Thursday, March 26, 2015

Puglia- Part 3 (virtual)

I recently read one of those foolproof guides '10 things you can do to be happier right now!' and number 8 was; 'plan a trip, but don't take it', with scientific proof that claimed the planning stages of a holiday release oxytocin or some happy chemicals and can trick your brain into a holiday mindset when you're actually seated in front of a computer.


This theory was high in my mind when I started this virtual series of blog posts to cover what we missed on our trip to Puglia. But it's not working. I find imagining what it would be like to visit these places is leaving me a bit disillusioned and disgruntled. I want to see these places, not for the pretty views and official histories, but for the food that we eat, the people we meet, the odd and interesting stories that we collect when we're in a new place. And for the wonder on my 3 year old's face when she see's something new.


While a good creative exercise, inventing these details isn't as fun as having them. So this last post on Puglia is going to be just a quick list of what we expect to find when we do manage to return, if possible in a season other than winter.


This is where we were going to stay, at the very southern tip of Puglia. White sand beaches and a beautiful harbour, we planned on taking a boat out one day to explore the coast and limestone grottos, going horse riding along deserted beaches, and having a great home base for exploring nearby towns.



Not the Gallipoli of Anzac fame, this town is an island fortress, and the place for planned seafood extravagance.


'The Florence of the south', Lecce is home to amazing Baroque architecture and a rich history stretching back to its foundation by Cretans. Local dialects are still quite close to the greek language.  



'Otranto' is in the Italian phonetic alphabet for 'O' and i have to say it twice when someone asks me to 'fare spelling' of my surname. (Roma, Ancona, Savona, Hotel, Bologna, Roma, Otranto, Otranto, Kappa) Such an alphabet exists in english, but I believe is used mostly for radio or military communication. Here its a thing. And Otranto is hard to say twice when you're rolling your R's. Try it. 

The town of Otranto and seaside aren't too shabby, incidentally. 


And that is where we intended to spend our last couple of days in Puglia, the only people on deserted beaches, enjoying the soft warmth of the first rays of spring. Thanks for seeing Puglia with us!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Puglia- part 2.5 (virtual)

Hello fellow couch travellers!

Having had the most amazing night's sleep ever slept in a camper, we're up early in the morning to head towards the seaside. Nina's convinced you can only say seaside, and not sea. Sea is not a word.

First up we're heading to Polignano sul Mare, where we have been promised a picturesque white town on the cliffs. The weather is shining and blue, and as drive we spot patches of purple anemone flowers beneath massive olive trees. It seems spring has found us! Happy days!

We easily find a parking spot, grab a pastry and coffee for 'second breakfast', which is most definitely my favourite meal of the day. There are slight differences between pastries here and in Florence, but both places are fond of pastries filled with baked custard, fruit, almonds and a dusting of sugar. Remember: virtual pastries are calorie free.

Its not hard to find the harbour, as the whole city seems to tilt and lean towards it, and our breathe is taken by the view of the beach, which looks like a bite taken from a pastry, with the sugar dusted town standing guard. Heres what I mean:

Of course, when we visit the sea (seaside) is placid and calm. Why not? I think, and strip down to a swimming costume to jump in. A man walking his dog nearby is hurrying towards us though, so I wait, thinking he's going to tell me about a treacherous rip or the towns famous sharks. He is red and panting when he reaches us, eager to convey his urgent message: 'you can't swim! You shouldn't swim! Its winter!' 

Yes, there is a strict code on when it is acceptable to go in the water, even if the air and sea temperatures are pushing 30°C, Italians will not swim, they would rather swelter in fur coats until easter, when it is socially acceptable to take them off. 

I can feel hundreds of condemning eyes from the windows of the surrounding town, all murmuring disapproval, but the swim is refreshing, and the sun on the pebbled beach is beautiful. If you close your eyes you can hear the waves gently rushing over the stones. 

The beach is dotted with man made caves, and Beppe thrills Nina with pirate stories as they check them out, hunting for treasure. 

Next stop is Monopoli, which attracts us by name, and proves to be another gorgeous white clip top town, formerly a fortress, a fishing village, and now a haven for tourists in summer.
photo: wikipedia

These towns are incredible, and look just like a film set right now, without the crowds and their plastic summer accruement. 

We feel so conspicuously foreign, even as two thirds of us is Italian, and the locals follow us with their eyes, obviously remarking on us as the first of the seasons tourists. 

By a virtual travelling miracle, the caravan park managers have a child Nina's age and offer to babysit her for the evening, so we get into our spankiest camping clothes and head out for a romantic meal in nothing other than a pirate's cave. 

The Grotta Palazzese is one of the most spectacular restaurant locations in the world, and by another virtual travelling miracle, they're open for us, even though their season usually starts in May. Lucky!
Now its easy in our modern world to think of pirates as of the Caribbean variety, but this area of Italy was subject to plentiful invading armies and pirates, who pillaged boats up and down the Adriatic. 

Now this beautifully lit grotto is an amazing backdrop for a lovely seafood meal. I was going to splice in a fantastic seafood story here, but honestly, the best seafood on this trip has been the mussels and clams that Beppe cooked in our very own camper. Still, for views, this place has the camper beat. Also rather pricey, going by the trip advisor reviews. But then again, that's the magic of virtual travelling. It's free!  

Join me next time as we head to the very bottom of the heel, deep south Puglia.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Puglia- Part 2 (virtual)

Hello friends! Are you ready for our exciting second instalment of travel in Puglia?
Me too!

I have some big news for you here- Wherever you are reading this, you're just as much in Puglia as I am, which is to say, not at all! Due to my child then husband getting sick, I'm exploring Puglia from the comfort of my giant bean bag.

Advantages to this mode of travel include
a) No travel time, no parking issues, no driving to do
b) No having to stop and eat, or if we're salivating over virtual meals, no stopping eating! Yay!
c) Its always sunny on the internet, no bad weather, no illness, no winter closures.

So here is our proposed itinerary for part two of Puglia, illustrated with other people's better pictures.

Cruising south along the coast our eye is caught by some strange bits of fluff on sticks in a lake. Could it be? Yes! Pink Flamingoes! (me no see, says Nina from the back)
                                             Photo: wikipedia

We head into Bari, the largest town and capital of the region of Puglia. A bustling port town, Bari doesn't have the air of a tourist resort that most other cities in Puglia have. As we're wandering down the quay we find a salty old man with a tray carefully laid out on the back of his 3-wheeled ute.

He's selling Ricci di mare, sea urchins, already carefully sliced in half and cleaned. For ten euro we have a tray and a bread roll and are sitting on the dock, sun on our backs, scooping the raw urchin up with the bread. Delicious!

Raw fish is a big part of street food here, and a little further down another man is guarding a bucket as if it contains half dozen cute puppies. It doesn't, it contains a fairly large octopus, which he encourages us to buy by exhorting the freshness, slapping the poor creature to elicit a reaction. No we are not eating raw octopus today. We do tuck into some panzerotti fritti- which is pretty well described as the origin of the hot pocket. Picture a half moon, closed pizza, deep fried. Yup.

We're going to be staying in the only camping open at this time of year, right near the centre of Alberobello, so we take an inland road from Bari with one last stop for the day, at Castellana Grotte, where we visit the caves for which the town takes its name.

I forget I'm a little agoraphobic when we enter the main chamber, an amazing mix of stalegmites and stalactites (if you don't remember which is which, stalactites have to hold on 'tight' to the ceiling), with a large opening with daylight streaming in. The caves also boast the whitest white cave in the world, of the purest alabaster.

At Alberobello we find our campsite clean and peaceful, and fully enclosed showers with good pressure and endless hot water. I could cry.

Sunday is what I've been waiting for, and I get everyone moving early to head to the next town Martina Franca, which is hosting its monthly antiques fair. Its not that I'm a materialistic person, I just love old stuff. I love it even better if its showing wear, or I can get it for a bargain and do it up, or if its from my own particular interest area- vintage fabric industry apparatus. Sadly, here is where this whole virtual trip fails me, as I can't invent fabulous finds, and I don't want to believe the day was a bust either.

On the way back to Alberobello we spot more Trulli in the open fields and stop to poke around. They're just there, not being used in any way, and I wonder if they're actively maintained or just really robust.

Alberobello is a town of trulli, and that's what people come to see. Hotels of little truly with white painted roofs, little shops made of interconnecting trulli. To better appreciate the town I turn to wikipedia, which informs me that most in the town were built in the 'late 20th century' What?! I was born in the 'late 20th century'. I don't think people living in single room stone houses in the 1980's is anything to brag about. Its a cute town, and has Unesco world heritage status, but its very touristy, even for a virtual winter visit.
Just look at that picture though- aren't we blessed with some fine weather? Wow. I do have more to include from this part of Puglia, so I will stretch it into another post. Lets all sit down at a virtual table and indulge in another local speciality- orecchiette (little ear) pasta with cime di rape (turnip greens). Virtual pasta has no carbs.

(This story is mostly a work of fiction, with details provided by other times, other places, or other people who have visited these places for realz.)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Mission Abort

Nina continued to be sick and we decided we'd rather be at home than in a camper or cabin in Puglia with unknown doctors and without the kind of home stuff that make illness easier to bear, like high speed internet, favourite toys, and Nonni.

Naturally, after 8 hours driving to get home, Nina casually informs us while still on the outskirts of Florence: 'My pummy says its hungry.' I try to convince myself that this is a good thing, my daughter feeling better after days closed up with her can only be a good thing. So now she is skipping gleefully around the house, while Beppe huddles under the covers shivering with a fever. My life is so glamorous.

Our first trip in Pampert, then, consisted of two full days driving, three days of sightseeing, and two days stuck in bed. Not exactly what I had so carefully planned, but one must be flexible. I imagine those of you following my blog are a bit disappointed too (the page tells me there's 80 readers! So many! My Mum may be 73 of those people though.)

Never fear, I have a solution. We are still going to take the holiday, just virtually. Unencumbered by the constraints of time, weather and seasonal closures, I will make two more chapters on Puglia, following our intended itinerary, illustrated by photos found on the web, of a much better quality than I can take with my phone.

Hurrah! Sit tight, I'll be back tomorrow with Puglia part 2.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Puglia- Part 1.5

Ah, so I did jinx myself with the last post, and things did in fact get worse, with Nina waking at 3am screaming of a pain in her ear, before vomiting on me twice and falling asleep on top of me at 5am. 

We took her to the hospital at Manfredonia when the earache continued, where a doctor with a military bearing told us she had an inner ear infection. We didnt have long to wait- the only other patients were two car accidents and two elderly ladies who had fallen out of bed. A note on both- driving here is so much worse than Florence. Might is right and intention is greater than precedence. A stop sign is never and a red light rarely obeyed. Accidents are to be expected. So too are old ladies falling out of bed, when you think about it. Standing up in the morning would be the greatest moment of danger for many. I had never thought about this until yesterday. Hospital waiting gives you time to think.

So we've capitulated, and upgraded to a cabin in the campground. High ceilings! Space! Plural beds! Indoor toilet! We had a very good sleep. Padre Pio works in mysterious ways. 

This morning Nina managed to drink a small juice before vomiting it, volcano like, while flat on her back, all over herself, me, and the bed.

I disengaged
myself from the headlock she had me in for 23 hours and went for a walk on the beach. The day before we arrived there had been strong storms and winds, and the beach is covered in debris. It was rather stinky from all the shellfish rotting at the tide line, and covered in washed up rubbish. Its not summer debris, which is usually full of sandals, plastic toys and inflatables, but the refuse of fishermen and townspeople treating the sea as a dump. Bottles and cans and gumboots and fishing nets and polystyrene boxes and bottles and rope. Rather disheartening. 

As I was walking, the only person on the whole beach, a truck with four men in it approached, driving slowly down the beach. They wound down the windows as they reached me, and I braced myself. 
'Hello,  have you seen a large animal cadaver along here? We heard a report'
'No' I responded, 'What sort of animal?'
'Unidentifiable' they responded and drove off. They had a large plastic crate in the back of the truck. 

Tomorrow we hope to head to Alberobello, or if Nina doesn't improve, home.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Puglia- part 1

The first three days in Puglia have been a fine blend of highs and lows; the highs are our daily experiences of amazing landscapes and historical wonders, the lows our nights of sleeping three to a bed in a very small camper. 

How bad could it be? I thought, reasoning that Nina finished most nights in our bed at home and as we really did all love each other very much, sleeping in one big pile would be one big hug. But no.
 I shy away from the term 'nightmare' just so that I have it in reserve for the coming nights. There  may be an undiscovered rule of physics that any child in a bed will occupy no less than half the available space. 

I have been so tired in the mornings that I have developed 'recognizitis' where every person I see seems familiar to me, as someone I know personally or from gossip mags. I swear I saw Anna Wintour in the campground bathroom, disguised as an Austrian tourist rinsing her cutlery. 

The nights are a fog of flailing limbs, aching shoulders and slight claustrophobia, pierced at dawn by Nina flinging open the blinds and declaring it to be 'daypime'. The little shit will then nap each time we get in the car.

 After passing through plowed snow roads to reach Puglia, we were rewarded by a first day of spring weather on the promontory that makes up the Gargano National Park- the 'spur' of Italy's boot when looking at a map. It was so warm we found a small beach, stripped off and had a very quick dip in freezing water. But an Italian beach in the sunshine with noone on it is a treasure not to be missed.

Then on day 2 the weather turned cold and windy, so we were accidental pilgrims, visiting Monte Sant'Angelo and San Giovanni Rotonda. The first we visited simply to see the town on the mountain, only to be informed by a very enthusiastic haberdasherer that we were, in fact, in the town of the most IMPORTANT church in Christendom as it had been blessed by non other than the Archangel Michael HIMSELF, and that every important person in CHRISTENDOM had been there to pray in the cave. So we visited the cave. As with most places of pilgrimage I find the most interesting thing to be the ex-voti left as thanks by those who have been healed or saved thanks to prayers answered and the grafitti left over hundreds of years by visitors.

 In a nutshell, the angel appeared in a cave to the bishop of the town in the 5th century and has been a place of pilgrimage since, including an important stop for crusaders heading to the middle east. I couldn't find out what a bishop was doing in the cave in the first place. 

We then headed to San Giovanni Rotonda, home of Italy's newest and favourite saint, San Padre Pio. Padre Pio has quite the story, including the bearing of the stigmata for 50 years of his life, and is reportedly the figure most Italians address their prayers to. As non religious pilgrims we didn't quite know what to do with ourselves once we reached the Renzo Piano designed church in honor of the new saint, so we bought souvenirs for our grandmothers and headed back to Pampert.

Day three and we hit a town called Andria famous for its cheese and the Castel del' monte, an imposing structure perfect for a picnic of said cheeses. 

Heading downhill from the castle we happened upon some Trulli in a field and had a poke around, spied some interesting wildflowers, and Ninas favourite sight; animal poo.
We will be no doubt seeing many more Trulli as we head down the 'heel' of the boot. Now that I think of it, I should have lit a candle to Padre Pio for a decent nights sleep. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Renovations and Salutations

We're almost ready to leave on our first trip of the year, in a year that should be full of adventures in our little Pampert.
(In the end Nina's name for the trailer has won out. Seriously, if you need a name for something, ask a three year old.)
We're off tomorrow for 2 weeks in Puglia, hoping that the sun is hitting the south of Italy a bit more than Florence, and that we're in for sea, sun and fabulous food down in the heel of the boot. 

I did want to share some photos of the inside of Pampert before we left, to give you an idea of how we'll be living in 5 square metres. 
This is the before:
I didn't take this terrible picture- it was one of the pics in the advertisement. It was really badly presented. But you can see the lovely chenille curtains and the carpet texture of the cushions. 

The cushions weren't in bad shape so I stripped them down and recovered them. I made some lace curtains to add a little lightness to the inside and made some matching throw cushions that double as pillows in the night. So here is the after, version day:

and night:

There are blackout blinds behind the curtains so we'll have darkness and privacy. The crochet rug I picked up in a flea market in Barcelona (luckily- no fleas) and I hope to find and report other treasures  we might happen upon on our travels. 
Heres the kitchen:

 So, yeah, it's small. We'll see how we go over the next two weeks. The idea is that Puglia will give us a soft start into caravanning. We'll see how it goes. Wish us luck!