After Napoleon got his butt whomped the first time, the powers-that-be thought he could be contained on a small island 30 kilometers off the Tuscan coast, called Elba. After living there for just under a year, he escaped - stowed away on a ship - reformed his army, and went on to launch the Hundred Days. After his defeat at Waterloo, he was sent to much more remote St. Helena, where he died just a few years later, probably from arsenic poisoning. (Whether it was his hair pomade or an assassin is still a matter of debate.)
History lesson over! Today, Elba is mostly renowned for its beaches. Though we were going to see Napoleon's house and get ourselves a good dose of the pretty.
The main town of Portoferraio is indeed lovely. We arrived somewhat the worse for wear, since the ferry ride from Piombino had been extremely rocky.
Actually, we were feeling so under the weather that we skipped dinner and went to bed early. I KNOW. Can you believe it?
Whatever - the next day we got up, availed ourselves of the rather inadequate Italian-style breakfast at the hotel, and grabbed a bus to Marciana. It's a small town, high up in the interior of the island.
Thing is, since Marciana is higher up than Portoferraio, it was also quite a bit colder. Did I mention in my post about Livorno that we were unprepared for the weather, having brought only lightweight jackets and no gloves? Repeatedly? OK.
Marciana was a delightful small town for wandering, though.
The views of Marciana Marina on the coast below were lovely. We thought of the swimsuits we had optimistically packed and shook our heads ruefully.
After an hour or so wandering Marciana, looking at the walls of the closed Fortezza Pisana (Pisan Fortress) and the door of the closed Archaeological Museum, we had pretty much exhausted the town's tourist possibilities. So we went into a small bar and ate an enormous bowl of vegetable soup and a sandwich and warmed up a little.
We took a bus the hour back down into Portoferraio (the bus driver left the back door of the bus open for a good chunk of the way down, adding to the interest of the ride). Portoferraio, unlike Marciana, was sunny. A good thing.
We had been unable to locate a good map of Portoferraio. The tourist office didn't have one, and neither did our hotel - luckily, at the bus station that morning, we found a stylized one complete with bus routes. Thus, we got a little lost in our wanderings - but Portoferraio is pretty small, so there's only so much lost you can get.
We did find the crumbling Medici fortress.
The town was pretty quiet, but certainly pretty for wandering around.
We found Napoleon's house when he lived in town, the Villa dei Mulini, but the hours listed in our book were wrong and it was closed for the day. Ah well, we'll come back in the morning.
Portoferraio seems to be a bit of an odd town, under the surface. We saw a lot of things that made us chuckle, if not laugh out loud.
I'm not really sure what market they were going for here...
This graffiti was on a basketball court. Kids these days - where's the Natalia + Lorenzo = 4ever? Who graffitis a fried egg? Awesome.
Their political graffiti is also a little on the strange side. Mortadella-butt here seems to be having a bad day.
And is this really common? I don't think I've ever seen a panty dispenser before. It was with a gum machine.
This is not particularly Elban, but is certainly Italian - here's a gentleman riding his scooter down the drainage trench in the middle of a long flight of stairs. (At least this made us feel better about the time we drove down the stairs in the Gargano.)
We ended up finding a good place for dinner. The handwritten menu was encouraging, even if the restaurant was right on the main piazza - Piazza della Repubblica.
As we worked our way through our tasty pizzas, we watched big burly Italian men making wine spritzers out of white wine, fizzy water, and lemon. I've never seen this before!
The next morning, we returned to the top of the town to check out the inside of Napoleon's residence. The house actually turned out to be pretty small, but the Imperial-style furniture inside was quite nice. Not sure why Napoleon put a bed in the ballroom, though.
We toured the downstairs and the upstairs, and as we rounded the corner to head back downstairs our way was blocked by a beautiful large couch that had been in restoration. Two men were maneuvering it up the stairs, so we got out of the way.
(Yes, then did bang it into the wall a bit trying to get it around the corner.)
So, we were downstairs admiring the last couple of rooms when we heard an argument behind us in Italian. "I think that couch is supposed to be in this room," one of the curators said. Next thing we knew, here comes the couch again from back outside. Now, you'd think that before bringing the big expensive old couch into the house, and CERTAINLY before jimmying it up the stairs, the workers would have figured out where it's actually supposed to go? Nah.
The gardens outside weren't in particularly good shape, but oh, the view...
All in all, the house was interesting - but I could definitely understand it chafing pretty hard if you've come from ruling most of Europe and a good chunk of Egypt. It was small, especially coming from Fontainebleau, I'm sure.
With a little bit of time left before the ferry, we found an inviting little place and had a couple of plates of pasta. Oh so healthy. Shaddup. I really wanted a big plate of gnocchi with gorgonzola, and that's exactly what I had.
We made it to our ferry, the Moby Baby (the one we arrived on was the Moby Lally... who names these things?). I loved what the ticket-checker scrawled on our ticket. OK, baby!
This ferry ride was a lot less... eventful? than the one to Elba. We had some lovely views of the receding town. Bye, Portoferraio!
And bye, Napoleon's house!
For some reason, being on the ferry made us crave french fries. I think it's because the first nice ferry we ever took, from Santorini to Naxos in Greece, we got a big order of fries. Unfortunately, they weren't to be found on this ferry.
By the time we changed trains twice and reached Pisa, the craving had become a full-blown obsession. Therefore.
We shall never speak of this again.
And now, we are off to the airport to gather Jodi and Keith for their Italian adventure! Look for posts about the wonderful time they're having sometime later this week.