Beyond Capri: an Ischia TR

Old Dec 19th, 2023, 01:27 PM
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Beyond Capri: an Ischia TR

As promised, here is part two of our coastal Italy TR. On our trip to the Amalfi Coast back in March, my wife and I sought 'the sweet spot'. By that, I mean bases that would seem more old-school and quaint, places not overrun with commercial tourism yet still able to handle a range of needs. For us, Ischia isle fit that bill better than chi chi Capri. We'd been to the latter back in '90 but once was enough. By design, we based in Ischia Ponte, which seemed the most 'village-like' location on that island. Not only that, but it had easy access to restaurants, buses, beaches, ATMs, groceries, pharmacy and more. During our 9-day stay, we made it to all corners of Ischia: Forio, S. Angelo, Lacco Ameno, Casamicciola, Porto, Mortella Gardens plus *Procida. The latter is but a 15 minute ferry away. By the time that we were finally Romeward-bound, the fiasco that Air Canada had earlier inflicted on us (a cancelled original flight to Italy after hours on the Toronto tarmac; subsequent chaos) was but a distant memory---it was a great vacation.
As always, we'll try here to mix humor, music and logistical tips with the imagery. A tiny pinch of Rome will feature at the very end--we were only there for 4 days.

We arrived from Naples by hydrofoil. Ischia was not very crowded during the shoulder season. Its proximity to Vesuvius and its perch atop the much-larger 'super-volcano' means that it has been known for its thermal properties for millennia. Spas abound but many were closed til April or later.

'Beautiful' is a tired word, but the view from our rental apartment's patio was world-class. We chose it by design. Seen here, Ischia's iconic Aragonese castle. From here on, we'll refer to Ischia Ponte as simply 'Ponte'. As in 'bridge', like the one shown above linking the village with its castle. For many centuries, that bridge has been an umbilical cord of sorts.

That seaside splurge rental can be seen dead center above. More detail about that wonderful apartment later.

'Arturo's Island' is considered THE classic novel regarding the Procida of yesteryear.

Mrs Z and I are not beer drinkers but this sign was impossible not to include here.

As you will see later, both Ischia and Procida have many citizens working as fishermen.

This Ischian and his mates were moving their freshly-painted boats out from shore for the first time since winter.

Some fisherman were already out to sea from our very first morn on Ischia. One supposes that different seafood species have different seasons.

The appealing Italian sense of style was evident throughout.

To have so much art around, be it ceramic, statuary, mosaic or whatever, was such a joy. 'Ponte' had an art gallery on its main drag and our rental displayed a couple of that artist's paintings in its entry. Shown above, a local cafe's painted décor barrel.

I rest my case...or was it just an ashtray?

We always try to display fotos of the unusual. Here is a stylized letter, probably written by a local young man. My Italian is weak, and hopefully someone here will clarify, but is he not extolling the virtues of a certain shapely young woman? This letter was tied with an elaborate ribbon to the rainbow bench at Procida's main ferry terminal. Respetto da....

Porto (above) is the main harbor for Ischia, although ferries also call at Forio and Casamicciola. We also saw one ferry depart from Lacco Ameno. Porto was an attractive and colorful delight during the midweek, shoulder-season daytime hours, but one imagines that nocturnal high-season would be a loud party with dancers and lineups.

Just outside our rental: a shoulder season night scene along Ponte's main drag.

In Ponte, there were two places where one could find Vitamin 'G'.

This is the end of our overview. *Next: Mortella Gardens.
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Old Dec 19th, 2023, 01:39 PM
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Old Dec 19th, 2023, 01:42 PM
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But first some music. Here again is Matia Bazaar with their '82 hit 'Fantasia'. Because Travel is a ripe setting for fantasy...
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Old Dec 19th, 2023, 01:48 PM
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Needs no intro for most.
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Old Dec 19th, 2023, 01:49 PM
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I love your photos, Z, and I've been thinking about Ischia for a while so I look forward to more of your report.

Also, I'd like that ashtray, please? Not a smoker, I just like the piece... maybe I'll fill it with pink sand.
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Old Dec 19th, 2023, 06:56 PM
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Very interesting TR, thank you ... Ischia and Procida have been on our radar for long and this stokes my interest again... someday soon I hope!
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Old Dec 19th, 2023, 09:00 PM
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We lucked out at the last minute, by getting to be part of Luisa's final off-season Thursdays-only tour of the Mortella Gardens ('place of myrtles'). We lost out on the following night's live classical concert in their tiny Greek theater--it was sold out. Mortella was then closed til later in spring. They won the Top Garden of Italy back in 2004. Location: Lacco Ameno's upscale 'Zaro' neighborhood. Anziana discounts applied there.

Persimmons if I'm not mistaken. There was also a wide range of different tropical citrus on site. Guide Luisa was generally cognizant of our being the sole non-Italian speakers. But sometimes she lapsed into local Napolitano dialect, 'Eh lui!" We learned later that week that her phrase had meant "Hey you two--c'mere and see this!"

Ischia 'the Green Isle' has 6 thermal gardens. We were counting on a visit to a private one out by Forio, but at the last minute the owner decided to close shop til may. Well-tended serra orchids near the ramp and the fountain with 4 pools.

It was a colorful place; pink proteas from ZA, purple iris, blue salvia, green lizards, glicine, green-glass bulbs atop lights, golden frog-tapped drinking fountains, aloes, herbs, a grotto with the founder's wife Susan's statue, a nymphaeum plus the pseudo-Greek Temple of the Sun. The latter had running waters, poinsettias and palms plus quotes from Brit composer/founder William Walton's pieces. Interior designer Simon Verity painted some corny Pompeii brothel action scenes on its walls.

In the gift shop by the glass house and the goat enclosure.

Exotic species everywhere. We saw sphagnum Irish moss, Aussie cycads (dino food), Japanese maples, Chinese roses, bamboo, man-made streams, camelia, lovely fountains, maquis, ferns, rugged volcanic cliffs, a Thai house replica, Indian waterlilies, pergolas, 'crocodile' statue ponds and a cat that slept on its back with legs in the air.

This artist was content to just do her thing with her baby's carriage beside her. She skipped the tour, something that we'd been told was not possible. Two other sizable bus groups arrived just after we did and their members followed our group. Mortella has a great view down to Forio and this above woman was sketching it.

One local person from those buses got over-zealous and actually stepped into a protea bed in order to get a closer photo! We were shocked at his indiscretion and carelessness. Then God's sense of humour: his cellphone battery seemed to go dead before he could take a shot. He cursed.

The closed cafe had a Rajasthani/Gujarati theme with its textiles.

Waterlilies of various sorts were floating about. Some tiny white ones were in bloom.


Fellow shutterbug.

Best to take a taxi here. Buses come close but the signage was not stellar.
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Old Dec 19th, 2023, 11:24 PM
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Lets now go to Procida. I pity the fool that fails to take the 20 minute hydrofoil from Ischia. This is a FANTASTIC daytrip! The temperature on this sunny Sunday was a perfect 17 degrees.*Tip: for those who get queasy on ferry rides, try sitting at the very back. Taking a Dramamaine/Gravol pill an hour ahead helps some travelers too.

Procida was the 'City of Culture Euro 2022'. Of course, its an island not just one city. Seen above: Porto di Marina Grande's lovely church S. Leonardo, the first of many colorful buildings that we'd see on this day.

Where are we? Burano? Guanajuato?

Neither. This is Procida, one of the most picturesque places in all of Italy. Campania at its colorful best.

Color and design were not hard to find.

Typical local street. One sometimes had to hug the walls and become an artful dodger of passing vehicles. Those included scooters, bikes, cars, APEs and some customized ones that were unidentifiable. Some claim the population density to be the highest in Europe. *Other sources instead state that the population is 'the most dense of any isle in the Mediterranean'.

Locals pose for us by a massive mural.

The iconic belvedere vista of Corricella. Amid the pastel buildings, yellow chiesa S. Rocco looms large. Nearby, S.M. delle Grazie, Casale Principe Umberto and Palazzo Mignano de Iorio.

The hike up to the terrace viewpoint is worth it. The rainbow village of Corricella is the island's most distinctive spot, worth crossing a sea for. Words like 'quaint', 'genuine' and 'authentic' come to mind. Don't you just wanna dip yer paintbrush in that pastel hamlet?

Also known as 'Borgo di Pescatori', Corricella is just like Cetara (as shown in our earlier Amalfi Coast TR part one)--a very real fishing port. These Procidan fishermen gave us permission to photograph their activities. They knew the ways of water.

Even their gear was colorful!

Net repair.


Its a manual labor job.

There were some younger pescatori. Many commute here from Pozzuoli on the mainland.

Will his son take on the same career?

Like a nautical necklace.

Like a coral snake.

Maritime equipment.

The sun was quite kind to us that day.

Duotone nets.

This visiting Naples teen OKed my request to take her photograph.

Then the others in her visiting school group (on a Sunday?) would not let us go til we had also taken their group shot! Note the clever sole male teen, second left---smart boy! A nearly 20-1 ratio in all.

We enjoyed that slice of life then it was time for a 84 euro portside lunch. All was going swimmingly well til poor Mrs Z dropped her Nikon. The result was a smashed protective filter, one which thereafter jammed and would not budge when we tried to remove it. Frowns. A downer. The following day however, our landlord's friendly 20-something son Pierre-Mario repaired it. Smiles again.

Children and cats played atop some piles of nets.

Gulls also made their way all over the piccolo port. They knew the ways of the wind.

Extended family gathering by the waterfront.

This location was where the Italian movie 'Il Postino' was filmed. Multi-hued and cubic.

Prior to covid, we'd originally booked a week at the Corricella Hotel. It is that pink building dead center. Their Lampana restaurant also has an exceptional perspective. The contrasting dullness of the former prison Castell d'Avalos aka Palazzo Reale (closed 1988) looms overhead. Mafia figures were once imprisoned there.

Hand-painted tiles depict the lovely little enclave of Corricella. Another 'painters paradise'.

With the whimsical houses behind it, this boat was stored outside. But the local architecture also boasts some clever arched boat-storage shelters and corners.

I highly recommend a stroll right up to the isle's highest point, the Terra Murata neighborhood. That summit is a quiet residential enclave, a genuine village. Go past the old cannons plus the large stone sculpture shown here.

Four raggazzi headed to play calcio. The late Argentinian superstar Diego Marradona is revered here, with tiny shrines to prove it!

Abbazia S. Michele Arcangelo, its stylish façade impossible to miss up in that same Terra Murata.

We left Corricella and descended back down to the main town Marina Grande and its Porto ferry. We just missed one boat so hung around this area for a while. It too had its own appeal, including 'Dal Cavaliere' Bar (1960), famed for its pair of traditional puff pastries: la Lingua and la Frollicella. Each lemon custard pastry had its own dedicated postcard, both colorful and tasteful. The lineup was insane and we waited a very very long time! But after the crowds died down: VG people-watching.

The golden hour arrived and was most welcome. Kids played soccer, pescatori finished their tasks for the day and a pair of bumbling Canuck travelers caught their breath. Then they somehow missed the NEXT ferry, after an apparent miscommunication with the hip young ticket booth guy. There was no point in getting uptight--it was nobody's fault but ours. Relax idiot, and go with the flow...

Seen behind this row of boats is the Phlegrean coast, with Cuma Lucrino and Torregaveta. But its key town is Pozzuoli. That port has its own Roman ruin, much of which is submerged: Baia. My late mother's old friend lives in Pozzuoli. Little did I know when I snapped this shot, that in under 2 weeks, I'd be calling that same friend from Canada with news of mom's funeral.

So we gaped at yet-another water reflection (see next song) then decided to take public bus L1. Mrs Z and I knew that its route takes one around the entire isle, not a bad way to kill an hour. Bar Capricio sold us tickets. We made lemonade from lemons, as we viewed Chiaia, Carbogno, Solchiaro and Chiaiolella. The latter's chi chi beach has a number of popular cafes and is favored by locals for sunsets.

I think that maybe the bluffs in the foreground are Cape Miseno, once site of WWII defense guns. At this very moment, our return ferry back to Ischia had just launched. We went atop to enjoy the marvelous, if breezy, atmosphere.

And were glad that we did. The ferry cruised along the Scola Frusta coastal section of Procida's 'Vivara' wilderness reserve. Moody clouds signaled a special sunset to come. It was one of those added-value moments while one is in transit, much like Venice's vaporetto #1.

Arriving safe and sound (except for one cracked lens cover) back at Ischia's Porto. Its faro guides us in. Mt Epomeo rises 800m just behind. A couple months prior, its slopes had experienced a terrible mudslide. People lost their lives. One of our taxi driver's elderly in-laws barely escaped, but lost everything. We were told differing reasons as to the cause, from unenforced municipal building laws to a simple act of Mother Nature--she always bats last. *next: the Aragonese Castle

Last edited by zebec; Dec 19th, 2023 at 11:50 PM. Reason: momma mia
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Old Dec 19th, 2023, 11:59 PM
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An ambient instrumental dedicated to all the fishermen above: 'Wind on Water' by Fripp & Eno.
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Old Dec 20th, 2023, 12:02 AM
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And another song, this time dedicated to their wives. Waiting at home during the storms...
The Soul of the Sea.
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Old Dec 20th, 2023, 12:28 AM
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Fabulous photos, zebec!
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Old Dec 20th, 2023, 06:16 AM
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Love the report. The "persimmons" are actually loquats (nespole), as we discovered on our visit to Italy before the plague.

By the way, I recently discovered that Google will translate writing in photos of you click search image with Google after a right click in Chrome. The translations are somewhat crude but much better than guessed Italian or any Chinese.
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Old Dec 20th, 2023, 01:27 PM
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Following here: the many moods of the Castle. It is the icon of Ischia. There will distant shots, followed by an actual visit up there.

This was the exact spot where scenes from 'The Talented Mr. Ripley' was shot. Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow dine together. The overflowing waters were due to the previous night's storm, a spring tramontane perhaps?

Some of the sunrises were special.

The castle motif outline is seen on some local promo for this and that.

The Cartoromana belvedere overlooks the sprawling 'Termale Eden' spa. That popular thermal spa was in the process of preparing for opening in the next few weeks. Those islets trace the edges of Ischia's own submerged ruin, the 'Villa Romana'. Snorkelers love to explore those ruins. As we traipsed across that SE corner of the isle, we joined another hiker. She was lovely young Veronique, a Belgian archaeologist who worked in Holland. She was also very knowledgeable about Euro-travel in general.

The very nearby view from the so-called Torre di Michaelangelo. He almost certainly never actually lived there, despite the tourist hype myth.

The three of us continued our hike into Ischia's hinterland. Here, the view near Scola di S. Anna. We got lost soon after, a lucky stroke that resulted in seeing additional areas.

Mom and adult daughters. Like Veronique, they were daytrippers from Naples.

Local fishermen collected on that pier early each morn, to be transported to jobs elsewhere.

Pescatori beach would've been packed had this been high season.

This view from our patio never got old.

Next: *a visit up to the actual castle.
is next part will mix the Castle, our rental plus the immediate neighborhood.
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Old Dec 20th, 2023, 03:14 PM
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Again. your photos reveal the eye of an artist. Composition is superb. I was in Ischia some years ago with teen son, now 37. We only had a few hours so saw only as much as we could walking from the ferry port. One scene that sticks in my mind after all of these years is an Italian Greyhound watching us from a balcony. Instantly that became my favorite dog - a figure of elegance and grace.

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Old Dec 20th, 2023, 04:36 PM
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result the hold on put being by delay because...*I was given no chance to do last-minute editing by the 'put on hold until...' process.
Anyway, here below is our rental and the immediate Ischia Ponte neighborhood. Enjoy!

Our creamy-colored rental building to the right. We were on the top floor, near corner (see greenery). The lower building directly below our patio was the INPS. I gathered that was some sort of combo government-run-job-agency-cum unemployment office? The island population is 64,000 but I've no idea what jobless numbers are nowadays. That INPS also doubled as a handy bus stop. Bus 7 goes from Porto down to Ponte, a distance that otherwise can be walked in about 45 minutes.

Our splurge apartment overlooking the sea was 'Aquamarina', one of an adjoined pair known together as 'Exclusive Home Ischia'. I'd read about it years ago in a Moon Handbook guide. We paid $690 Canadian per night. That rate included a fully-equipped modern kitchen, plus a hot tub. If the latter is important to you, clarify which unit has the hot tub---there is currently but one.

The wonderful Conte family own and operate Exclusive Home Ischia. Daughter Gabriella (above) is the main contact, but her friendly brother Pierre-Mario also plays an important role in the day-to-day process. Our unit was spotless, could've eaten off the floor.

Their advice about local wine was bang-on. The Romans called Ischia 'Aenaria'---the land of wine. Hence the oh-so clever name of the local bookstore 'Imagaenaria'. Readers will love that shop for its mom-and-pop feel. Above was the straw-colored award-winning white wine that the Contes highly recommended. They were right!! The white wine grapes grown on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Epomeo are the 'Biancolella' variety.

The Greeks settled here in 775 BC and as part of Magna Graecia called Ischia 'Pithecusa'. Red grapes here are ruby red. They have colorful names such as Per e' Palumm (Pigeon's claws) and Piedirosso (red foot). Ischia sees 3-and-a-half million tourists per year (many middle-aged Germans) and it'd be interesting to learn whether most prefer the local white or the local red?

The Contes will spoil you, oft by surprise. We found this packet from Vittoria Cafe/pastry shop in our entry lobby one morning. So thoughtful. Millie Grazie!

I rest my case. As well, there was another wonderful surprise. Mrs Z and I once discovered an amazing Swiss brand of shampoo-gel soap called 'Prija'. We'd first encountered it in our rental house in Meursault (Burgundy) and loved its herbal 'eruca sativa' smell and texture. We thereafter tried for years to buy some of that, all to no avail. Lo and behold, when we arrived at our Aquamarina apartment, the featured soap was Prija. What a coincidence.

Capri can be seen here in the distance, sandwiched visually between Ponte and the Castle. It is much more expensive than Ischia. *Incidentally, a WWII tragedy occurred in this vicinity during 1943. RAF bombers needlessly sank the postal ship St. Lucia just off the local islet of Ventotene. The death toll was 120 innocent civilians killed.

This sleepy gato lies atop a car parked in the courtyard. That was where scenes from the Italian TV drama 'My Brilliant Friend' were recently shot.

Our patio had true 360 views. Right below us, this workman took his lunch break.

Behind us was also interesting scenery.

So close that we could almost reach out and touch it.

Same pink building with the abovementioned INPS in the foreground.

More visuals.

We self-caterers shopped at local Ischitani stores such as large and friendly Francesco supermarket, the deli-bakery Boccia (try their toasted mortadella sandwiches) and (unshown) Luciano Gelato. Staff at all three were very friendly. The latter sold to us even after we'd missed their closing by 10 minutes---try that in North America! Boccia's owner was a sports fan who warned me about the local Napoli soccer star which our own Toronto FC team had just signed for a fortune: "Poor character."

Average temperature was 17-19 degrees. Ottimo. **BTW, shown above is the tiny 'Caletta dei Terrenzi' cove which is located immediately behind Exclusive Home Ischia. You can swim there, picnic there, read there, sketch there, ponder life's mysteries there....and kiss there.

Mr. Conte should be proud of his son Pierre-Mario (literally a 'fixer') plus lovely Gabriella ('Gaby') seen below with her beautiful mother.

Ischia got style. *Next: apologies for the out-of-order confusion; we'll get around to that castle tour plus the rest of the Ponte area, as well as the rest of the island.

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Old Dec 20th, 2023, 04:47 PM
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Wow!!! All your photos are absolutely awesome, award-winning photos! Love the Vitamin D, the pastel colored buildings, the people, everything! Were you a professional photographer at one time?
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Old Dec 20th, 2023, 07:38 PM
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Stunning photographs and a very interesting report; thank you for sharing. Ischia and Procida look like perfect hideaways.
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Old Dec 21st, 2023, 06:14 AM
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Again, wonderful!

Years ago, we planned about 8 days split between Ischia and Capri. We quickly scuttled the Capri portion and remained on Ischia for the entire vacation, prior to returning home via Napoli. We were there in late September and had fairly poor weather; what month was your own trip? I wrote a very long trip report which can be found on this site, but no gorgeous photos like you took!
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Old Dec 21st, 2023, 04:23 PM
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Time for a castle tour. Bus #7 will take you from Porto down to the terminus in Ponte i.e. at the foot of the bridge. The Aragonese Castello will appear right before you, perched 113 meters atop its own trachytic rock islet. An isle within an isle. Note the bass-playing llama on the bus promo.

Btw, there is a nice combo restaurant-bar called Coco right at the foot of the bridge. It is run by a brother-sister team. One walks across the bridge, then takes an elevator to get up to the castle, be it for a stay at their seasonal hotel OR instead for a meal at either of the cafes up there. Ignore misinformed locals who might try to tell you that covid cancelled that lift or otherwise restricted its use for workers--simply untrue, at least in our experience.

After taking that elevator-lift, one arrives at some very compelling terrace viewpoints. Those panoramas allow for 360 views across the castle site, be they hilly landscape or eastward back to the mainland. So much of an experience on ischia could fairly be described as 'picturesque'.

Those views look across to the mainland, including these trees near villa Antonia.

The paths take tourists all over. There are churches, chapels, towers, crypts, antiques and an old prison. The gardens include olives, grapes and citrus.

In 1809, cannons from the English navy destroyed some of the castle. The full history of the Castle site goes back almost 3,000 years.

We saw a number of cats up there, but none quite topped this one for having a mysterious aura. It relaxed as though it owned that green space.

Without doubt, the most macabre aspect about the site is its infamous Nun's Cemetery. Centuries ago, some sadistic religious leader got the idea to allow the bodies of deceased Clarisses Clare nuns up there to simply decompose in their individual, walled draining seat. The remaining nuns were thereafter forced to attend group prayer hours scheduled throughout each day, by the row of those decaying corpses. The stench, the sight, the risk of serious disease, the shock to words.

The southerly view from inside the small hexagonal Tempio St. Peter Pantaniello ('Pete from the small marsh'). The floors are Campanian terracotta.

Returning back down and then across the bridge during the golden hour will guarantee visitors the chance to see local Ischiatani taking it easy. Just behind this crowd is the very modest local Museum del mare (of the sea).

Taking the sun.

Far niente.

There might be music. The musician was petite Beatrice from Moldova. She switched from classical to 'The Godfather Theme' as we passed. Check out the vibrating second string.

A pair of stylish local ladies.

Those ladies almost seem to be represented by this boutique's stone signage mere minutes away back in Ponte's main drag, via Luigi Mazzella. *be careful, there seems to be additional 'via Mazellas' throughout.

The end of another wonderful day. You won't regret this castle visit.
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Old Dec 21st, 2023, 04:36 PM
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Foreigner was known for their slew of commercial rock hits. But two of their other members also penned this evocative instrumental called 'Tramontane', as in the fierce storms that can hit parts of Europe each spring. This song has been included here coz it evokes such an event.
*Next: a tour of the rest of the island.

Last edited by zebec; Dec 21st, 2023 at 04:40 PM.
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