So….Cruise vs DIY?

So did we do it better than taking a cruise?

Well, if you take out having to lug our suitcases everywhere, on and off trains, to and from airports and up and down all the steps we ended up having to navigate, then we obviously would have had a better time of it on a cruise.

BUT, we were able to immerse ourselves a lot more in the cities we stayed in and this, to me, is invaluable.  We were under no time constraints when it came to most of the things we wanted to see and do (unless it was those imposed by ourselves when we chose to do guided tours).  It was particularly lovely in spots like Venice and Capri to enjoy the place once all the day trippers had left.  We ate what we wanted, where we wanted and when we wanted.  We could stop when and where we wanted.  We got to use all sorts of public transport and we got out of the cities too.  We saw so many more countries and sights on our itinerary than if we had been on a cruise.  And there’s nothing like staying in a place for a few nights to get into its groove.

I loved the fresh markets we came across – being able to buy and cook with fresh local produce was a great experience, not to mention being able to interact with the locals.

I’m not saying don’t go on a cruise, they definitely have their place and there are people who absolutely adore cruising, but for us and the way we travel, d.i.y is the way to go.  Maybe just with less luggage next time….

The main thing I learnt out of this trip was that while it was great to tick off some of the major icons of the world, I actually much prefer going to a place that is quieter and where you can appreciate it for being itself.  I much preferred Barcelona and Lisbon over Paris and Florence.  Those flag carrying big tour groups were so annoying and I got so sick of being harrassed by people trying to hawk me stuff whenever I came near a popular sight.  I hated having to line up for everything, although to be honest, we didn’t have to do very much of that, we just moved on if there was a huge queue.

Where would I go back to?  Lisbon and Barcelona.  For sure.

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to my Laos trip in November.  Even more so, because I know it will be a much more intimate experience.

If you’re interested in any of the facts from our trip, here they are:

We stayed with:

Parkroyal on Pickering, Chinatown/CBD, Singapore

Citadines La Ramblas, La Ramblas, Barcelona

Hotel Convento do Salvador, Alfama, Lisbon

Villa Montmartre, Montmartre, Paris

Citadines Lyon Presquile, Lyon

Chateau de Trigance, Trigance

Private Residence (AirBNB), Vieille Ville, Nice

Locanda Ca’Amadi, Cannaregio,Venice

Villa Il Mosaico, Florence

B&B Antico Monastero di Anacapri, Anacapri, Capri

Casa Di Eddy, Termini Station, Rome

We flew with:

Singapore Airlines Perth to Barcelona and from Rome to Perth

TAP Airlines from Barcelona to Lisbon and from Lisbon to Paris

HOP Airlines from Nice to Venice

We took trains between all other cities, a waterbus in Venice and the high speed ferry between Naples and Capri

We drove with:

Sixt (between Aix en Provence and Nice)

We bought these city cards to help save us money – they included free public transport:

Lyon City Card

Lisboa Card

Roma Pass

We used these tour companies (everything else we did ourselves):

Urban Adventures in Barcelona (Tapas Walking Tour)

France Tourisme in Paris (Versailles)

Tour Azur in Nice (Monaco Evening Trip)

Florencetown in Florence (Pizza and Gelato Making)

Dark Rome in Rome (Vatican Tour)

Coop Culture in Rome (Domus Aurea)

If you have any questions about our trip though, please ask me!

The Bluest of Blues

This morning we have Rosaria’s Capri Cake to look forward to for breakfast.  Capri cake, or Torte Caprese as it’s rightfully known in Capri, was created in the 1930’s by two Austrian maids who wished to merge the Mediterranean flavour of almonds to the most northern taste of chocolate.  There’s really not much in it – sugar, margarine, egg yolks, dark chocolate, almonds, vanilla and baking powder (not forgetting a little icing sugar for decoration) – but the taste is rich and chocolatey.

Our hosts have also told us a bit about limoncello and how they are currently brewing a new batch, which probably won’t be ready before we leave (boo hoo), but with the number of shops that we saw selling it yesterday, I’m sure we’ll have no trouble trying to find some to taste.

One of our hosts suggestions was to take a boat tour of the island of Capri and it sounds like just the perfect thing to do in order to escape the crowds.  We catch the bus down to Marina Grande, and although the next boat isn’t scheduled to leave for a couple of hours yet, as we round the corner and walk past the LaserCapri shop, a gentleman says Next cruise 11.15! – which is like, now!  So we jump right on board with the tickets that Carlos pre-arranged for us.

Departing Marina Grande, the sun is shining beautifully over the town and the water is twinkling like it’s strewn with diamonds.  What a life!

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Damn, I’d forgotten my hat – so my scarf would just have to make do as a turban of sorts to keep that sun off my head, no matter how unfashionable it looks.  Soon we are smoothly bumping our way over the waters with our boat guide pointing out things along the way – the Statue of the Scugnizzo (the statue of the boy nicknamed Gennarino), the amazing blue and green grottos where our boat backs in as far as it can for us to check out the stunning waters – colours like I’ve never seen, homes of the rich and famous and the Faraglioni – legend has it if you kiss your sweetheart while passing through, you’ll have good luck!

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There are some bumpy times on the waves as we pass by Marina Piccolo, but this one and a half hours is one of the best ways to see the island and feel Capri.  Highly recommended.

Afterwards, we stop for lunch along the water of Marina Grande, watching the ferries come in and depart offloading their tourist cargo, all the while this little daschaund ran around keeping an eye on everything.

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And when we got back to our room that afternoon, there was waiting for us, two small glasses of limoncello.

 

Lots to see in Little Capri

Awakening this morning, we join our hosts Carlo and Alessandro Scoppa (Rosario hides out in the kitchen!) for breakfast.  Apart from supplying you with a great spread of food to start your day, with fresh coffee to boot, they love to hear about how you plan to spend your day, giving suggestions along the way.  Breakfasts are simple but with plenty of choice – I go for the ham with tomato and cheese with some fresh bread, along with not one, but two of Carlo’s espresso’s.

We don’t have to go so far for our first sight of the day – the San Chiesa Michele.  In fact, it was once a part of the same building we are staying in.  When you visit San Chiesa, all the glory is in looking down.  There are some gorgeous altars surrounding the church’s octagonal layout, but the highlight of this church is the tiled floor, which tells the story of the temptation of Adam and Eve.

There’s also a spiral staircase leading to an upper floor where you can get a great birds eye view of the stunning floor.

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Monte Solaro is the highest point of Capri, reaching 589m above sea level and you can get there by taking the chairlift from Anacapri.  Apart from being the highest point on Capri, it is also the most panoramic, with views of the whole island afforded from its terraces.

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Unfortunately for us today, the view on one side is not so great….

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…but we still manage to sneak some views of the Faraglioni and the Marina Grande side of the island.

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There’s a little cafe where you can stop for a drink and lots of seating to take a rest if you are one of those adventurous traveller’s who hiked up the mountain instead of chair-lifting it.  It’s good to get up here early-ish in the morning before all the groups of tourists start following you!

At the bottom of the chairlift, we start following a stone-paved, curving path along a shopping street that leads us towards Villa San Michele.  The shops sell everything from linen clothing to capri sandals, from limoncello to touristy t-shirts and from ceramics to Murano glass.  Hang on, Murano glass????  Yes, Murano Glass – it seems there’s not a place in Italy that you can’t find it, but to me it seems a silly thing to buy here in Capri!

We decide to leave our shopping til after our visit to the Villa – besides, there are enough people crowding the shops at the moment.

Villa San Michele was the dream of Swedish physician Axel Munthe.  Axel had visited the island of Capri as a teenager and fallen in love with the ruins of San Michele, along with a plot of land owned by a farmer who was getting on in age and looking to sell his plot.

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Although Swedish he actually spent a great deal of his life in France before moving to southern Italy to look after the poor and sick, whilst working towards seeing his life goal come to fruition.

As Capri was littered with Roman ruins, many of the locals gave him pieces of the ruins to help complete his villa – one such find being the Sphinx that overlooks the Gulf of Naples.  And of course, there’s a legend here about the Sphinx.  Legend has it that if you rest your left hand on the sphinx and make a wish while looking out over the sea of Capri, your wish will come true.

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To learn about how Axel’s wish came true, you can read his book “The Story of San Michele”, which of course you can buy in several languages at the villa bookshop – it’s one of the most widely translated books in the world!

We still have loads of time before this day ends, because the sights of Anacapri are relatively close together, so we decide to catch one of the little orange buses down the hill to the centre of Capri.  Hmmm, seems everyone else on the island is here too – groups of tourists, groups of school children, just groups and groups of people everywhere!  There aren’t any particularly outstanding shops and you find yourself heading for the alleyways just to get away from people for a moment’s peace and quiet!

It’s down one of these alleyways that we find the Charterhouse of San Giacomo.  It’s one of the oldest buildings on Capri and was originally a convent.

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Now it houses a collection of somewhat dark and scary paintings by the artist Karl Diffenbach, though throughout the building you will notice fantastic old frescoes in the photos above.

All in all, we are so glad to be staying in Anacapri, away from all the madness.  At the end of the day as the tour groups go back to the mainland and the sun goes down, the quietness is almost deafening, but certainly welcome and this is when you can begin to enjoy Capri the most.

For dinner we try what looks like a relatively newly opened wine bar, Casa Rossa Wine & Food (named for it’s location right across from the Casa Rossa Gallery.  The menu consists of whatever’s on the chalk board (the moveable board is plonked on or near your table once you are seated) and so does the wine list.  I ordered a type of pasta which I had never heard of before but which turned out to be like two giant pieces of ravioli, with mushrooms and cheese inside – just divine.  Washed down with a really nice glass of red, and served by a really friendly guy, we really just enjoyed this place.

The Little Island of Capri

Back at Florence’s train station, we discover something that would have made life a little easier had we known it before – there is a luggage porter service at the station, where for €5 a bag, a porter will put your case on a trolley, accompany you to your carriage and load your bag on board (not to mention getting rid of any pesky passengers which are sitting in your pre-allocated seat!).  It was here we met our second nice Italian – the porter chatted away to us about his home town of Sorrento and where we should try to visit if we have time.  A nice goodbye to Florence.

A few hours later, we arrive in Naples, jump in a cab and head to Molo Beverello where our high speed ferry to Capri is waiting.  The journey takes about 50 minutes and we get our first glimpse of Capri’s Marina Grande.

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It’s chaos at the port with passengers disembarking and waiting to embark, all over the place, but we are soon in one of Capri’s many open-topped taxis and driving our way up the winding road to the top of the island – home to Anacapri.  It feels very special and a welcome change from the big cities.

In Capri, or more precisely Anacapri – because this is the part of the island on which we are staying – is an old Monastery.  Converted into three rentable apartments, along with the main residence, it was once a part of the San Michele Monastery – the church next door – which we’ll visit tomorrow – is open for viewing and I’ll tell you why then.

The monastery itself prospered for nearly 200 years, with the church being completed in 1719.  However, it was requisitioned by the state and converted into military barracks during the Taking of Capri.  In 1883, Russian-Dutch Count Oswald Papengouth bought the whole building and transformed it into a hotel named Castello San Michele. It never made enough money to cover the expense of restoring the building though so it was sold and eventually divided into several lots – as it remains today.

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Our B&B occupies what was the nuns’ choir, part of the cloister and the study of the Abbess.

At the suggestion of our hosts we choose one of the nearby restaurants for dinner so we can try some local Caprese dishes including the beautiful Caprese Salad (mozzarella, tomatoes and basil), Caprese Torte and finishing off with a glass of limoncello – for which Capri is best known.

We are off to a great start in Capri.