A day in the sky on the island of Capri

The island of Capri viewed from Castel Sant'Elmo in Naples, Italy

The island of Capri viewed from Castel Sant’Elmo in Naples, Italy

Two years of knowing and not-knowing; two years of a one-sided fascination – it may never have become anything else if it hadn’t been for a friend.

Her invitation to spend the weekend with her at home on the island of Capri was a gift … but we had a problem.

The island of Capri, viewed from Naples

The island of Capri, viewed from Naples

The problem was a sick dog.  It would have to be a day trip.

A day! Madness!  This was Capri in late September with a friend … and all we had was a day?  The only thing for it was to make the most of every second of that day … so we did.

Leaving Naples, Italy; destination - the island of Capri

Leaving Naples, Italy; destination – the island of Capri

We caught an early ferry to the island and arrived in the Marina Grande with the sun still new.  The island’s main town of Capri was to one side and its second town, Anacapri – our destination, was to the other.

The telephoned instructions were clear:  “Head up to the right when you come off the ferry, and keep going until you reach one of the bus stops for Anacapri.”

We found the stop easily enough, and the bus, small and half-full, was there.  It didn’t take long to fill … then to fill some more … and some more.  Finally, the hostess squeezed the door shut, shrugged apologetically to the unsqueezeable couple left on the pavement, and off we headed – up and up.

Suddenly it dawned on us – the metal ribbon curled around the cliff above was not a utilities pipe-line, it was a road and we were on it.

View from the bus as we climbed up from the Marina Grande to the town of Anacapri

View from the bus as we climbed up from the Marina Grande to the town of Anacapri

The views, especially if you were up against the windows on the cliff edge side of the bus, were camera shaking … but the driver hardly seemed to notice.

He edged his bus higher and higher with one other stop for more passengers.  These were locals, squeezable and cheerful, and there was never any question that they wouldn’t fit.

We arrived with relief in Anacapri and, as planned, met our hostess in the pedestrianised area amongst the shops which were hung with lovely linens, original crafts, and hand-painted ceramic tiles unlike any I’d seen on the Amalfi Coast.

Anacapri - waiting for the last of the summer tourists

Anacapri – waiting for the last of the summer tourists

After a caffè and a cornetto (like a croissant but not a croissant, and not a solo mio) we headed off to the Church of San Michele.

The hand-painted ceramic floor in the church showing Adam and Eve's expulsion from the garden of Eden (1761)

The hand-painted ceramic floor in the church of San Michele showing Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden of Eden (1761)

We’d come to see the church’s floor, laid over 250 years ago and covered entirely in vivid, hand-painted ceramic tiles.  We trod carefully around the narrow, slightly raised walkway that edged the tiles.  There was plenty to look at – everything from the un-seductive serpent, to a unicorn, a crocodile and a worried Adam.

Detail from the tiled floor of the Church of San Michele in Anacapri

Detail from the tiled floor of the Church of San Michele in Anacapri

We left him to deal with the consequences like the rest of us, and went in search of lunch.

We ate our selection of tomatoes, bread, hams and cheese, all fresh from the local shops, at ‘home’ on the patio.

A private patio in Anacapri

A private patio in Anacapri

Next came views and a walk.

The first stop was a chairlift ride to the top of Monte Solaro.  The clear light made it  difficult to understand just how high we were – certainly too high to pluck the helicopter out of the sky.

View down from the chair lift to the top of Monte Solaro

View down from the chair lift to the top of Monte Solaro on Capri

We off-loaded at the top, my toes in a spasm after their efforts to stay connected to my flip-flops which had never had so much breezy fun in their lives.

The chair-lift station at the top of Monte Solaro on the island of Capri

The chairlift station at the top of Monte Solaro on the island of Capri

Cats, sun-warmed and indifferent, watched us arrive on to the warm concrete of their napping area.  One or two raised their heads as we exclaimed our way up the short path beyond them to the top.

Cats by the chairlift station at the top of Monte Salaro on the island of Capri

Cats by the chairlift station at the top of Monte Salaro on the island of Capri

They must have heard us as we reached the highest corner and got our first glimpse of the far side of Monte Solaro.

View over the tip of Capri to the Sorrentine Peninsular - in prehistoric times the link was physical

View over the tip of Capri to the Sorrentine Peninsular – in prehistoric times the link was physical

The view, the clarity, the height, the distance, the colour – it was beautiful, the island of Capri was dressed in her finest. Our small gathering was suddenly quiet.  Our skins were warm; the air was clean; and we were dazzled – no words cover it.

View from Monte Salaro on the island of Capri

View from Monte Salaro on the island of Capri

At the summit we split off from the rest of the chairlift crowd and made our way down along the cliff edge.

I’m not good with heights but for some reason Monte Solaro did not turn my legs into overcooked spaghetti. The sea, flecked with boats and the sudden stud of super yachts, was irresistible.  We watched from our cliff, and were happy to be where we were.

Who knows who doing who knows what off the island of Capri in Italy

Who knows who doing who knows what off the island of Capri in Italy

The lower path swung us away from the edge and up towards the outline of a small building, alone in its trees.  It was the Hermitage of Santa Maria of Cetrella.

The Eremo di Santa Maria a Cetrella on the slopes of Monte Solaro on the island of Capri

The Eremo di Santa Maria a Cetrella on the slopes of Monte Solaro on the island of Capri

We walked in through the gates and on up to the church which was open, but which looked deserted. Inside it was small and dark.  Outside there were views and there was light.  The obvious conclusion was to turn around and leave but suddenly we had company.

A man appeared from the shadows and invited us to follow him up the short flight of stairs on the far side of the church.  He was charming and pleased to find a local amongst us.  After a few steps down a narrow corridor we emerged into a small kitchen where there was coffee on the hob and an emerald drop beyond the window to the sea below.

The kitchen to the side of the Chiesa di Santa Maria a Cetrella on Capri

The kitchen to the side of the Chiesa di Santa Maria a Cetrella on Capri

There was also company – three other Italian gentlemen were present and they urged us to climb the stairs beyond the kitchen on to the terrace.

They stayed below as we made our way past first one terrace, then up more stairs and through a simple dormitory to another roof terrace.

The lower terrace around the back of the Chiesa di Santa Maria a Cetrella on Capri

The lower terrace around the back of the Chiesa di Santa Maria a Cetrella on Capri

It was there, on the upper terrace, that caffè was served to us while ‘the gentlemen philosophers’, on the terrace below, rearranged the world.  Before long we were all involved in planning and, of course, on those terraces above all terraces, the solutions seemed simple.

Caffè on the terrace above the Chiesa di Santa Maria a Cetrella on Capri

Caffè on the terrace above the Chiesa di Santa Maria a Cetrella on Capri

What do you with moments such as these?  Where can you keep them safe?  I don’t think you can – they slip like sand through your fingers.

The little church in the mountains - "a little church made of clouds and of sky"

“The little church in the mountains … a little church made of clouds and of sky”

For a few minutes in that eyrie it felt as if Capri was ours.

Nest on the cliffs of the island of Capri

Nest on the cliffs of the island of Capri

A debate or two later we removed ourselves from the blue and made our way back through the church where we were allowed a glimpse of the vestry behind the altar.  The white-washed space framed another window filled with sky and sea.

That turquoise and emerald were our last for the afternoon.

The gates to the Church of Santa Maria a Cetrella on the island of Capri

The gates to the Church of Santa Maria a Cetrella on the island of Capri

We left through the church gate, noting from a plaque on its inside wall, that our gentleman friends were not the first poet-philosophers to have been inspired by the church.

Poem dedicated to the church, written in 1907 by Rainer Maria Rilke

Poem dedicated to the church, Santa Maria a Cetrella, written in 1907 by Rainer Maria Rilke

Not far along the next section of our route we came across another plaque on an old wall.  This one marked the house of the Scottish writer Compton Mackenzie.

The house of Scottish writer, Compton Mackenzie, who lived on the island of Capri for 11 years.

The house of Scottish writer, Compton Mackenzie, who lived on the island of Capri for 11 years.

Fired up on caffeine and fine thoughts we stepped inside.  The simple house had been carefully restored by volunteers.

Photograph in Casa Mackenzie of the Scottish writer, Sir Compton Mackenzie, who owned the house and developed its gardens over a two year period (1918 - 1920)

Photograph in Casa Mackenzie of the Scottish writer, Sir Compton Mackenzie, who owned the house and developed its gardens over a two year period (1918 – 1920)

Sir Compton Mackenzie (1883 – 1972) was a mystery to me then, but I have since found out that the author, described as ‘flamboyant’, was not just a writer.  He was also an island-loving, First World War spy and later a figure of influence in the politics of Scotland.  However, it’s the whisky that sticks to him.  One of his best known books is Whisky Galore which later became a film and earned him a role in a run of whisky advertisements. He’s buried on the island of Barra in the Hebrides.

From the house we made our way down the valley.  It was quiet.  There were no other walkers – just us and occasional stone cairns marking the stations of the cross that led back up the way we had just come.

Station of the cross on the path through the valley of Cetrella on the island of Capri

Station of the cross on the path through the valley of Cetrella on the island of Capri

It was only when we reached the town that reality rushed at us.  It was there we discovered that the afternoon had turned to early evening and there was just one bus to catch if we were to have a hope of making the right ferry home.

Luckily, thanks to local knowledge, the links linked, the bus squeezed the road in good time, and the ferry was waiting.

We arrived back in Naples as the sun left the sea …

Evening arrival back at the Molo Beverello in Naples, Italy

Evening arrival back at the Molo Beverello in Naples, Italy

… and the castles sank into darkness.

Darkness descending: Maschio Angioino, Castel Sant'Elmo and the Certosa di San Martino in Naples, Italy

Darkness descending: Maschio Angioino, Castel Sant’Elmo and the Certosa di San Martino in Naples, Italy

We were back, the lights of Capri were behind us … and the dog was fine.

The dog when not sick

The dog (on a good day)

Three links that might be of interest:

  1. An Open University piece on one of the darker sides of Capri
  2. An article on Sir Compton Mackenzie
  3. A piece on Rainer Maria Rilke

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2016

12 thoughts on “A day in the sky on the island of Capri

  1. Pingback: The Naples Weekender – December 1st – 4th, 2016 - Napoli Unplugged

  2. It is many years since I last visited Capri. Mama mia, it was stunning. Your photos bring back many fab memories. I have been reluctant to return due to the overload of tourists. Yes, I know I am one of them. BTW, I would have done the same re your dog. My dog is my priority.

    Liked by 1 person

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