Jamikins and Bikerscott do Italy!

Old Jul 2nd, 2012, 03:29 PM
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Day Ten – Apparently They Taste Like Popcorn

Whoever invented air conditioning should be knighted, or sainted, or both. Despite the blistering heat of the day, and the muggy warmth of the evening before we turned in, the air conditioning cooled everything down and we both got an excellent night’s sleep. The only issue occurred first thing in the morning when Jamie woke up and thought that I’d left the light on in the bathroom – it turned out to be the sun blazing in through the open window and shining under the door.

After breakfast at the Masseria, we programmed Gazza for our first stop of the day, Martina Franca, a baroque village about an hour away from here. The roads around here aren’t exactly great, and after much bumping and swerving, we left the highway, where things got tricky. I’m sure there is a relatively direct route to the town, but Gaz was having none of it, instead routing us up and over mountains and down tiny rural roads lined on both sides with tall stone walls. And also through a village where the locals seemed to invent their own rules of the road – frogger in real life! We made it eventually into town and parked immediately, without bothering to see if we were close to the bit we wanted to see.

We weren’t, of course. Much walking and some swearing later we found a map and realized that we were walking in pretty much exactly the wrong direction. Typical. We turned around and walked back up the little hill for a few blocks and turned left instead of right to find a very picturesque little village.

Martina Franca has a baroque centre, with white buildings and narrow alleys criss-crossing through. I’d spent quite a bit of time last week trying to call one restaurant in particular to make reservations (Piazzetta Garibaldi), but only ever got through to what I think was a fax machine (the Italian guy in the office who was doing the translation for me and speaking to the restaurants thought I was crazy for making a reservation in a rural town on a Monday in June, but I was under strict instructions from Jamie and wasn’t about to argue). Fortunately we were the only ones in the restaurant for most of our meal, so the reservation thing wasn’t such a big deal, as it turned out.

The owners of the restaurant were hilarious, and seemed quite excited that we’d stopped by. We ordered the giant antipasti selection to share, then an orecchiette dish as our pasta course to share, and finally a chicken scaloppini and a beef skewer for our mains. The antipasti course was HUGE – between two of us we couldn’t finish everything, although we gave it a good try – there were half a dozen dishes, and we only left a bit of two of them in the end. The orecchiette defeated us – it came with some sort of soft cheese that tasted like English stilton left out in the sun too long, far too strong for either of us. The old guy serving us looked disappointed in our poor showing, but we made up for it with the gusto with which we attacked the main.

After lunch, we wandered around the old part of Martina Franca taking photos, before discovering that it’s actually quite small. They had loads of frames up for what looked like Christmas-style lights that appear to be for all year. After taking our fill of photos, we retraced our steps to find the car and came across what can only be described as a domestic of epic proportions.

First we heard the yelling, although yelling is too mild a word – screaming? Hysterical ranting? This from a few blocks away. We continued walking towards the outburst, as it was between us and the car. As we walked between a house and a gelato place, a young man in his early 20’s by the looks of it came bolting out of the house like the very hounds of hell were after him. He stood behind the rather portly girl who came out of the gelato place and looked as scared as I’ve ever seen anyone – to the point where the hand that he was chewing the fingernails off of was shaking.

Moments later, a rather large gentleman came flying out of the house, pausing to turn around and yell back through the door. Tragically, neither of us speak enough Italian to understand what exactly the issue was, but it was clear that he wasn’t a happy camper. The girl from the gelato place tried to calm him down, but that didn’t work. We all eyed with trepidation the large glass ashtray he was holding. A few tourette-like outbursts from him as we crossed the final few yards of the little piazza and we were out of the danger zone.

Moments later, he stormed back into the house where he commenced in an unholy tirade at the top of his lungs, and let me tell you, he could project his voice. He could also project the glass ashtray, and we saw the detritus of the explosion as it hit the floor cascade across the marble paving. We walked a bit quicker at that point, wondering what the whole issue was about – current theories are include - the big guy found the little guy and his girlfriend/wife in flagrante delecto upon returning home, thus both the rage from the big guy and the fear from the little guy. Alternative theories include the little guy killing someone, getting the blood on the travertine tiles of the big guy’s house (we think blood would probably stain travertine), thus causing the rage every time the big guy went back inside.

We found the car again without any issues, despite parking it halfway to the next village. Again Gaz wanted to see a bit more of the countryside, so the route to our next stop was probably a bit more rural than is normal. Jamie had done some research and found that Alberobello is just about the most touristy place in all of Puglia, so we parked at the first possible spot we found and started walking.

Unfortunately the first spot we found was just beside the bus parking lot, so we got stuck in a large group of cruise tourists in several packs all heading into town at the same time as us. This is not a good place to be.

Alberobello is known for its plethora of Trulli – bizarre little round stone houses with pointy roofs specific to this area for no apparent reason. Theories abound as to why they are round and have pointy roofs, with the most prevalent apparently being that they were easier to dismantle so as to avoid paying taxes, but looking at the size and construction that sound like a big load of bull turds (look at me, I’m being restrained and relatively polite).

I hate bus tour groups with a passion, those that are from cruise ships even more so. They make me frustrated just thinking about them, and this troop seemed to have it out for me, one orange-shirted twit in particular. Jamie and I both take a lot of photos when we travel, other than eating, it’s the main reason for leaving London really. This orange oompa loompa seemed to delight in walking directly into every single shot I tried to take – he managed to ruin at least three consecutive shots, until I was ready to throttle him. We had to take refuge in a wine bar.

Alberobello was interesting, and the trulli were pretty cool, although pretty much every single one had been converted into a tourist shop selling some pretty tragic tourist crap (although no replica swords or crossbows, which is unusual). After taking our photos, we walked back through the heat to the car to drive to our final stop of the day, a city with more “O”’s in the name than any other word in Italian.

Locorotondo is apparently one of the most beautiful villages in all of Italy. It certainly didn’t look like it as we drove in, but we found a spot to park and walked up the hill to the old town. It remained not the most beautiful village in Italy right up until we found the entrance to the old town, when it suddenly changed from a rather average modern Italian town into a quaint little pedestrian village (where there were still cars – roads less than 6 feet wide don’t present any sort of challenge to a full-blooded Italian driver).

We walked around for a while, again snapping photos like they were going out of style. We came across the big church in the centre of town where there was a funeral for a local man going on. The village band was standing around waiting for the end of the service, and the hearse was parked outside.

Some time later, we were sitting at a little café on the main street out of the old town when we heard the village band start up. The café put its sliding doors down halfway just before the band arrived as a sign of respect. The band walked in front of the hearse carrying the coffin, and it seemed most of the village followed after in procession. Other than the somewhat sombre occasion it was actually kind of nice to see how the community came together in mourning for a local man.

Gelato and iced drink finished, we walked back down the hill to collect the car and drive the hour back to the Masseria, stopping briefly to pick up a few bottles of wine for the evening. After the giant lunch we didn’t want to have another giant dinner at the Masseria, so decided to go back and find something in the area.

A quick search showed a pizza place just up the road (literally – 5km on the rural middle of nowhere road, what are the chances?) so at 8pm we drove down to see what it was like. It turned out to be really nice, although 8pm is a bit early for Italians in this part of the country, so we were the only ones there at first. As the evening progressed, a large group of pre-teens arrived for a birthday party, and a large group of woman for some other sort of gathering (we were unable to determine what it was in honour of – they were about evenly distributed between quite attractive young women and not so attractive older women – didn’t seem to be mother/daughter pairs, no idea what was happening).

We finished the night having a glass of wine in the little courtyard at the Masseria, watching the feral cats eat the giant grasshoppers that are jumping around (by giant I mean really big – at least 3 or 4 inches long – they crunch in an appropriately disgusting fashion when the cats eat them) and boggling in disbelief as the new dutch (or possibly German) couple arrived, the man managing to pull his wheelie suitcase directly over the big bowl of citronella candle in the gravel – how his missed seeing it is a mystery, as it actually was ON FIRE. A very good day.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2012, 03:59 PM
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Thank you so much. We are planning for Puglia and this is a joy.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2012, 05:15 PM
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You guys have soo much fun.....I'm still reading along and enjoying the adventures.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2012, 02:03 AM
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Your trip report keeps getting more and more interesting BikerScott and funny. I just love your descriptions - you should really consider becoming an author, your books would be bestsellers for sure.

Interestingly, is not only the landscape in central/northern Italy that is different from that southern Italy but also the temperament of the people,(big guy/small guy incident did make me laugh) more hot-tempered and laisser-faire attitude, especially the way they drive - you can never expect a driver to stop for you at a zebra crossing, and if you attempt to cross you would be at high risk of being run over, that is lesson I learned on day 1 on Sorrento Coast (and also when I used to frequently visit Sicily in my younger days). But the southerners are also extremely friendly and helpful and with less frills than the northeners.

Looking forward to reading more about your holiday.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2012, 11:12 AM
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haha, like the domestic!! u were brave to stick around! be sure to visit ostuni and pogliano a mare if you can!

off to have some gnocci and pretend i'm in puglia!
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Old Jul 3rd, 2012, 11:30 AM
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i think that they were arguing about who burnt the spaghetti!
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Old Jul 3rd, 2012, 11:33 AM
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Very enjoyable! Yes, the North-South dichotomy is something many countries deal with.

More, please!
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Old Jul 3rd, 2012, 01:17 PM
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in some italian circles, the south of Italy is called "il mezzogiorno" or midday, implying that they are always having a siesta, I suppose!
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Old Jul 3rd, 2012, 01:36 PM
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Glad you guys are still with us and enjoying it


Day Eleven – And Then We Ate

Another brilliantly blue sky this morning, although there were a few clouds in the distance, a first for this trip. Breakfast was slightly strange again, with an odd assortment of pastries and savouries, along with some fantastically strong coffee.

We headed out and drove south today, stopping first in Lecce, as we’d heard that it was an interesting town to visit. As with many Italian cities, there is a number of ways to get in to the ring road around the centre, beyond which one does NOT want to go in a car. In the case of Lecce, Gazza took us straight to the ring road and appeared to want us to drive in past it, not a good plan. We found a parking spot but couldn’t for the life of us find anywhere to pay – the only clue was a sign indicating that we could call an Italian number to pay by phone – my Italian isn’t good enough to make reservations for lunch on the phone, let alone pay for parking.

We threw caution to the wind and crossed the ring road with some trepidation. There was a giant marble gate – one of our many rules for Italian driving is “don’t go through any giant marble gates” – this didn’t bode well. Fortunately just before the gate, I spotted a sign for parking, so cut across several lanes of traffic and oncoming cars to speed into a free spot – all Italians looking on gave me nods of approval, the few tourists gasped in horror at my casual disregard for driving etiquette and law.

We locked up the car and walked into the hottest morning and afternoon that I’ve ever experienced. I’m not sure what the temperature actually got to – somewhere in the high 30’s or low 40’s I’d expect, but the humidity was out of this world. 20 minutes into our walk in Lecce and I looked like I’d had a shower, an hour in and I was little more than a puddle.

After stopping for a quick coffee (and wine for Jamie) to cool off a bit, we found the restaurant for lunch – Alle Due Corti. Jamie, the week before we’d left, had made me call a whole bunch of places in Puglia to reserve tables. Most of them didn’t speak English, so I asked an Italian colleague at work to make the calls for me. He couldn’t, for the life of him, work out why we would think that we would have to make reservations for lunch in a relatively small Italian town on a Tuesday afternoon. Jamie insisted, so for the sake of peace and quiet Stefano and I made all the bookings.

We were the only people in the restaurant today – when I said we had a reservation, the waiter exaggeratedly guided us to the only table in the place that had a reserved sign on it, amongst dozens of other empty tables. I laughed, but not out loud where Jamie could hear me.

Lunch was incredible. The chef, Rosalba, is well known for cooking traditional Lecce dishes in the traditional fashion. I had by far the best dish of the trip so far – an old recipe that includes half boiled and half fried noodles with garlic and chick peas. I’m definitely going to make this when I get home. Jamie’s was also pretty damn tasty, and both our mains were good as well.

Other than the brilliant food, the best part about the restaurant was the air conditioning. It gave me a chance to cool down a bit and get my breath back. I had to run cold water over my wrists for a while, and must’ve looked a bit foolish with the bottle of water pressed to my neck, but I was so hot walking around that I was starting to feel a bit light-headed and sick. Bad times.

After lunch we braved the heat again, which didn’t seem quite so bad. We found the Duomo, which evidently has the most beautiful piazza in all of Italy in front of it. I’m not sure I believe that, but if it says it in a guide book well then it must be true. At this point we were done with Lecce, so walked back to the car which had been baking in the sun for a good three hours. Gotta love air-con.

We drove out of town again, still heading south. There are a LOT of empty buildings in this part of Italy, and we can’t figure it out. Many of them seem to either be half-finished or completely finished but have never been used, as far as we can tell. They’re just sitting by the side of the road crumbling away, surrounded in many cases by fences and overgrown bushes. It doesn’t look like there was some sort of property boom that went bust, or if there’s been some sort of deal with builders (money laundering, or government grants) but there are certainly a lot of them around.

We drove down the coast, heading towards Otranto via the coastal road. We stopped about halfway down for a quick walk in the Adriatic – the blues and greens of the ocean are amazing, and the water is so warm it feels like someone’s bath. I wish I’d brought my swim trunks as it seemed a dip in the sea would have been a great way to cool down.

Back into the car for the final push to Otranto. We were both a bit disappointed by the town. I’d heard that it was Moorish in influence, but couldn’t see any signs of it anywhere, and Jamie felt that it was just another touristy seaside town, with all the typical stores selling the typical tourist crap you get everywhere else. The beach in town didn’t look great, and in our wanders there wasn’t really anything that jumped out and caught our interest. We’d paid for three hours worth of parking, but decided after about an hour to head back to the Masseria for a quick nap by the pool before dinner.

We’d planned on going back to Villa Leta for dinner tonight – we didn’t want a meal as heavy as was on offer at the Masseria after the massive lunch we’d had, and Leta’s pizza offering just 5km down the road seemed just about perfect. The only fly in the proverbial ointment was that Villa Leta was closed, as we discovered as we drove up to it, ready for dinner. Ah well, Messagne was just another kilometre up the road, we thought, we’ll go there.

We drove through the slightly grotty outskirts of town and quickly found a parking spot just near the giant marble gate indicating the entrance to the old town. We took a quick look around before walking through to the old marble streets and found what turned out to be not the quaintest town we’ve been in, but quite a nice one nevertheless. There were loads of people about, and all were locals rather than hordes of tourists.

Jamie stopped to take some photos of the big church in the old town while I scouted out possibilities for dinner. The one I eventually picked was chosen as it appeared to be quite full of Italian families, all of whom appeared to be enjoying their meals. There was no menu that I could see, but what could go wrong I thought? I asked the owner (or at least the guy that appeared to be the owner) if there was room for two, and he agreed that there probably was. I explained that I had to go collect my wife but would be back.

When we arrived back at the restaurant 5 minutes later, the guy I’d spoken to and a waiter were in the process of moving a table out from inside and setting up some chairs around it. We sat down, and he came over to take our orders, still no menus in sight. He asked if we spoke Italian, and when we said only a very little bit, he shrugged and made sure to speak in Italian very slowly and clearly – we understood enough to get what he was talking about, which was actually kind of fun.

Our enthusiasm for the Italian and the novelty of the situation got the better of us – we each ordered the house antipasti, a pasta course, and a meat course. The antipasti alone consisted of 10 dishes - ricotta, mozzarella, grilled courgette, fresh sardines, deep fried things (including potato, mussels, cheese, etc), baked mussels, delicious dough balls, octopus, smoked salmon, and aubergine parmigiana! By the time the pasta course arrived, which was excellent by the way, we were already full. The meat course was a bridge too far and we only managed half of it each before giving up. We finished the meal with a glass of homebrew laurel liquor – we had no idea what it was, so the waiter brought out a sample of the herb that it was made from – turned out to be bay leaf liquor. Strong doesn’t even begin to describe it, but tasty.

The last adventure of the night was to be getting back home in the dark. As we’d originally planned to eat at Villa Leta, which is only 5km down a straight road, we didn’t bother bringing the sat nav. When we drove into Messagne, it was down a one-way street with no clear indication of how to get back. I was a bit nervous, as our place was difficult enough to find in the daylight even with a sat nav, although Jamie was confident.

We set out, heading straight out of town in a completely different direction than we’d come in. We saw a sign for the highway, and Jamie insisted that we take it – I was afraid we’d end up in Bridisi or Bari and have to spend the night there. We got up on the highway and took the next exit, only a kilometre away, down onto our road. Jamie’s sense of direction is pretty damn good I must say – better than mine at any rate, I could get lost in a room with no doors.

We got back to the Masseria at 11:30, our latest night out yet. A glass of wine, some photo editing and trip report writing, and we’re well past our bedtime. Jamie has promised me that as I’m staying up late to write this, we’re allowed to sleep in tomorrow morning. I think we’re going to need to.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2012, 01:45 PM
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And my photos from our week in Puglia, hope you enjoy!!

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?...3&l=1e83b59fbb
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Old Jul 3rd, 2012, 03:29 PM
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annhig - we stayed in a classic room. Nothing fancy, but it had AC, a huge bathroom and a comfy bed. Perfect for what we needed!

The people were very friendly and it was a great central location to visit all the areas we wanted to.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2012, 03:48 PM
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Thank you for those wonderful photos. I was able to travel to Italy for awhile. -
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Old Jul 3rd, 2012, 04:17 PM
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Oh, yum, yum, yum!!!! Now, I'm going to have to go eat dinner!

Fantastic photos, jamikins!

<< all Italians looking on gave me nods of approval >>

LOL, BikerScott! I could just picture it. You're fitting right in, eh?

Thanks to you both! Looking forward to more.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2012, 07:16 PM
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“We were the only people in the restaurant today – when I said we had a reservation, the waiter exaggeratedly guided us to the only table in the place that had a reserved sign on it, amongst dozens of other empty tables. I laughed, but not out loud where Jamie could hear me.”

Bikerscott & Jamie LOL- that is funny!

What a great trip report with pics to support. Thanks for sharing.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2012, 07:23 PM
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And another set of stunning photos! I just wanted to reach through my computer screen and grab the glass of prosecco and tasty nibbles that were all only &euro;6.50! YUM!
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Old Jul 3rd, 2012, 11:39 PM
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Lovely pics - thanks for sharing them with us. The food and ice-cream look so yummy, Italian food is heavenly.

You planned your holiday to perfection - well done!!
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Old Jul 4th, 2012, 02:58 AM
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Thanks for continuing and sharing pics!

I noticed those cone shaped roofs in Arobello had designs on them. Do you know what they mean?

The Adriatic looks beatiful and so inviting! I think with the temps you describe, I would have been tempted to go in clothes and all. Or worse yet, strip down and go in. (Not a pretty sight to imagine!)
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Old Jul 4th, 2012, 02:05 PM
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hey guys...wow it sounds like it was rather hot!!! did u like ostuni? i thought the church facade was so pretty

isnt it strange how the restaurants are so so empty!!
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Old Jul 4th, 2012, 02:24 PM
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We loved Ostuni - but seriously ALL the restaurants were empty! We asked someone in Matera when the high season was and they said April/May - its too hot to travel there now hahaha!!!
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Old Jul 4th, 2012, 02:26 PM
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Day Twelve – Still Finding Sand

My internal alarm clock woke me exactly 5 minutes before the alarm was scheduled to go off at 10am. Jamie had been awake since 8:30 evidently, but was enjoying the sound of my snoring so much she let me sleep in. We didn’t have much on the agenda for the day, so didn’t rush about too much getting ready. Jamie did go and get me a mug of the insanely strong “American” coffee and a pastry from the breakfast cart as I was getting ready (she had chocolate cake, a suitable breakfast selection apparently).

We drove north again, heading for the seaside this time. Our only destination for the day was the town of Polignano a Mare between Bari and Brindisi. Given our recent experiences of Puglian coastal beach towns, we weren’t expecting much, and I don’t think we were disappointed.

The parking lots were clearly designed for much busier times of year – we think that the Romans must descend on Puglia in August when they all go on holiday. As it is in late June most places are pretty well deserted. We were the only ones in the entire parking lot, at least the only ones parking in the little blue boxes, there were a few bangers wedged under various trees about the place.

It was close to noon at this point, a bit early for lunch. We started with a wander through the town with a half-baked notion that a gelato was in order. Once we walked through the big marble arch at the entrance to the old town, it seemed that gelato shops were not to be found, although we did find loads of scenic outlooks down the cliff that Polignano is built on (although not the beach – apparently we were just about on top of it, but it was around the corner and thus we couldn’t see it).

The cliff looks a bit dangerous to me – years of waves crashing against it have worn out giant caverns and holes. To be fair, it probably isn’t dangerous in any way, especially as the most famous restaurant of the region is built right inside one of these holes – from what we’ve heard it’s incredibly expensive but the food isn’t great, almost worth it for the view though. We weren’t able to validate this claim as it hadn’t opened for the day yet, although in retrospect we may have been able to go for lunch had we waited another half hour.

As it was, we found another restaurant just up the road and around the corner – forget what the name was in Italian, but the translation is “my grandmother’s kitchen” or something similar (a quick search shows that it was Trattoria Della Nonna). We were there at 12:30 but were told that they wouldn’t open until 1pm. We walked right across town to while away the half hour, and weren’t overly impressed. While there were a lot of people about, it wasn’t a particularly nice part of town, and the far side especially seemed to be comprised of huge empty parking lots and apartment buildings either just built and empty or being built.

We walked back and sat down for lunch, the ordering of which turned into a bit of a fiasco. Firstly, the waiter didn’t seem overly impressed that we were there. For the first time on this trip, there was a bit of attitude which was not at all appreciated. We then tried to order – I wanted the orchietti as a first course, but was told that they would only do pasta if at least two people ordered the same thing – Jamie wasn’t interested in pasta, so I had to choose something else. I picked the proscuitto, but was told that they were out of it. I asked for a minute to reconsider, and then went for the braesola. I then asked for the fresh fish as a main course, a reasonable request seeing as this was a seafood restaurant. It transpired that they were completely out of fresh fish. Jamie was ready to leave at this point, but I persevered. I ordered fried calamari as a last option, which they had.

Jamie’s selections were all available, but maybe not exactly what she’d bargained on. Her main course was a mixed fried seafood platter. She was expecting I think nicely portioned bits of seafood, dipped in batter and fried. What she got was seafood dipped in batter and fried, but not portioned in any way. On her plate were half a dozen full shrimps, shells, heads, tails, legs and all. Plus a few whole (if small) fish, again battered and fried. She did her best, even going so far as to eat a few of the shrimp including shells, but I think was a bit defeated by the plate.

After lunch we stopped outside town for a gelato and walked back up the hill to the car. Again, I had forgotten to leave the windows cracked, so we had to wait 5 minutes for the air conditioning to catch up before we could get in, and even so I very nearly burned my hand on the gear shifter.

We’d seen a few nice-looking beaches on the drive up, and I’d cleverly packed my swim trunks for the day, so on the way back to Mesagne, we took a turnoff and drove to one of the many beach resort thingies – for €4 we parked our car in a covered parking spot (well, covered by a netting strung between trees, but it kept the sun off .anyway) and sat on the beach for an hour or so. I changed into my swim suit and swam in the Adriatic for a while until I managed to get most of the sea up my nose as a result of miss-timing a jump over a particularly large wave.

After getting our fill of sun and sand (and getting sand in some very awkward places I can tell you – those waves distribute it a little too freely, if you get my meaning), we stopped at the little café for a quick iced lemon granite while I dried off before setting back towards the Masseria for a quick drink, and a little more sun and reading. We finished the day back at Villa Leta for another pizza night.
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