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On my recent trip to Anacapri, the western and quieter side of the Isle of Capri, I set out one morning for the infamous Grotta Azzurra.  I admit I knew little about the grotto, but since I’d heard of it, it must surely be worth seeing. 

The advantage of staying in Anacapri was that I could walk there rather than take a bus, taxi or boat from Marina Grande in Capri.  It was a long walk and it was off-season, which meant that I barely encountered another soul.  In fact, I came across more dogs than people.  There seem to be a lot of dogs on the island and many roam freely. 

The vistas along my walk were beyond stunning and I took my time, snapping photograph and after photograph, though knowing a camera could never see what my eyes could.

Almost an hour later, I reached the grotto and climbed down the steps to where I could get a rowboat to take me inside.  Most people were arriving on the boat from Marina Grande and they transferred directly from that boat to the smaller rowboats.  I was the only one who waited at the Anacapri stairs and it took a long time for me to coax a boatman over to me–perhaps because I was alone (i.e., less profitable).

Finally a man took mercy on me and helped me into the rocking boat.  The boatman introduced himself as Marco.  He then informed me the visit would cost 11 euros and if I liked his service…  He left the sentence unfinished, knowing I had received the message loud and clear.

Marco instructed me to lay down flat in the back of the boat as we approached the narrow opening of the grotto.   It reminded me of spelunking, when I had to squeeze through an opening called the birth canal.  (The spelunking adventure, though, had been free.)

Laying down his oars, reminding me again–down, flat–Marco tugged on chains attached to the sides of the cave and pulled us over the swell at the mouth of grotto and inside.  I was allowed to sit up now and when I did, for the first time in my life, I saw BLUE.  I didn’t know till then that I had never seen blue before.  That idea had been forming in my mind all along the coast-hugging road on my way to the grotto, but now I was utterly convinced.

The blue was otherworldly, a light coming from below and casting everything in an ethereal glow.  Water slapped against the sides of the boat while Marco began to sing something softly, unintelligibly–all of which might have been moving were it not negated by the giggling of Japanese tourists in three other boats in the cave, which magnified every sound.

Grotta Azzurra

And yet it was gorgeous.  Marco paddled us around in circles a few times and I took the obligatory pictures which, again, I knew would never begin to capture it.  The tour lasted five minutes, no more.  For just 11 euros.

My guide did not enlighten me on what made the water inside the cave so blue, what made it glow so.  Though I knew he spoke English, he barely said a word to me, and I gave him a couple of euros extra anyway.

I wanted to go over to the other side of the island, so he managed to get me on the boat with the big Japanese tour group going back to Marina Grande.  Another 11 euros.

Back at the hotel, the proprietess told me what made the water so blue (daylight enters through an opening below the grotto and is reflected up –, and I wondered to myself why Marco didn’t tell me at least that much–to add to his “service.”  If I’m honest, I was a bit disgruntled.

Over dinner that night, thinking about my day, I debated with myself if the five-minute visit was worth all the money.  After all, I’d also hiked up to Villa Jovis, the spectacular ruins of the villa built by Emperor Augustus and last lived in by Tiberius. 

Villa Jovis

I spent an hour there and could have lingered longer were I not famished.  The entry fee was a mere 2 euros.

In the end, I decided the Grotta Azzurra was worthwhile in the way that the major attraction of any place usually is.  I may never get to Capri again, they know that, and that fact alone seems to warrant the hefty admission price.  There’s nothing new to be learned here–this is the case at virtually every famous attraction in the world.

A less generous traveler would label the grotto a tourist trap, but I’m not inclined to be so harsh.  Had I not visited its major attraction, I would have gone home feeling like I’d missed out–a worse feeling than being ripped off.  After all, Capri–like many places we visit–relies on tourism dollars and who am I to quibble?  I’m not rich, but I had traveled all the way from New York to this fairly remote place and complaining would have seemed terribly petty.

Satisfied, I poured another glass of wine from the carafe I’d ordered, a carafe, incidentally, that cost only 8 euros.

Oldies but Goodies

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