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Trip Report Apulia, Italy, September 2016

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Two weeks in southern Apulia, Italy, September 2016
Trip Report, September 9 - September 23, 2016

If you look at Italy as a boot, the Apulia region is the heel. "Apulia" is its English name, but in Italian it’s called "Puglia", and that’s what I call it in the balance of this report. We visited the southern portion, south of the city of Bari.

The travelers were Larry (74) and Margie (72), who both post on the Fodor’s Forum as "justretired" (despite our Fodor's name, Larry actually retired way back in 2003). This initial report was written by Larry (who makes restaurant reservations as "Lorenzo" in Italy), a retired electrical engineer with an interest in linguistics. In addition to his native English, Larry speaks French, Spanish, and Italian (some better than others), and even remembers a bit of his college German.

Margie is an ex social worker, who is now an artist. She works primarily in watercolor, but she has also worked in mixed media, including paper maché (which, you will see, is relevant to the area of Italy we visited).

On this trip, we spent six days in each of two agriturismi (agricultural tourism resorts). We had a rental car for the entire time, and used the agriturismi as bases from which to take short day trips to nearby points of interest. Between these two longer stays, we spent one full day (two nights) in the city of Matera, which is not in Puglia, but rather in the region Basilicata.

In this report

In this report, I’ve underlined section headings, boldfaced the first mention of places and restaurants we visited, and put Italian words other than place names and restaurant names in italics. I start with a general discussion of:

La pausa
Restaurants
ExpressoWiFi
Our rental car
The Mobile Passport app

These will be followed by a day-by-day account of the trip, and then by some final thoughts.

La pausa

As we planned this trip, we became aware of problems that might be posed by what Italians call la pausa, meaning "the pause". This is a custom found in many southern areas of Europe – we’ve seen it in Spain and in southern France as well: work stops for lunch and a siesta during what is, in summer, the heat of the day. In Puglia, it’s quite common for stores and attractions to close down at noon, 12:30, 1:00, or 1:30, and not re-open until around 4:00 or 5:00pm. For tourism and shopping, this eliminates some activities for up to four hours in the middle of the day. Most restaurants, of course, stay open until around 3:00pm.

For tourists like us, on short day trips, this is a problem. Italians eat their main meal of the day during la pausa, and then have some time to relax a bit before going back to work. Children often come home from school, and then return after la pausa to finish their school day. But tourists like us are nowhere near home when la pausa starts. We’re out and about, and suddenly our options are restricted. As you’ll see if you read my day-by-day report, this often limited us.

Obviously, given la pausa, it would be a good idea to get started very early each day. But breakfast in our hotels was not generally served until 8:00am, so it was hard to get on the road before around 8:30 or 9:00. If our destination for the day was a 45 minute drive, and if parking and walking from our parking spot to our actual destination took another 15 minutes, our day couldn’t start until around 9:30. That left only two and a half hours before things started to close. In practice, we generally got going even later than that, sometimes considerably later, for reasons I’ll now discuss.

Certainly, lunch is an activity for la pausa, but it seldom took us more than an hour and a half. While we always found other things to do during la pausa, at our age, we tended to run out of steam by 4:00pm, when attractions and stores start to reopen. Thus, we generally didn’t make any use of that late afternoon / evening period – we generally headed home.

And then, dinner was not served until 8:00pm, and we usually didn’t finish dinner until 9:30 or 10:00. It’s not possible for either Margie or me to go to bed right after dinner – we need to leave at least an hour or two. Thus it became impossible to get to bed before 11:30 or midnight, completing the cycle by making it impossible to wake up really early. For us, la pausa was a problem – it substantially limited the number of things we could do.

Restaurants

We ate well on this trip, probably better than on previous trips to Italy. Perhaps we would have needed to spend more in Tuscany and Umbria, and particularly in major cities like Rome and Florence, to get the same quality meals we found routinely in Puglia. There were local vegetables galore in the antipasti, which were extremely varied and imaginative. Fresh mozzarella and burrata cheese were plentiful and good. The pasta was generally fresh.

Being on the coast, there was lots of fresh seafood, although Margie has a shellfish allergy, so she couldn’t take advantage of all of it. Much less seafood seemed to be available in Matera, in the province of Basilicata, apparently because it wasn’t on the coast. That seemed a bit odd to me, because it is only a couple of hours from the coast by truck. Maybe Italians really only want their seafood if it’s right off the boat.

On past trips, we found we didn't always eat well if we just walked into a randomly chosen restaurant. So this time, Margie did extensive research before we left, much of it on the Fodor's Forum, and prepared a file on sights and restaurants which we carried everywhere, both on our phones, and in paper form. Margie intends to add comments on the restaurants we ate in on this trip to that file, and we'll eventually make it available to Fodorites. But while we like to eat well, we don't generally plan a day's excursion based upon visiting a particular restaurant, and we tend to choose restaurants that are moderately priced.

When I mentioned restaurants in a trip report a number of years ago, someone suggested that I should also give the price of each meal, so readers would have an idea of the price range of each of the restaurants we tried. I’ve done that in my trip reports ever since. On this trip, the Euro was worth around $1.12. Since there's always a lot of interest in restaurants among the Fodor’s readership, I go into quite a bit of detail as to what we ate.

ExpressoWiFi

When we travel, we like to stay connected to our family back home, and we use the Internet fairly often to research restaurants and tourist attractions. Margie in particular wanted to stay up on the news, with the ongoing fascinating developments in U.S. politics. We also used Google Maps to navigate on the road.

To keep us connected, we rented an ExpressoWiFi device for this trip, and we liked it. We found it most useful on the road, where we used Google Maps for navigation. Google Maps did much better than my Garmin GPS, which was hampered by out-of-date maps (Puglia seems to have added a lot of new traffic circles). After using the Garmin GPS to drive from the Bari airport to our first hotel, we never used it again.

When we use a GPS or Google Maps, Margie often follows along on a conventional paper map. That way, if we get into trouble, she still has a good idea where we are. We used the Touring Editore 1:200,000 map of Puglia for an overview. It’s printed on rip-proof and waterproof plastic. It also has another very useful feature: it tells you which syllable is stressed in place names. Thus, for instance, the name of Otranto, a city we visited, is written on the map as Ótranto. That accent mark is NOT part of the city’s name as it is normally written. It only serves to tell you that the name is stressed on the first syllable – it’s OH-tran-toe, not oh-TRAN-toe as you might otherwise expect. On the other hand, Margie noticed that some of the route numbers on the map did not correspond to the route numbers used by Google Maps. Perhaps there’s been some sort of re-numbering since the map was issued.

We prepaid for the ExpressoWiFi device on their web site ( https://www.expressowifi.com/ ). We paid a per-day charge of 5€, and a 16€ delivery/pickup fee. There were no additional charges beyond that. The device was waiting for us at our first hotel upon our arrival, in a sealed envelope, and we left it at our last hotel for pickup, in another sealed envelope that had been provided, with a prepaid and pre-addressed label. Some sort of courier service was used for the drop-off and pickup.

The carrier used by the device was TIM. A WiFi device like this is sometimes called a "hotspot", and in rural Puglia, that name was quite apt - the device was often hot to the touch. I imagine that it was working hard to connect to rather weak 4G signals in the area. On our one day in Matera, in Basilicata, it ran much cooler. We kept it powered when in the car, so we had no problem with battery life even in fringe areas.

The ExpressoWiFi device provided WiFi to our two phones and Margie's tablet, wherever we were, for 5€ a day. Data plans with an adequate data allowance from our US carrier, Verizon, would have cost almost twice that, and for only one phone. Our old Samsung Galaxy S III phones are CDMA at home, but while they have GSM capability (and SIM cards), they are locked to Verizon, and we've never gone through the trouble of getting them unlocked. Hey, at least they don't catch on fire.

Our first hotel only had WiFi in two public areas, so we used the device in our room (and were able to look up the web sites of places we were planning to visit on Margie's WiFi-only tablet, giving us a larger screen). It was less important in our second two hotels, where we had a high-speed WiFi connection in our rooms, but we still used it daily for navigation on the road.

Since ExpressoWiFi had no drop-off point at the Bari airport, we left the device at our last hotel for pickup. We then turned on Mobile Data on our phones for the last day only, and used Google Maps to navigate back to the airport (which would have been pretty simple even without Maps). That was easily within the 100 Mbyte limit of our inexpensive Verizon International Plan, which also gave us essentially unlimited calling and text messages.

We were quite happy with the ExpressoWiFi service

Our rental car

Towards the end of June, we selected a car rental package on the Economy Car Rentals web site. Their provider was Keddy Car Rental, which seems to be a subsidiary of EuropCar. The web page provided us with a voucher to print and present at the EuropCar desk in the Bari airport.

The car was a Fiat 500L diesel, with room in the back hatch for all our luggage. It handled well, and we were mostly happy with it. I had two minor complaints about it. First, it had awful visibility out the back – it really needed a backup camera. Second, when swung to the side, the visor came nowhere near far enough back to block any sun coming in the driver’s side window. When driving south in the morning or north in the evening, both frequent occurrences, I was dazzled by the sun low in the sky. I took to wearing my hat inside the car, and pulling the wide brim down on my left side to shield my eyes.

We drove 1264 km in 14 days, on 93€ of diesel fuel. The credit card slips don’t give the number of liters purchased, but at a price of about 1€30 per liter, we must have used about 72 liters.

The final bill from Europcar lists the amount of carbon dioxide our 1264 km of driving released into the atmosphere. At 110g/km for the Fiat 500L, it amounted to 139 kg of CO2. Of course, this is a drop in the bucket compared with the round trip flight for the two of us, which produced around 5 tons of CO2 emissions (using a rough average of about 2.5 tons of CO2 per person for a transatlantic flight). That’s about 4,500 kg of CO2, over 30 times as much as we spent tootling around Puglia in the car.

The Mobile Passport app

Prior to the trip, I had loaded the Mobile Passport app (Android version) onto my phone, and filled it with our basic information (passport numbers, photos, etc.). On our return flight, I filled it out with the information that is normally submitted on the blue Customs Declaration form that is always handed to you on the plane. Since this was my first experience with the app, I actually also filled out the paper version of the form, in case the app didn’t work.

But in fact, it worked spectacularly well. In theory, using the app just provides a slightly faster way of transferring your Customs Declaration information to the examiners. The information is transferred electronically, instead of by presenting a paper form. But using the app at Boston's Logan Airport, it did much more than that. It took us out of the regular lines, and moved us into the Global Entry path at every step, and we zipped right through as fast as those who had Global Entry. In fact, the Global Entry users were having problems with the machines (particularly with the printing), while our app "receipt" barcodes were read perfectly.

Margie and I have paid $100 each to apply for Global Entry, but our interviews are not scheduled until April, 2017. But it was not clear what Global Entry would have gotten us that use of the Mobile Passport app did not.

I'll continue tomorrow with a day-by-day account of our trip.

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    Love the organization of your report--very easy to read. I wish I were as organized as you and your wife.

    I have been debating Puglia for many, many years; it keeps moving up and down the list (so many places to see in this world!). Looking forward to your itinerary and impressions.

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    Margie here- Leely2, I am organized in the planning stage, gathering information and making files of sights, restaurants, and so forth. Then, it stops. Larry takes over on the trip, writing daily trip entries, and coming home to write the trip report.

    I have, for the most part, stopped taking many photos while traveling, because I found that I was spending too much time behind the view finder and missing the experience. Since I am a painter, I mostly take photos of something I want to paint upon our return. This year, I concentrated on olive trees, which I'm sure Larry will talk about later in the report.

    Enjoy.

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    We loved Puglia.
    Eager to hear more.
    We used free offline google maps, worked fine.
    We loved the food in Puglia too, great meals.
    We dealt with the pausa by having our main meal during that time and then spending time outside, but our trip was not so much about sights.
    We ate little in the evening, usually just a snack unless dinner was served in our masseria at 7:30.

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    Our first week:

    Day by day

    I wrote down our activities at the end of each day, using my smart phone as a computer, with a Bluetooth keyboard for easier typing. This results in a rather wordy report – feel free to skim or skip. After our return, I added comments on each of our stays on the day of checkout.

    Friday 9/9 - Saturday 9/10:

    We had a good flight from Boston to Bari via Zurich on Swiss Air. After picking up our rental car from EuropCar, we drove to Villa Conca Marco, a bit southeast of Lecce, and checked in. We arrived in time for a late lunch, explored the grounds a bit, took a 2 hour nap, and then had the first of their plentiful buffet dinners. At the end of the dinner, we were offered a couple of Amari, an after-dinner liquor. These became an after-dinner habit at the Conca Marco.

    Sunday 9/11:

    We drove into Lecce after breakfast. After driving around a bit, we finally found parking, a bit outside the center. We phoned and made a reservation for lunch at 12:30 at Nonna Tetti, a restaurant we had found in our Lonely Planet "Southern Italy" guidebook (we tore out and carried only the pages on Puglia). We then explored the historic center of Lecce, near the Roman Amphitheater. We visited the Chiesa di Santa Chiara, and then walked to the Nonna Tetti for lunch (we had picked that restaurant partly because of the guidebook recommendation, and partly because it was on the route from the historic center back to our car).

    At the Nonna Tetti , we started with an antipasto casa, which had five dishes: peppers and olives, sliced cold zucchini salad, hot mushrooms, an eggplant dish, and fresh mozzarella. Margie then had ciciri e tria, a tradition local pasta dish made with chick peas. I had a cartoccio pesce, a frutti di mare dish steamed in an aluminum foil wrap, containing a white fish, a large prawn, and assorted mussels and clams. With a Coke Zero and acqua naturale, 40€50.

    As we were eating, the skies opened, and it poured, with accompanying lightning and thunder. The street turned into a raging river. It seemed to be good for the restaurant’s business, as some of the people ducking in from the rain came in for lunch.

    Leaving the restaurant, we waited for a bit of a lull in the heavy rain (although the rain had not completely stopped), and headed toward the car. Under the Porta San Biaggio, we happened upon a street vendor selling large umbrellas, so I bought one for 10€. When I balked at buying two, he sold me a second for an addition 5€. That got us back to the car reasonably dry. But the umbrellas were far too large to pack up for the return trip, and too bulky to carry on board – we left them at our final hotel (which had a stand full of umbrellas near the front door for guests to use).

    We drove back to the Conca Marco, but then went out again to visit their affiliated beach, where we chatted with the man in charge. The Conca Marco offers a free 30-minute sailboat excursion as part of their package, and I inquired about that. But the sailing instructor was not there that day, due to the rainy weather. Being from New England, I have ample opportunity to sail, and I wasn’t all that interested in using the time that would be needed to take them up on that offer.

    We then visited a local mini market in Vanze, only about a kilometer from the hotel. I bought demineralized water for my CPAP machine (the smallest container available had more than twice as much as I needed to last the rest of the trip), some bottles of drinking water to carry with us on our day trips, and a bottle of shampoo, which the Conca Marco did not supply (although our room did have a hair dryer and a safe). We then drove back to the hotel for dinner.

    Monday 9/12:

    The weather was still a bit iffy, but we decided to drive south along the coast, taking our new umbrellas. We had slept late, so we got a late start. We drove to Otranto, and by the time we got parked, it was already 11:30. We toured the cathedral, which then closed at noon. But the castello was open all day, even during the pausa, so we went through it. Included was a marvelous show by the American photographer Steve McCurry, containing a substantial collection of his large-format portraits.

    We had lunch at L'Altro Baffo, near the castle. Margie had an eggplant parmigiana antipasto with swordfish, very good. I had a spaghetti dish with mixed shellfish. Both of these dishes were small, but we finished with a rather large cheese plate. With Margie's usual Coke Zero and a bottle of water, 53€.

    We then drove south toward Santa Cesaria Terme, but were shortly stymied by a road closure on the coastal road, which we later found to have been caused by a rock slide due to the recent days and days of heavy rain. A sign shunted us inland, on a detour that was not further indicated, so it took us a while to figure out how to go around the problem (the solution was Google Maps). The detour, unfortunately, was rather long – there was really no short way around the problem area.

    We arrived in Santa Cesaria Terme to find a festival day finishing up, with the various booths lining the procession route closing up. If you're not in Santa Cesaria Terme for the terme (spas), there isn't actually that much to see. We had a couple of gelati, visited the local church, and headed back, following a route recommended by the local tourist office, which had only just opened up at 4:00pm, after the pausa. Google Maps also agreed with the route, and helped us find our way to Vanze, from where we knew the short route back to the hotel.

    Another buffet dinner at the hotel, after which we chatted with a couple from Switzerland in a marvelous mix of languages (Italian, English, French, and German, of which I remembered a surprising amount). We also chatted with our daughter Sara on Facebook Messenger.

    Tuesday 9/13:

    We drove into Lecce, planning to park on the same street we had found on Sunday. It was fully parked up, but we found a spot around the corner on a side street, and paid the parchometro for about four hours. We then spent the morning hunting for studios producing cartapesta (paper maché). With some difficulty, we located two, the studio of Marco Epicochi, and that of Claudio Riso, the latter in the Piazza Duomo. To arrive at the Piazza Duomo, I didn't think to go through the Cathedral to enter the piazza from the back, so we ended up walking all around the periphery, quite a long trip.

    Margie enjoyed the visit to the cartapesta studios. Although the pieces were well painted and decorated, she was surprised to see how many felt mass produced. Appendages and faces were often made with molds, filled with either clay or paper pulp. The originality came from layers of paper maché applied as clothing, and in the final painting.

    Since this is an old process, most of the figures had either a religious theme, or represented local village life. Since Margie works differently when she does paper maché, she decided not to take a course in Lecce, but these are available for those interested, at the studio of Claudio Riso and others.

    We decided to go back to Nonna Tetti for lunch, where the waitress remembered us from our visit two days before. We shared an appetizer with mixed fried arancini-like balls of various types. Margie then had small lamb chops, and I had a mixed grill. In all, 38€.

    On to the Museo Archeologico Provinciale Sigismondo Castromediano, which being a provincial museum is free, and which is also open during la pausa. It has an enormous collection of artifacts, many Grecian and Roman, found in the Salento peninsula (the southern tip of Puglia). It gives you a good idea of the early settlement of the region, back to the Bronze Age.

    Back to the hotel to relax a bit, and another dinner.

    Wednesday, 9/14:

    Our last day at the Conca Marco. After breakfast, we drove about an hour down to Gallipoli, a city we very much enjoyed, although it was crowded with tourists. We got there by setting our GPS to "Gallipoli Porto", which took us to a large public parking lot in the old port, where you can park free of charge. After checking at the tourist office and at the castle, we determined that the castle would be open all day, so we postponed our castle visit until after lunch, during the pausa, to allow us to visit the cathedral and perhaps other churches, before they closed at noon.

    The cathedrale has an enormous number of gigantic paintings lining the walls. We came across a guide describing one, in English, to a large group of tourists. It was a particularly gruesome image of the martyrdom of Saint Agatha, I think, showing her having her breast cut off, and held over her head to drip her own blood upon her.

    We had lunch at Le Mura (literally, "The Walls), where we shared a prosciutto e melone antipasto. I then had a traditional local dish, large prawns crusted in coarse salt, and served swimming in olive oil. Margie had veal scallopini. Total 47€.

    We walked down the hill, stopping to look in a few stores, looking for a dress for our granddaughter Darwin (three and a half years old). At the store in the entrance to the castle, we purchased a rather large collection of genuine sea sponges, including a bunch of smaller ones for Margie to give to her art class students (these are used by artists for various purposes, particularly in watercolor).

    We stopped at the bar Martinucci for a gelato. I had three scoops (6€), and Margie had a spumoni (4€), rather costly but both very large and very good (this was with table service, which always costs a bit more than just ordering at the counter). They were very nicely presented, with a small glass of water for each. I took a picture and posted it on Facebook, with the caption, "What’s so great about these geloti? They’re in Italy!"

    We then toured the castle, which had a lot of modern art scattered among the ancient rooms. Margie skipped one portion, which descended a couple of stories to a large vaulted room. It was quite interesting, but Margie was having some back problems, and didn't want to get into any trouble by indulging in excessive stair climbing just prior to our upcoming guided tour of the caves in Matera, which we knew would be up and down over rough terrain.

    After I came back up and rejoined Margie, couple of Italian men tried to urge us, in halting English, to descend for that portion of the visit. I finally explained in detail, in Italian, that I had already seen it, and that Margie was having back problems and had decided for that reason to skip it. As the two men walked on, I was delighted to hear one say to the other, in Italian, "He speaks Italian really well!" I said, "Grazie".

    We walked back to our car, and drove back to the hotel, where we packed our suitcases for the next day's departure, and had our last dinner at the Conca Marco.

    Thoughts on the Villa Conca Marco

    The week we were there, the Villa Conca Marco was an Italian family resort. Most of the other guests were Italian, quite a few with children. There were a few guests from other countries, but no Americans. Some families were only there for a long weekend. Many spent their days at the associated beach. Since Margie and I are from the Boston, Massachusetts area, where we have a lot of nice beaches, we were not interested in that. The beaches we saw along the coast are not great by US standards. They are fairly narrow strips of sand, pretty well covered by chaises and beach umbrellas.

    The Conca Marco seemed to be oriented towards the needs and desires of its Italian family guests. It has a very large pool, which includes a big shallow area for children. A TV in the dining room was on all the time, playing assorted Italian MTV-like shows at fairly high volume. One morning at breakfast, when there were only a few people in the room, I grabbed the remote and briefly muted it (the other two couples in the room at the time didn’t seem to object). Wi-Fi in the Conca Marco was available in the dining room and at the office, but not in the guest rooms. The property is pretty spread out, and I suspect that providing Wi-Fi everywhere would be quite expensive.

    Our room was quite large and comfortable. It had a patio-like area in front, under cover, where you could sit outdoors even in rainy weather. A drying rack was provided, presumably for swimsuits and towels.

    The breakfasts were "Continental" breakfasts, with lots of bread and cake and preserves, but no protein except for yogurt – no meat, cheese, or eggs (and Margie doesn’t like yogurt). I think most American guests would prefer more substantial breakfasts, and a Swiss couple we spoke with made a similar comment. But there were two women mostly dedicated to preparing coffee. After trying lots of possibilities, Margie and I settled on two Cappuccini each morning – one decaf, and one "normale".

    The dinners were served buffet style, and included a large variety of dishes. There were always pizze of various types, and assorted other traditional Italian pasta dishes. There was always at least one meat dish, and some evenings fish and shellfish. The desserts were rather limited, although it turned out that you could often order an additional dessert (at additional cost), something we didn't discover right away. Wine was not included in the base price of the dinner, but was available either in carafes or by the bottle, at reasonable prices. We bought a bottle one evening, didn’t finish it, and it was brought back to us the next evening. And as I noted above, a couple of Amari, an after-dinner liquor, became an after-dinner habit.

    Although this is just a rather vague feeling of mine, that I’m having trouble pinning down, I felt a linguistic atmosphere I hadn’t quite experienced before: yes, I spoke Italian, but of course! We were in Italy, the language was Italian, that’s what everyone spoke, that’s what was expected. It must be the way visitors to the US feel – yes, of course you speak English, doesn’t everybody? In other trips to Italy, to areas where the local people I encounter are used to dealing with foreign tourists, I’ve gotten a lot of credit for speaking Italian, especially when people find out that I don’t come from an Italian family. Not so much among the guests at the Conca Marco. Sure, I spoke Italian – doesn’t everybody?

    Not that you NEED to speak Italian to stay at the Conca Marco. The owner, Nico, speaks English well, and there are always people in the office and in the dining area who speak English. Margie had no trouble making any of her needs known, and we were well cared for.

    I'll follow up in the next few days with the rest of our visit.

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    Great report. Looking forward to more.

    I'm surprised at your response to beaches, we loved several, especially those near Santa Caesarea.
    They reminded me of Carribean beaches, which I love and miss.

    We lucked out on the weather arriving two days later!

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    Wow, such a detailed report. Love it!

    As a matter of fact, we were in Puglia at the same time (7 - 24 Sep).

    As to driving, we took our portable GPS fom home which worked fine, and used the detailed Michelin map Local 363. Excellent map and totally accurate.

    I’ve never heard about having to pay a fee for the release of carbon dioxide in the air! Did they tell you beforehand? BTW, we drove 2.090 kms in total but we covered all of Puglia (and 2 nights in Matera), including the Gargano in the very north.

    During our first week, we used the pausa for long lunches because of the bad weather. We have always eaten well but much of the same. We were really glad the menus were different in Matera and in Vieste.

    Awaiting your next installment ...

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    Thanks for all the nice comments.

    jubilada, since we never spent a day at the beach, we didn't do any research on the available beaches, and I'm reporting just on the few that we did see, which were quite densely populated. There may be some wonderful beaches along the coast - that was not our focus. In the second week (report to come) we saw some less heavily populated beaches, places where people just parked along the road and brought in their own gear.

    Margie did suggest that a day at the beach might have been a good occasion for conversation in Italian, even if a day on the sand is not something I usually seek out. But we never tried it.

    My idea of a nice beach is something like Cape Hatteras - white sand extending 200 meters back from the shore, running in both directions as far as the eye can see, with the nearest other person barely visible in the distance. But closer to home here in Massachusetts, Cape Cod and Cape Ann will do in a pinch.

    The weather we encountered was unusually rainy for September, to the point of causing problems like the rock slide we had to avoid on the way to Santa Cesarea Terme. But for the most part, we just worked around the episodes of heavy rain, which didn't slow us down much. As far as Margie is concerned, it was a lot better than if it had been extremely hot.

    MyriamC, there was no charge for the CO2 emissions released by our driving. The amount was just noted on the final invoice, which I received via snail-mail after our return. Our credit card had already been billed the Monday after our return, and the invoice was just to give a final accounting.

    I guess the theory is that if people are informed how much CO2 their driving is producing, they may be inclined to rent more environmentally-friendly vehicles. The invoice included both the amount per kilometer released by the particular car, listed as "FIAT LYS 500 L. (110g/km CO2)", and the total emitted in 1264 km of driving, "139.04kg CO2".

    More tomorrow.

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    Paris agreement requires significant CO2 reduction, individuals can only change their attitudes if they can see what the figures are. Makes complete sense to me.

    Internal European airlines have had this info for years.

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    Justretired, we love swimming , particularly in the ocean, so the beach was a priority for us. We went to one of the lidos with sun beds and really enjoyed being amongst Italian families having fun. It was one place where we had the most conversation with local people , so that was fun too.


    At all the lidos seemed also to have free public beaches where people just brought their stuff, which we would have done if we had chairs etc.

    Interesting to learn about the awareness about CO2. I'll have to go back and look at our invoice.

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    MyriamC, the CO2 numbers weren't very prominent on the invoice - they were appended to the lines giving the car registration and the total distance driven, in the form I quoted above. I assumed that this information is required by Italian law, but if it was not on your invoice, perhaps that's not the case.

    jubilada, it sounds as if I should have taken Margie's advice - a day at the beach would have been a good opportunity for Italian conversation for me, and a good rest day for both of us.

    The entrance charge at the beach was included in our stay at the Villa Conca Marco. At our second Agriturismo, we would have gotten a reduction for a day at the beach, but it wasn't completely covered.

    Our granddaughter Darwin is with us this morning - she's playing with Margie at the moment. I'll try to post the rest of the report later in the day.

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    justretired,
    We went to a different beach than was included with our agriturismo because we preferred it, but it was not much money.

    I have barely any Italian but my wife always wanted to practice hers ( Puglia was excellent for this!) and I got by in French.

    Next year when we go to Le Marches we're doing some language school at the beginning of the trip so maybe I'll be able to join in.

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    justretired,
    Vieste had those nice longish and wide beaches. In Vieste the fee for two sunbeds and an umbrella was also included in the price of the room.
    We also visited other lido's between Gallipoli and Leuca. Prices were 10 euros for 2 sunbeds and an umbrella. Those are off-season prices.
    All had the same uncomfy sunbeds.

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    jubilada, if you speak French, you won't find Italian difficult. And it doesn't take that much to be a tourist. When I'm in Italy, I effectively speak Italian, but if I read an Italian magazine article, I usually have to look up about 25 words on each page. Tourists don't need to discuss philosophy, they deal with simple stuff, mostly in the present tense.

    We've heard good things about Le Marche, and may visit there at some point. But our next trip will probably be to France.

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    We just finished a long day with our granddaughter Darwin, who's three and a half - a lot of fun, but very tiring. At one point, I was told to act out the roles of both "Cindryella" and the three evil stepsisters.

    Here's the rest of my Puglia trip report:

    Back to the day-by-day

    Thursday 9/15:

    We settled our bill after breakfast, and headed out on the longest drive of our trip, from Lecce (in the Puglia region) to Matera (in Basilicata). We were lucky to find parking near the entrance to our hotel, the Hotel Il Belvedere, where we were able to leave our car until our departure. Well, I did move it over one space the next day, when I found it was getting covered by pigeon poop from an overhead streetlight.

    We had reserved what they call a "Superior" room, which turned out to be a large and beautiful room that rather looked like a cave. Matera is famous for its caves, which are called "sassi". That’s the plural of the Italian word "sasso", which literally means "rock" or "stone". The sassi are carved into the limestone walls of a large gorge that runs alongside the city. There are actually two areas containing these caves, the Sasso Barisano on the north side of a ridge through the city, and the Sasso Caveoso on the south side, the area we toured.

    But although our room seems to have been built on top of an old sasso, it was a modern room, although with a stone finish. Behind the bed, an internal window looked down into one of the old caves. The bathroom was also beautiful, with the same stone walls.

    In Matera, it’s possible to actually stay in hotels down in the gorge, built into the old sassi. When walking down in the gorge the following day, we occasionally saw visitors dragging suitcases to rooms which could not be reached by a vehicle. But we knew when we planned the trip that walking around the sassi involves a lot of walking up and down over very uneven steps. One of Margie's eyes is very weak, and as a result, she has poor depth perception. She also has early AMD (Age-related Macular Degeneration), and can have trouble distinguishing lights and darks. Thus she must walk rather slowly and carefully over that sort of terrain, particularly in dim light. And if we had stayed in a hotel down in the gorge, we would have needed to walk on that sort of terrain after dark.

    Hence we chose to stay in a hotel just ABOVE the Sasso Caveoso. The Hotel Il Belvedere is perched on the rim of the gorge, and has fabulous views of the sassi from its terrace. But stepping out the front door, on the other side of the building, you’re in the relatively flat modern part of the city.

    Back to the day of our arrival: we walked out to a nearby restaurant, the Ristorante del Caveoso, recommended by the hotel desk clerk. Margie had a ravioli dish, and I had a traditional local stew, containing pork cutlets and sausage. We finished with a cheese platter. The cheese platter was listed on the menu as an antipasto, but we had it at the end of the meal, French style. Judging by the reaction of the waiter, we were not the first people to have done this. With cover and a bottle of water, 39€50.

    We returned to the hotel to unpack more carefully, and I took some time to write this entry in the trip report. I also phoned and made a dinner reservation at La Pignata. I assumed the restaurant name to be the Italian spelling of the Spanish "la piñata", since it's pronounced exactly the same. But it's not; upon investigation, a pignata proves to be a kind of terra cotta cooking crock.

    When I did a Google search on "pignata", one of the pages that came up described it (although a metal version), but in an unfamiliar language. You can see the page here:

    https://scn.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pignata

    It's obviously a Romance language that is close to Italian, but it's not Italian. I assumed it to be an Italian dialect. And, to jump ahead a day, the next day our Sassi tour guide Cosimo identified the language as Leccese, the dialect spoken in the province of Lecce (from which we had just come). The region of Puglia is divided into six provinces. The first of our agriturismi, the Villa Conca Marco, is in the province of Lecce, and the second, the Masseria Garrappa, is in the province of Bari.

    We had a good dinner at La Pignata, which indeed served some very large meat stew dishes cooked in these large terra-cotta stew pots, and served out of those pots at the table. We started with their antipasto della casa, a well balanced selection of ten separate items. Margie then had agnello arrosto (lamb chops), served in such a large portion that she couldn't finish it all. I had a pasta dish, orecchiette with a sauce of rape (turnips) and acciughe (anchovies). We shared a bottle of a very nice wine, L'Atto delle cantine del Notaio, 2014, made with 100% aglianico grapes. We finished with a couple of amari (amaro Lucano), which we had quickly developed a taste for at the Conca Marco. With a large bottle of water, 48€50.

    Friday 9/16:

    A sunny day, and we had a very nice breakfast at the hotel, on their outdoor terrace overlooking the gorge and the sassi. It was much more complete than the rather basic Continental breakfasts served at the Villa Conca Marco. Il Belvedere provides fresh croissants, both plain and filled, assorted meats, cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, and other such items. Finally, we were getting a little protein to get our touristic day started. Like the Conca Marco, the coffees are made to order (the Italians seem to take their morning coffee very seriously).

    Promptly at 09:00, our guide for the morning, Cosimo, showed up. We had previously arranged a private guided tour on-line through the web site SassiWeb. Because of Margie’s depth perception issue, which I discussed above, we figured she’d need to walk rather slowly and carefully in the sassi. So rather than risk slowing down a small group tour, we decided on a private tour where we could set our own pace. This was also one of two times on this trip that Margie used a pair of walking sticks.

    Cosimo proved to be an excellent guide. His father grew up in the sassi, and he himself had lived in them for a couple of years. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the area. His English is good, and easy to understand.

    The tour descended into the sassi, wound its way around the various sights, and climbed back up to the top. At that point, Margie was pretty tired and hot, despite having consumed a bottle and a half of water during the tour (it was a hot day). We plunked ourselves down at a caffè, and ordered a couple of smoothies to cool off. Although the tour was booked as three hours, we let Cosimo go a bit early, after about two hours hour and a half (although he sat with us and chatted for another quarter hour).

    The caffè was exactly in front of the entrance to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale "Domenico Ridola", which we then went through - an enormous collection of artifacts from various prehistoric eras, all collected not far from Matera. The captions are exclusively in Italian. We also visited a couple of churches, the Chiesa del Carmine, and the Chiesa di Santa Chiara.

    We returned to La Pignata for a simple lunch, two pizze, both very good (my first pizza on this trip). With a bottle of water, 17€. Then back to the hotel for a rest, and entering this report. Tired from the morning's strenuous climbing in the heat, Margie slept for over an hour.

    We walked around the Piazzetta Pascoli a bit, and visited some nearby stores, before going to the restaurant Soul Kitchen, where we had reserved a table. We split a serving of three cold and three hot appetizers, all very interesting and very good. Margie had a potato ravioli stuffed with mozzarella, and I had saltimbocca, with a side of potatoes. With a carafe of local wine (only 8€), the total came to 53€.

    Thoughts on the Hotel Il Belvedere

    This is a hotel with high level of service (attentive staff, very complete breakfasts, shampoo and similar amenities in the bathroom, etc.). The room was very attractive and large. Being built on top of, and perhaps into, a cave, the room has a bit of a moisture problem – we ran the provided dehumidifier most of the time during the day. The bathroom had even worse dampness, as it had a very large walk-in shower, and didn’t seem to have any kind of powered vent. But these were minor issues in a very nice hotel.

    Back to the day-by-day

    Saturday 9/17:

    This was largely a travel day. We packed up in the morning - we didn't have to be out of the hotel until 11am. We then drove to the Masseria Garrappa, which is near the coast a bit south of Monopoli. We had some drop-outs of Google Maps along the way, but they didn't cause any major problems. More concerning was a low tire pressure indication on the dash. I stopped and looked at the tires, but none were visibly flat. I then stopped at the next garage we encountered, an Eni station. An attendant helpfully topped off all the tires, commenting that the left rear seemed a bit low. The low-pressure indication on the dash persisted, but a display seemed to indicate (in Italian, of course) that it needed to be reset once the low-pressure situation had been resolved.

    I pulled the manual out of the glove compartment (have you EVER found a manual in a rental car in the US?), used the index to find the relevant section, and with some difficulty finding the right buttons, I was able to activate the menu, and reset the low-pressure indication. It didn't bother us for several days after that.

    At the Masseria Garrappa, we were greeted by Roberto, who gave us a quick description of the property, and showed us to our room, a converted granary in the main house. We also met Nadia, with whom we had communicated via e-mail prior to the trip. For lunch, Roberto directed us to the Lido Bambù, a beach with which they have an agreement. It's only a few minutes away by car, and it has an attached restaurant that's open all day. Margie had a tuna and mozzarella salad. I had a mixed seafood grill, with salmon, squid, a large prawn, and a rather large octopus. With a bottle of water, an iced coffee and a fruit platter for dessert, 31€50. Very good, and very reasonably priced.

    Back at the Masseria, we unpacked, and then spent some time looking over the grounds, and taking many photographs of the old olive trees on the premises, hundreds of years old, with amazingly gnarled trunks. Margie is apt to use some of these photos for one or more watercolor paintings.

    We had dinner at the Masseria, outdoors in the garden, under a "fake pepper" tree. It’s called a "fake pepper" because it produces a type of peppercorn, but one that is toxic in large quantities, hence is not eaten. Our dinner got off to a late start, because there was a large group of cyclists present, organized by Backroads Bicycle Tours.

    The dinner was excellent. Reading from the menu: Margie had homemade Mediterranean tortelli with basil pesto, and I had incanulate pasta with yellowfin tuna, tomato and almond and anchovies crumble. Margie had a crunchy hazelnut semifreddo for dessert, and I had the house version of a trifle (with chocolate cake). With water and cover and one glass of rosé, 51€.

    There was a large group at an adjacent table that seemed to be speaking a mix of languages - German, English, French, and Italian.

    Sunday, 9/18:

    At breakfast, we met the group that had been at the adjacent table the night before. They proved to be a group of friends from various countries who get together every year for a trip. This was their tenth such trip, traveling together in a large rented van. In fact, they had been served a very large cake the night before to commemorate their tenth anniversary, and the remains of the cake were served at breakfast. I took great delight in speaking with them in English, French, Italian, and a little bit of German. Unfortunately, they were leaving that morning for the next leg of their trip. They did leave us with a printed copy of their itinerary.

    We set out towards Monopoli, but noting that we had gotten off to a rather late start, we drove around it on the highway and went directly to Polignano a Mare. We probably took the wrong entrance into the town, because we ran afoul of many steets that were closed to traffic, and open to pedestrians only. But we did finally find a reasonable parking place, and walked into the historic district, where we walked around a bit, looked out over the sea and the sea-level caves in the town's rock walls, and browsed in a few shops. The town was crowded with tourists.

    We made a lunch reservation for 1:00pm at a nearby restaurant with good recommendations on Google, and then decided to take a short "train" ride to sit down a bit, and get oriented, in a vehicle made up to look like a train. This may not have been a good idea, as all the closed streets made it difficult for the train to show us very many of the important sights of the town.

    The rest of the train car was taken up largely by group of Italian women, who sang along noisily to various old movies being shown on a screen up front. I didn't know any of the words myself, until we got to a statue in a public square called the Largo Gelso. At that point, the video up front started showing the Italian singer Domenico Modugno singing the hit that made him famous, "Nel blu dipinto di blu", commonly called "Volare". At that point I could sing along. It turned out that Domenico Modugno was born in Polignano a Mare, which is why there’s a statue of him in the Largo Gelso.

    The ride barely got us back in time for lunch, which we ate at the Ristorante Antiche Mura (ancient walls), where I had reserved a table under the name "Lorenzo", as is my usual practice. Margie had a Caprese salad, followed by a pasta with salmon, walnuts, and pesto. I had baked mussels (with a breaded topping), and linguini with clams, adorned with a couple of langoustines. With water and a Coke Zero (which I have come to call "vino Americano"), 46€.

    We then headed back on the highway south to near the Masseria Garrappa, and drove down the coastal road just to look at the small towns (heavily beach-club oriented). We got as far as Torre Canne, where we parked and strolled around a bit, looking at the lighthouse. We then headed back, but stopped at the Museo Nazionale Archeologico e Parco Archeologico di Egnazia, which had a sign on the road, but which was rather difficult to find after turning in. However, it proved to be an extremely interesting museum, full of artifacts found in various archeological digs all over Puglia. The audio guides, available in five languages, are quite worthwhile.

    After our museum visit, Margie, who was tired of walking, sat in the car and called her sister at home, while I briefly toured the attached Roman necropolis (burial ground) that had been included with our museum entrance tickets. It exposed excavated tombs from the 4th and 3rd Century BC. A sign there warned, "Area sottoposta a trattamento con repellente 'Snake-a-way' per l'allontanamento dei rettili. Tuttavia non si esclude la possibilità della loro presenza." Under this was an approximate English translation, "'Snake-a-way' repellent treated area to get away snakes. Nevertheless, pay attention."

    Back at the hotel, while waiting for dinner, I wrote this part of the Trip Report. I also used some anti-bacterial wipes we had brought along to finally wash the pigeon droppings off the windshield and hood of the car, an unfortunate side effect of our parking spot in Matera, under a lamp post. Shortly later, it poured, with lightning and thunder, leaving the car quite a bit cleaner than it was before. Cleaning the car is not my responsibility, but the droppings were polluting Margie’s view out the windshield.

    Off to dinner. I had rabbit delicacies with negroamaro wine sauce, and a biancomangiare with pistachio for dessert. I was a bit amused to hear the source of my main dish described as "free-range rabbit". Margie had Pork filet with pancetta and fried zucchini, with a Ricotta cake for dessert. 59€, with 2 glasses of wine.

    Monday 9/19:

    We got a late start as usual, and drove off to Alberobello. We drove around the city quite a while trying to find what we imagined would be a principle tourist parking lot, without success. We eventually parked on the street, in a blue zone (pay at the parchometro), and walked into the historic center. Alberobello's claim to fame are thousands of "trulli" (singular "trullo"), stone buildings with conical roofs made of stacked dry stones (that is, no mortar is used). This also attracts tourists, who were present en-masse – this was the most tourist-filled city we visited on the trip, even denser with tourists than Polignano a Mare. We walked around and took in the sights. We also stopped in one of the many stores, and bought a Snow White doll for our granddaughter Darwin, and a trulli-themed onesie as a baby gift.

    We then pulled the name of the restaurant L'Aratro off Margie's list - it had been recommended by two Fodorites. As usual, I phoned to make a reservation, which also has the effect of checking to be sure that we can get in, so we don't take a long walk and find the restaurant closed or full.

    The man who waited on us has his picture on the restaurant's card - perhaps he's the owner. He wore a very colorful outfit, with Italian flag themed suspenders, a multicolored apron, and a multicolored silk scarf. I commented on the colors, and he said something to the effect of "They're the colors of the sun, the colors of life."

    We split a large house antipasto (18 €), which was really terrific. It didn't come all at once - waiters kept bringing over new dishes. At this point, I can't remember what all the dishes were. We then split some sort of traditional pasta dish with bacon - they divided it for us. With wine for Margie (not me, the driver), water, and cover, 38€. A meal we really enjoyed.

    I explained to the waiter, in Italian, why I don't have wine for lunch. It was something like this: 10% of my brain is used for driving a standard shift. 30% of my brain goes to driving in a foreign country, reading signs in a foreign language. I've lost 20% of my brain to age. 20% of my brain is needed to watch out for Italian drivers. If I had a glass of wine, I'd have almost nothing left.

    After lunch, we walked around another section of Alberobello, called the "Aia Piccola" district, with lots of small trulli, most of them being lived in as residences. We then walked back to the car, and drove to our next stop, the town of Locorotundo.

    In Locorotundo, a "white village" on top of a hill, we got a great free parking spot (white zone). At that point the heavens opened up in a vicious thunderstorm, which we watched from the safety of our car. We waited a bit for it to pass, but it didn't - the rain continued. So we gave up on Locorotundo, and drove back towards our hotel (but if you read on, you'll find we eventually did return). On the way back, in the town of Savelletri, we came across and photographed a beautiful arcobaleno (rainbow) over the water.

    We had told the hotel we would not be having dinner with them, as we wanted to try some of the other local restaurants. Finding one on the internet was quite a chore - this was not an area we had investigated in advance (we had restaurants listed in Monopoli, but Monopoli was further away than we had imagined). The most frustrating thing about our internet research was the number of restaurants about which it was easy to find all sorts of information, with the exception of the price range. I was interested in one restaurant, but as I read some of the reviews, I eventually found it to be extremely expensive. Even on TripAdvisor, where some indication of price would seem to be essential, no mention of the price of dishes was given for many restaurants.

    We ended up at the Osteria del Porto, where we did have a nice meal. It's a good seafood-oriented restaurant. I started with peppered mussels, very good, and for a main course, had grilled octopus, which I found to be a bit too tough, perhaps a bit overcooked. Margie started with a salad, but had just a spaghetti Bolognese for her main course, since the restaurant uses the same grill for shellfish and regular fish, and Margie is allergic to shellfish. With a half-liter of wine, water, and cover, 49€50.

    Tuesday, 9/20:

    We drove to Ostuni, less than half an hour away. This time we did better research in selecting our destination within the town, by finding a tourist-oriented map on-line, locating the specific parking lot we wanted to use, and entering an address near that lot. That worked - we were taken straight to where we wanted to be.

    We walked into town using Google Maps for guidance, going straight to the information center to get a paper map and some information about the major sights to see. Although we arrived a few minutes after noon, we were happy to see the information center still open. This got us not only a map, but also good advice on the hours the various places would be closing for la pausa.

    Ostuni is perched on the top of a hill, and the vertical distances walked are enormous. We had probably walked up 5 or 6 stories just getting to the center of town from the parking lot, and that was only the start. From there it was uphill to the museum, our first stop.

    The Museo civico di "Civiltà preclassiche della Murgia meridionale" (Municipal Museum of "Preclassica Civilizations of Southern Murgia Hills) is a wonderful museum which you enter through an attached deconsecrated church. The museum itself is in a former monastery of the cloistered Carmelites. It contains the skeletons of what is billed as "La madre più antica del mondo", "the oldest mother in the world" and her fetus, radiocarbon dated between 26,461 to 26,115 BC, so well over 28,000 years old. There's also a reconstruction of how the skeletons were found, the bones embedded in a rocky matrix, and a diorama illustrating how her body might have been originally buried.

    We the proceeded to the main cathedral, the Duomo, and had a look at it.

    And bingo! time for lunch. We walked to a restaurant recommended by the Masseria Garrappa, the Osterial Piazzetta cattedrale, listed as being in front of the cathedrale (which is where we were). The list showed it as "Always open, reservation recommended", but when we got there, it was closed. No matter, only a few steps lost.

    We then pulled the Osteria del Tempo Perso from the same list, phoned them, and made a reservation. We set off walking the short distance, using Google maps, which in walking mode in a pedestrian-only area showed our path as blue dots. It didn't look like much of a walk, and was listed as only three minutes. But Google Maps doesn't report on vertical distances - the walk was down, down, down a long series of irregular inclines and steps, and then back up again part way. But it got us there.

    The Osteria del Tempo Perso is known for its meat dishes. Margie had baby lamb chops, which were of very high quality, and I had pork ribs, also good, not much different than a spare rib dish in the US. Then we had two babà for lunch, a limoncello babà and a babà au rhum. I'll use the occasion for a minor Italian lesson: in all Italian words ending in a stressed vowel, an accent mark is written over the vowel, and the word is invariant in the plural. 1 babà, 2 babà.

    Finally, we had reserved a tour of an olive farm nearby, only a ten minute drive from Ostuni, at the Agriturismo Antica Masseria Brancati di Corrado Rodio. There we took a tour highlighting olive oil production. Some of their ancient trees have been verified by various means, including radiocarbon dating and Roman records, to be well over 2,000 years old.

    One of the olive tree we saw is the oldest olive tree known in Italy, dated at about 3,000 years old. For unknown reasons, its trunk grew in the shape of a spiral.

    Back to the hotel for dinner. Margie and I shared fried tomatoes stuffed with sheep cheese and ham. Margie then had, for the second time, homemade Mediterranean tortelli with basil pesto (although it was slightly different from the first time). I had homemade ricotta cheese gnocchi with cauliflower and marinated red shrimp. The shrimp were cured by marinating - they were not cooked. With cover, water, and wine, 51€.

    Wednesday, 9/21:

    We decided to visit the Grotte di Castellana, and chose a 2:30pm English tour. Since Margie, due to vision problems that I’ve mentioned before, has a hard time walking on uneven terrain in dim light, we chose the short (1 km.) tour, instead of the longer (3 km.) tour that goes all the way to the "White Cave" at the end.

    This left us time in the morning, in which we decided to return to Locorotundo, which we had missed two days before due to the stormy weather. We carefully chose a destination at the entrance to the historic village, and got a great parking place right across the street. There are not all that many "sights" to see in Locorotundo, a few interesting churches, but it's a very picturesque "white" village (that is, the houses are all whitewashed to stay cool in the summer sun). Cars are excluded from the historic part of the village, and it's full of narrow streets that are fun to explore. Residents put out a great many planters and window boxed filled with flowers.

    We had lunch at the Taverna del Duca, which we pulled from our Fodor's list, and it was also in our Lonely Planet book. We split an antipasto with ham and cheese. Margie then had a simple chicken dish, and I had orecchietti with ragù. With cover and water, 28€. We were sure to leave enough time to drive to the grotte, and to arrive at least 20 minutes before the tour departure time, as we had been instructed over the phone.

    And a good thing, too, because it was oddly difficult (given what a major attraction this is) to identify our parking options. We did end up with a decent free place on the street, but finding it took a while.

    The cave tour was interesting, but this is hardly the most beautiful limestone cave we have seen. Caves in the Dordogne region of France such as the Gouffre de Proumeyssac and the Gouffre de Padirac are much more attractive, as are many limestone caves in the US. I should say, though, that the "White Cave" at the end of the longer 3 km tour has gotten good reviews, and we hadn’t gone there. Margie did make it through the walk successfully, using her walking sticks for the second time. The walk went way downhill, but fortunately, at the end, they take you back up in an elevator.

    On the way home, we got a second low tire pressure indication. I stopped at another Eni garage, added air again to the left-rear tire, and cleared the indication.

    We had dinner a second time at the Osteria del Porto, making a reservation for 7:00pm. Margie had a Prosciutto e melone antipasto, which was so large I had to help her finish it. She followed it with an Insalata Latina, and a Sorbeto al Limone for dessert. I had 6 oysters, followed by Gamberoni alla Griglia, and a Babà Artigianale for dessert. With half a liter of house white, 61€50 (well, it was a bigger meal than most).

    The oysters were 2€ each, about $0.25 less than the usual price at Legal Seafoods back in Boston. On this visit, we were waited on by the "woman with red hair" who is mentioned in quite a few of the reviews of this restaurant on TripAdvisor. She remembered that we had been there two days earlier, even though she had not been the one who served us on that occasion.

    One of the features of the Osteria del Porto is that it stays open all afternoon. Most restaurants in southern Italy don't open for dinner until at least 7:30, or even 8:00. I said to our waitress, "Non pensavo che fosse possibile cenare in Italia alle sette" ("I hadn't thought it was possible to dine in Italy at seven.") She noted that at her restaurant, it was also possible to dine at 6:00 or at 5:00 as well. She also complimented me on my Italian sentence, noting that I had properly used both the imperfect verb tense and an imperfect subjunctive. Still, I'm obviously a foreign speaker of Italian - if I had been a native, that sentence would have passed without notice.

    The Osteria del Porto is in the town of Egnazia, where it sits among a group of restaurants in various price ranges. It was the first restaurant we visited where we ran into other Americans.

    Thursday 9/22:

    We drove into Monopoli in the morning, and walked around the historic district and the old port. But we were unable to tour the castle, because as usual we ran into the problem of la pausa – we didn’t arrive at the castle until noon, just as it was closing up.

    We had lunch at Il Guazzetto. Margie had an insalata mista and grilled swordfish. I had spiedini misti (an antipasto with meat rolls) and a grilled tuna dish. With water, 32€.

    Given that we had to pack up for our return trip the next day, we drove back to the Masseria Garrappa.

    Thoughts on the Masseria Garrappa

    The Masseria Garrappa is a very nice place to stay, with a high level of service, and excellent meals if you choose to dine there. We had dedicated high-speed Wi-Fi in our room, and in the restaurant as well. Their outdoor dining area is wonderful, although due to either rain or cool weather, we were only able do have dinner outdoors one evening. It has an international clientele, with guests from Germany and Switzerland the week we were there. There were no other Americans staying there, but a couple of large groups of Americans on bicycle tours organized by Backroads Bicycle Tours took cooking classes and had dinner there during our stay (they were at a separate very large table, and we didn’t interact with them).

    Unlike the Villa Conca Marco, which is very spread out, the guest rooms in the Masseria Garrappa are all in a single building. It’s a rather odd building with an enormous external stairway to the second floor. It was actually once part of a network of watchtowers along the coast, built to give an early warning of approaching invaders. Indeed, when I climbed those external stairs, and turned around towards the sea (only about 0.8 km. away), I could see the horizon.

    Friday 9/23:

    We packed the ExpressoWiFi device in the return envelope that had been provided, and left it at the Masseria Garrappa desk for pickup. Chatting with Roberto, I mentioned the problems we had encountered with the left-rear tire, and I happened to mention that many service stations in the U.S. charge for air. He seemed surprised, and said, "Please don’t tell anyone here about that." After saying goodbye to Roberto and Nadia, we also said goodbye to Nutella, the Masseria Garrappa's dog. She was lying in one of her characteristic positions, resting in the sun on the mat right in front of the main entrance. Her name is short for Cornutella, a naughty woman (related to "cornata", cuckolded (literally "given horns")).

    We then drove to the Bari airport. While returning the car, I of course reported the tire problem. The attendant looked at the tire, and quickly observed an embedded nail that I hadn’t found. Obviously that had been the source of the leak, and we were lucky we hadn’t come out one day and found the tire completely flat. Fixing a problem like that is not difficult, but obviously, when you’re a tourist, it can cost you half a day of your vacation.

    Our flight home on Swiss, with a stop in Zurich, was mostly uneventful, apart from a two-hour delay in the departure of our flight from Zurich to Boston, due to a mechanical problem (replacement of a fuel pump in one of the engines). While the delay was annoying, it allowed us to see a spectacular sunset as we were sitting in the plane on the tarmac. I've already discussed our good experience with the Mobile Passport app upon our arrival in Boston.

    Final thoughts

    We enjoyed our two weeks in Puglia, although I wouldn’t say it was our favorite vacation in Italy. We ate very well, at moderately priced restaurants. The people we met were friendly and welcoming, which has always been the case wherever we have gone in Italy.

    The coastal countryside in southern Puglia is not the most attractive, being fairly arid and flat, and mostly olive trees as far as the eye can see. Going inland from the east coast, there's a high plateau, with some winding roads and nice vistas. The east coast varies from sandy beaches to rocky shores. We were not particularly attracted to the beaches we saw, although the water is greener and warmer than the ocean near Boston. But we didn't particularly research beaches, and as you can see from the reaction to the first part of my posting, other visitors found beaches that were quite nice.

    The towns we visited had a lot of historical, architectural, and geographical diversity. Puglia, like Sicily, was invaded multiple times, but many of the structures built in the area have been destroyed or modified. Still, a lot is known about the people who have lived there, back to the Paleolithic era, and the history and pre-history is well presented in the museums of the area.

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    Hey, Fodor's: When I posted the above, it originally included the following sentence, with the two parts run together (that is, with "Tours" followed by "who", with a single space between them:

    Our dinner got off to a bit of a late start, because there was a large group cyclists organized by Backroads Bicycle Tours ...

    ... who had spent the afternoon having lessons in pasta making, along with a wine tasting (in English).

    The system REFUSES to PREVIEW that sentence, but will do so if I break it in two as above. HUH??!!??

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    Justretired, I didn't know before your report that Swiss flew the Boston- Bari route, that's interesting. We went Alitalia and we're very pleasantly surprised.

    Thanks for your report. It was fun to read.

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    jubilada, on the way over, the Zurich-Bari flight was on Helvetica, a smaller "feeder" airline for Swiss. On the return, both flights were Swiss.

    Although we enjoyed Alitalia flights the one time we used them, I hesitate to book Alitalia because I get the impression that they are more subject to sudden strikes than other airlines.

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    nice write up. I cycled through most of the bits you did about 10 years ago and loved it.

    I'm guessing prices written 30E50 ( I use e as I don't have a Euro sign means 30.50 Euro?

    The plateau is called the Murge and is great bike riding.

    Trulli are really circular dry stone walls as you find in a lot of europe. The special featureof Puglia is they made the walls into circular buildings. Clever stuff but really only used to store tools in fields away from thieves, except where people were very poor.

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    Justretired,
    we are also from Boston and were in Italy the same time as you. Part of our time we were in Matera and Puglia. We were in Monopoli on Wed Sept 21 and Thursday Sept 22. Thursday morning we went to the castle as it was closed Wednesday afternoon. The castle has only one room open. A showing of an artist sketches. Otherwise, the castle is closed to the public.

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    Hi, bilboburgler. Yes, 30€50 does mean €30.50, or 30,50 € as it might be written in Italy. In Windows, a € can be entered by holding down the <Alt> key while typing "0128" on the numeric keypad (you must include the leading zero). Or see my page on "Formatting and special characters in Fodor's posts", at ( http://ljkrakauer.com/tags.htm ), to see more information than you probably need or want.

    The Altopiano delle Murge seems to me to be too hilly to be great bike riding - you must be much more fit than I am. Or maybe you just ride on top and enjoy the views. Of course, Le Murge, like Le Marche, is plural in Italian (the feminine plural article le gives it away).

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    Such detailed descriptions. Thank you!

    We stayed in the Sassi Caveoso for 2 nights (19-21 Sep), in a very nice and modern cave room (Antico Convicino Rooms & Suites). We also found the breakfast to be much more varied than in our masserie in Puglia. Same for the dishes on the dinner menus. We have eaten really well there, both at Trattoria del Caveoso and especially at Rist. Francesca (where our bill was somewhat higher than usual, due to an aperitivo, a bottle of excellent wine and a digestivo ... we didn't have to drive on those nights).

    This must be your man in Alberobello. :)
    https://s20.postimg.org/gdh4u9bgt/DSC02122.jpg

    As you, we didn't find the countryside in southern Puglia very attractive. The north (Parco Nazionale del Gargano) is much more interesting, with mountains, forests, a beautiful coastline, and citrus groves next to olives and vineyards.

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    That's the guy! Thanks for the photo, MyriamC. It shows his colorful outfit better than the photo on the back of the restaurant's card.

    I just did a search on the restaurant. His name is Domenico Laera - see http://www.ristorantearatro.it/en/ .

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    Yep the Murge is pretty flat, with the odd pimple sticking up and what I would call "chines" leading down to the coastal plain. If you use a map (with isoclines) you can avoid nearly all the bumps.

    Really not very fit.

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    Cycling is very big in the areas we visited in Puglia. There are some dedicated cycling paths, and very large warning signs to let motorists know where these cross roads. On one occasion, we got stuck for miles behind a large group of cyclists who filled the road, not letting cars pass.

    On another occasion, a cyclist who seemed to be part of a small group ran a stop sign, and I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting him. He was not on one of these cycling paths; he was just on a cross street. I don't know if he somehow didn't see me, or if he assumed the intersection was a four-way stop. It was not - I did not have a stop sign.

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