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Mediterranean Cruise, day two: Capri, Italy

I stepped onto my veranda as a purple sunrise crawled up Mount Vesuvius. The Noordam floated slowly toward her dock in Naples. A single fishing boat labored in still water, clear as glass. It was a scene whose calm betrayed the gritty hustle that would soon roar to life. Naples infamy is rightly due to its history, architecture, and of course pizza; but it’s also known as a muscular workhorse of a town. The area is believed to have been inhabited continuously since the 9th Century BCE (Greeks then Romans), making it one of the oldest cities in the world.

The ominous Mount Vesuvius. © 2014 Gail Jessen

The ominous Mount Vesuvius. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Jen and I opted to catch a ferry to the Isola di Capri. We didn’t book an excursion through Holland America, but we did have instructions from multiple guide books. What could possibly go wrong? The directions to the Beverello dock were simple enough, and seemingly within walking distance from the Noordam, yet we still managed to be seduced by a gorgeous bus driver at the end of the pier who said he was headed to the Capri ferries. Of course we did. He was right. We did end up at a ferry terminal that would take us to Capri. The only problem was that this terminal housed giant commuter ferries with vehicles and mountains of luggage and Italians shuttling back and forth. The ferry also left four hours later than we wanted to leave and wouldn’t get us back to the ship in time. We made our way back to where The Gorgeous Bus Driver dropped us off, waited 10 minutes, waved a sheepish hello to The Gorgeous Bus Driver as we hopped on, again, and said, “Beverello?” “Ahhhh,” he cooed, “Si si si…” and an hour after we disembarked the ship, we were off on round two.

You want the Beverello dock, not the commuter ferry dock further into town. Though I know a hot Italian who'd be willing to drive you there for free. © 2014 Gail Jessen

You want the Beverello dock, not the commuter ferry dock further into town. Though I know a hot Italian who'd be willing to drive you there for free. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Should you decide to ditch Naples in favor of a ferry to Capri (or Sorrento or the Amafli Coast), follow these directions and do not be seduced by visually distracting locals: Walk through the cruise terminal and exit into the parking lot. The buses and tours and chaos are on your right, so hang left. You should be able to see a blue awning with white letters: “PORTO DI NAPOLI.” As you get closer, maybe a five minute walk, you’ll also see “BEVERELLO” further down on the awning. You’re in the right place, now locate the NLG ships and ticket window. We’re traveling in the shoulder season, so the three different speeds of boats corresponding to three different price points as outlined in the guidebook, were not operating. Our singular option was a 45-minute ride one-way and a roundtrip ticket for just under 40 euro. You can sit inside or up top, there are souvenirs and beverages for sale, and the ride is comfortable, and beautiful. Even though it’s off season, our boat was completely full.

Once we arrived in Capri (or to sound as though you know what you’re talking about: “c-AH-pri”) the decision was three-fold: Tourist trap restaurants and t-shirt shops in Porto Marina Grande, the funiculare, or a boat tour circumnavigating the island and additional fees to enter the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto). The morning kerfuffle left our time tight if we followed through on our original boat / Blue Grotto plan. We opted instead for the 1.80 euro (3.60 round trip) funiculare. An amenity found in many steep cities around the world, a funicular is a cable car intended to shuttle people to the tippy top of town, usually ending in the historic center. The Capri funiculare holds about 50 people and is a breathtaking five-minute ride. Once at the top there are panoramic views of the Mediterranean, the shiny white yachts of the mega rich, and lemon trees dotting nearly every back yard for miles. There are three cathedrals within walking distance of the Piazetta. We opted to explore Cattedrale di Santa Stefano. We also finally consumed our first gelato since arriving Tuesday afternoon. I know, I know, it’s a personal embarrassment to have been in Italy 44.5 hours and not consumed at least eight scoops of gelato. I’ll make up for it. Trust me.

Rush hour on the Funiculare. We waited about 30 minutes for our 5 minute ride. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Rush hour on the Funiculare. We waited about 30 minutes for our 5 minute ride. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Passengers load in one side and exit out the other on Capri's funiculare. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Passengers load in one side and exit out the other on Capri's funiculare. © 2014 Gail Jessen

My favorite part of this view was actually peeking into residents' back yards. Can you imagine living with that view every day? © 2014 Gail Jessen

My favorite part of this view was actually peeking into residents' back yards. Can you imagine living with that view every day? © 2014 Gail Jessen

Every sign street and directional sign on Capri is charming hand-painted tile. Of course it is. Oh, Italy. © 2014 Gail Jessen 

Every sign street and directional sign on Capri is charming hand-painted tile. Of course it is. Oh, Italy. © 2014 Gail Jessen 

Before boarding our return ferry we spotted a tiny beach just off the funiculare ticket line. Naturally I took the opportunity to wade into the sparkling warm water. The Mediterranean took the opportunity to surprise me with a sizable wave that left me with wet pants and a stateroom that now smells like salty fish. I’ll sort that situation out later. For now, a quick note about Capri. Get the very first ferry that you can. Plan to take the boat tour around the island and see the famous Blue Grotto. The funiculare offers stellar views if you have time to do both. If you have a lot of time, or are visiting sans cruise ship, take the bus to Anacapri (the highest point on the island and home to three more churches off the main piazza) or trek 90 minutes one-way to the Natural Arch and hike down to the Romans’ Grotta Matromania sea cave. So little to see and so little time. This really just leaves me with an excuse to return to Capri and next time, the UNESCO World Heritage Amalfi Coast.

I don't even need a mega Wolf of Wall Street yacht. I'll settle for one of these little guys, I suppose. © 2014 Gail Jessen

I don't even need a mega Wolf of Wall Street yacht. I'll settle for one of these little guys, I suppose. © 2014 Gail Jessen

Be sure to follow along in real time on Instagram and Twitter @fourthirtyam, hashtag #livevoyagereport. The Noordam Mediterranean Explorer Live Voyage Report landing page leads you to each day’s post.

I hope you’re enjoying your virtual vacation. Until tomorrow…bon voyage,

gail

Mediterranean Cruise, day four: Greenhouse Spa Day

Mediterranean Cruise, day one: Rome, Italy