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Puglia

The Trip to Italy. The Best and The Rest

And the last Italy post, I promise. 
The livestock traffic jams around our villa in Puglia were a regular occurrence. Clayton Theodore was fascinated with this sport.
Another interesting sport was the unannounced, and uncontrolled burning of fields by our neighbors. This one was just across the road one night; the owner of our villa didn’t understand why we were a little concerned. 
In the daylight, and when not ablaze, Puglia’s landscape is a harmonic balance of cactus, olive trees, grapevines, and limes. Fragrant and gorgeous.
There were scattered “abandoned” villas about the area, as well. Our owner explained that many families moved into the city (a relative term) for the services, but maintained the land for farming. These villas had a special charm all their own.

The morning spent in Gallipoli was the perfect amount of time to see the sights and enjoy a quick lunch before heading back home to the pool.

I note this fish market in Gallipoli not only for the freshness of its wares, but for the freshness of the fishmongers, too. 😉

Seaside churches soar above the water.
Part of enjoying the little Puglia villages is wandering off the main streets. It was not my intention to peer into private homes, yet I was fascinated by the recurring theme of homes with the kitchen/living room that opened to the street. In almost every open house a television was running, too.
Just as cute as the little MA48er trucks here in Vienna.
Photo courtesy of the Internet
There are several cities in Puglia that work hard to maintain their Greek heritage. Classes are taught in the Greek language as well as in Italian, and the city signs are often in both languages, as well. The little village of Sternatia was near our villa, and we drove through en route home one day. Not much by way of Greek signs, but the village was a pretty detour nonetheless.

The lowlight of our holiday was the entire day Tony and I spent at the Volvo dealer in Lecce, managing emergency service on my car. Enough said about a holiday in southern Italy spent in an auto dealer waiting room. At least we’d left the children behind at the villa with food (and the pool.)
A day spent at Lido San Cataldo was refreshing.  A few meters off the shore lies the ruins of an ancient port city that one can walk through (in search of octopus, like the children, if the spirit moves you).

Breaking up the long drive home from Umbria, we spent two nights in a farmhouse in the Veneto, about 20 minutes from Venice, and gave Jack a brief look at some of our favorite Venetian sights.

Always good to see a major European monument (still) covered in scaffolding.

Gondola traffic jam.

Laundry day along the Grand Canal.

Cuttlefish at the Rialto Fish Market.

Looking up while in Venice is important.

The island of Murano did not inspire us; in fact, even the shopkeepers seemed forlorn. We moved along to Burano after about 20 minutes for a much cheerier island experience.

Jack agreed with us that Burano was a charmer.

If there was any recurring theme on this holiday of 15 days and more than 3.500 kilometers, it was that we were never identified as Americans.  German? Yes. Dutch? Yes. British? Yes. French? A couple of times. Probably the most interesting anecdote of the holiday, along with the few souvenirs, hundreds of photos, and innumerable memories.
Ciao, Italia!

The Trip to Italy. The White Cities

With one exception, our time in Puglia was all blue skies and sunshine, making the region’s white cities a visual feast. Most were walled fortresses high atop hills, and their approaches are breathtaking.
This is Locorotondo, on the itinerary until it was bumped by having to spend a day at the Volvo dealer managing emergency service on the vehicle. Next time.
We kept Ostuni on the agenda. Its approach is spectacular, as well, though trying to photograph it posed impossible (for me, from a moving vehicle along a highway.)

To be honest, there is not much to “do” in these beautiful cities; aside from admiring the one or two, or more, Baroque churches, the real pleasure comes from wandering the whitewashed lanes and soaking up the Mediterranean-like atmosphere. Don’t worry, the residents don’t mind.

 Ostuni’s Cathedral holds a prominent location in the old city.

Vespas were rather popular modes of transportation along the narrow lanes. 

Hmm. I’ll wager that having a Vespa in Vienna could be quite advantageous, too. 

The Trip to Italy: "Trulli" Charming

The dry stone huts with conical roofs are a Puglian tradition, dating to around the 17th century or so.  Originally constructed as agricultural storage, they dot the rural landscape of the area. 
A couple of hours north of our rental villa was the commune of Alberobello, chockablock with residential Trullis. Driving around the hills en route would reveal a Trulli house with many conical rooftops, or “Hobbit Houses,” as the children called them. 

The heart of the Trulli district is a declared UNESCO site, which roughly translates to lots of tourists and tchotchke-shops. We arrived in the late afternoon, thankfully, after the buses had started transporting tourists back to Bari and other cities and could enjoy our walk through the district.

 Within the main district the Trullis are mainly shops and stores, though there are a few residential homes.

 Some of the Trullis are decorated with Christian, Pagan, and Magic symbols.

In a neighboring commune it is possible to rent Trullis as holiday homes, which we did for an overnight on our return to Vienna. Completely modern and way fun, even if the shower ceiling was perhaps a tad low for the taller Hobbits in the family.

The Trip to Italy: Via Adriatica

After our first day in Puglia, we threw the itinerary to the Adriatic breezes and drew up the days’ plan over breakfast each morning. Scheduled fun is not our idea of a holiday. On one particular day we headed due west from the villa until we reached “Via Adriatica,” the coastal road stretching from Venice to the southern tip of Puglia.  Once along the way, we stopped wherever something looked interesting. 
Torre dell’Orso. Along this sunken port city it is believed Octavian Augustus arrived from Greece upon news of the death of Caesar, on his way to Rome. 

Our mermaid looking longingly at the sea.

Poisidonia oceanica (Neptune balls), dried seaweed that comes together before washing ashore. This seaweed is in such abundance that it is sometimes used as insulation material!
Otranto’s Cathedral of Santa Maria Anunziata. Part Byzantine, early Christian and Romanesque, and also home to the “Tree of Life” mosaic that runs the length of the nave, sanctuary, and apse. 

Otranto’s port was once used by Roman emperors on their journey east. Today it hosts bobbing sailboats and beautiful views.
Otranto is a bit like Poland, having been invaded and conquered quite a lot across history. Swabian rulers, Calabrian dukes, the Venetians, the Spaniards, and the Normans have all had a hand in shaping this fortress.

On a separate outing we sought an artifact of interest (to me), the castle once belonging to the Duchess of Bari, Bona Sforza, also of the title, Queen of Poland.  Let me write that I was a little disappointed not to see it looking a little more, well, castle-like
The coast was blustery, the previous evening’s storms moving away. Gorgeous.
To bring our day to a close, Colonne della Via Appia. the Roman column marking the southern end of the Appian Way, and a main departure point for the Crusades. Pretty cool.

The Trip to Italy: Lecce, The "Florence" of the South

Lecce, in the heart of the heel of Italy’s “boot,” certainly has gorgeous and frothy constructions, but to assign it the nickname of the “Florence” of the South does not serve the 2.000 year-old city well. Lecce stands out on its own, with its sun-kissed, completely over-Baroqued limestone buildings and shouldn’t be made to feel like Florence’s little sister.
We noted early on in Puglia a high percentage of Brits, both ex-pats and visitors. Case in point, this palazzo courtyard was hosting a British classic car tour through the city on our visit. So much for speaking the few Italian phrases we had practiced! English was spoken everywhere in Puglia.
Adjacent to the palazzo sits the Basilica di Santa Croce. Because no visit anywhere in Europe is complete without a major site under restoration and scaffolding, we could check that requirement off the list rather early.

In Puglia Papa Francesco is known on a first name basis.

The smaller churches we toured were impressive, as well.  

Leece’s streets beg to be wandered, which we did in spite of 35ºC temperatures.

A family photo at a courtyard flea market.

These planters (?) were quite for sale at nearly every vendor. I can see why.

More of Lecce’s loveliness.

The Trip to Italy: Our Moveable Feast(s)

This holiday was the longest we have shared as a family, the previous record being 12 days in Japan a few years ago. Spanning 15 days; more than 3.500 kilometers on the road; shared bathrooms with teenagers; and one tantrum (mine), and no matter the mood, be it, “I know I should appreciate this, but it looks like Florence!,” to “Can we stay another day?,”somehow it all came down to the food. Sitting for a meal, whether at a trattoria or in our personal lodging, the laughter and good family times flowed as easily as the wine. And really, isn’t that what a holiday is all about?
We are not a hotel family at all, preferring self-catering whenever possible. On this holiday, though, our first night on travel required a hotel stay.  Asking the fabulous Concierge Carlo where we might enjoy seafood in Ravenna, our Adriatic stop a couple of hours south of Venice, we were directed to a small trattoria with tables inside a church courtyard, serving up our first of many plates of the bounty of the sea.

Branzino ravioli, hard to guess from the photo, but completely identifiable to the taste. Fabs.

Blackened Swordfish. Yum, yum, yum. We all shared.

The remainder of the holiday was a blissful seafood blur.  Tartares, ceviches, they were all delicious.

Antipasti in Assisi, served with a dose of embarrassment for the two American families near us who did not understand (or care) how mealtime in Italy is observed. 🙁

Mushroom lasagne. A new recipe for me to recreate.

At the Rialto Fish Market in Venice, the swordfish and cuttlefish tempted us, but the simple kitchen at our farmhouse in the Veneto swayed us otherwise.

This particular stop was memorable. Not wanting to sit for the customary two hour lunch, we partook of the homemade offerings of a Nonna’s grocer along a side lane in Ostuni. Probably one of our favorite meals.

Sometimes a stop at the grocer was a bit much for Anna Grace, between the skinned bunnies and the “Equino” meat sections…

We happened upon a small trattoria in Puglia, where plate after plate of deliciousness graced our table.

As did the Limoncello.  Anna Grace declared it the equivalent taste of kitchen cleanser.

In Siena we did the tourist thing and enjoyed pizza and people watching along Il Campo.
And in Venice, a serendipitous stop at a street food stand we discovered on our visit last autumn. The sardines and squid were still crispy delicious, and the white corn polenta was piping hot. Buono apetito!

If any meal across our two weeks stands out, not counting the attempt at tacos in our Umbrian cottage (in a different manner!), it would be our supper in Alberobello. We arrived a day later than expected, due to having spent the previous day at a Volvo dealer for emergency service on the car (a whole ‘nother story), to discover that the area totally embraced Austrian shopping hours. That is, all the grocers were closed, in stark contrast to what we had been enjoying even in rural Puglia. Tired and too unmotivated to find a restaurant, whatever were we to do for dinner?

A hopeful stop at a small and seemingly unpromising grocer turned out to be our saving grace. Not only did the proprietor have the essentials of fresh pasta and wine, but when I explained our plight to her, she left the store in my command to run over to her house to return with a plate of tomatoes, pepperocini, garlic, and parsley (and a recipe!) with which we could prepare dinner. There is good in this world.

Remembering a salami we had brought along, dinner came to be a fresh and fabulous pasta with the pomodoro, garlic and pepperocini.
As we settled in with a Nats game via the Apple TV (as we are wont to do), toasts were made to “the best holiday ever!”

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