Napoleonic forts and being “walked to death”

Yesterday it was my birthday, people! I am now 30! Ta daaaaaa! Goodbye 20s. I enjoyed you but I can honestly say I’m looking forward to whatever my 30s will bring.

To commemorate entering a new decade, Danda and I had wanted to spend the day on Ischia but for various reasons, it wouldn’t really have worked so we went for a walk instead. A really really long walk. Danda actually said he thought I was trying to “walk him to death”.

We headed down to the lighthouse where we had watched the sunset on our first day and found the beginning of the Sentiero dei Fortini, the walk of the old forts. The walk stops at five of the Roman forts that were rebuilt during the Napoleonic wars and finishes at the Grotta Azzura, the infamous Blue Grotto.

Before heading out, we had a coffee and it’s probably the prettiest place I’ve ever had a coffee!

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The views on the walk were literally amazing. I was loving every second of being out under the huge sky, no-one else around, the wild rock faces and vegetation refusing to bow to the human desire to tame it. The carved steps and paths were the most the island would allow.

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The majority of the walk was just steps up and down! At this point, Danda described it as an “endurance test” that was “not fun anymore.”

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Napoleonic forts en route

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Steps…

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More steps…

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Danda had resigned himself to his fate of being “walked to death” and was resolutely marching on ahead by this point.

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Steps to nowhere

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Taking a break in the last fort

A few hours later, we reached the Grotta Azzura and decided to do the tourist thing and look inside. It was quite pretty, I’ll admit, but why it is the most famous sight on the island, I’m not sure.

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Distinctly knackered after all the walking, we then headed back to Anacapri and changed for dinner at my favourite restaurant from our last visit, Aurora.

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A little pre-dinner nibble of a kind of parmigiana bite

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Danda’s tomato soup and my parmigiana

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Danda’s shrimp three ways

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My linguine with lobster and asparagus

My dessert at Aurora was an absolute triumph. It was described as a “sphere of chocolate” which I immediately ordered because it said chocolate but I had no actual idea what was about to happen.

The waitress arrived and told me to get my camera ready. Obediently I watched and waited while this happened.

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She poured chocolate sauce over a gold and white ball….

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…and I realised that the sauce was warm and it was melting the gold ball! It. Was. Amazing. Inside was a hazelnut ice cream and soft meringue and chocolate crunchy balls. It was fabulous. I stuffed it in my face faster than I thought possible!

Bursting at the seams, we made our way back up to Anacapri and collapsed into a long-trek-and-chocolate-dessert induced coma.

Pretty good birthday, as birthdays go.

The long road to Tiberius’ palace

The road to Tiberius’ palace has taken us a long time. Two years ago, Danda and I decided to walk to Tiberius’ palace and then have dinner at a restaurant called Ristorante Savardina da Eduorda that was up on the hill near the palace. Without placing blame anywhere specific, one of us (not me) wanted to watch the football so we didn’t set out til very late afternoon. By the time we got near the ruins, a friendly local told us they were closed so we climbed up to a nearby viewpoint, took pictures then headed to the restaurant. The restaurant was obviously closed. We then found what is now my favourite restaurant in the world, Aurora, and ate maybe the best meal I’ve ever had.

Finding Aurora was amazing but we’ve always felt the loss of not getting to Tiberius’ palace. So today was the day.

I woke a little earlier than Danda and went for a run to explore.

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I followed a little path which skirted round the edge of the cliffs then went inland and climbed a few really steep hills til I was in amongst the beautiful sloping vineyards.

When I returned, no-one was about so I pottered amongst the lemon and orange trees and did a bit of yoga in the morning sun. Once I had woken Danda, he wanted to get moving too so we went for a swim.

By the time we went for breakfast, an hour and a half after waking, I was ravenous! We had one of everything, even the lemon cake with nutella spread on it, cause everyone knows you need one of those for breakfast.

We were fuelled up and ready to go for our first adventure, a chairlift ride up to Monte Solara, the highest point on this side of the island. It was eerily quiet, swinging quite low above the gardens and villas of the local Caprese people, who were gardening or eating bread and olives on their patios. Before Danda’s vertigo made him too nervous, we were at the top and found a chair swing to lounge in whilst drinking cappuccino and doing absolutely nothing.

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Once this mission was complete, it was time to right the wrong of two years ago and go to Tiberius’ ruined palace. After returning down the mountainside in the chairlift, we headed toward the main square to get the bus to Capri town. We walked for about ten minutes before we realised we must have gone the wrong way. We figured we’d just keep going til we saw a bus stop.

Forty five minutes later, we arrived in Capri town, having realised that there were no bus stops! We headed straight for our favourite cafe from our last trip, only to see that it was shut down so we kept walking past it, on the road to the ruins.

As we headed up, we saw the restaurant we had tried to visit last time and would you believe it? Chiuso, again! Always closed.

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We’re smiling but we’re crying inside. One day this bloody restaurant will be open!

On we went, navigating a rocky path among the forest of eucalyptus, strawberry trees and asparagus until we saw some bricks looming up out of the vegetation ahead.

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We had finally reached Tiberius’ palace! It was obviously amazing to walk around, knowing that Tiberius, in 27AD had walked around here too, running the Roman empire from this island and throwing his enemies from the highest point, known as Tiberius’ Leap.

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After walking the length of the island, we were pretty knackered so headed back into Capri town for a lunch of parmigiana and Caprese salad with a view over the Marina Grande.

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Tastiest tomatoes ever.

The rest of the day consisted of lazing about reading a book about the Villa San Michele that we visited yesterday and napping before dinner at a nearby restaurant, of sea bream caught this morning in an amazing white wine sauce with potatoes and basil.

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The waiter brought us the dish of potatoes and the fish cooked whole and proceeded to debone and portion it up and plate it for us. Fabulous.

It was the best meal we’ve eaten so far. Stuffed and ready for bed, we returned to the hotel and sat out looking at the stars to finish off our wonderful but tiring day!

Plane. Bus. Boat. Funicolare. Bus. AKA the best present ever in the world ever

Yesterday morning, at the crack of dawn, instead of waking up and getting ready for work, as I had expected to be doing, Danda told me that we were running away for a week to Capri!

Best. Surprise. Present. Ever.

When we went to Italy two years ago, we spent a few short days on Capri and, when we left, I left a bit of my heart there and took with me a daydream of returning to live out my days in the fashion of Gracie Fields, in a villa on Capri.

Unfortunately we were not returning forever, just for a week. So after a flight to Naples, a bus across Naples to the port, a boat to Capri, a funicolare up the hill and a bus out to Anacapri, we were in our new home for the week.

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View of lemon and orange trees from the patio outside our room

Anacapri is the town on the other side of the island that we never got to when we last came to Capri. I’d heard loads about a place called the Villa San Michele in Anacapri so after putting our bags down in the room, we headed straight there.

There’s quite an interesting story behind it which basically goes like this…. when Tiberius was using the island as his base from which to rule the Roman Empire, he had 12 imperial palaces. The Villa San Michele was one of these but fell into disrepair in later years. A Swedish doctor called Axel Munthe bought the land and, while building the house that currently stands there, found all kinds of Roman ruins and paraphernalia. These bits and pieces now adorn the house. His long-standing relationship with the Swedish queen Victoria mostly took place here and his book, The Story of San Michele, was an international bestseller. (I now have a copy of this book and can’t wait to read it.)

The house is a wonder and the gardens even more so.

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Me, pretending it is my garden!

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Phenomenal views on a walk through the gardens

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Random Eygptian sphinx overlooking Capri from the Villa San Michele

After all the travelling and walking, we decided it was time to have our first meal in Italy and went for the obvious, pizza.

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It was pretty epic pizza, as pizza goes. Made in a wood fired oven and covered generously with oregano, my favourite ingredient to cook with.

Then, obviously, a helping of gelato while wandered around Anacapri.

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After returning to the nine-roomed boutique hotel we’re staying in, for a quick swim, we dressed warmly and walked to the furthest out point on this side of the island, the lighthouse, to watch the sunset.

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After killing a bit of time pottering about on the rocks looking at the sea, we headed to a little wine bar near to the lighthouse for a spot of dinner with a view….

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…and waited for the sun to set over the sea.

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Thus concludes day number one of the surprise holiday.

Apart from this….

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…a chip pizza. Make of it what you will.

More lunchbreak adventures

Yes, I know! Another post two seconds later! I figured I might as well keep going if I’m in the moment.

This blue plaque I managed to find on my lunch break during a shift at Eltham Palace which, by the way, is looking amazing after its refurbishment.

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It is the plaque for Richard Jeffries, a naturalist and author, who’s childrens books are still read today (there is, in fact, a society dedicated to the appreciation of his books).

STATS
BLUE PLAQUE COUNT – 33
TOTAL MILES RUN – 16.8

Alternative plaque spotting

Morning all! I’m just doing a little post about a visit I made last month to Port Sunlight. I won’t go into the history as my regular guest blogger did that in his fascinating post on the unusual town. I will show you the plaques I saw, to add to my plaque counting game.

First up, Ringo Starr’s first appearance with the Beatles…

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…and second, this fabulous one, which is a brand new one the council have put up. It’s so new, you probably won’t find it in any guides etc.

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STATS
BLUE PLAQUE COUNT – 32
MILES RUN – 14.9

That time when I did a half marathon

Well! Who would’ve thunk it?! The me of six months ago certainly wouldn’t have. But yes. It happened. Ladies and gentlemen, I ran a half marathon!

Fortunately, I had done the distance in my long run the week before so I wasn’t worried about whether I could do it. I guess my nervousness came from the officialness of the whole occasion. Rather than just me pottering along the river by myself for 6.5 miles then turning back around for home, there was more ceremony about this, more people. More people to see me fall over or talk aloud to myself (a thing I do often whilst running) or losing my running ‘form’ through achy-leg-ness.

My nervousness about trying to do everything right before hand (stay hydrated, get a good night’s sleep, don’t exert oneself) kept me awake a bit, defeating the very object of what I was trying to do. Thankfully that didn’t seem to affect me too much.

Off I went, to the starting point, for the third wave of runners (first is for fastees, second wave for medium-speed, third for slowees) and got my groove on. It is a very slow groove but that is how my groove is. It’s slow but continuous. No run-walking for me, thank you!

Mile 1 was pleasant enough, chitchatting and marvelling at the lady in front of me who genuinely looked like she was walking. I was puzzled by how she could be walking yet in front of me!

Mile 2 was the first time I noticed a mile marker and immediately my mind clicked into LongRun mode. I started portioning the thing up. One sixth done already! I said to myself. One sixth done. Easy.

Miles 3 to 7 were fairly uneventful in that I just portioned up time again. One quarter done. Half done. Five sixths.

Mile 7 to 8 I could swear I saw a tiny tiny horse in a field with people around it acting as they would towards a dog. But I stared and stared and was sure it was a tiny tiny horse. At this point my thoughts started to get away from me slightly. I felt like there was still a mountain of time to go. I was just past half way but it’s not the home straight until about three quarters, in my mind.

So I pressed forward, feet planting down each time, contemplating the mileage I still had to cover. I spotted a lady in a red top in front and kept my eyes looking up and forward and on her top. And while I thought and thought and wanted to sit down, my legs kept going, and I realised something. No matter what’s going around in your brain, your legs know better. So even if you’re sunk in the deepest despair, they will keep going.

I’ve always known that running long distances is a mental thing but it became even more apparent at mile 7.5 while having these thoughts, that your body can usually always do it. It’s whether your mind wins or your legs win.

Example conversation my mind and legs were having at this point.

Mind: “Oo, sitting down, hey? That would be nice.”
Legs: “Yeh. We’re not so bothered. We’re fine with the running. We like it. It makes us feel strong.”
Mind: “Yes, I know. But we’re not trying to prove anything to anyone. We did 13 miles last week. We know we can. If you wanna sit down, don’t beat yourself up about it.”
Legs: “Yeh, maybe. But not yet. Just shut up and let us do our thing for a bit.”
Mind: “But legs! I WANT to sit down! Pleeeeeeease….. oo! Mile 8! Good one. Five miles to go.”

You see? The legs know best. Between mile 8 and 9 wasn’t my finest hour. I felt like the home straight feeling could only kick in at mile 9 so I ran in a kind of mental limbo where I didn’t allow myself to indulge in home-straight feelings yet I didn’t feel the desire to sit down that I had at mile 7.

Mile 9 kicked in and my brain relaxed a bit. I kept checking how my body and legs felt and there was nothing to worry about. To keep my attention on my surroundings rather than the finish line, still 4 miles off, I greeted the things around me.

“Hello swans,” I muttered under my breath whilst looking out to the river. “Hello, field. Hello Eygptian geese. Hello trees. Hello other runners. Hello cheering spectators. Hello rowers.” And so on until there was nothing else to greet and mile 10 was upon me.

Three miles to go. Eeeeeasy. Only about half an hour of running to go. No big deal. Now 29 minutes. Now 28. O god. Stop counting. It’s not helping.

I watched the runners around me, some run-walking by this point, and congratulated myself that I had not stopped to walk at all. IT’S RUNNING OR NOTHING! I promised. Digging around in my pocket, I found a little snack which I practically inhaled then had trouble working out how to swallow as breathing heavily and closing one’s mouth to swallow need careful organisation.

Suddenly, despite the little hint of despair that threatened to take hold somewhere in my chest and destroy me, the eating had distracted me for long enough so that I only had a mile and a half to go. Them legs sure do know what to do if you leave em to it and stop interrupting with all your thoughts of sitting down.

My heart lifted as I saw we were nearing our start point and I allowed myself to feel relieved. Through the park, into the passage under the road and turn the corner. 400 metres to go. As I plodded heavily toward the finish line, a voice full of the joys of spring sounded behind me and I felt a slap on my bum.

“Don’t let me catch you!” the woman with the 2hour 30min marker said. I had no idea I was in front of her. I’d thought I was far slower than 2 hours 30. The shock of it put fire into my bones and I shot off towards the finish, passing two people right before the line and finishing 13 seconds under 2:30.

It was very, very exciting to finish. Also very exciting to have done it. And very exciting to be able to walk afterwards. Actually, I ran to work the next morning and felt ok. So yes, little legs. It appears you really did know best.

Lunch break plaques

Hello everyone! Sorry I’ve been so absent. I have no valid excuse apart from ‘I’ve been reading some really good books that required all my spare time and Masterchef recently started again.’ Feeble. Sorry.

Anyway, I was on a lunch break from work the other day when I finally decised to capitalise on the amazing location and go get some biggies. The area is literally teeming with the ghosts of historically important figures and discoveries.

(I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t going fast at all. I mean, I was shuffle-walking at best but I’m counting that, ok?)

First up….

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…. a self-acclaimed blue plaque that I was sceptical about but it was actually listed in my book so I’ll let it in. Lillie Langtry was an actress who among other things, was one of Edward VII’s favourites and was the first celebrity to be paid to advertise products (Pears soap, in case you’re interested).

Second…..

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I found George Bentham further down the road. My intellectual jealousy prevents me from listing just how much of a child genius he was but suffice to say, he could read Latin, French, German, Russian and Swedish before he was 10. Before he was 10. Anyway, he devoted his energies to botany later, spending a lot of time in Kew Gardens. He was also Jeremy Bentham’s nephew. Well done, Sir, for being ridiculously clever.

Third up….

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Twice Columbian president, Alfonso Lopez-Pumarejo (1886-1959) was further down the same road and this was the address he used when serving as an Ambassador to the Court of St. James. He served during WWII and joined the Allied Forces then represented Colombia at the UN.

A man came out of this house as I was passing and dropped his gloves on the floor. I ran after him for quite a way because he had earphones in and gave him the gloves back, in the meantime spotting this little plaque.

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Mr Campbell-Bannerman, everyone! Another head of state, this time the UK Prime Minister during 1906-8. He was described as ‘a jolly, lazy sort of man with a good dose of sense.’ Sounds like my kinda person. Jolly. Lazy. Interesting factoid for you, he was the last Prime Minister to die in office. Nice house, Mr. C. B. Very nice house.

And that’s your lot, people. I’ve a few other plaques and my half marathon to write up so let’s hope this ‘spurt’ of energy keeps up and I get it to you soon.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

STATS
TOTAL MILES RUN – 14.8
BLUE PLAQUE COUNT – 30

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