Apulia, Italy, September 2016

Oct 14th, 2016, 03:27 PM
  #21  
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Join Date: Aug 2003
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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.
justretired is offline  
Oct 14th, 2016, 03:35 PM
  #22  
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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??!!??
justretired is offline  
Oct 14th, 2016, 04:13 PM
  #23  
 
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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.
jubilada is offline  
Oct 14th, 2016, 04:17 PM
  #24  
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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.
justretired is offline  
Oct 14th, 2016, 05:10 PM
  #25  
 
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I guess we lucked out.
They were wonderful and the food on the return was very good, but we were in Premium Economy and werecalso in the first row so we had tons of room.
jubilada is offline  
Oct 14th, 2016, 05:12 PM
  #26  
 
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We took the train from Bari to Rome on the way back since we spent a few days in Rome. the train was excellent too.
jubilada is offline  
Oct 15th, 2016, 04:16 AM
  #27  
 
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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.
bilboburgler is offline  
Oct 15th, 2016, 05:35 AM
  #28  
 
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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.
lancer11 is offline  
Oct 15th, 2016, 07:07 AM
  #29  
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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 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).
justretired is offline  
Oct 15th, 2016, 07:25 AM
  #30  
 
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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.
MyriamC is offline  
Oct 15th, 2016, 08:00 AM
  #31  
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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/ .
justretired is offline  
Oct 15th, 2016, 08:18 AM
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On a Mac you just hold down the $ key and other symbols will appear, then you click on €.
jubilada is offline  
Oct 15th, 2016, 10:24 AM
  #33  
 
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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.
bilboburgler is offline  
Oct 15th, 2016, 06:22 PM
  #34  
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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.
justretired is offline  
Apr 9th, 2017, 06:15 PM
  #35  
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UPDATE ON MOBILE PASSPORT APP: In the above report, I wrote about our positive experience using the Mobile Passport app at Boston's Logan Airport in late September, 2016. I wrote:

"... using the app at Boston's Logan Airport, 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. ... 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."

Margie and I finally had our Global Entry interviews earlier today, and are now approved. One of the things the inspector told us is that what I experienced above is no longer the case. Users of the Mobile Passport app no longer use the Global Entry lines at Logan Airport. The app still facilitates the entry of your data (you don't need to fill out the blue customs declaration you are given on the plane). But the popularity of the app (it now has many more users than back in September, 2016), and the removal of app users from the Global Entry lines, means it no longer saves you as much time as those following the Global Entry path.
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