Gardeners’ World

The problem with both Helen and I having proper cameras alongside our phones is that there are now so so many pics for me to choose from when writing a day up. Starting at 8am, as I did on Saturday, puts us at some risk of missing out on breakfast if I want to do it in a single sitting.

Well, food is too important for that. After our paralysis of choice on Friday, combined with the fact that food is free in our hotel, we took some time out from writing and getting ready for the day to go upstairs and see what there was to offer.

It was a great choice. We had a table next to the window looking into the Galleria below, and the breakfast room is full of buffet items. There are scrambled eggs and a mysterious (and cold) bean based dish; plates of cold meats and cheeses; and many, many, pastry goods both sweet and savoury. Plus mini-pizzas.

I loaded up on most of them. The sweet pastries are mostly full of custard, which gets my approval. Actually everything was really nice, including the fruit juice.

Refreshed, we went back to the room and I finished writing up Friday and we set out. Immediately upon leaving the hotel someone approaches us trying to hawk us, I dunno, a walking tour or some random souvenir or something. We kinda ignore him and he chastises me for being so unfriendly.

Molo Beverello is just past the castle, not far from the hotel. The bus from the airport had dropped us off there, and it’s where loads of boats go from. There’s a small ticket office just as we get into the complex but it seems to only be selling tickets for one of the companies, specifically the one whose next departure is 1230. We want the 1145 (it’s 1130 when we get there) so we carry on to the huge departure building in front of us.

There is no ticket office. It looks like a giant cruise ship terminal, because it is a giant cruise ship terminal, but we haven’t seen any boats any smaller. It’s mostly deserted with no useful signage. A man in a souvenir shop tells us the boat we want is outside and 500 metres to the left but somehow we still can’t even see that. With all this faffing it’s now about 1142 so we’ve obviously screwed up, and walk back to the earlier office for the 1230 anyway... and then, over there on the left, we spot the 1145. Andiamo!

Everyone boarding has tickets but we just rock up to the boarding area and ask if we can pay cash. Yes, we can, if we’re willing to pay a €5,00 per head premium. Fine, yes, just let us on. They do, but insist on taking my passport away from me. O...K...

Predictably, given how late we boarded, inside is very busy and there’s no chance of grabbing a window seat - not that the windows are great anyway. There’s no open deck here, just loads of seating and a snack bar at the back. We grab a pair of seats near the front and off we go. I’m twitchy and nervous - we haven’t actually paid for the trip yet, and I don’t have my passport. What’s going on?

Fifteen or so minutes later a man comes along with my passport and two tickets to Ischia, takes my money and gives us change. Hurrah! With that sorted we could now stand up and see what the small outdoor bit at the back is like.

It’s alright, actually.

There are two outdoor bits, just small areas out the back, one on each side. It’s very loud and windy and the trip is fairly bouncy, which I find great fun rather than perilous. The coastline of suburban Naples as we head out look pretty nice.

Back inside we go upstairs, where the windows are opaque. Ah well. There’s a TV on showing men holding foxes, and mountain goats running from predators. After 50-odd minutes we reach the first stop, Procida. There’s a very long and loud announcement in both Italian and English that we’re at Procida, the ship will continue to Ischia. Procida. Procida. Procida. Procida. Stay on for Ischia. This is Procida. Ship continues to Ischia. This is Procida. Yes, yes, we get it.

Ischia is only another 10 or so minutes away, at about 1pm. Everyone piles off and there are loads of taxis about though the drivers aren’t aggressively trying to get people in. Our first plan is to go buy tickets for the return boat, since we want the last one of the day that goes back to Beverello (there’s another Napoli port but it’s much much less convenient), and given how crowded things are we want to ensure we get our space.

One street behind the port is the bus station. It is absolutely crazily busy, well over a hundred people waiting noisily. This totally puts us off getting a bus so sod it, let’s go find an ATM and get a cab. Having not seen an ATM yet we walk around the edge of the harbour towards a few shops and bars and stuff.

A bottle of water, some cash, and we go to the nearest cab rank. I ask how much to the Giardini la Mortella and he wants €25,00. Apparently there’s no haggling, especially when he shows a rate card. Well we’re not bloody paying that much. Back to the bus station!

Handily, the bus station is now much much emptier. At the ticket desk we buy 4 tickets, individual ones which get validated per journey. They are €1,50 each. Six euros vs fifty euros, no real argument there!

We can get buses 1, 2 or CS. By the time a 2 turns up there are loads of people again albeit fewer than before. Many of them are walking all over the road getting in the way of the buses who are trying to take their places at the stop. Once the chaos subsides it’s another unpleasantly crowded journey, we’re crammed in between the front and centre doors. Having been advised to ask the driver to let us know where to get off, upon boarding I’d said la fermata per giardini la mortella per favore?. He didn’t even look at us, and just said si. OK then.

Ischia has loads of buses, many of them just plying the circular coastal route. This involves climbing steeply out of Ischia, going past a bunch of hotels, then descending into the next town and port. We repeat this 3 or 4 times for the ~7km ride, midway through which the guy in a seat next to Helen gets off. We can both squeeze into the space, but offer it to a pensionable age German woman who we thought was eyeing it up. No, she says, she’s just desperately trying to fight through the crowds to validate her ticket at the machine near the front. Seriously, no-one is validating tickets on this thing and an insistence on doing so seems like phenomenally stereotypical German behaviour, which we very much admire.

Following on with Google maps we know exactly where to get off - just past the sign to the gardens, no shit - and a short walk down a pavement-free road gets us to where we want to be.

This, as I have said several times now, is Giardini la Mortella. It’s the centrepiece attraction of the Christmas present aspect of this trip, the reason I brought us to Naples. Italy is full of botanical gardens and this is, so I read, one of the best in the country if not Europe or indeed the world. Fingers crossed it lives up to that reputation.

We pay to get in and get maps, then get out the real cameras and start wandering.

I mean, I dunno what to say here really. There’s just loads of plants and stuff. Helen absolutely fucking loves it, which is the main thing. The weather is spectacular, which helps.

It’s a real garden, this. What I mean is that rather than being attached to a university or some botanical society or whatever, the reason this garden exists is because it was lovingly made by the wife of a famous English composer when they lived here. Where there are defined regions it’s because she obviously though “I want a pond here”, “I want some seating here” rather than a fairly sterile, scientifically organised HERE IS THE EUROPEAN PLANTS ZONE or what have you.

On what I’ll refer to as “ground level”, being the same elevation as the entrance, after a few minutes you come to this huge pond with a fountain. In here there are a bunch of fish and lots of frogs. Lots and lots and lots of frogs. Frogs making lots and lots of noise.

Here, look at all these frogs.

They are hilarious loud. Most of them are staying still and just shouting their head off, though a few are hopping about.

We stand there for ages, pretty transfixed by the noise. It’s ace. Once we manage to pull ourselves a way we pop to the little shop, where none of the goods take our fancy but we enjoy talking to Lori, the caged parrot.

This is Lori. We say ciao Lori and she comes back us with by saying her own name. In fact, she makes a load of sounds and it’s cute and funny. I’m most impressed when I point a camera at her and she imitates, I shit you not, the sound of a camera acquiring focus and then the shutter. Remarkable.

Leaving the shop, it’s time for us to start exploring where the paths leading upwards take us. We are yet to even so much as glance at the maps we got on entry, they went straight into our pockets, so at this point we’ve no real clue as to the real extent of the gardens as a whole.

Naturally, we do that thing where we take photos of the same things as before, just from slightly different angles. Like everyone does.

The paths go up, and up, and up, and up. This place is absolutely enormous. There are dual paths throughout, some stepped and some ramped. 2 or 3 levels up there’s an orchid house that costs €1,00 to enter, next to the cafe.

I suck at taking pictures of orchids.

This garden is huge, and beautiful.

Once we’re up, I dunno, 6 or 7 levels we start to get glorious panoramic views of nearby Florio (I think) and other parts of the island.

There is a monument to the couple who lived here. Specifically there’s a rock in which the ashes of William Walton are kept, with a dedication from his wife Susana. I think I’ve got that right.

In the summer they host concerts here outdoors, because every giant hillside garden needs a Greek theatre with a stunning backdrop.

There are buildings too, with, like, ferns and statues and other stuff in, plus the odd decorative thing on the paths.

Did I mention the views yet?

At the very top, honestly and for true, there’s another pond full of noisy-ass frogs.

What our garden at home needs, we both agree (for once), is noisy-ass frogs. They are awesome. Around the corner from this pond we sit and take a break to drink water, for Helen to vape, and just generally have a rest from all the ascending in sunshine.

I’m told to guard a bag while she goes to snap the frogs, and as she stands there for 3 minutes or so they get increasingly loud. I shoot a “what the fuck have you done?” glance, getting back a big shoulder shrug.

Here, look at this noisy-ass frog.

This is the top of the garden, but not the end. No, it turns out that there are a few more bits to descend from this summit. Eesh. Also there’s a cat, who’s too scared to come say hello.

There’s not actually much left, just a couple more bits including this fake pond full of blue gravel made to look like water.

OK that’s it, we’re done here I think. It’s been a good couple of hours in the sun and everything was great, but we’re both hungry and with public transport being somewhat comedic we’re wanting to get a bus back to the port with plenty of time to have something to eat and drink before the boat.

Oh, hang on, on the way back down there’s that aviary we didn’t visit on the way up. Let’s go look at birds.

There’s loads of, I dunno, birds. Some finches and parrots and budgies and tons I don’t recognise. Look at him!

Many of my pics are of birds facing the wrong way, or grooming themselves a split-second after staring straight at me.

Like this parrot, who’s so colourful and fluffy and small that it just looks like a toy. Just like all its mates.

Stop facing away from me!

Helen almost gets a wonderful picture of one of the parrots, only to be photobombed by a blurry finch. D’oh.

Anyway, we’re off. Outside we’re offered a taxi. At your prices mate? No thanks. We walk back up to the bus stop, which is on a busy road without pavements, just around a blind corner. Helen forgets her left from right and almost has a serious mischief when trying to cross the road. Careful now!

There are already people waiting for the bus, which we take as a good sign that perhaps one is imminent. It is not. We end up waiting 10 or so minutes, by which time there are, like, 12 of us waiting to get on. Thankfully when it does arrive the bus isn’t so crowded as on the way out. And, as usual, a few stops into the journey the person seated closest to Helen buggers off and she gets the seat. This has happened on EVERY SINGLE BIT OF PUBLIC TRANSPORT so far. How is she so lucky?

It’s a quick ride back to the port. There’s a street lining the side of the harbour that’s full of restaurants, but not being a time of day when Italians eat, half of them are shut and the others are very empty. We walk all the way to the end, past another couple of timid cats.

Doubling back we go to the busiest place near the start of the road and order pizza and beer and wine, while watching the boats come and go.

My pizza is a rolled up pizza that’s not a calzone. Can’t remember its name now. Bagarozzo maybe? I could look it up I suppose. Anyway it looked like this, and was bloody delicious.

Helen’s was basically exactly the same, just not rolled up, i.e. with much the same toppings as I had fillings.

We had time to kill before our ferry back so, sod it, un altro vino e un altra birra per favore. Slightly disappointed that the beer is German but whatever.

We find it moderately tricky to get il conto but once it arrives they take our money quickly. It’s 20-odd minutes until the ferry back, so we stroll round the harbour and join the queue to get on. It feels pretty crowded, but actually there is plenty of space once we’re onboard. What’s more, it’s a wholly different design of boat, being a different company ‘n that. There is a large open deck out back with seats and plenty of places to sit. We stand around, waiting for other arriving boats to get out of our damn way before setting sail.

Turning around, there are lovely views of Ischia behind us.

Also there’s a MOBILE BEER GUY. Get in! Here’s a bloke wandering around carrying a tray full of drinks, selling bottles of Peroni and €5,00 a pop. We’ll have two of them before we even leave the harbour, ta. This pleases us both no end.

Over there is where we ate.

This is a castle on its own little piece of rock, or peninsula, or something, just around from the town. Pretty spectacular setting.

Just after mobile beer guy there’s mobile pizza guy, though we’re not hungry so don’t partake. The journey is much quicker than on the way out, especially as we don’t stop at Procida. Throughout it all I’m clutching our beers as we vacillate between sitting down and standing out back on deck when nice things appear on the horizon or closer.

Taken through a filthy window with my phone while Helen was on deck with her real camera.

This boat ride is ace. We’d quite like to use this company again, but timetables and destinations are basically against us going anywhere except Ischia, which we’re not really keen on doing. Ho hum.

As we approach Naples we can see all the way over to Sorrento and Capri to our right, with the city on our left and a load of shipbuilding works ahead of us. Oh, and some volcano.

Coming into port, hundreds of seagulls tag a ride in our slipstream. Helen is absolutely delighted by this, it’s seemingly the highlight of her day over and above the gardens.

We’re welcome into Molo Beverello by a lighthouse and ... Jesus?

And then we’re back, next to Castel Nuovo.

As we walk around its outside we notice a large group of people waiting just inside the entrance to the inner courtyard, as if A Happening is happening. So we go and loiter at the rear of the group, unable to figure out what the deal is. There’s a sound stage with music stands and some seating so perhaps a classical music gig or summat? I recall that throughout May Naples has this kind of Open House thing going on, with loads of bits of the city opened up that aren’t usually. But the internet isn’t forthcoming about exactly what’s going on here and it doesn’t really matter since neither of us want to go to a gig.

So, back to the hotel then. Having eschewed any supermarket visits we figure there’s enough nightcap material in the room even though it’s only 8pm. Unfortunately they’ve not replenished the mini-bar so that’s not as true as it might have been. However, the hotel has a bar, so let’s go there.

Not only does it have a bar, it has a balcony on which we can sit and enjoy the noises from below while drinking a beer and a wine, and eating unbidden free savoury pastries. I didn’t ask for these and I’m not hungry, but by god I’m going to eat them.

I ask for another beer to take back to the room, and it takes an age to serve because the lady insists on pouring the bottle into my glass... badly, very badly. But hey, a beer is a beer. In our room we load all the photos onto my iPad and browse them, and I get incredibly tired incredibly quickly. But unlike on Friday, I have the wisdom not to open another drink in this state. More sensibly, I opt to put one headphone in and then fall asleep within the first 30-odd seconds of a 2 hour wrestling podcast.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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