Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Where the Locals Go

We have three islands easily accessible to us via a short ferry ride: Capri, the mainstream of high class tourism with the fancy shops and 7euro coffees to prove it; Ischia, the preferred destination of mainland Europeans and ex-pats living in Naples, with a focus on the hot spring spas dotting the island; and Procida, the island where the locals go. Without Capri's fancy-schmancy shops and Ischia's hot spring spas, Procida is an island of quiet beauty and simple charms. Only a 20 minute ferry ride away, Procida is a quick and undemanding trip for us, and getting off our ferry, Nathan and I immediately fell in love with it. The small harbor is fronted with a sailboat filled marina and colorful, peeling paint buildings housing pizzerias, bars, and cafes. We were there with a friend of a friend who was spending a couple of days with us. Our Procida visit coincided with his last few hours in the region, so we elected for a walk out of our guidebook to show us the highlights of one end of the (sort-of) crescent shaped island.

Up a hill we walked, gaining our footing on the cobblestones and passing typical, beach town shops selling flip-flops, T-shirts, and beach bags. A quick turn to the left took us past apartments opening directly onto the street and into a small piazza, bordered with a cafe, a bakery, a beautiful, yellow church, and a stunning view down into another harbor area, called Marina Corricella. Pastel painted buildings tumbled down to a short embarcadero along the water, and the view from above looked exactly like my imaginings of small, Italian seaside towns. We continued past the church with vibrant mosaics both outside and in, up past a castle and another beautiful viewpoint, through a tunnel "Romantico," and onto the tip of the island to the Abbazia di San Michele Arcangelo, a former monastery built in the 11th century. Nathan had no interest in the catacomb and "secret chapel" tour, so he read on the church's beautiful terrace while our friend and I took the Italian language tour of the catacombs (which consisted of a library and a room with a big pile of bones viewable through a plexiglass window, and a couple of frescoed chapels once used for prayer and meditation). I have found that no matter how much I concentrate on these Italian language tours, there is just very little information that I take away. I might catch a couple of dates and be able to read some body language on some points, but overall, unless I have a one on one tour, I never learn anything to really expand my knowledge of the site. But still, the Abbazia was interesting and beautiful.

After this visit, we headed back down the hill, via the old castle moat, and into that gorgeous riot of buildings I mentioned before, Marina Corricella. We walked down narrow stairways, between buildings painted bright coral and yellow and pale green, we watched a delivery man use a motorized cart to carry his wares up the steep stairs, and we finally landed at the water, where a small inner harbor held sailboats in miniature - tiny, wooden daysailers - and an outer harbor held the larger, liveaboard and charter sailboats. We'd planned for lunch here, but options were few (only one option really), so we headed up, up, up another steep set of stairs, where we promptly took a wrong turn (my fault) that led us past grand villas with grand gardens, set back from the road and locked away behind ornate, iron gates. With time getting short and bellies crying, we turned back to the main marina in order to have time for food before our ferry back to the city.

Our short tour of Procida was enough for us to know that the island takes its place as our favorite. While I absolutely love Capri's quiet neighborhood of Anacapri, filled with white houses and narrow streets bordered by flower spilling walls, Capri can be hard to visit. It takes quite awhile for us to reach the port for the ferry, and the ferry can be a rough ride. Once on Capri, it's a fight to the finish to fit yourself onto a bus (every time I've gone, the funicular has been broken). In Anacapri, it's gorgeous and serene, but getting there and away can be a long and stressful journey. Ischia, for me, isn't much better, although the hot spring spas are a powerful draw. But lovely, lovely Procida is the island to relax, walk, and take in all the color. Next time, we should rent Vespas.

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