Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ischia: Festival, Food and Fireworks

Sunset over Ischia Ponte
Ischia, an island west of Naples, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, is also known as L'Isola Verde, or the Green Island, as it is largely mountainous, with the highest peak, Mount Epomeo, reaching nearly 800 meters. Ischia is often overlooked by many travelers, who choose instead to go to the nearby island of Capri, but it's a much better choice for those wanting to spend more than a day on a beautiful island. There's a lot to do and see in Ischia! One of the major attractions in Ischia is the thermal baths that are fueled by Mount Epomeo, a dormant volcano. These baths are most often used by Europeans and Asians, who appreciate their therapeutic benefits. In an upcoming post, I'll share my experiences at one of the thermal bath parks on the island.

One of the first things I did after getting settled in my B&B was to take a bus ride around the entire island. This is possible for a cost of @ 2 euros, and takes about 90 minutes. At Ischia Porto, there are a variety of buses to take you to other parts of the island, and two lines that complete a circular route of the entire island. I wanted to see what the other cities might have to offer, and I quickly realized that it would take much longer than a week to explore all the sights that interested me. 

For lunch that day, I had a "salad from the sea," which turned out to be a real feast, with shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari and several other kinds of fish, mixed in with radicchio, tomatoes, olive oil and lemon juice.  It was really tasty and cost only 7 euros!
Insalata di Mare
On the first night of my stay, there was a festival going on: the last day of an event honoring the patron saint of the island, San Giovan Giuseppe della Croce. The streets were lined with special lights, and there was a procession that started on a traditional fishing boat from Castello Aragonese, where the statue of the saint was carried by sea to Ischia Porto, and then through the streets until it reached the Church of San Antonio, where it resides. It's always a treat to witness events like this, where the whole village comes out to participate, and you get to be part of the celebration.

La passeggiata under the lights
Every street had a different pattern of lights.
After the parade, there was music and food, with stalls lining Piazzale Aragonese, the piazza that leads to the ponte (bridge) crossing over to the Castle, which you'll learn more about in the next post. The scent of roasted nuts and Torrone (nougat candy) filled the air.

Piazzale Aragonese
I knew that fireworks would be part of the festival, and they started going off even before the sunset. Here's a video of a short burst of fireworks set off atop one of the churches, while the church bells were ringing.

However, the real fireworks were not set to start until midnight, and I was worn out by 10:30, so headed back to the hotel. About 12:30 a.m., I heard the REAL fireworks going off: it sounded as if the whole island was exploding! This went on for nearly thirty minutes, and I kept wishing I had stayed up to see them.

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