The Biggest Aspidistra in Capri

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May 7th 2013
Published: June 26th 2017
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Athens to Naples (for Capri)

On the sea day prior to arrival in the Italian holiday resort of Sorrento, I have an update on the geriatric thug who assaulted one of the excursion team. After the assault, Justine reported the incident and the culprit, who was of French nationality, was offloaded in Athens. Apparently he had already had a fracas with his cabin steward accusing him of trying to steal his luggage (J'accuse, Monsieur le Frog) and also had the Italian hostess pinned up against the bulkhead on the first gala night. He did well to last that long. I would have keel hauled him after the first offence but then it was brought to my attention that they don't do that anymore!!!

There was a meeting for English speakers on the disembarkation procedures once we land in Genoa. About 60 of us all sat in the Lirica Lounge awaiting the power point presentation. The lights went down, the projector jumped in to action. Blazoned across the screen were the words: 'Informaciones importantes sur la débarquement.' Kathleen, the English hostess started her spiel unaware of the prank (?) the technical staff had played! What happened next was like something straight out of Pantoland.

Behind you!' Shouted some of the audience.

What did you say, I can't hear you!' Kathleen answered back

‘Behind you, the screen!' the audience shouted back

Kathleen turned around and noticed the error. It would have been so much more comical if, in the instant she turned around, the projectionist switched the screen to English. She could have milked it for a few more minutes and kept us all amused!!!

Roisin, Mo and Peter were raring to go with the Bingo, Bingo this evening. Unfortunately due to lack of interest, the session was cancelled. I spoke to Massimilliano, the Bingo, Bingo ticket seller who also doubled up as the World Champions Quiz Master during the day!! He told me that they need a minimum of 10 players before they are allowed to start. They must have it carefully calculated as to how many can play against what they can shell out in prize money coupled with their share of the profit. I'm sure they must use Minimum Expected Yield (MEY) curves!! Not sure how that would work but it's in Wikipedia so it must be a tried and tested method!!

That evening there was a party on deck. Music, games and generally selected people making merry! After the lights had dimmed and the band had long packed up, the crew party started. This is held up in the Blue Club, which for one night only, is strictly off limits to passengers. The crew party is apparently only held every 2 voyages. Mo told us that she met the Irish contingent just after 1am. They were looking for somewhere else to get a drink as most of the passenger bars had closed. They are all sisters but not all from the same family. There are 10 of them in total and they tried to gate crash the crew dance when it was in full swing but were politely turned away. The Matriarch, a 76 year old 4 foot 5 inch feisty Irish version of Jeanette Kranky told Mo in a strong Irish brogue: ‘Jesus, there were hardly any women up there. Are the crew all queer or summat?!'

So far we had had a shooting in Rome, riots in Istanbul, a public holiday in Yalta and Easter Sunday in Athens. Sorrento is a tender port and when we alighted at the jetty, there were no riot police, all the shops were open, the public transport (including the funicular) were running and not an Easter egg in sight!!! Instead there were just hundreds of people milling around. Some on organised tours and blocking the passageways. Others were here for a day trip from nearby Naples.

As we were only in port for ½ a day, there was little time to do your own thing. Pompeii is about an hours drive away, the Isle of Capri is a 20 minute boat ride way but we weren't too sure how often the boats run. I have been to Sorrento many years ago and it is a small seaside town. There is nothing much of interest in the immediate vicinity. For these reasons we had booked an official excursion to Positano, a small village along the Amalfi Coast taking in some breathtaking scenery and stunning views en route!!

We were led to our awaiting transport, a 25-seater mini coach. Oh dear! I should have guessed that they wouldn't use 56 seater coaches to navigate around the hairpin bends and narrow routes of the Amalfi coastal road. Roisin immediately told me that she couldn't sit in that for 4 hours. We notified one of the tour excursion staff and a few minutes later we were waving Jeanette Kranky and her sisters off. The mini coach was claustrophobically full except for a couple of seats on the back row.

What now?' I asked Roisin turning to her so I was also facing the quay. At the same time I noticed the ticket office for boats to Capri. I continued, ‘Shall we have a look at popping over to Capri?'

The boats seemed to run fairly regular but at random times. It was 08:30 in the morning. The next boat was at 08:45. Although the last tender back to the boat was advertised as 12:45, we agreed that if we take the 11:20 boat back to Sorrento, hopefully we'd miss all the tours returning from Positano, Pompeii and Capri.

We bought our tickets. Although the return ticket had the time 15:15 printed on it, we were informed that we could return on any ferry. We boarded the ferry immediately and with 30 minutes we were setting foot on Capri.

Like Sorrento, we had to push past the crowds of tour excursions and suitcases of those who had chosen this idyllic island as a holiday destination. The Marina Grande is very picturesque with notable white clusters of buildings sloping down toward the harbour.

Whilst the brave and perhaps, some would argue, fool hardy, can walk up to the terrace that is the centre and heart of Capri, the more lazy and, some would say, sensible among us can take the funicular. Roisin and I fell in to the latter category.

The queue for the funicular was long. To be honest, it wasn't really queue; more of a line leading out of the entrance to the funicular and along the main street of the harbour. The ticket office was about 20 yards away. I purchased the tickets after about a 10-minute wait in line! The showers had now started to fall as an army of umbrellas appeared like a new breed of super multi coloured psychedelic mushrooms had just sprouted!! I mentioned about the queuing mentality of the Italians in the first blog. This was evident with the funicular queue. The carriages were arriving at 5-minute intervals. As the tickets were being fed in to the reader they were automatically read and date stamped then the gate would open to let you through. One by one a LED display above the gate indicated the number of passengers remaining before the funicular carriage is full. Within 25 minutes we were within touching distance of the electronic gate. To the untrained eye, this may still look like Roisin and I were caught in the middle of a crowd surge. I drew level with a young tall Italian, probably no older than 18. Although he was inches in front of me, he suddenly turned to me and said, ‘Prego' and that was it. We were both sitting in the funicular. An alarm sounded and the doors closed. The cable car glided up the steep slope past lemon groves and flowered gardens. Within a few minutes we were standing on the terrace above the harbour. The view was spectacular. We could quite clearly see Capri's only other town, Anacapri perched on the massive grey block of Monte Solero, the Islands highest point.

The exit of the funicular opens on to Piazzetta or Piazza Umberto I to give it its full title. This is the epicentre of Capri town from where all other streets lead.

This intimate little square is enclosed on 3 sides by cafes and on the other steps leading up to the church of Santo Stefano.

We spent about ½ hour exploring the narrow streets around the Piazzetta, walking down to the Monastery of San Giacomo. These narrow streets are really no bigger than alleys and on several occasions when we turned a corner we thought we'd reached a dead end only to find a few more steps and the street opened out to yet another terrace or small piazza. The beauty is that there are no cars in the centre of Capri town; all deliveries to shops and hotels are made by small electric tractors.

Ever since the Jesuits first started cultivating Lemon's in 1500s, Sorrento has been synonymous with the growing and exporting of lemons. This is evident in the main ceramic designs depicting lemons and of course the Sorrentine peninsula is famous for Limoncello. Whilst this tasty liqueur is now made as far afield as Sicily, traditionally it is made from the zest of Femminello St Teresa Lemons also known as Sorrento Lemons!

Back at the harbour and time to take the ferry back to Sorrento. We asked the nearest official for the correct quay and he directed us to a small group of tourists with suitcases. The time was 11:05. Our ferry was due at 11:20. Boats were coming and going all the time but none big enough to be a ferry across the Tyrrhenean Sea to Sorrento. The queue had by this time grown. Luckily we were near the front but it was now just gone 11:30 and no sign of the boat. The last tender back to the Lirica would be at 12:45. My mind started racing. What if the boats were cancelled and we didn't make our dead line? That didn't really bother me. Genoa is but a train journey away. What really bothered me was that if we missed the ship, we would miss out on the draw at the casino tonight for a bottle of champagne. You had to be present to collect your prize!!! Roisin was on a roll. It would be a shame to miss out at this late stage!!

With a huge sigh of relief, the ferry back to the mainland appeared from around the bay at 11:45. As the gangway was lowered and the passengers came ashore, a small group of Japanese tourists with their tour guide pushed their way to the front of the line. As I tried to block their way, the tour group leader said: ‘Excuse me please. We are with an official excursion, and excursions take priority.'

I immediately looked at her and replied with some authority: ‘We're with an official excursion too', pointing to my MSC number 5 tour sticker that was still clearly visible on my t-shirt. ‘The only difference is the rest of our excursion is in Positano!!!'

The MSC Lirica was now on the final home stretch, 400 nautical miles or so and we'll be back where it all began 11 days ago. Before that we had a quiz tournament to win. Here is the situation. There are 7 teams in the World Champions Quiz. The Italian team of Jamaica are in the lead. 3 Points behind is the English team of Panama (that's us!). No one else is even close. So, we have 3 points to make up in 10 questions just to draw. Possible but improbable. If only we hadn't let Sandra talk us out of so many questions we would be home dry by now.

Question 4: How many keys does a standard concert piano have? Straight away Sandra said 88. One point gained.

Question 6. What is the Finnish name for Finland? That was an easy one. I've carried enough of them back to the ship after a session in the local pub when I used to work on the Docks in Liverpool. Answer: Suomi

That was it. I couldn't see how we could make up at least 1 more point. Jamaica even knew that Zanzibar was administered by Tanzania (as did we thanks to Robin!)

When the results were announced in reverse order, every team was invited to the stage and received a prize.

And the winner is…jointly Jamaica and Panama!!! Not too sure how we drew and I don't think I want to know but despite Jamaica consisting of 8 Italians and the quiz master was also Italian, I think the Quiz master had a run in several days ago as one of the Jamaican team members accused the Estonian team of cheating because one of their team members apparently had a problem with his bladder and kept disappearing. The quizmaster confirmed this as bona fide. Since then his allegiance switched to another country. What's the old saying?? Once an Italian…!!!

Bingo was back on. Despite several people wanting 1 number for quite a while, Roisin came through and stole the day…by winning again. Unfortunately she had to share the prize money of €90 with another lady. When will her luck end? Not yet, I can reveal.

We attended the draw in the casino at 11:30pm. We were all very tired as it was disembarkation day tomorrow and we just needed to rest. 5 names were pulled out the hat but no one came forward to claim the prize. A lady sitting at the roulette table then won the 2nd prize of €25 of chips. A few more names pulled out of the hat for the first prize and then: ‘Cabin number 10002, Mrs Hodgson!!!' She'd done it again. Not only had she won a bottle of champagne but also €50 of chips to play on any outside bet on the roulette table; this meant on any evens bet (red or black, odds or evens etc)

The chips weren't redeemable for cash but any winnings paid out in real money. She won €50. She looked at me and said: ‘shall we carry on, I feel lucky!'

I looked straight in to her eyes, yawned, and then said, ‘Roisin, You've got to know when to hold ‘em, you've got to know when to fold ‘em, you've got to know when to walk away, you've got to know when to run.'

She at once retorted, ‘OK, Kenny Rogers. I only asked. Its not Oceans 13, you know!!'

We arrived back in to the port of Genoa amid the sad news of the freighter, the Jolly Nova running in to a control tower completely demolishing it and killing 7 people in the process. The ship has since been impounded. The captain states that 2 of the ship's engines failed and he lost control. Search and rescue helicopters were still scouting the area well after we had disembarked.

So, that was our adventure to the Black Sea. It was pretty eventful. Not only had we visited a couple of countries where their way of life is so diverse from ours, their script is completely alien such as the Greek alphabet and Cyrillic alphabet of the Ukraine. Bill Bryson summed it up when he said: "But that's the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don't want to know what people are talking about. I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can't read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can't even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses."

We like to think our series of interesting ‘guesses' worked out for the best and unlike the quizzes, we never once talked ourselves out of the right answer!!

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9th May 2013

Stupid questions. How thick are the walls between rooms, do you get bored, is there a TV in your room and how much room is there per room as it were? We may go next year.
9th May 2013

Hi DaveI'm not sure how thick the walls are....but you can stick magnets to them!!We have never been bothered by noise from neighbours (except for very loud people on their balconies). Just don't book a cabin under the nightclub, buffet or
sundecks as you may hear noise from the club at night or furniture being moved early in the morning.The size of cabin will depend on the ship and the category you choose but the smallest we have been in are roughly the size of a compact hotel room but with loads of storage compartments. All rooms have TV and phone and at least one chair, some cabins have sofas or sofa-beds and therefore more space. If either of you are claustrophobic you may not be comfortable in an inside cabin as there is no natural light. I would definitely recommend trying a cruise.
9th May 2013

Well Done Chris - Looks like you have converted Dave at last !!!! Cant believe another cruise over already - Royal Princess next isn't it - Got a magazine from the cruise club the other day saying that the Godmother for the ship will be Du
chess of Cambridge.
10th May 2013

crikey! that's a dramatic end to an action-packed cruise. next time, perhaps a tour of the hotspots of the Middle East with a quick call into Mogadishu?
11th May 2013

I'm only talking about going to the Isle of Man...

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