Tuesday was my 22nd birthday so after opening birthday cards, including the one from Linda, which included a note in which she seemed to suggest she had been a bit hasty in running off with the journalist, we reported for breakfast in the restaurant. We were disappointed to find that the weather was a bit of a let down this morning and a mist obscured all of the Bay of Naples. This was a shame because today we were going on a short sea trip to the nearby island of Capri.
Because we were on a full board package, on days when we were going to miss the midday meal the hotel provided us with a packed lunch, which consisted of bread, meat and cheese and fruit to finish with. We collected our brown paper food parcels from reception and waited for the coach to arrive to take us the short drive to the harbour where we boarded the boat for the short fifteen-kilometre trip. There was no sign of the sun when the boat arrived in Marina Grande and we went ashore in quite dismal conditions. There was another coach to meet here and that took us straight away up into the mountains to the top of the island to see the sights.
First of all we went to the Belvedere of Tragara, which is a high panoramic promenade lined with villas where famous people from all over the world have chosen to live and with a fabulous view over all of the island and the settlement of Anacapri on the other side at a slightly lower elevation. Then we visited well- preserved old Roman villas and there were a lot of these because for Emperors and aristocracy Capri was a favourite place to spend the summers away from the stifling heat of Rome and even nearby Pompeii.
The Emperor Augustus liked to visit Capri and his successor Tiberius built a series of villas here, the most famous of which is the Villa Jovis, which is one of the best preserved Roman villas in Italy. In 27 AD, Tiberius permanently moved to Capri, running the Empire from there until his death ten years later. It is alleged that while staying on the island, Tiberius, accompanied by his grand-nephew and heir, Caligula, enjoyed imposing numerous cruelties and sexual perversions upon his slaves. In 182 AD, The Emperor Commodus (the unpleasant one in the film Gladiator) banished his sister Lucilla (the good looking one in the film Gladiator) to Capri and she was executed there shortly afterwards.
There was no real improvement in the weather and the coach took us down the other side of the mountain to the island’s second harbour, the Marina Piccola, which was much more attractive and less commercial than Marina Grande. Here we ate our packed lunches and waited by the harbour front for the next part of the excursion, a trip to the blue grotto. We were collected by small boats and rowed out to sea and around a headland to what is perhaps the most well known attraction on the island.
The grotto has a partially submerged opening into the sea and Roman Emperors allegedly used the Blue Grotto as a private bath. There is a very small entrance and not a lot of room inside so the boats were lining up to take their turn to enter the cave and we all had to duck down as the boat passed through the narrow opening as a wave at the wrong moment would have caused heads to bang on the rocks.
Inside the grotto the sea seemed to be lit from underwater. It was a magnificent luminous blue colour and this is created by the daylight which enters via an underwater opening located immediately below the entrance to the cave. The technical explanation is that the light is filtered through the water, which absorbs the red tones leaving only the blue ones to pass into the cave. The underground passages leading to the grotto are partially sealed and were supposedly once connected to catacombs of Roman tombs. It was excellent in there but we were told that if the sun had been shining it would have been even more spectacular. After half an hour of exploration and the oarsman demonstrating the acoustics of the cave we left and returned to the harbour for our final boat trip of the day.
This was a little motor cruise with a driver who had the complexion of a wrinkled prune with the deep lines and the swarthy complexion of a genuine sailor. The sea was quite rough and he took us to another famous site on the island, the Faraglioni, which are limestone masses called Sea Stacks that stand out of the sea. He took us around and through them and then carried on and began to pick out the villas of the famous people that were built on the tops of the cliffs with magnificent views looking out to sea.
His favourite seemed to be a magnificent place in a superb position that he explained in perfect pigeon English that this was the home of the Rochdale lass, Gracie Fields. He started blowing his horn and shouting to attract the attention of people sitting on the terrace. A man who turned out to be Gracie’s husband, Boris, seemed to resent the unwanted attention and gave a series of unmistakable hand signals that suggested that we should go away and leave them alone and the old Italian, having spoilt their afternoon sojourn duly complied.
As we turned back to Marina Piccola he explained that Gracie wasn’t at home today anyway because he had seen her earlier getting on a boat to go to the mainland which had made the whole intrusion rather pointless and made dad chuckle. It became one of his favourite memories of the holiday and he told the story for years afterwards. Gracie Fields died in 1979 and visitors today are more likely to be shown the cliff top villa of the singer Maria Carey who has a home on Capri or Gracie’s grave where fresh flowers are delivered every day paid for by Elton John.
Capri’s main square is sometimes called ‘the drawing room of the world’ where it is possible to sit and watch the beautiful people. I think we must have been at the wrong end of the square!