Hear the word `beautiful' whispered in 10 languages
MY ROUGH GUIDE
Sunday 09 August 1998
During the day, tourists pay for boats to take them into the Blue Grotto, on the Italian island of Capri. In the early mornings and late afternoons, however, the young, poor and aquatically- inclined swim through the mouth of the grotto for free. The Grotta Azzurra is a marvel; a sea cave filled with water that, by a miracle of reflection and refraction, glows a luminous, robin's-egg blue. After the last boat has left, the young travellers splash their way in, and the semi-darkness echoes with the sound of "beautiful" and "incredible" being whispered in 10 languages. Although it is a very short distance from the shore into the cave, only good swimmers should attempt this.
The only division between the spectators and the participants at the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, is a literal, and figurative, willingness to jump a fence. It is sort of like going to a rugby match and knowing that, if you have the stomach for it, you can walk out on to the pitch and play. La Fiesta de San Fermin, aka the Running of the Bulls, takes place every year from 7 to 13 July. The actual running of the six bulls and eight steers through the streets takes place every morning at 8am and lasts only three or four minutes. But the atmosphere of danger, excitement, and, finally, relief generated by the running lasts all day and all night, and powers a massive party that often lasts until the next thundering herd hits the street. If you go to Pamplona, go early. The Fiesta officially starts at noon on 7 July (get to Pamplona at least a day early) and the first running is on the morning of 8 July. Try to go during the week; impossibly large and drunk crowds make the weekend atmosphere a bit rough.
Favourite village at night
If there is a more beautiful village in Italy than San Gimignano, I have yet to encounter it. The vast majority of the town is still contained within its ancient walls, and since the entire town has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site, it is likely to stay that way. There are a fair few tourists during the day, but when the sun goes down, and the swallows are skimming the streets at waist level, and the local families come out on to their balconies and porches to enjoy the cool of the twilight, one gets the feeling that things were not so very different 100, or even 500, years ago.
Best place to be penniless
The main beach in Cannes has two small public bathing areas at either end, and a large section of private hotel beaches in the middle. As soon as one crosses the boundary from public to private beach, by some miracle one's fellow bathers become much thinner, seem to be required to wear large amounts of gold jewellery about their wrists and necks, and also seem to darken by about three shades. Be that as it may, Cannes has a fine hostel within easy walking distance of the beach, and there are just enough cheap restaurants, bakeries and food stores to allow the non-wealthy to keep body and soul together. And the beach, the sun, the waterfront flower gardens and the Mediterranean are simply beautiful - no matter what one pays for a room.
Don't forget to bring
A lock and a chain to secure your luggage or backpack on trains. A spoon. A little flashlight to hang on your keychain, right next to the little Swiss army knife. A card with all of the international telephone access codes and country codes. A copy of the first page of your passport (leave one at home, too).
Do forget to bring
Too many clothes. Any shoe with a heel higher than 2cm. Preconceptions of any sort. Drugs of any sort.
Fly to Naples for Capri, Madrid for Pamplona, Pisa for San Gimignano, and Nice for Cannes.
British Airways (tel: 0345 222 111) operates two flights per day to Naples, seven per day to Madrid, three per day to Pisa, and four per day to Nice. All flights depart from London Gatwick. Other companies offering flights to these cities include Alitalia (tel: 0171-602 7111), Air France (tel: 0181-742 6600) and Iberia (tel: 0171-830 0011).
Most people visit San Gimignano from Florence. There is no train service to the village, but there are fast and frequent coaches.
Capri can be reached most easily from Naples and many ferries and hydrofoils connect the island to the mainland each day.
Pamplona is a four-hour train journey from the Spanish capital, Madrid.
About eight trains a day run between Nice and Cannes. A similar number of trains connect Marseilles to the coastal resort, too.
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