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Under the Puglian Clouds -- Panecott's Trip to Italy's Heel

Under the Puglian Clouds -- Panecott's Trip to Italy's Heel

May 12th, 2009, 12:40 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 24,613
panecott - what a wonderful story! I'm so happy for you that you had such a heart-warming experience. And I agree with SeaUrchin - this kind of TR is a big reason why I'm here. Thanks!
thursdaysd is offline  
May 12th, 2009, 10:14 PM
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How could you even think for a second not to include this fabulous last entry??? WOW!!!! I was blown away. It amazes me all the time how karma and serendipity enter our lives when we least expect it. What a fabulous story. I was so moved and enjoyed it sooooo much. More more more please!!
Flame123 is offline  
May 13th, 2009, 06:49 AM
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TDudette is offline  
May 13th, 2009, 08:01 AM
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Bookmarking to read more later - off to work now. Loving all the detail - thanks so much for writing! This is the trip I had planned for this month but had to cancel - now I'm determined to try again.
julia1 is offline  
May 13th, 2009, 10:47 AM
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Thank you for your kind words, everyone. I'm glad you are enjoying the report, and appreciate the part about my family.

Here's a little more, after which we move on to Lecce, my last stop.

I was awakened the next morning by the church bells pealing at 7 a.m., and, hearing the rain falling steadily outside, quickly fell right back to sleep. When I finally got up, after 9, I found fresh towels laid out for me in the bathroom. MC and Leonarda had been up for hours but didn't want to disturb me, and Leonarda had been to mass. They made me a simple breakfast of espresso, biscotti and fresh fruit. The vegetable lady, Maria, dropped by and showed me a local newspaper article about her 50th wedding anniversary, which was this year.

When the rain let up, MC and I started out for Alberobello. She insisted on using her car and I was glad for a break from driving. Our first stop was the fascinating Grotte di Castellana, a maze of deep underground caverns in which, over the centuries, some of the stalagmites and stalactites formed into a variety of amazing shapes, including a camel, an elephant, a ballerina's leg and a madonna. The tour lasted about an hour and was very interesting.

Afterwards we drove in the rain to Alberobello and the trulli We passed several trulli in the country which were very pretty, but I was a little disappointed in the town itself, which was very commercial, with many of the trulli turned into souvenir shops. Nevertheless, it is unique and worth seeing, and some of the trulli which are still residences, have modern extensions added to them.

We had lunch in a trullo styled restaurant on the via Cadore -Trullo del Conte - and had pasta in tomato sauce with sausage and mushrooms, roast vitello, boccancino, patate e insalata mista, a beer for MC and wine for me. I enjoyed it completely but MC thought it was just okay. The bill came to 28 EU for two.

When we left the restaurant there was a funeral procession proceeding up the hill to the trullo styled church of St. Anthony. It was drizzling and with the numerous mourners walking behind the hearse with their black umbrellas, it looked like a movie scene.

We then proceeded to Ostuni, the white city, through the lovely countryside, which managed to look pretty even under the clouds. It was then around 4 p.m. and stores were opening and the town was lively. It was a contrast to Mattinata, Vieste, and even Matera, where most places were closed when I was walking around and I had the feeling of being an outsider who was not invited in.

We walked up and down streets, to the main piazza, and up many steps to the Duomo. Ostuni very pretty and in the sunlight I imagine it must be very impressive with its many white buildings.

We went into a souvenir shop and MC insisted on buying fischetti - little hand painted ceramic whistles - a local craft, for me and my brother, whom she does not know. A shopkeeper in Alberobello, who sold only fischetti in her store, told us that there is a contest every year for the most creative design. This year's winner was a model of Berlusconi which was – well - not flattering is all I can say.

We passed some billboards near a park which contained printed death notices. They were each about 2 ft. square and pasted on the boards much like those one sees outside a theater. MC told me that this is customary but I don't recall ever having seen this outside of Puglia.

On the way back to Toritto we took the coastal road and stopped at Polignano, a pretty seaside town. Once again, I imagined how nice it must be in the warm weather, with the sun shining.

Leonarda had prepared another delicious dinner of antipasto, pasta with piselli, grilled fish and insalata mista, and of course, the red wine from Maddalena, the wine lady. Dessert was fresh strawberries with lemon juice. MC later took me to see her own apt., a few blocks away, which was being renovated. It had 6 rooms and promises to be beautiful when done, and she told me I am welcome to stay there anytime I want to return.

We visited her brother and his family and later, some of the other cousins came over to the house. I enjoyed listening to them speaking proper Italian and then suddenly switching to the Barese dialect, which is cacophonous and sounds nothing like true Italian. My mother and her sisters used to speak Barese when they didn't want us kids to understand what they were saying.

The previous day, when I saw Leonarda's homemade orrechiette on the table, I told her about my mother's aunt - who was also her aunt, her father's sister, whom she knew about - who used to make homemade cavatelli but would never let anyone watch her and would get up early to do it before anyone else was awake. She got a kick out of the story and repeated it to her sisters, who all laughed when I said, "Adesso, lei e morta e la ricetta anch'e morta" (and now she's dead and the recipe is also dead).

We talked about family, in Italy and the US, they showed me family photos, and they were all interested in hearing what it was like to be in NY on 9/ll. They talked about seeing the events on TV as they were happening, at mid afternoon in Italy.

It just amazed me to feel such a bond and so completely at ease with these people, as though we had known one another for years. I felt some regret at not having looked them up sooner on so many previous trips to Italy. I would love to return to Toritto and I couldn't help wondering to myself if they would all still be alive when I go back.

The next morning I found fresh towels laid out for me again and marveled at how comfortable they made me feel and how I never had to ask for a thing.

It was raining again and it was time to move on to Lecce. I could gladly have spent the rest of my trip in Toritto, and I know I was truly welcome, but I did not want to overdo it. Because MC was off from work during the time I was there, I had invited her the previous day to come to Lecce with me and she gladly accepted.

Before leaving, we went, with Leonarda, to the little country town of Quasano, just a short distance from Toritto and from the sea, and where several of the cousins have country houses. It was nostalgic for me b/c/ I remember hearing my mother speak about Quasen', as it's pronounced in the Barese dialect. Once again, I received a sincere invitation to visit in the summer and stay as long as I like in MC's home. I've put it on my agenda!

Before we left for Lecce we had pranzo of pasta with mushrooms, boiled merluzzo dressed with garlic and olive oil, and more grilled cervellata, which I had told Leonarda I loved. MC later told me that Leonarda wanted to make me fave e cicoria (which I had enjoyed so much in Matera), but MC thought I probably wouldn't like it! Aarrrggghh!

After bidding arrivederci to dear Leonarda, and my new found friends, the wine lady and the vegetable lady, MC and I started out for Lecce in mid afternoon. I hated saying goodbye to Leonarda, because I became genuinely fond of her. I hope I see her again.
panecott is offline  
May 14th, 2009, 11:00 AM
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Now I know this report has definitely peaked, but we still have 3 days in Lecce to go and I'll try to keep it brief.

We arrived at the B&B Villa Giuliana, a few km. outside of Lecce, in early evening and were greeted by Andrea, who runs the place with his mother and his fiancee. Our room was simple but spacious and pleasant and after settling in, we headed into town to find a place to eat. Andrea had recommended a place but we couldn't find it, so we settled on a trattoria/pizzeria on the via dell'Universita, a tree lined blvd. That is one of the main drags in Lecce. We each had Pizza Margherita and insalata mista, which contained mozzarella, artichokes, olives, as well as lettuce and the incomparable Italian tomatoes. It was very tasty and more than satisfying.

Much to my delight I awoke the next morning to see sun pouring through the slats of the shutters outside our room. It was Saturday, April 25th, Liberation Day in Italy, and maybe the sun was shining for la festa. I quickly showered and went outside to explore the beautiful gardens of the Villa Giuliana.

The B&B was even nicer than it appeared on the website. Situated behind a high wall and wrought iron gate, it seems a world apart from the area outside. The little courtyard outside the 5 rooms was lined with flowerbeds containing daisies, roses, clematis, pansies and several other flowers I can't identify. Up a flight of stairs from the courtyard and in the back of the house was a large terrace which overlooked a small orange and lemon grove on one side and vegetable garden on the other.

I was taking pictures of the citrus trees when Andrea came out and picked me an orange to eat. He thought the fruit was dry b/c there hadn't been much sun, but it was sweet enough. He then showed me the other side of the garden where he had just planted peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes and several types of herbs.

In the front of the house was a rose garden just about to burst with color, but we were about a week too early to see it in full bloom. There were daisies, geraniums, pansies, and other colorful flowers everywhere. I admired the garden and said that a garden is good for the soul, and Andrea replied, "Yes, but not for the back." He and his mother tend to the garden themselves. Over near the parking area were numerous olive trees.

Andrea mentioned that the B&B is now offering, on specified weeks during the year, cooking classes given by his mother, as well as bike tours, and he guides the tours and translates for the cooking classes. His sweet fiancee, Angela, is also involved in this aspect of the business. They also have a program on making olive oil.

Breakfast was served on the terrace in front of the house, with the welcome sun shining. It consisted of croissants, yogurt, homemade almond cake and homemade jam (by Andrea's mother) all of which was delicious. Andrea and Angela sat with us and helped us plan the day.

It was a perfect day for driving along the Salento Coast to Santa Maria de Leuca, the very tip of the heel, where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet. Altho' it was a holiday, there was a lot less traffic than I thought there would be. The ride was beautiful and relaxing, passing thru' some pretty towns with many private villas, and we stopped here and there for photo ops. I laughed to myself remembering how, whenever I looked at a map of Italy, for some reason I imagined that area to be wild and almost uninhabited – very unlike the reality.

I am, by choice, a solo traveler, and usually find that company inhibits me, and eventually annoys me. But MC was more than congenial and didn't get on my nerves at all, which is a credit to her. And I enjoyed her company. So it was a bit of a different experience for me, but very enjoyable, and it was fun practicing my Italian, and she practiced her English. And along the way, we became friends. She is a heavy smoker and I told her that, aside from health considerations, if she quits, at 8 EU a pack per day for Marlboro, she'd save enough in a year to come to NY.

At SM de Leuca we walked around the piazza on the elevation containing the Sanctuary and the lighthouse and went inside a little church, where a chair had been roped off - the chair that Pope Benedict had sat in when he visited there recently. At the church's entrance there were two stands, one containing a bowl of rose petals, and the other a bowl of leaves formed into little cups containing white rice, in preparation for a wedding. We hung around the piazza for more than a half hour but didn't see the bride and groom. We had a drink in an outdoor café and enjoyed the warm weather and the lovely breeze, a welcome change from the cold and dampness of the previous week.

We then drove down to the town and walked along the waterfront, which was lined with beautiful private villas that were still closed for the season. MC and I each chose one as our own. Some children were frolicking on the beach, fisherman were trying their luck, families strolled leisurely and couples walked or sat romantically along the water's edge. It was a typical holiday scene, but happily uncrowded.

We had a leisurely lunch at a colorful outdoor restaurant on the beach, Lupo di Mare, and enjoyed fried calamari, grilled shrimp, patate, and insalata mista, and of course, the sun and sea breeze. The owner of the restaurant had a trained dog who performed tricks on the beach.

After a stroll along the waterfront we started back for Lecce. Because it was such a beautiful day, we decided to take the coastal road again, instead of the faster state highway. Although we had planned to stop at Otranto we put that off for the following day.

When we arrived back at the Villa G, we sat outside on the terrace and relaxed before going into Lecce for dinner. It was Saturday night and traffic was crazy, but I nevertheless ventured further into the city center than I had the night before, with MC encouraging me to just go, in spite of all the cars coming from every direction at certain intersections and traffic circles. It's even worse at night than during the day, but there's something to that expression, "He who hesitates is lost". You just have to join in the craziness and go!

We finally found a parking spot and walked through some dark, narrow streets, which, fortunately, were not completely deserted, before coming upon an Osteria (Anguilla or Giuliana, I can't remember for sure), that was obviously a popular spot for date night and appeared to be known for its antipasti of a variety of vegetables and meats prepared in several different ways, which everyone ordered. MC ordered an assortment of dishes that included "Polpette di cavalli" - meatballs made from horsemeat. When they arrived, she told me that she did not eat them, and I had no intention of eating them either, however, I did take a little taste, and they happened to be good, although a little dry, but it's that psychological thing, and there was too much else to eat so I left them. We skipped pasta and had sausage, vitello , cicoria (which was very bitter) and a salad. I never drink when I drive, not even a glass of wine, so that was a part of the meal I had to regretfully forego for those few days.

It occurred to me that, staying outside of Lecce as I did, I probably would not have ventured into the town at night for dinner, had I been by myself. It was just too confusing and hectic so I was glad for the company. As convenient as a car is in many cases, and as lovely as it is to stay outside of town, I think that staying right in the town center, as I usually like to do, has its advantages because you can just walk everywhere. I never really got to see much of the city of Lecce.

Sunday was our last full day in Lecce but Andrea told us everything would be closed, so we took a drive to Otranto, a little southeast of Lecce, and right on the water. We arrived in time for the Sunday morning "passagiata", just as I had done a week earlier in Mattinata. But for some reason
all the stores were open in Otranto and we walked around and browsed in the stores. Like Santa Maria de Leuca, Otranto had a large fortress along the waterfront.

Otranto is very picturesque and we spent a lot of time just wandering around before deciding on a waterfront restaurant. Although it was very pretty, with a white tent outside sheltering the tables, and hanging plants and flowers on the tables and fancy linens, the food was so-so and it was overpriced. And the owner tried to overcharge us by 5 EU by scribbling the bill so that it was illegible. But we called him on it. It was really the only sour note of the whole trip.

Afterwards we did some shopping, had a gelato and headed back to the Villa Giuliana. We sat out on the terrace and met, for the first time, Andrea's mother - an elegant and very attractive woman who must have been a beauty in her day. She asked if we'd like to join her for tea and she soon came out with a tray complete with some of her wonderful homemade cookies, which we almost devoured, but managed to leave one or two, just to look delicate. We enjoyed a pleasant conversation before she left to continue her work.

I wasn't really hungry but MC was so we went back to town and ate at the trattoria/pizzeria from the first night. We each had a Pugliese specialty, a type of stuffed pizza, but I can't remember the name (not calzone or stromboli), and we split the insalata mista. We headed back to the B&B and turned in early.

We awoke the next morning at 5:00 a.m. because I had to turn the car in at Bari Airport and catch my Easy Jet Flight to Rome at 10:45 a.m. We left Lecce at 6:10 a.m. and made it to the airport in just about 2 hours, much faster than I thought we would, and had plenty of time before check in. We had a caffe and said arrivederci before MC left to catch the bus to Bari and go to work.

My Easy Jet flight was 40 minutes late, but was otherwise uneventful and comfortable. The plane was not full and I did notice many people exceeding the carry on limit and no one said anything.

I had booked a hotel near Roma termini for my last night, the Hotel Novecento on Via Carlo Emanuelle. It's not an area I would choose for a longer stay b/c I prefer something more central, but it was fine for my purposes since I had an early flight the next morning. The Novecento was quite pleasant and inexpensive, 90EU for a double, single use, and it had a lovely roof garden. It's family run and the service was very friendly.

My plan for the day was to walk over to the Colosseum, then head toward the Piazza Navona, the Borghese Gardens, the Spanish Steps and then back to the hotel. There was, however, a fierce wind blowing in Rome that day, and after a few hours it started to rain. The wind made an umbrella useless. After a while I stopped into a trattoria and ordered a bowl of Pasta e fagioli, which was hot and delicious, and sausage and insalata. Since I wasn't driving, I ordered a half liter of red wine and left the restaurant when it finally stopped raining.

I lost my bearings and walked in the totally opposite direction from where I wanted to go. I wasn't too upset b/c discovering Rome is always a pleasure, and I wound up at a huge intersection with traffic coming from every direction imaginable. I was a few blocks from the Colosseum and it started raining again and was starting to get dark. So I headed toward the Colosseum, which was only about a 10 minute walk from my hotel. It started raining more heavily and when I came upon a taxi stand I jumped in one. Just as I closed the door, it started to pour. For once, my timing was perfect.

Back at the hotel I took a long hot shower, packed my suitcase, and I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. I overslept the next morning and rushed like crazy to catch the 7:50 a.m. Leonardo Express to the airport. I had to wait 7 minutes for a taxi and would have been better off walking, but it was drizzling - what else is new? - and I literally caught the train just as the doors were closing. I didn't even have time to validate my ticket, but fortunately no one came around to check.

Check-in at FCO was a minor nightmare, with the Delta terminal being a bus ride apart from the main terminals at FCO. The first line was to see how many bags people were going to check or carry on and were marked accordingly. The next long line was check in, followed by another long line for the security check. I had completely forgotten about a bottle of water in my carry on, however, it went unnoticed and I didn't realize it until I was on the plane. Finally, there was passport control, and then back on the bus to go to the departure gate.

The flight home seemed endless, more than 9.5 hours, possibly because of a strong headwind. They showed 3 movies, including Frost/Nixon which was great, and the usual other junk. When I arrived back in NY, the temperature was 84 degrees. Wouldn't you know, after 12 days of freezing in Italy!

I arrived home with fond memories of the many people I met along the way, in every town, and the wonderful experiences I had. I know I will return to Puglia.
panecott is offline  
May 14th, 2009, 11:24 AM
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 8,551
Very fun report. I too have been wanting to visit Puglia for a number of years and can certainly see how a fare like that would push me to do so immediately.

Will you be sharing any photos?

Thanks for posting.
Leely2 is offline  
May 14th, 2009, 12:17 PM
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Awesome report. How lucky for you to be able to meet up with long lost relatives.
Kristina is offline  
May 15th, 2009, 07:15 AM
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Glad you enjoyed the report, guys. The trip certainly exceeded my expectations.

Leely, I will try to post some photos in the next couple of weeks.
panecott is offline  
Mar 26th, 2014, 02:50 AM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,063
i enjoyed reading your report, even though a few years old.
I am going to Puglia in late April, also solo but using public transportation.

I am staying in Lecce for the first 5 days using it as a base for train and bus travels to nearby towns.
Plannng on visitng Trani, Matera, Ostuni and perhaps Bari.
Any other thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated.

I had similar experience visiting family in Calabria on my first trip to Italy many many years ago when I was 26.
( Aside I am now 84 ) My father and his older brother had left Calabria when he was 16 and left several brothers and sisters there. I was the first to return and the welcome I received was unbelievable. My planned 2 day stay turned into a 3 week stay.This trip was the first of many visits to and from Italy by both my newly discovered Italian family and my American family.
tdk320n is offline  
Mar 27th, 2014, 09:25 PM
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tdk320n- I went to Puglia last year. If you click on my name you'll see my trip report. We spent 3 nights in Lecce and loved it. I still need to write about Matera.
Kristina is offline  
Mar 28th, 2014, 05:32 AM
Join Date: Feb 2007
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Thanks for your report. Great info that I am now using to finalize my report.
I may email you next week if you do not mind to ask some specific questions. I am booked for Lecce for my first 5 nights, to just appreciate Lecce and use trains and buses to visit towns south of Lecce .
I then have 7 days not finalized and still in the planning stage. My trip is scheduled to leave NY April 23 so I know I have to decide in the next few days.
I had really wanted to overnight in Matera after that, but I am now thinking of going to Ostuni for perhaps a day trip and then Trani for 2 days. Then to Bari for perhaps 2-3 days and do a day trip to Matera by train.
I then leave Bari by train to Florence .

Hopefully I can return next year to spend time in Matera.

Any thoughts or suggestions will be appreciated.

tdk320n is offline  
Mar 28th, 2014, 05:37 AM
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Sorry I forgot to say the above was for Kristina.
tdk320n is offline  
Mar 28th, 2014, 05:37 PM
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tdk320n- You can email me via my blog, or ask any questions you might have by leaving a comment on my blog (on one of the posts for Lecce for example).
Kristina is offline  
Mar 28th, 2014, 07:58 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
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Thanks. I must say I have been reading your reports and looking at your fabulous pictures.
You are a true artist in both aspects.

I will take you up on your generous offer.

tdk320n is offline  

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