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The marvelous Giancarlo and the Isle of Capri

<<There are some days that make a vacation. Some days stand out among even those. And some days will never be topped in a goddamned lifetime. This is that day. Today is the day that we head to the Isle of Capri. The girls are excited, because it will provide more souvenir shopping and island enchantment. Wendy is excited, because we will have a boat ride to take in all the scenery of the peninsula, culminating in a date with Gucci, Prada and Longchamp. I am excited, because somebody that I know says they saw Mark Wahlberg here, and all of those movie stars that play tough guys are probably wussies, except for Wahlberg, who I am pretty sure could kick your ass and is undeniably cooler than cool. Capri has something for all of us.>>


<<Our transfer picks us up on time with a beautiful Mercedes. We’re not going to pay him the same 30 euros that we paid the cabbie the day before, but now we’ve got style and can pretend to be VIP’s as he whisks us to the dock. When we get down to Amalfi, he drives us right onto the dock, practically to the side of our boat. VIP. This is where we meet the dashing Giancarlo.

Giancarlo is our Captain. Giancarlo is our handsome, young Italian commander. Giancarlo is a man of manners and courtesy. 

Giancarlo has sideburns just long enough to be cool, but are not too aggressive, like an Elvis impersonator or one of those guys at the truck stop with the naked women silhouettes on his mud flaps. Giancarlo wears one of those white ship commander shirts, so you can be pretty sure that he is the real deal. Giancarlo is our host for our trip to Fantasy Island. To say that Giancarlo has a boat would do no justice to Giancarlo.  Giancarlo has what must be a 50-60 foot boat.  One of those boats that looks like a missile on the water, with a well apportioned bathroom, sleep chamber, galley, and social area down below.  Beautiful woods, brushed metals, and a lighting scheme fit for your foyer.  We don’t even bother with the living quarters below, because the ship also has a soft, reclining flat bed that comprises the rear quarter of the deck, where everyone can sit, lie down, whatever, while the sun surreptitiously burns us to a crisp, aided in its stealth by the cooling winds generated by speeding across the water and the occasional swimming break.  Giancarlo’s considerable services and his boat are ours for the day.  Private tour only.  VIP. DSC_8436Giancarlo suggests that we head over to a privately-owned island and stop for a swim on our way to Capri.  Love it.  As we glide across the Mediterranean, Giancarlo points out sites of interest and gives us the local guide on matters native, like the best place for seafood on the coast.  Giancarlo knows everything. We arrive at an island that is within sight of the peninsula, but fairly far offshore.  Giancarlo tells us that the island was once owned by Rudolph Nureyev, the famous dancer, but is now owned by an Italian shipping magnate.  We can see the compound atop the island and, at the other end, a chapel for worship. Italian shipping magnates are Catholic.
Giancarlo invites us to take a swim and we do.  Salt water makes you more buoyant, but I had forgotten just how much more; you can pretty much just sit there and you’ll float just fine.  So we sit and swim, and even raced from the back of the boat to the front and back. When we finally take a break, Giancarlo greets each of us with a towel and offers us wine, with melon and cherries to eat.
Giancarlo the pamperer. After a little wine and fruit, we swim for a while longer.  No rush.  We can stay or go whenever we like.  When we get out of the water for the last time and have a little more wine (was it really mead?), Giancarlo hoists the anchor and makes ready to head to Capri.  When he does, he notices a small jellyfish in the water and acknowledges their dangerous properties.>>

Giancarlo will be watching out for us as we sail on.  And we believe in Giancarlo.

orig_grotta_verde<<Our next stop will be the Green Grotto, on the southern side of the Isle of Capri.  The Isle of Capri is known for its grottos.  This particular grotto is a series of caves carved into the side of the island and is named for the way that the sunlight gives the water an emerald green hue against the backdrop of the cave walls and the ocean floor, which is about 8-10 meters shallow inside the cave itself.  The cave is open on both ends, so you can swim through it.  It is a major attraction for tourists and, when we arrive, there are any number of boats waiting their turn to drop their passengers off so they can swim through the grotto and get picked up on the other side. Giancarlo gives us instructions on swimming through the cave and pledges to meet us on the other side.  Colly, Sarah, and I can’t wait and dive in.  Wendy decides to stay on the boat and join us on the other side.  While I find the thought of leaving her on the boat with the incomparable Giancarlo unnerving, I am eager to swim the cave.  So we do.

The grotto is amazing even though it is overwhelmed with tourists.  The water is very green and you can see the bottom clearly.  When you swim on your back, you can see the ceiling of the cave and its rock formations.  Because it is open on both ends, there is plenty of light to illuminate all of the cave’s details and to keep everyone from getting the creeps.  We visit with fellow Midwesterners from Michigan and Missouri as we traverse the cave, floating and swimming and talking and observing its treasures. We come out the other side to find Giancarlo, his boat, and my wife waiting for us.  Everyone agrees that we can’t leave without making sure that Wendy sees this, so we coax her into the water and swim back into the cave.  When we’re done with Capri’s natural wonders, it’s time to head for Capri’s civilization.
As we speed to the other side of the island, we have a bit more wine.  Wendy and I lift a glass.  Yeah, this is special. Wendy was meant for this.  She was a royal in her past lives and is regal in her current incarnation.  She is the only one of us that does not burn; her olive, Mediterranean skin simply browns slowly in the Mediterranean sun.  She sips wine elegant329869xcitefun-capri-italy-6ly, observes the coast, and gives thought to finding Capri sandals at a boutique.  She could meet the Kennedys at The Cape and have them walk away believing that she’s a countess or something.  I’m her entourage; the big dude that gets the tab, waves for the driver, and steps in with the muscle if the wrong element messes with her.  It’s a living. Giancarlo docks the boat and gives us a bit of advice on where to go for lunch and other places of note.  He gives us his card, his number, and pledges that he will pick us up within 5 minutes of our call. Giancarlo the punctual. We grab lunch at a great place on the water.  Everyone orders a pizza and Wendy and I split an order of mussels, which we have to have because we’re here.  When we’re done, we decide to split up, since Wendy and the girls have considerably different shopping goals.  The girls head into a souvenir store. Wendy and I see a sign that says “Centro,” which we understand to be the center of town, where the big girl shopping is.  This one is easy:  we’ll just follow the signs and walk there.

Really, really bad idea.  For the Capri uninitiated, the signs to “Centro” do indeed take you to the center of town and it is, in fact, where the boutiques are. However, the center of town is not at the base of the mountain like Amalfi and Minori; it is basically at the summit.  Following the signs to “Centro” puts you on a walking path that is a steep, 30 minute climb to the top, on this day a climb that takes place in 94 degree heat. There is no escape from the path once you commit; you can’t just get off at the next cross street and rethink your strategy.  The path winds upward through gated residences, sometimes presenting itself as stairs and, at other times, as the mother of all skateboard pipes. As we walk, we see others coming down and they kindly give us an estimate of how many more minutes we have to hike before we reach the “Centro.” The first group told us 10 minutes. It was really another 25. When we got there, we were a swarthy mess, so we sat down to have something to drink at a cafe at the top. And when we were ready to actually walk around and shop, we had lost an hour and Wendy wasn’t exactly wild about trying on clothing (bonus!). So we looked for Capri sandals and found a pair that she loved that was made by a true, native Italian shoemaker. We grabbed them and headed back, calling and texting like mad, because we were now late for our rendezvous with the girls for the second time.

One of my partners came here last year and he told me that he wished they had taken the cable car down the hill. Apparently, they took it up the hill, thought they could just walk down easily, but found the walk down more grueling than expected. Was he kidding?! What he should have said was “do not walk up or down the mini mountain that is Capri under any circumstances or you may die.” centro di capriEven if he had, though, I couldn’t have heeded his warning, because we didn’t know what walking to Centro meant—topographically speaking–in the first place. We find the girls at the meeting place. Colly is a bit put off at our tardiness, but is mollified by a bottle of ice water and we’re ready to call for Giancarlo. We do, and Giancarlo is there, bang on schedule. Giancarlo is never late. The challenge of our climb cannot dampen our spirits or our conviction that this might be the best day ever, because we have Giancarlo, who will now take us back to Amalfi with more swimming and sightseeing along the way. Giancarlo suggests his plan to us and seeks our approval. Giancarlo does not presume. We approve and Giancarlo lets it rip. We stop at three successive places to swim, including one grotto along the peninsula. Each time, Giancarlo cautions that he wants to check for jellyfish before we venture into the water. He finds one, then two, then more. He reminds us again of the dangers that they present, suggests that we should not enter the water, and pledges to find us a safer place to swim. In each case, he has to ready his boat for us to swim and then deconstruct the whole thing once he sees the danger lurking in the water. It’s more work for him, but he won’t let us swim because it is not safe for us.

Giancarlo the gallant. Giancarlo find us two places to swim in the hot, yet sinking sun. He provides more fruit and wine to energize us. He points out all of the sights along the way, including a fascinating array of Norman towers positioned to protect the peninsula from attack at almost every inlet. We cruise along beneath the harrowing cliffs and look up at all the buildings, big and small, that have been constructed on the side of this piece of rock, while Giancarlo tells us just enough about every place to give us a frame of reference, but not so much that we can’t talk with each other about what we’re seeing. And he serves us limoncello as we approach the harbor at Amalfi. Giancarlo the hospitable. Giancarlo drops us off, thanks us, and wishes us well. We present a gratuity fit only for Giancarlo, applaud him, and climb into our transfer back to Conca dei Marini. The driver whisks us back and, after 150 steps, we’re home. It’s time to lay now. We have enough food in the fridge to scrounge. Frankly, our lunch was so big and, since it was supplemented by Giancarlo’s steady diet of fruit, we don’t really need much. We just need to chill and remind ourselves that it doesn’t get any better than this.

Not, that is, if you have Giancarlo.>>

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