Five primary school friends meet up on Capri to celebrate their 55th
Day 1: Trip and reunion
Already for me, a global nomad with 22 moves to her belt, the concept of still being in touch with primary school friends from the small French village we moved to when I was nine years, is close to miraculous.
The concept started with our 45th where the five of us met up in Colmar, most of us not having seen each other since I left to the Netherlands aged 14, and then in Paris for our 50th but this was our first longer and more exotic trip. Three nights for two of us and an extra week for three of the party.
For various reasons, the first six months of 2022 have been an absolute travel extravaganza for me, travelling to Chile (2 weeks holiday with Olivier), Barcelona (to see a friend), Copenhagen (with my daughter Shannon), Belfast to see my family with eldest son Kylian, twice to the South of France to see my Father-in-Law, without counting 10 days in Zeeland and a bicycle long weekend in NL.
Travel by plane in the aftermath of Corona is becoming an increasing headache with hours of queues and delays due to a shortage of personnel after the layoffs of the Corona years so I was glad this was the last.
I was however stupendously lucky; I went to the airport as requested 3,5 hours before and walked straight through the newly installed security line!
I landed in Naples’s airport at 19:30 to 28 degrees and followed the signs to the Alibus where, as recommended, I bought my ticket from the machine before leaving the airport (5 euro to station or port) so could take the fast queue. First impression of Naples is chaotic, noisy and polluted but I am looking forward to coming back to do it properly. No announcements in the shuttle, but it was clear the first stop was the train station, and the girls were expecting me at the bus stop of the port Porta di Massa which made it easier.
Surreal but fun, we have had practically no contact in the last five years but caught up enthusiastically while waiting for our 21:35 ferry (41,10 EUR return). 45 minutes to Capri.
Trip went fast, nice seats and we are all shattered, but perked up as we approached and could see the illuminated city perched above the steep cliff. From the port we rushed to catch the last funicular (2.10 EUR) up as it is a steep, and some have more luggage than others. It only took 10 minutes, and you exit immediately at the much-acclaimed Piazetta, crowded with beautiful people in beautiful clothes, the jet set there to see and be seen. We rapidly shuffled through not quite feeling the part all sweaty and dragging our cases and made our way up the old cobbled, narrow twisted alleyways to our Airbnb, Leucasia 12A where our wonderful host Marino was expecting us. A lovely flat with 2 double rooms with toilet and bathroom and a large sitting room with double bed settee for me ( I am not a good sleeper and really do not like sharing), a kitchen dining room and a small covered terrace. The shower felt divine then we tried to get some sleep despite the music still rising from the piazetta, the church bells and people wandering by as shutters are down but windows open. Happy and excited to be here!
Day 2: Hiking the island
Yikes they get up early! Scrambled out of bed to do my 12 sun salutations and climb on our balcony’s little wall so I could face the sea for my chanting. What a view! The blue sea, the surrounding hills dotted with white houses and fuchsia bougainvillea.
Some friction around the planning which started as a fun annoyance and was to become more and more of a shadow as days progressed and reminded me of my reluctance to travel with others. One member of the party was particularly set on her planning and denoted a quite surprising rigidity and openness to needs of others, even when linked to physical ailments.
Anyway, first we wanted our coffee on the square (and put our foot down). As expected, the prices were in line with the stars surrounding us (cappuccino 8 euro), but it needed to be experienced. The many exquisitely dressed people with the most perfect bodies was somehow overwhelming and all the shops are top of the range: Tod’s, Saint Laurent, Gucci, etc.
We had all brought our walking shoes and smothered in sunscreen and carrying water we set off on the first of today’s stunning walks. You exit the city and glamour fast and are then in nature, in forest bringing a much-welcomed shade as it is over 35 degrees, and along coastal roads looking down on the impossibly turquoise water. We first made our way East to the famous natural arc, then around some caves, climbing up and down very companionably, breaking up into smaller groups. Passed the villa Malaparte at Punta Massullo, considered one of the best examples of Italian modern and contemporary architecture (not my style) and where Jean Luc Godard shot the film Le mepris for the French ‘cinematophiles’ amongst us. We are sweating buckets but who cares. At some point we made our way down to a lovely spot we had seen for a cold pressed lemon juice. I have NEVER seen lemons like this before! They are HUMONGOUS! This is the Belvedere di Tragara where there is also a little beach (pebbled) which the jet set seem to enjoy. The view is stunning with on one side the Faglioni rock formation and on the other the pretty maria Piccola. We then passed the monastery San Giacomo and the gardens of Augustus and via Krupp (a fascinating hairpin path down below but temporarily closed due to rock fall.)
Lunch is what we needed next and found a lovely taverna in Capri centre, cool and friendly. I enjoyed a lovely insalata di frutti di mare, others had a delicious pizza and I managed to ignore the wine.
Thankfully the rest of the group is very good natured so though this may not have been their first choice they agreed on the second walk which took us up to the villa Jovis and Monte Tiberio. I felt like some re-centring and blissfully walked on alone, admiring the view and the peace and doing my evening gongyo (Buddhist chant) as I walked. One of the big advantages of age I find is knowing when you need to withdraw to balance yourself so you can be happy again with others.
The view from up there was well worth it. Villa Jovis is the largest of the twelve Tiberian villas on Capri mentioned by Tacitus. This is where emperor Tiberius mainly ruled until his death in AD 3 and from where he supposedly chucked his enemies into the sea.
The island is so much greener than I had expected with explosions of colourful flowers everywhere.
That feeling of bliss when you remove those over-heated walking shoes and peel off the drenched clothes, utter bliss, almost orgasmic. I can literally see the salt lines on my T-shirt (gross? Yes, I know and probably TMI!)
Once refreshed and more presentable, we made our way upstairs to Marino (he owns the whole building) where he first showed us his bedroom – yes it has a stunning view but also seemed a quite strange thing to do. One of the friends lives in Italy and reassured us this was a sign of welcome and trust among Italians. We then went up to his fully equipped roof terrace and took in the amazing view as the sun gently started it’s descent.
More kerfuffle around dining as most of the pizza eaters just wanted an ice cream and the rest of us were looking forward to a nice meal. I suggested splitting up but that did not go down well so we just chose a restaurant (stunning with panoramic view) and the other sat with us and waited for dessert. By then I was ready for wine so the three of us enjoyed a delicious, chilled wine and me a seafood risotto which is making my mouth water as I write…
Day 3: Anacapri and boat excursion
This time I was awake early too and slept better so I could get my yoga out of the way before they came into the communal area. We are doing well as no one has got sunburnt so far. Valiantly ignoring the stress vibes emanating from a certain quarter (at our age, really?) we got the local bus – where here you DID need your face mask to the second largest city of the island Anacapri. These small buses take around 15 minutes and leave from the port or piazetta every 10 minutes. Motor vehicles are forbidden for most of the year on Capri and non-resident vehicles can only be embarked for the island between November and Easter. Yesterday we did not see any at all.
The roads are really narrow and windy, and our bus comes hair-raisingly close to the cliff at each bend.
We had decided to go up Monte Solaro for the view. I took the single seat chair lift up to accompany our friend with the foot operation and the other three walked up (one was scared of heights). Actually the 13-minute trip up was far from scary as, though it climbs very steep you are never dangling above a large void. It was extremely pleasant just gently hanging there in the quiet above the forest, watching the sea to the side. Once the two of us had taken in the spectacular view at the top, we settled down for a lovely friendly coffee, discussing life and happiness, choices, and mindset, taking responsibility for your life and generosity of being. Yes, sure I did get started on the Nichiren Buddhism I get so much out of, especially as it is now the largest practicing religion in Italy. Very zen which made the arrival of the others feel to me like a wave of stress (I am getting overly sensitive to all of this with age and run the risk of finishing a hermit). But there again, honesty and authenticity is always the best way and I mentioned that I would love a quiet walk down alone and left them to catch their breath and enjoy a cool drink and gently walked down to the city on the lovely path through the forest and felt totally at peace by the time I reached the bottom.
I even had time to buy a scarf and some postcards before we all regrouped. Though not on the planning a few of us wanted to take a look around before we took the bus back. A lot less daunting income-wise than Capri, Anacapri is really charming with lovely alleyways, and it was a good thing we did not have much time as the streets were full of much more affordable linen clothes in all the hues of blue I love so much!
We found a lovely baker and got some salad and quiche which we enjoyed up at the flat before changing, gathering water and fruit and walked down to the port to meet up with Marino who is taking us out on his boat all afternoon (400 EUR was a lot but fuel prices are horrendous and at least we were free to decide each part of the program). It was amazing! The colours, the rocks, stopping to swim in the lagunas, admiring and at some points passing through the rock formations and of course entering the high spot of Capri the grotta Azzura where, by a play of light, the water is hallucinatingly blue. There was also time to sunbathe and sleep and enjoy a coffee and cool glass of rose. We all loved it and I had a fun and provocative talk with one of the girls on men and sex etc. We are all 5 so different, 2 have stayed in the village, one has had an acrimonious divorce, one never married but is a single mum and two have been married for over 30 years. One lives abroad like me, and another has an amazing career. I do like variety and learning from our differences, especially when we still feel tenderly for our years together in primary.
We managed to motor all the way round the island, even so late in the day there are so many boats. Especially in the swimming areas they sort of anchor near each other, and you can enjoy each other’s music and popping of bottles. The only downside were the small purple jellyfish with long tentacles which most of us came in contact with. Sort of short local buzz and then either a blister or red area.
Sun and sea drenched we returned to the port around 6:30, also a lovely, lively, less chic area where people were seated on terrasses sipping what looked like hushpuppies from melon-sized lemons.
So nice to wash your hair and rinse off all the salt. One of us has just retired as she is suffering from an eye illness and had brought a bottle of champagne, so we toasted to her good future before heading down to town for our last dinner.
Our Italian speaker had got chatting to a guy in the bus who ended up being a restaurant manager so that is where we went. Bliss to look out over the bay on this warm evening while enjoying live Italian music, a bottle of wine (for some of us), and the meal though not spectacular was nice, we even had dessert and three of us limoncello. The promised special price never materialised but that was fine.
Tomorrow we all leave, two of us to fly back home and the other three continue for another week to Pompei, Mount Vesuvius and the Amalfi coast.
Day 4 Free time and return trip
No stress this morning, packed and tidied and declared everyone could do what they wanted as some wanted to walk, others shop or have coffee on the square. It is so hard to maintain harmony when the expectations, mindset and characters are so opposed.
Three of us started with a final coffee on the piazetta. I love just watching people, what they are wearing, how they are behaving and imagining their lives and stories. I ended up window shopping with the girl I know the least and we thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the glamorous shops (I was good) and we came across a fabulous place where they make your sandals from scratch. She chose the heel, the colour leather, the shape, the decoration, and they tailor-made them for her. While that was progressing, we had a delicious salad and warm and profound talk I was so grateful for. And a fit of hysterical giggles hidden behind the menu at some point.
Lovely to see all the old photos of celebrities in the shops, Sophia Lauren, Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Bardot etc and the newer lot, Di Caprio, Maria Carey, Beyonce etc.
It was then time to go back and collect our belongings (we had each forgotten things) before taking the funicular back down, boarding the boat (where I got changed) and then a rapid but heartfelt goodbye and good luck to the other three before making our way to the airport.
The return trip was uneventful. Now I realise how intense the four days were and feel utterly shattered though still basking in the fun and beauty of my Capri adventure.
We were also soon to realise that some of us brought back not just Capri vibes but at least three of us contracted Covid there. Pretty glam though, right? Catching Covid on Capri!!