Monday, October 21, 2019

Leaving for Italy

September 15, 2019

Well, today is a good day to be getting on a plane and flying to the Italian Riviera.  We stayed overnight at Carrie's and Derran's in Steveston and caught a cab to the airport this morning.  I am always so appreciative of the beauty in our YVR airport.  It is so clean and welcoming and reflects the history of our First Nation's culture in such a beautiful way.  We made our way to the Air France counter to confirm we could head straight to customs.  We have packed for 25 days with just a carry on and personal bag each and we are patting ourselves on the back (for now).  Hoping that our packs make the grade for carry on size :).

If you travel a fair amount and are in doubt about getting a Nexus card, we're here to tell you to run to the nearest Nexus office and file your papers.  We went past hundreds of people shuffling along to get into customs and then passed the crowd in between the ropes and went straight to the front of the line.  We estimate it saved used 1 1/2 to 2 hours of shuffling and are so glad we had them with us!!  We are always happy to sit at the airport much longer than necessary to save ourselves the stress of cutting it close.  So here we are, books in hand, $5.00 bottles of water and our packs, waiting to be called for boarding.  Next stop, Paris and then on to Florence.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Polignano A Mare

What a perfect end to a wonderful journey!  Polignano A Mare was everything we hoped it would be to end of our three weeks exploring Italy.  We stayed in the heart (and on the edge) of the historical centre, steps away from the piazza.  Our room included a roof top patio and all windows gazed down on the turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea.  While the weather predictions had not been great we enjoyed 3 days of hot, sunny days and cool, clear nights.  Both of the shots below were taken from the windows of our top floor Air BnB.

We made no plans for these three days so we parked the car and walked and walked and walked.  It helped that the weather was terrific but it wouldn't have mattered.  We were seaside and could walk for miles in both directions along the shoreline, and that's mostly what we did.  This whole trip has been made up of moments where you actually felt transported back in time.  The rock road below definitely had me thinking of Friar Tuck and his wagon of ale.  We couldn't begin to imagine how many steps it had taken for the steps on the right to be indented several inches over hundreds and/or thousands of years of people going up and down to the cannons on the wall above.


As in almost every town we went to, the piazza ruled the day. From morning coffee and croissants to an afternoon gelato break and on to the crazy late, four course Italian dinners, the piazza was the place to be.  There is a vibrancy in these small Italian towns that we are missing here in Canada and I wondered often if Italy had claimed and settled our country whether we would all be hanging at the piazza like they do there.

Of course, the other wonderful part of piazzas is that they are surrounded by a maze of narrow, cobblestoned, residential and business alleyways.  Other than Grottaglie, it seemed that even the smallest of towns kept these niches full of healthy flowers and planters and almost all are whitewashed and spotless.  The only thing that took away from the beauty were the incredible number of cigarette butts everywhere!  The photos on the left and right below are of the stairway leading to Amoredemare, our apartment.

As  mentioned above, our days were full of walking and exploring and reading and eating and more walking and exploring and perhaps even a glass of local wine or two.  The landscape was amazing and we made the most of our time here just enjoying what Mother Nature had provided.


From the northwest coast of Italy, down through Sienna and across to the eastern coast, Italy was amazing.  As they say often in this country, Arrivederci et ciao!


Friday, October 4, 2019

Monopoli and Finally, Back to the Ocean!!

We packed up our bags from our trullo in Locorotondo, loaded up the car, set the GPS and headed off to the east coast of Puglia.  We really enjoyed our time in our little smurf huts and were ready to see the ocean.  And see the ocean we did!  The town of Monopoli was amazingly beautiful.  It was a windy day but the sun was shining and there was magic around every corner.

The walkway runs from the waterfront right around to the right and I can't say enough about the colour of the water and the sheer beauty of this place.  People were friendly (and this hasn't been the case all over Italy) and there was just regular folks mixed in with all of the tourists.  In the main square where we parked there were benches everywhere and they were filled with men.  Only men, no women.  They were all talking at once (except for these four) and it was clear that the plaza was the men's domain.  This has been true in small towns and big cities throughout our travels.

The man below seemed entranced with his work.  This is right beside the docks where all of the fishing boats come in.  He was working at taking the floats off of this net and was more than happy to have his photo taken.

It was very busy along the sea wall and the music and dancing just added to the already festive feel to this place.  I missed the dancer that was with them but she was working hard to get the tourists involved and before we left there was a regular hoe-down going on.

We sauntered for more than a couple of hours, had lunch and then headed on to our air bnb in Polignano A Mare.  We were hoping it was half as beautiful as Monopoli.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Searching for the Caves

While we were in the tourist centre, located in the remnants of an old castle in Grottaglie, we were told of the caves nearby.  Puglia area is well known for its caves which hid many people over the years.  So, with map in hand we headed out of town in search of the Gravina di Riggio.  A few kilometres down the road we saw a sign to the caves and turned off the main road.

We drove and drove, passing by a spot that we thought might be 'the one'.  But, there was no sign or marker so on we drove, around corners, past grapevines, siding up against stone walls and pulling over tight to let the crazy Italian drivers pass on by.  Still, no sign of the caves.  So we drove to 'the wall', turned around and headed back.  We had passed a couple of men working in a field so we pulled over and I went to ask for directions, map in hand.  They discussed it for a moment and then started to give me directions, in very fast Italian and with lots of hand gestures.  They looked at me as they spoke louder and louder and repeated the same phrases over and over clearly seeing that I had not understood.  In all the talking and showing me turns in the road and ups and downs, using their hands, the work 'meter' came up.  So I asked, kilometres?  They shook their heads, no, no, no, no - METERS!  So, I knew we were close.  I hopped back in the car and we headed back down the road to where we thought they had been previously.  We pulled off the road as there was no parking area and went across to check it out.  This is how it looked from the road; 

As we got across the open field we could see the ravine with one cave clearly visible.  We were shocked that this was an area the tourist centre had sent us to, with no signage and NO safety warnings other than a sign that Bob was sure said, "Don't be stupid!".  We were so glad we had stopped.  This was a place that had housed families and individuals, all hiding for their own reasons.  Sometimes it was cultural or religious reasons and sometimes it was thieves and criminals.  We walked down into the rock a bit and could see numerous caves, some big enough to stand in and others just small spaces carved into the soft limestone.

We understood that in the tourist season there are actual busloads of people who come out here.  We wondered where they parked and whether or not they actually went down into the ravine.  However, we were glad we had persevered.  The promised rains began to fall so we got back in the car and headed off to Martina Franca, our afternoon destination.


We had thunderstorms and heavy rain overnight but woke up to broken skies so headed to the car to get in our sightseeing before the predicted rains came this afternoon.  Grottaglie is not high on the tourist list around this area but we heard it was well known for ceramics and for its caves so off we went.  We started in the town of Grottaglie and have to say it was the first town we have seen that shows signs of being derelict.  The residential streets were run down and clearly tourism is not a mainstay YET!

Most of the towns, large and small, that we have visited in this area have a historical centre.  In the centre there is usually a section of residential housing.  Most of the residential areas we have seen are very beautiful with plants and flowers decorating narrow, winding, cobblestone roads.  Grottaglie was nothing like this.  As we wandered up this residential section we felt like we were imposing ourselves into peoples' lives and we quickly turned back down towards the business/historical area.  

Most of the town, including the historical centre, looked derelict.  The buildings were not whitewashed and there were very few tourists in the area (we saw four others).  As we wandered though, something about this town grew on me.  These were day to day people and the town was for them, not for visitors.  We were pointed to the ceramic district by the parking lot attendant (who asked us for two euros.  Even though we weren't sure he even worked there, we gave him the two euros).  The ceramic district was filled with shops and all were filled with a variety of styles, shapes and prices.  It became clear that there was an artists' community alive and well in Grottaglie.

The tiles on the stairs and the random art work, mixed with plants in unusual places created a different feel in spite of the run down buildings.  Of course there was much graffiti as well.

We popped into a few ceramic shops on our way up the hill (always a hill!) and most of them were very ornate and quite abstract.  We had heard some of the shops had been built into caves that peopled resided in in the 16th century and came across this beautiful shop built right into the hillside. This was the only high end shop we saw in the town but it so amazing we stood and took it all in.

The shop below was a working shop as were many others and there was definitely a "Granville Island" feel along this row of shops.  You could smell the ceramic baking as you walked by.

We left the ceramic area and headed up the hill to the old castle but there was not much to see.  A small section of it was roped off to view from outside the rope as the rest was not in any condition to wander through.

I really enjoyed our walk through this old run down town.  I feel like most of the towns and cities we have seen in Italy have been the shining jewels.  This town felt like the bedrock to me.  I loved the artist community, the graffiti and the lack of pristine, white-washed alleyways.  There were no designer shops, no restaurants on the piazza and no gift shops other than the ceramic area.  It will be interesting to see where Grottaglie heads in the future.  I always find that areas where artists are doing their work are areas that tend to grow and prosper.  Grottaglie could use some prospering but I hope it comes slowly and not at the cost of the artists who work there!


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Sightseeing in Ostuni and Alberobello (Puglia)

Today was a sight-seeing day for us.  We headed out with two destinations in mind.  The town of Ostuni, located to the west of where we are staying (Locorotondo) was about a 45 minute drive.  We located the historic centre of the town and wandered in.  There is not much spectacular about Ostuni relative to other places we have been.  It is certainly not whitewashed and pristine like many other towns we have passed through in Puglia.  What we will remember is the old feel of the place.  This, again, is relative to other Italian stops we have made.  The town seemed old and a bit run down and there were few tourists in sight.  It did have a spectacular view from the top over the Adriatic Sea to the west.  We enjoyed a smoothie, wandered around and headed back to the car.  The streets were narrow and we used the statue below as our guiding point to find the car.

Alberobello, on the other hand, was beyond our expectations.  We have read about the trulli (pl) with great interest.  It turns out that the origin of these stone, conical structures dates back to the 14th century.  My understanding is that the peasants were ordered to construct shelters that could be dismantled when it was time for the taxes to be paid.  "The trullo’s dry-wall construction, without mortar, was imposed on new settlers so that they could dismantle their shelters in a hurry: an efficient means to evade taxes on new settlements under the Kingdom of Naples, and certainly a good way to deter unruly lords. Yet most historians agree that this building technique came about due to the area’s geographical conditions, abundant with the limestone we now see in these constructions. "  

The town of Alberobello is beautiful!  With around 1000 trulli still in existence it was easy to imagine life in the Middle Ages in thee streets here.  Most of the trulli are tourist stores, many sporting the same goods. We did enjoy our first taste of Limoncello here.  The store owner provided us with tastes of three different versions and we went away with a small limoncello and a larger Almondcello.  Guess what our after dinner drink today will be.

Lunch today consisted of a Rustico which we had not tried before.  Puff pastry filled with melted mozzarella, ham and tomatoes and it was GOOD!!  Then onto more exploring.  This place was spotless and the shop owners were friendly and helpful.  We really enjoyed our time in Alberobello and highly recommend it if you are heading to the southwest part of Italy.

It's another hot day here so it was back to the trullo and into the pool followed by an afternoon siesta!  We are making the most of our pool time before the rains come tomorrow.