company from the island that uses native flowers to create their perfumes, candles and diffusers. We stop by to grab some gifts for both ourselves and others, tour the beautiful garden and relax for a short time before our next adventure begins.

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As a surprise, I booked my wife and I a private boat tour around the island with a relatively inexpensive company: Capri Boats. We grabbed a bottle of wine and some sandwiches to enjoy on our tour, head down to Marina Grande and find our tour guide – a big Sicilian guy named Franco. Now, Franco had a huge personality… but there was one teeny little problem… Franco doesn’t speak a lick of English. Normally, that would be okay with me as I speak some Italian. The even bigger problem, he doesn’t understand many Italian dialects, either.

Regardless, we made it work and were able to communicate as best we could – all while playing translator from English to Italian to my best Sicilian for my wife to Franco and the reverse back to her. Needless to say, we didn’t talk all too much.

Continuing on the not thinking things all the way through, I had the brilliant idea of going into the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzura; the Blue Cave). It’s an awesome experience that has turned into a huge tourist trap that nickels and dimes you for everything. I say it’s awesome, but only if you don’t get sea sick or motion sick like my wife does.

Of course, this had to be the first stop on our tour, so, she felt sick the rest of the time. I don’t get motion sickness, so I don’t know what she was feeling like, but she powered through and we made the most of the experience.

We circle the island, visiting the Blue Cave, Green Cave and White Cave, as well as I Faraglioni before heading back to the marina sporting a solid sun burn (at least I was).

Upon our return to the Marina Grande, we grab some water and catch our ferry back to Sorrento. While this was an important stop for us on our trip, our next day was even bigger. Thus, we go back to the hotel to shower and change before heading back out for a quick bite. Oh, might I mention, we’re still in Italy, so we grab a bottle of wine to enjoy on our balcony overlooking the bay.

The Homeland

The next morning, we wake up early to hike (walk) down from our hotel to the city center train station in Sorrento. We had an early train to Naples so that we could connect through to Benevento – my family’s hometown.

After about three hours on multiple trains, we get to Benevento and meet up with my grandmother’s cousin, Sergio, on the platform. I had spoken with Sergio on the phone last time I was in Italy and kept in touch via Facebook and WhatsApp, but hadn’t had the opportunity to meet him in person. This time, however, I made sure to make an in-person introduction happen.

We arrive at the station and find Sergio waiting on a bench for us to disembark the train. He grabs his bag and we take off. Once again, I’m playing the role of translator to keep a conversation going between the three of us. Sergio had planned lunch for us with his family, but it was still early, so we go explore the beautiful city of Benevento.

We start by driving to the city center to explore some ruins, churches and parks, getting a history lesson throughout. After walking around in the heat for about an hour, we hop back in the car – Sergio has a surprise for Ashley and I. We drive around town and stop in front of an older white house in the town.

Sergio looks at me to say “Questa è la casa della tua bisnonna!” – “This is your great-grandmother’s house”. After taking a few pictures to send to my family, we take off again on a short drive. We stop again outside of a local pharmacy – Farmacia Chiavelli. I know what you’re thinking: Dombroski doesn’t sound very Italian… and you’re right! I’m half Polish and half Italian – my mother’s side hails from Italy and this was her family’s pharmacy that they still run today. Again, I stop to take pictures to send to the fam and we head on our way.

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We arrive at Sergio’s house to meet his family – his wife greets us as we enter and they fetch their son to say hello. We hear stories of other family members going to visit them (which is odd, since none of the family members he keeps in touch with or have met speak Italian with the exception of one of my mother’s aunts) and how their son plays translator much like I had done on our trip.

We get ready to head out to lunch – mind you, “lunch” to me means a quick bite in the middle of the day. We drive out to a small restaurant in the hills and the four of us take a seat at the table (Sergio’s son doesn’t join as he is studying for exams to get into law school).

We get our menus and Sergio asks if there was anything we don’t eat – I explain I don’t eat fish, and that’s as far as our conversation goes. We don’t order, rather, he does for the table.

A few moments later, we get our first plate (which we thought were our entrees due to the size of them) and start eating. Sure enough, the next plate comes out right after – a giant dish of mixed pastas. Of course, that wasn’t the main course either. Another two dishes come out, the second of which is accompanied by numerous sides served family style.

Like I said before, lunch to me is a small meal in the middle of the day. This was wayyyyyyy over the top for us. I struggled through plates two, three and four so as to not be rude or disrespectful; however, I had to pass on desert or I was going to pop. After all, we had a flight to catch that afternoon.

Happy and full from lunch (which took about two and a half hours), we headed straight to the Naples airport – we were off to Genoa!

Adventures of Genoa – Cooking Class and Exploration

We got into Genoa later that evening and hopped on a bus that brought us relatively close to our hotel in the city, getting there just in time to follow a high school field trip to the check in counter. After about 30 minutes, we get checked in and head to our room to drop off our bags. Since we were getting in later in the day (and to keep on pace with the rest of our trip), we didn’t have many plans. We decided to go for a walk to explore the city and grab a slice of pizza (wellllll, a whole pie, actually) at a place nearby called “Sciûsciâ e Sciorbî”. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing and catching up on some sleep; the following day, we had a cooking class that we scheduled at Sale e Dede.

I had communicated briefly with our chef that would be running our class, Federica, but hadn’t heard from here in a few days – probably because I am an idiot and was texting someone via WhatsApp in New York instead of Italy (oops). I finally got in touch just before we went to bed the night before we were to meet. We had an option to ride out to the ‘cooking lab’ or to meet at the market where we were to start our adventure with Federica. Lucky for us, the market was only a few hundred meters down the street from our hotel. We opted to meet her there, rather than catch a train and/or cab to the school. Sure enough, to keep up with our luck, the market had about seven entrances.

Luckily, for us, Federica came right up the street where we waited for her outside of the market. We say our hellos and head straight into the market. Another bonus, she speaks English fairly well, so I don’t have to be a translator all day for her and my wife. We walk around the market and grab a few ingredients that we’ll use for our meal later in the day. After we meet some of Federica’s friends/vendors, we hop in her car and she drives us to a nearby beach, pointing out a few sights/things to do along the way.

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We park and grab some coffee (none for me, though) and Focaccia for breakfast on the beach. We talk for a while about dogs, life and all that’s in between (however, some could argue that dogs = life). After breakfast, we get back in the car and head towards the school/lab/kitchen.

First off, the place is AMAZING – brand new, gorgeous, well-kept and fully furnished with new appliances. We continue our conversations into the lab where we find out that Federica is roughly the same age as my wife and me. She left her former job to open this school all on her own, starting from scratch. We are blown away, she even built the porch furniture on her own – they were benches, chairs and tables made from wooden pallets with a few cushions here and there that she had sewed herself. At this point, we’re thinking “what have we done with our lives?”

If you find yourself in Genoa, I highly recommend you take some time to stop by Sale e Dede, whether it be for aperitivo or for the cooking class, you will not be disappointed. From the friendliness of the chef, to the quality of the food and wine, it is absolutely fantastic.

Once inside, Federica pops a bottle of prosecco for us to enjoy while cooking. We start off easy with a few light appetizers – fried pumpkin leaves and something else that I cannot remember. As we snack on those and enjoy our prosecco, we begin making our pasta and other plates simultaneously. Unlike other cooking classes that we had done either locally or while traveling, we were the only ones in this class. That gave us a lot of time to enjoy ourselves, joke around and get to know Federica (and her, us). The last thing we make is dessert! While the pasta is cooking, we start cutting canestrelli and placing them on a pan to be baked. If you haven’t had canestrelli, they are extremely delicious and surprisingly easy to make.

Once everything is made (or cooking), we take a seat outside and open up a bottle of wine that Federica had chosen to pair with our meal. We hang out on the beautiful porch for about an hour, eating slowly so as to not fill up on any one dish – remember, Italians eat numerous courses per meal, and we had already fallen victim to this feat (at least) once on this trip.

After we finish eating and help clean up shop, we get to talking with Federica more and more over wine and just relax on the porch, taking in the experience. We run into a bit of an issue when her credit card reader stopped working, leaving us without a way to pay her! We try to get it working again, to no avail. I hate being in this position and offer to run to the ATM. She says it isn’t a problem and happens often – the only problem was that her clients got away without paying in the past. We come up with a solution and plan to meet her the next day so that we can try to use a card again.

As a thank you, she grabs another bottle of wine and packs a bag full of food and gifts for us on our departure. She gave us a ride there, so we hop back in her car and take her recommendations for a few places in Nervi to go hang out, grab drinks or find food. We try getting to one of her friend’s bars on the water, but the road and walkways all around the entrance were closed. She walks us through a park and we finally get down to the boardwalk where we say goodbye.

From there, we find her friend’s bar, but it isn’t open for another hour or so, thus, we take a stroll down the boardwalk. We wander for about an hour, grab some gelato (duh!) and head back to the bar we wanted to check out.

We are the first ones there that aren’t friends of the owner and/or work there (all those people were already there when it was closed), so we grab a seat right at the front overlooking the water. There’s a cool little wade pool in front of the bar on the cliffs that looks to have been created naturally, but I’m unsure if it was. There are families swimming as huge waves crash on the rocks around us and it appears a storm is headed in.

That doesn’t scare us though – we request a bottle of prosecco and relax with some tapas overlooking the waves.

Cinque Terre (The Five Lands)

The next day – our last in Italy L – we trekked out to Cinque Terre from Genoa. We were only a short train ride away, but had to make sure we got there early because of how heavily trafficked the region is now (there are numerous blog posts, travel advisories and news articles around the issues of flooding and with the region’s ability to meet the tourism demand).

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We get up bright and early, walk to the train station and hop on the first one out to Riomaggiore – the first of the five lands. Initially, we had planned to take the Via Dell’Amore, but, unfortunately, it was closed due to a recent flood (bummer). Not to worry, we wore our hiking attire! Via Dell’Amore was to be our warm-up for a ‘real’ hike; thus, we were cast into nature to take on a bigger challenge. We run back down to the train station and take the next train past Manarola to the middle town – Corniglia.

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Once we get to Corniglia, we fill up our water bottles and head for the trails! Our first hike was to Vernazza, the fourth of the five towns. We went up through the buildings to a winding path up/around the mountains. On our way, we meet up with strangers and make small talk as we walk single-file – people of all walks of life (and some puppers!).

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In Vernazza, we again refill our waters and start to find some food – we haven’t eaten a thing yet! Everywhere is crowded by this point with tourists. We find a small pizza shop and grab a pizza to enjoy outside along the main street. What’s an Italian meal without Gelato? It’s not; thus, we had to grab a cone before heading out on our next adventure!

Again, we had a plan. However, mother nature saw our adventure going differently.

After lunch, we head down to the beach and dock to check out the surf – we wanted to go kayaking around the cliffs and waterfalls. Unfortunately, the waters were very rough. We watched a few kayaks attempt to leave the protected sound-like area behind the dock for about 10 minutes before deciding against going out – the ferries were even having trouble in the swell!

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No worries – again, we were ready to improvise! We take what’s left of our gelato and start looking for another trail to hike. Cautiously, we start on a small walkway between two residences – I say cautiously because I think I misunderstood someone’s directions to the trail. We had walked by a number of homes and hostiles, so I figure we took a wrong turn somewhere.

Turns out, we were on the right path! We hike from Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare – the fifth and final town in the region. As we hike through the wineries and parks, we continue to meet new friends… it’s odd – everyone has the same question for us as we pass: “are we almost to the end?” or “how much further to the bottom?”

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Once we reach our final destination, we relax and grab more water on our walk down to the beach. We head to the water and take in the sights for a few minutes before heading back to the trains. All in all, we hiked about five miles – uphill both ways! Needless to say, we were tired – and we wanted to go get some food, shower and sleep!

We head back to Genoa for our last night, grab another pie (we like pizza) from “Sciûsciâ e Sciorbî” and head to our hotel room.

The next morning, we wander around Genoa to buy gifts to bring home before boarding our train to Milan and flight to Zürich to get home.

 

 

That’s it – that’s our story. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope it inspires you to get out and explore more!

Until next time!

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