Capri & the Blue Grotto

Friday, 31 May 2013

Why have I never been to Capri, that island, much beloved of dolce vita jet setters of the ‘50s and ‘60s, off the coast from Naples in Italy? So finally Maureen and I got there for a few days, after my Pistoia Literary Festival gig and before a few days in Naples.

Chiesa di San Michele, Capri 542

▲ A Capri highlight, the majolica-tiled floor of the Chiesa di San Michele in Anacapri, here Adam and Eve get their Garden of Eden marching orders.

And it’s just fine, lots of the familiar fashion brands along the pedestrian streets of Capri town. Lots of cafes and restaurants turning out very traditional Italian food. Lots of walking possibilities, including out to Villa Jovis, the hilltop villa of Tiberius, the notorious Roman emperor for whom excess was never enough. He was reputed to have tossed discarded toy boys off the top level of the villa, hundreds of metres above the blue Mediterranean below. And then there’s the fabulous Blue Grotto, the Grotta Azzurra.

Visiting the grotto is a hoot. First there’s the boat trip (€13.50 a head) along the coast to the grotto, where a bunch of boats all mill around at the grotto entrance. Clearly there’s some sort of priority on who goes first, but to us outsiders it’s impossible to decipher. Finally it’s our turn and a collection of rowing boats pull up beside our larger boat and we climb from boat to rowboat, four or five at a time. Miraculously nobody falls into the sea, between big boat and rowing boat. We’re instructed to sit right down on the floor of the boat.

Next we’re rowed over to a boat moored by the entrance with a lineup of three ticket sellers to whom we pay €12.50 a head for the rowboat and grotto entry fee. All of this, one feels, could be organised much more smoothly, tidily and cleanly.

Blue Grotto rowboats at entrance 542

▲ Then our little rowboat flotilla jostles at the starting line, ie the entrance to the grotto, which is very small and very low. This is why we’re sitting on the floor and we now have to crouch down so our heads are barely above the gunwhales, in order to fit into the grotto entrance, Miracle one is that nobody falls into the sea getting into the rowboats. Miracle two is that nobody cracks their head on the rocks as they’re whisked into the grotto.

Blue Grotto inside 542

▲ Suddenly we’re all inside where we mill around in a sort of a circle for the next 10 minutes with boatmen all singing away at top volume and many of us joining in. It’s hilarious although the grotto does indeed look rather wonderful. And very blue, the light reflecting in through that tiny entrance and bouncing up off the sandy bottom.