Sunday, February 20, 2011

Travel Day Disasters

Ischia's gorgeous, rocky coastline
What an exasperating day. Nathan & I were so looking forward to our relaxing spa day at Negombo Thermal Spa on Ischia. Negombo supposedly has many thermal pools of varying temperatures (most hot) set among lush gardens. Neither of us have ever been to Ischia, either, so we were both looking forward to see this island, which is billed as an equal to Capri, but more popular among Europeans. Our take...Ischia is nice if you're going for one of the spas, but it's not an island either of us has a hankering to "explore." But I'm beginning at the end.

Our first indication of how the day was going to go should have been upon arrival at the Pozzuoli port, where we proceeded to the ticket office of MedMar, one of the two ferry companies with boats from Pozzuoli to the islands of Ischia, Capri, and Procida. At the MedMar office, which is the address on their website, we found a building locked up tight with no indication of it having been open anytime recently. Since we can see the MedMar ferry from our Glass House, we knew it was operating...but where-o-where do we go for tickets? We asked a port official and were directed to the other company, Caremar, who did not have ferry times we wanted. But, we didn't know what else to do. We bought our tickets, and about 15 minutes later, watched MedMar's ferry come in for a landing. Heading down to the boat just to get some information, we found an out of the way ticket booth tucked in right on the dock and hidden behind the marina. Too late for us, we got all the info for return trips and waited another half hour for our company's ferry. The boat was comfortable, the day was warm, the scenery was extraordinary. Crisis averted, we were on our way for spa relaxtion!

And how God laughed. We had the information for the proper bus to take to the spa, so all we needed were the tickets. Generally, in Italy, one must purchase bus tickets at newsstands or tabacco shops prior to boarding. On our way to the newsstand, we got the hard sell from a taxi driver wanting to take us to the spa for 20euros (the bus is 1.40), and as we were walking away, he tried to tell us the bus wasn't operating. Ugh. That's never a fun gauntlet to run, in any country. The newsstand did not have the all day ticket, which we thought we wanted, but the clerk directed us to the biglietteria (ticket office). We found a shop with that name on it, went in, and found one of those slick tour operators that pretend to be tourist offices. He directed us in a different direction for the biglietteria. We wandered up and down the street for awhile before finding someone else to give us more directions and finally found the bus "station," basically a small parking lot...and sure enough, a biglietteria. After a 20 minute wait, our bus arrived. Crisis #2 averted, and we were again on our way for spa relaxation.

Upon boarding the bus, we asked our driver for the Negombo stop, and he said he'd tell us. After passing three stops in the town on the island where we knew the spa to be, and three more stops down the road, the driver told us to get off and get on the bus going in the opposite direction as he'd forgotten to tell us way back when to get off. So switcharoo time, and driver #2 was kind enough to actually let us know our correct stop. Finally, a good hour after we arrived on this smallish island, we were just a short walk for our (now half) day of relaxation.

Walking down the curvy, downhill road with no sidewalks, we saw no signs indicating we were headed in the right direction. I kept thinking, why did I care about bringing a hair dryer again? Visions of salt-water hot tubs and steam rooms all day, then dressing for a nice, seaside dinner had run through my head for the last few days. Now I just wanted to throw my backpack off the cliff. We missed the almost hidden, shortcut staircase that cut off the road cutbacks down the hill, but finally made it down and found the spa...which was completely deserted. We'd checked the website, which has an entire section dedicated to winter hours and pools open in the winter. What we forgot about is that this is southern Italy. Nothing is ever logical or as it is "supposed" to be. Ever. We wandered around overgrown gardens, passed empty pools, and slipped around on mossy bricks before finally reaching a gorgeous beach set in a little cove. A couple played with their dog on the beach, but these were clearly not spa-goers. We wandered through more gardens and little hidden patios, finally passing one small hot tub filled with water and a building behind it that had steam coming out of it. Nathan went inside, only to find that there was one indoor swimming pool, the small outdoor hot tub, and a sauna open. That's it. Complete and utter bust, and at this point, we had been "traveling" for almost five hours. We'd planned on lunch at the spa's lovely restaurant overlooking the sea...which was all boarded up. In an effort to regroup, we sat on a pool patio overlooking the lovely cove, ate unripe, filched oranges from a tree in the garden, and enjoyed the warm sun. Hunger finally pushed us out.
Negombo's beach and cove - the water really was as gorgeous as it looks in the photo.

Checking the guidebook, we determined the town of Sant' Angelo, described as "chic," sounded like a nice place to have lunch. Back up the hill we went to the bus stop, and there we waited for quite a long time. By the time a bus came, we didn't even care where it was going. After a 20 minute ride, we did in fact stop in Sant' Angelo - this was the end of the line. We were so tired and had passed through several towns that had nothing looking like any type of restaurant or lunch place, so after a quick look around down the hill to the  very small village that seemed to be completely dead, we decided to get back on the bus (thankfully the driver was on break, so it was still there) to return to the ferry port. There, we could get lunch and be ready to board the next available ferry. After a long bus ride, we got to the port and found our options to be a ferry leaving in the next five minutes or wait another two hours. This disaster of a day needed to be over, so we quickly bought tickets and rushed aboard...and breathed big sighs of relief to be headed home!

Ischia has gorgeous ocean views, but the towns looked remarkably similar to the towns near our home (i.e., peeling paint covering all the buildings, and not in a charming way), the bus system is maddening and packed, it does not seem to be a walkable area at all, and we found most of the locals we encountered to be less than helpful or friendly. We will return (in-season!) to visit Negombo because we could tell just how beautiful it must be, and we'd possibly like to visit some of the other thermal spas that abound on the island, but it's just not a place I want to go and spend a weekend. Now we know.

1 comment:

  1. This kind of info needs to be in a travel book - I'm just saying