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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET ?                                                           Capri, Italy


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Buongiorno! Last week we left off in Cilento, Italy at my buddy Mike’s parents’ house. This week we travel a short distance to Italy’s most glamorous getaway: the isle of Capri. Ooohhh aaahhh!

Mr & Mrs. M drove Mike and me 19 miles to the port town of Acciaroli. Despite the short distance, it took 45 minutes because the roads are windy, narrow and scenic. Parts of the drive were similar to the Palos Verdes coast in Los Angeles -- one of my favorite drives in the world. There are many places to catch boats to Capri, but from the Manna’s Acciaroli is the closest. We arrived early, and of course Mr. Manna insisted we have one last Italian breakfast -- cappuccino and another delicious, sweet, fattening pastry – before we boarded the boat.

The only boat each day to Capri from Acciaroli leaves at 9 a.m. The high- speed hydrofoil makes the smooth, nonstop trip in 1 hour 45 minutes. I was shocked at how inexpensive the ticket was: only 9,50 euros ($11.65). In the U.S. the cost would be triple. The boat is the same type American ferry companies use for trips to Catalina and Nantucket Islands. The only difference is that this one had no outdoor seating area. That bummed me out. I prefer to be outside because I get better pictures -- and more importantly, I seldom get seasick on deck.

Capri is in southern Italy – more precisely, in the Gulf of Naples, 17 nautical miles south of Naples and 3 from the Sorrento peninsula. Most people travel to Capri by ferry or hydrofoil, and usually depart from the closest ports: Naples and Sorrento. From Sorrento the hydrofoil takes 20 minutes, the ferry 40. It’s twice as long from Naples. Helicopters are available, but I didn’t see or hear any while I was there. Because Capri is so close to the mainland and tickets are inexpensive, most people come over for just a few hours. Another reason not to stay long is because Capri is very expensive – especially for lodging. And during peak time (June-September) it’s difficult to get a hotel room.

Because of this there are really two sides of Capri. One is the flood of day trippers looking to save money. The other is the rich and famous, who hang out in their secluded villas, hotels or private yachts during the day, then at night turn the island into a playground. My favorite time of day in Capri is sunset, just after the last ferry leaves. The island slows down, and the views of the Gulf and Amalfi coast are amazing. I love seeing the lights shimmer in the hazy, mystical Mediterranean air. It really makes me feel like I’m on vacation.

Capri is about 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) long, and 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) wide. Pulling into the harbor, we were excited. But then we got off the boat and saw the crowds, which suddenly made us feel like we were in a major city. Most of the day trippers were American, which took even more fun away. Don’t get me wrong: I love Americans – just not when I travel to a far-off destination. Despite all the Americans, I still love Capri – I just try to go to places where they are not. I’m fortunate to have been to this area a few times. I enjoy seeing where my grandparents (god rest their souls) grew up – it’s on the much larger and less touristy nearby island of Ischia. On this trip I didn’t have time to go there and I felt guilty not seeing some of my relatives. But I had only 24 hours, and I was there to check out a hotel.

Capri has changed a bit since the last time I was there. Not only has it become more popular with Americans, but most of the old classic convertible taxis have been replaced by newer (and much less cooler) models. I rarely take taxis in Capri (they’re ridiculously expensive), but I still like to see the classic cars cruise by. I get around either on foot, using free transportation provided by the hotel, by renting a Vespa or taking the bus. The bus is very convenient, inexpensive (1,30 e = $1.58) and fun to ride (you meet lots of people).

When we arrived I called the hotel using my GSM phone. A GSM phone allows me to call the U.S. for only .50 euro cents ($0.60) a minute, and to call within Italy for .12 euro cents ($0.15) a minute. Not only is it a lot cheaper than American cellular phone plans, but by having an Italian SIM card I get a local number. That means my Italian friends don’t have to call internationally to get me. The best part?. All incoming calls are free, no matter where they are from --- even the United States and Zimbabwe. For more info check out www.JohnnyJetCellPhones.com (They are so good we partnered with them).

The agent at the Hotel Caesar Augustus said they would send the air-conditioned yellow van down right away (a taxi would have cost us $25). While we waited I said hi to my cousins, who own a souvenir store right in Marina Grande (where all the ferries come in and out). The shop is called Gennarino e Cindy (Jerry and Cindy). Well, they aren’t really my cousins -- just close friends of the family. (Italians think everyone is related -- that makes it fun to be part Italian). In addition to their store, Gennarino e Cindy rent boats and offer private tours. Gennarino is probably the best and most respected guide on the island. I’m not just saying that because he’s "family." Any Caprician will back me up. There are only 15,000 full-time residents on Capri, and they all pretty much know each other. Gennarino & Cindy Alberino; Via M. na Grande, 17 Capri, tel: 0818375833, Cell: 333-4226400.

TIP: My cousins yelled at me for buying a 2 euro ($2.40) small bottle of water from one of the shops. They told me to walk a block to the grocery store, where everything is half price. Isn’t it great to have cousins?

Getting to Hotel Caesar Augustus from Marina Grande takes 20 minutes. That’s because it’s up in Anacapri ("over Capri"). Capri is divided into two sections: Capri and Anacapri. AnaCapri is located high in the hills, and is much quieter than Capri. The drive up the 1,000-foot hill is one of the most exciting and scenic you’ll ever take. The roads are really narrow and windy. When buses pass each other, you better not have your arms out the window – there’s only 2 or 3 inches of room. I have no idea why there aren’t more accidents. It’s amazing: Drivers don’t even blink or slow down while hugging the side of the road. I would never be able to drive here (that’s probably why non-resident cars are not permitted). The highlight is going over the man-made bridge that sits high (I’m talking HIGH) above a steep cliff. It’s so hairy that when I took the bus later that day I saw an Italian man make the sign of the cross just before going over it. I have no idea what he was praying for, but I quickly did the same.

We checked into the 5-star Hotel Caesar Augustus. The name comes from Emperor Caesar Augustus, who traded my grandparents’ native island of Ischia to the city of Naples for Capri. Caesar came once in a while to relax, but his stepson and successor, Tiberius, really put Capri on the map. Between 27 and 37 AD Tiberius made Capri the capital of the Roman Empire. His property, Villa Jovis, is on the other side of the island. Visitors can still see the ancient ruins. We didn’t go, because it’s a 45-minute hike from the center of town. Tiberius had crazy orgies. When he was finished with his ladies, instead of spooning them he hurled them off the cliff into the sea. What a sicko!

The 56-room Mediterranean retreat is right on the 1,000 foot cliff, and has arguably the best views in Capri. I’m not exaggerating when I say they are jaw dropping. My advice is to have a drink on the outdoor patio at sunset, even if you’re not staying there. You won’t be disappointed.

We had to wait until 3 p.m. for our room to be ready. That’s the official check-in time, and we weren’t the only ones without rooms. Fortunately the staff is very friendly, and internet was available for 6 euros an hour. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work on my laptop, despite a full signal -- and there wasn’t a tech person around to help. I didn’t really care, though, because I wasn’t there to check emails.

Mike and I got upgraded to a new suite, and yes it was sweet. The room was huge, with tiled floors, a king-size bed (it wasn’t particularly comfortable though, maybe because the sheets and bed were too new), a pull-out couch (which Mike called home, and said it was very comfortable), a walk-in closet and a modern bathroom. The shower had funky contraption doors, which I didn’t understand until I got in and turned on the water. When it started spraying all over my body and the floor from four jets on each side of the wall, I realized the doors had to be shut to form a cocoon around my body. My favorite part of the room was the yard, though -- I just sat out there and admired the view.

The food at the hotel was awesome. Most of it was simply prepared, but the ingredients were fresh and seasoned just right. We had dinner and breakfast at the hotel. The manager really did a good job running the dining room. I noticed how accommodating he was to all the guests, and made sure the young Italian waiters and busboys attended to every table. Our water glasses were never empty. We drank three bottles (I got up a few times to use the gents’ room).

In the restaurant I had another small-world moment. As we were eating I felt some eyes looking at me, and heard a woman say, "I know that guy. When I looked up my brain quickly went through its data base (as did hers, I’m sure). We realized simultaneously that we met on a LAX-SFO flight a few months ago. At times like that, it’s cool to run into Americans.

Breakfast was also excellent, and included in the rate. The best part is that we sat outside on the patio, and enjoyed the wonderful views.

The infinity pool at the Hotel Caesar Augustus rocks. It’s new, sleek, and when I lay down on the chair it looked like it was built into the horizon. The atmosphere around the pool would keep any straight guy happy. I couldn’t help notice all the hot European ladies hanging out -- and I do mean hanging out. Unfortunately they all had rings on their fingers, but there was more talent there than at Vegas’ Hard Rock Pool. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but let’s just say these were different kinds of sun worshipers. None of these girls had plastic surgery, and all were high class (not that the girls at the Hard Rock are not – please don’t send any nasty letters).

The only problems with the pool were that it was too cold, and it was difficult to nap because an annoying lady across from me kept talking really loud on her cellphones – yes, she had two! And neither one stopped ringing. When I complained, the hotel worker laughed. He said, "That’s the hotel owner’s wife, and she does that all the time." I said, "That’s Caesar’s wife?" I acted like I was serious, and the guy was about to give me the "you dumb American" look when I smiled. Hotel Caesar Augustus, 80071 Capri Anacapri, Via G. Orlandi, 4 Italy; tel.: 39-081-8373395.

I couldn’t nap, so I decided to go out and explore with Mike (that’s a better choice than sleeping anyway). We took a right out of the hotel, and quickly crossed the street before getting run over by crazy Italian drivers. They don’t slow down even when people are in the road. We checked out some of the touristy shops near San Michele in Anacapri. The most popular item to bring home from here is limoncello. It’s the island's classic after-dinner drink, and is made from the zest of lemons. Bottles come in many shapes and sizes, and make perfect gifts. Almost every store that sells limoncello offers samples, including homemade lemon and orange chocolate (my favorite). Limoncello di Capri, Via Capodimonte, 27; tel.: 081-8372927.

1,000 STEPS
Before the narrow roads were built, there was only one route between Marina Grande and Anacapri: a set of stairs carved into the mountain, built 2,000 years ago. They’re still there. There are approximately 800 steps, but most people refer to them as the 1,000 steps. The real name is Scalina Fenicia (Phoenician Stairway), but after walking down them, 1,000 steps is more appropriate. It took only 20 minutes, though I bet going up is a lot longer. I wasn’t about to find out, because it was so hot and sticky. The average temperature in Capri in August (the hottest month) is 74. February is the coldest, and averages 50. We must have hit a heat wave, because temps during our visit were in the high 80’s.

When we made it to the bottom I asked my "cousins" where to go for a swim. They suggested the other side of the island, or out in a boat. I asked for someplace closer. They said to walk to the end of the beach at Marina Grande, where the smooth stones are the smallest. We made our way around the sea of people, and jumped in the refreshing water. The water temperature was around 80, which is usual for August. In May the water temp is 64; in February it’s 57.

From there we were going to take the 100-year old funicular, but the workers were on strike that day (the Italians always seem to be striking). Instead we walked 10 minutes up another set of stairs to central Capri. We arrived at Piazza Umberto also known as the Piazzetta. This is the heart and soul of Capri. It’s a small, colorful square with a 17th-century baroque clock tower. This is where all the action takes place – especially at night. There are outdoor cafes, countless designer and ceramic shops, 5-star hotels, fine restaurants, discos and my personal favorite, gelaterias (gelato shops). We walked all around until we came to the very end of a path that had an incredible view of the Faraglioni -- limestone rocks that seem to rise out of the sea.

My cousins told us that for the best views of the island we should take the single- seat chairlift up to Monte Solaro. They knew I have a slight feat of heights, but they promised the chairs aren’t very high off the ground. They were right. The ride was enjoyable – that is, until it got steep. At the top we were 1,955 feet above sea level, and the drop was straight down. The panoramic views of the Gulf of Naples were so worth the price (6 euros = $7.30) for a roundtrip ticket; 4.50 e for one way). There is even a café and a bathroom for those who want to stay longer. There were all kinds of ancient Roman ruins, an added bonus. Instead of taking the chairlift down, I talked Mike into hiking down with me (it was a difficult sell). We passed only one couple on the path, but we both agreed the 45-minute hike was worth it. It was relaxing, and not very steep.

Before we left, my cousin Gennerino hooked us up with one of his guides, Raphael, on an island tour. This is the best way to see Capri. A typical tour takes two hours. Visitors can also rent a small boat on their own, but a local guide shows you the best spots. Raphael told us about the history, showed us all the points of interest -- and then some. We passed by the area where Tiberius threw his chicks into the sea, then went to a fascinating cave where we jumped out of the boat and walked up the built-in stairs. At the top we went through a dark tunnel. At the end we were treated to a spectacular view, and saw a rock formation that many think looks like the Virgin Mary. Later we saw the champagne hole, and went to a popular swimming cove. There was no trash where we swam, but we did see garbage everywhere else. That was my biggest disappointment. Raphael said it was not usually like that; only when the tide takes the trash from the mainland beaches. But the garbage did not detract from he highlight: checking out all the grottoes that made Capri famous.

We saw the red grotto, white, green grottoes (I bet you can’t find those without a guide), and of course the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto). The Blue Grotto was discovered by a Capri fisherman in 1822, and became famous in 1826 when a German writer described it. You can get to the Blue Grotto by land or boat. But to get into the cave during normal hours, visitors need to hop in a row boat. There were so many tour boats that we waited 30 minutes for a rowboat to pick us up.

Once in, our first stop was to pay the 8.50 euro fee. I realized later they didn’t give me change. They ripped me off, which I hear is common. The Blue Grotto is a total tourist trap, but it’s a must-see. Passengers need to lie down, because the cave opening is low, narrow and dangerous. Timing the waves is difficult, and if Mike had not laid down he would have been a dead man. Once inside, the cave opens up to 180 feet, with high ceilings and the most magnificent blue water that makes the long wait and being ripped off worth it. The color comes from sunrays through the waters as refracted light. The best time to see the light effects is between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m on a sunny day.

The other way to see the Blue Grotto without the crowds is to swim in. People can do this only before or after the boats start working (I think they work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). But I don’t recommend this, because it’s really dangerous. Not only is the current strong, but the rocks are sharp. My dad did it 10 years ago, and almost drowned. I wasn’t there, but my sister said that my mom was in the boat when she saw my dad floundering. She yelled to my dad, "Don’t do this to me Frank -- do you know how difficult and expensive it is to ship a body back to the States?" How funny was my mom?! It worked, though.

To see a 1-minute video of my trip to Capri, click this link and let it load. High speed should take about 1 minute; dial-up, 3 days.

Next week we finish our trip to Italy by visiting a very special city.

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet

*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Pictures From Capri




Ferry to Capri



Old Taxi




Fruit Stand


Marina Grande


Scenic Drive

On The Bus

Hotel Caesar Augustus

Hotel Patio


Hotel Food


View from Breakfast


Hotel Pool








Fantastic Shopping




Boat Tour


Green Grotto


Blue Grotto


Inside Blue Grotto


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Top five off-peak destinations for fall 2005
Post-Labor Day travel can be some of the most pleasant, and most inexpensive, of the year. Temperatures cool from their summer highs, airfare prices drop, and crowds thin. Whether you want to get away to the beach, a city, the countryside, or somewhere exotic, you can save a bundle. For fall 2005, our picks for the top five off-peak destinations are Belize, Bermuda, India, Ireland, and Montreal. Click Here To Read Article

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