The Pilgrim

Thanks for all the fish

21/08/07

Despite yesterday's late night tagged on the end of a tiring day we still woke up early this morning. But instead of rushing out head first into the bustling city we took our time having a leisurely breakfast and generally lounging about in our room until gone 10am.

Whilst sitting on our tiny precariously fixed balcony I noticed the facade of the building next to our hotel was quite impressive for what looked, from the ground level, to be shabby warehouse building. OK, it was in total disrepair but from our vantage point looking beyond the cracks you notice the grandeur of its former glory. Quite sad really.

Anyway, feeling fresher and ready to tackle the world we set out for our day in Naples.

For a change of scenery from the narrow streets of the old centre we decided to walk down the busy boulevard of Corso Umberto thinking we'd do some window shopping. To our surprise there were hardly any shops there at all? Nevermind, we weren't here for the shopping anyway.

We turned off Umberto and up Via Duomo confident that we were on the right street for our first attraction of the day, the city's Catherdal or better known as the Duomo.

It was difficult to imagine where they could possibly shoe horn in a mighty cathedral along this street, then all of a sudden, there it was on the right, in all it's Neo-Gothic glory.

I suppose when it was built in 13th Century it would have had nothing around it. Then a few hundred years later and it's completely surrounded.

The first thing we did was to sit outside on the steps for a little while. The slightly up hill walk along Via Duomo had taken its toll on our calf muscles. They were throbbing so painfully, they felt as if they were ready to burst.

As soon as we could manage to stand up again we went inside.

You could say that once you've seen one Catherdral you've seen them all but for me there are often little things that make each one memorable. The most striking feature of this Duomo was how the sun streamed in through the glass windows and lit up the altar spectacularly as if we were truly in the presence of God.

I was expecting trumpets heralding the arrival of the angels!

It was quite breathtaking; especially how the centrepiece was brought to life with the brightness of the sunshine captured as a halo. I almost fell to my knees and shouted "Hallelujah!" .. well .. almost.

The Duomo is dedicated to the patron saint of Naples, San Gennaro and along the right aisle the smaller chapel of the Treasures of San Gennaro was an even more splendid sight.

The sun once again flooded the room with a warm glow creating such an impression as you walked in.

All that was gold was at its most golden.

Two vials of San Gennaro's blood are also kept here somewhere.

Thrice a year a miracle takes place. The liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro. In an act, worthy of David Copperfield, the dried blood is placed on the main altar as the congregation prays for the miracle. Low and behold the contents of the two glass vials become as fluid as it was the day of his martyrdom. (Which would have been around 350AD.)

During the last century it failed to liquefy in 1944, then Vesuvius erupted, also in 1980 and then Naples was hit by an earthquake. So it's considered a very bad omen if the miracle doesn't take place.

The feast of San Gennaro is held on the 19th September and I'm sure that would be a fascinating spectacle to experience. Another good reason to visit mid-September is that it's usually when the city hosts its annual Pizzafest. Damn, I should have concentrated more on my homework!

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took a pew and sat for several minutes in silence absorbing the serene atmoshpere. It was inspiring.

Even looking up at the heavenly artwork decorating the domes was uplifting. They certainly knew what they were doing when they built these Cathedrals!

Directly opposite, along the left aisle was a more austere church and also the entrance to the Catacombs below the Duomo.

We had earlier visited the crypt of San Gennaro beneath the main altar but chose not to do the full catacombs tour.

We wanted instead to move on and continue to our second attraction of the day, the National Archaelogical Museum. A visit here is considered an essential part of your Pompeii experience so we certainly didn't want to miss out.

We soon reached the Museum and began our search for the entrance. We first tried one opening but it turned out to be the exit from the underground (metro) system.

There just wasn't an obvious door to enter through.

"I bet you it's shut!" said Julie "Where's your guide book?"

I had this deflated feeling the moment she suggested it; and of course she was right. The museum was shut on a Tuesday! A quick browse of the guidebook at a couple of other places that I wanted to visit today, such as Capella Sansevero, were also shut. I really should have at least done some homework!

"Aww, bollocks" I huffed and sat down on the steps outside the locked up museum. With my head in my hands I moaned "What are we going to do now?"

"What about going to that island today?" she suggested.

What a great idea that was. I hadn't planned on visiting Ischia until tomorrow but there was still enough of today left to do it. The only problem was that we were a fair distance from the port, the metro didn't go there and we were already knackered.

There was just one thing for it. We just had to dig deep and plod our way, mostly down hill thankfully, to the port of Molo Beverello.

It felt much warmer today and we were working up an almighty sweat marching down. When we got there we were thrilled to see that the QE2 was docked in port. We've seen her before sailing from Southampton on the day my Mum and Dad sailed to New York on the Queen Mary. I can't explain why but it was great to see her again. Nor can I explain why I'm calling 'it' a 'her'?

Anyway, we found a ferry leaving in ten minutes time so we bought our two tickets for €60 and boarded the boat straight away. It was a small katamaran style boat and certainly wasn't the QE2!

No one was allowed to stay outside with the pile of luggage at ship's pointy end (whatever that's called? I think it's the bow) we all had to be seated inside. Once we set off and literally hit the open sea you could see why it wouldn't have been safe to stay outside. The sea wasn't that rough but the boat cut through the waves with a real smack and a bounce.

I tend not to suffer sea sickness but this crossing was verging on the unbearable. What almost sent me scurrying for the vomit bag wasn't the motion but this foul smelling person sitting next to me. Granted it was a hot day, and even hotter inside this tub, but he had dirty long fingernails, dirty greasy hair and a long term stale smell that could only be acheived if you slept in your clothes and hadn't washed since Maradona last played for Napoli. (which would be over fifteen years!)

I spent the last half an hour refusing to breathe in through my nose, choosing instead to shallow breathe through gritted teeth. It wasn't helping. I felt so sick. The beads of sweat on my forehead had joined up creating several waterfalls gushing down my green face. "Could someone please open a window?"

Not a moment too soon I could see on our left the island of Procida and ahead of us the hills of Ischia were drawing nearer. In no time we had reached the port, docked, and the doors were swung open. I was swallowing hard as we waited our turn to exit. The second I stepped outside I gasped for the fresh air filling my lungs so deeply that I felt very light headed. I was just so relieved that I didn't throw up.

With all the trauma behind me we walked from the port a short distance up towards the bus stops where dozens of small buses wait to take visitors to different places on this tiny island. (I say tiny because at 46 km▓ it's a lot smaller than Anglesey's 716km▓ area, but Ischia is the largest island in the Gulf o f Naples.) It's mostly dominated by the mountain Monte Epomeo, with towns such as Forio, Casamicciola Terme, Serrara Fontana all hugging the coastline.

The largest draw to this volcanic island are the various spas that capitalise on our obsession with the "amazing properties" of mud and thermal hot springs. The most popular attraction without a doubt is the Aragonese Castle, which was where we were heading, on a standing room only number seven bus from Ishia Porto to Ischia Ponte, in the sweltering heat, trapped and surrounded by jibber-jabbering italian mothers sending my head all dizzy again!

My original plan of walking the short distance to the castle was looking a more attractive idea but I was actually glad we didn't; it was much further than I thought from just looking at the map. "Yes darling, it's just around the corner!"

Then, when we reached the end of the line, I had another traumatic incident. The bus stopped, the doors opened, but these chattering housewives weren't moving. "Surely they'll want to get off?" I thought to myself but they just stood there chunnering away. We had to get off the bus and quick, I didn't want to go all the way back to the port, so in an act of desperation I shoved them out of the way!

Oh ... how they howled in protested !! I must admit I felt a little bit embarrased but hey, needs must.

We stood safely on terra firma once more and breathed in the aria fresca, admiring the ancient castle sitting as if it had been carved out of the rock.

Apparently its origins date back to 474BC but most of what still stands today date back to the 15th Century and the reign of Alfonso the Magnanimous the king of Aragon.

Despite being the king of what appeared to be a very small region in what is today North-East Spain he actually ruled over most of the mediteranean!

I'd obviously heard of the other famous Aragoner, former Princess of Wales and first wife to the King of England, Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon. Turns out Alfonso's brother John was Catherine's grandfather. It's a small world in European royalty!

We walked closer to the castle along the stone bridge that connects the rock to the island. We wanted to go have a look around but we couldn't afford it! At €10 each it wasn't that expensive, it was that we were technically penniless! I suppose with plastic in your pocket you're never "technically" penniless but the €60 for the ferry fleeced me of all the cash I had in my pocket and according to our guide book the Castle Aragonese didn't accept any cards.

Instead we sat down on a slip way off the bridge and just relax. It was very pleasureable and it didn't cost us a penny!

Looking back towards the town of Ishcia Ponte it looked stunning in that classic Italian way. All the buildings we decaying and on top of each other but they were so colourful and full of character.

After a very much appreciated rest we realised that we were hungry but we now had the inconvenience of having to find somewhere that took debit or credit cards. The cafe in a stunning location at the foot of the rock unfortunately didn't so we walked back over the stone bridge and checked out the restaurant at the end.

Visa, Mastercard, Maestro were all welcomed but no pizza on the menu; what a dilemma!

I was too hungry to argue against reason so we stepped inside. It was quite an expensive restaurant. The quality of the food wasn't up to scratch either. I enjoyed my Gnocchi alla Sorrento but only because it filled my cavernous stomach. In reality it felt like long-life packet gnocchi and tomato ketchup!

Julie went all adventurous and had something different to swordfish choosing the mixed fried fish but when it arrived she wished she hadn't been so foolish!

She hates the rubbery rings of fried calimari at the best of times, then the baby creature with tentacles, and the eel-like fish with three heads just ruined the dish for her.

She picked at the smoked yellow fillet but found it to be laced with fine bones and as she attempted to removed the succulent piece of the langoustine from within it's protective shell she was overcome by the whole experience.

"That's just disgusting" she said "I can't eat anymore" (I guess my "where's the prawn's arse?" comment didn't help!)

After loitering outside the mens toilets for a full fifteen minutes waiting for it to be vacated, resorting in the end to have a shit in the ladies toilets, much to the indignation of the lady who went in straight after me, we paid our €34 bill by Visa and left.

We walked up and down the bridge once again, before discovering that we actually had €12 cash. So we headed to the first bar we came across. It was along the sea front and in a great spot with views of the castle.

We settled down and watched the world go by. An old fella clambering over the rocks with his bucket and fishing rod joined later by his wife and a child who I certainly hoped was their grandson kept us entertained for some time.

We had a few beers and we then shared quite possibly the tastiest tomato bruschetta I'd ever eaten.

This place was a haven. It was perfectly chilled and laid back. We sat there for over two hours. We didn't want to leave. In fact if this bar had a room for a night I think we would have stayed!

But leave we did, walking back up the main street of Ischia Ponte.

We browsed through some of the souvenir shops then found a Banco di Napoli ATM cash point. If only we had known earlier!!

Loaded with Euros we returned to a few shops and bought a few postcards. (Last of the big spenders, us!) Then at the end of the shopping street we caught the number seven bus as it returned on its way to Ischia Porto.

Our luck had obviously turned and the bus ride back was calm. We even had our own seats.

We arrived a bit early for our 6:50pm ferry, actually almost two hours too early. But that was fine. We found a bench overlooking the marina and sat down to watch a different world float by.

With an hour to go we moved a little nearer to the dock where we found a fortunately located bar. It was quite idyllic sitting here, sipping a ridiculously expensive €4 bottle of Peroni, waiting for our boat to come in.

Then, with ten minutes to spare, we moved a little nearer still and sat on the "departure lounge" benches on the wooden jetty.

6:50pm came and went. Still no boat. Twenty minutes late one did arrive but it wasn't the stinky catamaran we sailed on this morning. It was an older, larger vessel.

"Maybe it's not ours?" Julie said before we got too excited.

We showed our tickets and the guy noded. We both did a little "Yey" then raced (as quick as we could at our age) upstairs, to the back of the boat where we had uor choice of seats outside in the beautiful fresh sea air.

We sat down to the glorious views of Ischia disappearing into the sunset.

Off to the starboard side we soon saw the pretty port of Procida. Apparently other side of the port is even prettier. One of my favourite Italian films was filmed here because of its quintessential mediteranean charm.

It was about a Chilean poet by the name of Pablo Neruda who spent some time in excile living on Capri. The film was called "Il Postino" and one poem in particular, "Tonight I Can Write" (the English translation) is achingly beautiful, to the point of jerking tears. Anyway, if we're ever in Naples again we'll have to visit this tiny island and this time at 4km▓ it really is tiny!

The sun was rapidly descending behind Posillipo as we got nearer to Naples.

We were so glad when we arrived at the port of Mergellina, (we called there this morning.) We could see Castel Dell'Ovo clearly from there so our home port of Beverello was just around the corner. We were getting very tired by now.

We sailed quite near to the Egg castle but then we began to move at some rapid rate of knots towards the middle of the Bay!

"Shouldn't we be going over there?" asked Julie pointing towards Naples. For once her bearings were spot one!

We both stood up; as if we could do something about it?

"Shit" I blurted out. We could see the city getting further and further away. "Shit, shit, shit. I think we're on our way to Sorrento."

Julie looked at me with a such desparate resignation as if to say I'm far too tired for all this. We both slumped back into our seats and waited for dry land.

Just as I was practising my "Dove stazione per Napoli per favore?" the boat began to swing around in a slow arc. Vesuvius, looking stunning in the blue evening light moved from port to starboard. We were now heading home.

Halle bloody llujah! We simultaneously released a hugh sigh of relief.

We coasted slowly in the right direction and arrived shortly after 8pm at the port. Before rushing straight to our hotel we sat down at a small bar at the port and phoned Hannah. She told us about her visit to my parents. Rory had insited on wearing his new wellington boots. In his excitement to leave, waving bye-bye, he ran towards the living room door. Being a little unsteady in his new footwear however he careered towards the fireplace, knocking over and breaking a Delft ceramic clog. Well we were all in stiches with laughter! Only his pride was hurt so that's OK. The other newsflash from home was that Tyler was still constipated, now on Day 4.

On that bulletin our thoughts turned to food. We were too tired to trapse all the way to our hotel only to march back out again for our supper so we decided to find somewhere along the way. Quite sensible really.

Walking up from the port we came to Via Medina where there were plenty of restaurants open. We sat down outside the first one we came across and perused their menu. Once again it bizarely didn't have pizza on offer!

"Let's find somewhere else" suggested Julie "you can't go a whole day without eating pizza."

I tried my best to say "No, I'm fine" but I couldn't. What came out of my mouth was "OK, let's go"

I'm glad that I did because a little further up we came across a very interesting restaurant by the name of Fratelli la Bufala. It specialised, as the name suggested, in the Buffalo. Their pizzas obviously used mozzerella from the buffalo, but also many of their deserts were made from buffalo ricotta, and they even serve up buffalo meat.

We sat down at our table only after I had induced the wrath of yet another Italian woman. The tables were close together and I sort of inadvertently pushed her chair slightly so I could get through. Boy, was she not amused! She launch into a tirade of abuse with such ferocity that I thought she was going to stab me with the fork she was waving about!

The remainder of the evening however was superb. We couldn't fault the food. We shared a starter of Insalata Caprese whose focus was solely on the divine milky ball of cheese. What it lacked in fancy salad leaves or balsamic vinegar was more than compensated by the delicious mozzarella.

We also shared what was described as Il Tortino. An incredibly buttery potato mash topped with melted mozzarella and slithers of what I initially worried were anchovies but turned out to be aubergine. Thumbs up so far.

Then came the moment I'd been waiting for all day. Pizza! It didn't disappoint. The texture of the base was superb. The quality of the cheese was obvious, and the tomato was delicious and fresh.

Comparing it to the others that I had eaten so far it scored a good 7/10.

It was all washed down with a tasty regional white wine called Asprino di Aversa.

We weren't finished!

I ordered from the dessert menu a cheesecake made from buffalo ricotta. I did only ask for one but two arrived and as it was covered in a runny chocolate sauce Julie wasn't interested.

"Oh, wow, you've just got to try this!" I enthused the moment I swallowed the first spoonful.

So after scraping the sauce, and a layer of contaminated cake Julie got to try some.

"Mmmmmmmm"

At €42 it was our most expensive so far but certainly our most pleasureable meal yet. Worth every penny.

We began our long walk home down the length of Corso Umberto.

"If you see a taxi hail it down" pleaded a shattered Julie. But there were none. It took us a good half an hour to reach Hotel Esedra. "Next time we'll hire scooters" I suggested.

Next day >>>  

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