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August 8, 2007

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Ischia, Italy

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Buon giorno from the beautiful island of Ischia (pronounced ISH-kee-ah) in Italy! I'm here, off the coast of Naples, soaking up the sun and culture of the homeland my grandparents emigrated from 80 years ago. If you haven't heard of Ischia, that might be because it's not as popular with Americans as its neighbor, Capri. Capri (which can be seen from Ischia on a clear day) is gorgeous but Ischia is where it's at for a few reasons. Firstly, you won't find boatloads of American tourists here. Secondly, it's three times the size of Capri, so there's a lot more to do and see. And thirdly, it's a lot cheaper. If you don't have time to sit back and read the story, don't worry! There's a two-minute Johnny Jet video at the end of this week's story. And, if you'd rather stay closer to home, then check out our newest writers' stories. Scott DeMers dishes the dirt on Denver's nightlife and Sherry White tours us around San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Last week we left off hanging out at my buddy Mike's parents' house near Vallo della Lucania (Vallo). Every year, Mike and I travel together and we try to visit a new country each time, before stopping off in Italy to visit his parents. Last year, we hit four new countries: Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Hungary. However, this trip we decided to relax and spend more time in his parents' sleepy little village. Schlepping through airports and train stations can get tiring. Although, when cabin fever kicked in, we talked about heading to Rome a few days earlier than we had planned. But it didn't take long for us to knock some sense into each other. It's summer, we're in Italy, we should stay put and enjoy the beaches. One of our good friends had invited us to Capri (here's a link to the story of my last trip to Capri) but I promised myself that the next time I was in this area, I'd visit Ischia. After all, it's the island my grandparents emigrated from in the 1920s and I've only visited once in my life. That was 11 years ago with my brother Frank and cousin AJ. It was a memorable trip where I met family members for the first time ... and boy, did they whip up some incredible Italian feasts!

Planning a last-minute trip to Ischia in the summer is not an easy thing to do. The island is a popular destination this time of year, attracting mostly mainland Italians and Germans. In fact, there are so many Germans here that almost all the signs and menus are in both Italian and German; many of the locals speak both languages, too. One of Ischia's best attributes is that few Americans visit. Don't get me wrong! I love my fellow citizens, just not when I'm traveling overseas. For me, being surrounded by Americans when I'm abroad takes away the mystique of foreign travel.

In Vallo, a travel agent found me and Mike the one lone hotel that had a vacancy. We booked two rooms before he suckered ... I mean sold ... us on a VIP service that would include access to transfers and ferry tickets. At 35 euros ($47USD) apiece it would have been a deal for just one person traveling ... but not with four. Mike's parents came along as well. In retrospect, I don't know what the heck we were thinking when we agreed to it.

By train, the journey from Vallo to Naples took an hour and a half. It's about the same distance as Rome to Naples. Since Mike and I had Eurail passes, we didn't need to buy a ticket; we purchased our passes in advance from The VIP service that we had paid in advance for was a joke; the driver didn't show up on time, not once but twice. Actually, he showed up 30 minutes late to the Napoli train station, then drove like a racecar driver to the port so we'd make the ferry. The drive is normally 15 minutes but he made it in five. Seriously, I've never, ever been in a crazier taxi ride and that includes the time in Copenhagen when my driver hit a senior citizen crossing the street. Who knew he thought I was serious when I said, "10 points if you hit him"? This Michael Schumacher-wannabe almost ran over two people, maybe more. I can't be certain because I was sitting in the backseat with my eyes closed, saying my Hail Marys.

TIP: Naples is notorious for crime. Be sure to take off all your jewelry, including the fake stuff, and safeguard your belongings.

Ferries depart for Ischia from two ports in Naples: Molo Beverello and Mergellina. We departed from the latter; single adult ticket prices are 18 euros ($25USD). The boats, large catamarans that hold almost 300 passengers, are similar to those servicing Nantucket, Catalina Island and the Great Barrier Reef. Travel time for the 18-mile (30km) jaunt is just 45 minutes. I was surprised to find that there wasn't any outside seating like there is on the ferries I just mentioned. I tend to get seasick or at the very least, a little nauseous when I travel by boat, but fortunately the ride was smooth. Plus, there was a small, outdoor area in the stern where passengers could hang out. It wasn't the best option since the air was filled with exhaust fumes and I was joined by a group of die-hard smokers. But you know what? It didn't matter. Cruising along the Italian shoreline on a sunny day is like a dream.

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Copyright 2007 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


1996 Trip To Ischia


1996 From My Grandpa's Balcony


Vallo Train Station


Train To Naples


On Train


Mike And Johnny


Mr. M.


Drive To Port


Ischia Ferry


Island of Procida


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