ABOARD THE MSC SPLENDIDA – I took more pictures in one afternoon on the island of Capri than I’ve taken of my grandchildren since they were born.
It’s not that my grandkids are not the most beautiful creatures I’ve ever seen, but I’ll see them again and again, if all goes well, and Capri is sort of a one-shot deal, an afternoon excursion off the MSC Splendida cruise ship; I probably won’t pass here again.
Capri, a 50-minute boat ride from Naples and then a five-minute funicular ride up to the main town (they call the harbor where you arrive the “tourist center”), is so stunning that my photo-taking finger is worn out. I couldn’t stop.
Every time I thought I had seen enough beauty in the little crooked streets atop the island, I turned a corner and found another perfect shot. I call Capri architecture messy-wedding-cake style: little old pastel stone homes and shops and hotels nestled into the hillside, layered on top of one another willy-nilly, metal gates and flower boxes frosting everything, stone statuary, and flowers carefully planted along walkways, on the streetlights, as hedges of color, in clay pots wherever there’s room for a pot.
What a joy of a town, and I hear that its cousin, Anacapri (which means “above Capri”), a 10-minute bus ride up and around the road to almost the top of this island, is smaller, less crowded, less touristy, and quieter, where the likes of fishermen live. If you make it up there you can also take a chairlift to the very tip top of the island for an even more spectacular view
Capri is definitely pricey
Ours was good enough, thank you. Granted, Capri is an expensive little island; you pay for this view. There are no dollar stores here or fashion outlets. Gucci and Prada shops and designer shoe stores abound. One of the latter displayed a pair of gorgeous high heels. The spindly impossible-to-walk-on heels themselves were made from black metal house keys (one novel way to make sure you never lose your keys). It looked more like a piece of art than usable footwear.
The jewelry shops are filled with giant emerald and diamond earrings, coral bling made into the shape of lobsters and crabs, and sapphire necklaces that would make those worn at a Palm Beach gala by comparison look like a rent party.
Hotel Quisisana, one of the luxury boutique establishments, used to be a hospital, but it has been gussied up to sleep the one percent in style; rooms are $1,000 per night. But actually, when you think of it, that’s less than one night in a real U.S. hospital room these days, and your visit with the doctor does not come with a butler as it no doubt does at the Quisisana.
Capri even smells good. Oranges and lemons grow here year-round, not to mention the flowers. Capri’s own perfume was created by accident in 1380 when a Cartesian monk left a flower arrangement in water for three days and discovered that the water had acquired a very pleasant fragrance. Among the scores of flowers grown here and used in Capri perfume are wild carnations, jasmine, lavender, roses, gardenias and camellias.
The streets of Capri are necessarily narrow, and most are too narrow for vehicles, which makes it a lovely walking city. Perhaps the city planners, if there were such things back when it began, took a cue from nearby Naples, where the MSC Splendida is docked for the day. Other excursions off the mother ship on this day included a trip to the historic center of Naples (listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site), a trip to beautiful Sorrento, or, since we’re close to Mount Vesuvius, a visit to Pompeii, the city that was destroyed by its eruption.
Naples is known for its very narrow streets
Naples streets are famously narrow. It was the first city in the world to set up a pedestrian one-way street. Although they’ve had their problems with corruption and unemployment, the citizens of Naples have much to make them proud: Naples has the oldest state university in the world, the University of Naples Federico II, founded in 1224. Naples invented the pizza, and the true Neapolitan pizza ingredients are strictly regulated by law since 2004 and must include wheat flour “00” and flour type “O,” yeast, natural mineral water, peeled tomatoes or fresh cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, sea salt and extra virgin olive oil.
Naples is also the home of limoncello, the lemon flavored liquor, and it boasts Sophia Loren (the MSC Cruise’s adopted “godmother”) and tenor Enrico Caruso as natives. Whoever heard of a good-looking subway station, but according to CNN, Naples’ metro stop “Toledo” is the most beautiful in Europe. It won the LEAF Award in 2013 as “Public Building of the Year.”
May 20, 2014
Photos by Julie Hatfield