I was sitting in a cubicle in New York City the first time I heard about Ischia. A co-worker at iVillage was just coo-coo for the place and as it turns out, she’s related to most of the people there. New Jersey-born Francesca would often (and I do mean often) talk about her annual trips to Ischia, the sun, the food, the language. But most of all it was the family–cousins, grandparents, second cousins, in-laws and every other combination of the Italian family tree–that she enjoyed visiting. They all live here and now I can see why.
Like its neighbor Capri, it’s lovely in every way you’d imagine an island in the Mediterranean to be. Pretty views, nice seafood, sandy beaches. But Ischia is most famous for its thermal baths. The one we visited is a terraced complex on the sea with more than 20 pools, all at different temperatures, all heated naturally. (The whole of Ischia is an old volcano which makes for not just hot pools but also rich soil for fabulous tomatoes and export-worthy lemons.) We even met up with Francesca for a delicious meal at one of her family’s favorite restaurants. And so it went. All weekend long Paul, Phoebe and I walked, talked, ate and enjoyed. But the most amusing part, as is often the case, was the journey.
Located off the western coast of Italy, you reach Ischia by ferry from Naples or Pozzuoli, an adventure in itself. We had reservations for ourselves and the car but weren’t sure where or how to collect the actual tickets once we reached the dock. Time to divide and conquer. So, receipt in hand, I hopped out as Paul inched the car toward the boat. Which boat, we didn’t know but forward is usually a good bet. Two ticket counters later, I found our tickets, jumped back in and pointed to the correct ferry. That’s when it left the dock. Sigh. But our disappointment was quickly followed by confusion then relief as dock workers immediately waved us on to another boat. It left an hour earlier than our original plan and may or may not be going directly to Ischia but there was no time for questions (and not a chance of backing up anyway) so we were off.
Only it’s trickier than it sounds. The boat is about half the size of Seattle’s ferries and the layout unique: one ramp on the left side, half a dozen lanes in the middle, only the back of the boat opens and it also closes. This makes for an interesting, if time-consuming, boarding process. Each car must complete a multi-level u-turn with a curve so tight that it often requires a 3-point turn. More confusing though, is the part where all passengers have to get out before the car is parked (once lined up, it’s too packed in to open the doors). So just as you pull onto the boat, feeling momentarily triumphant for a. finding the ferry b. securing the tickets and c. not missing the boat, orange-vested men swarm the car, motioning for you to get out. For a second, we thought they were going to park it for us. Some sort of grungy valet service? Not really, it’s a more of a grab the baby and go.
But once Phoebe and I found Paul again on the passenger deck above (an Ellis Island moment to be sure) we thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Glistening water, sunny skies and perfect views of nearby islands made for a surprising treat. And it’s a good thing because in our haste at the boarding ramp, neither of us brought the pacifier with us. Now that’s a real adventure.