Spain, Italy · 7 Days · 17 Moments · August 2018

Escape to Apulia


18 August 2018

Well my dear friends, the drive back to Bari airport was uneventful and after another delay, we finally got back to Valencia and that means that this is goodbye again until next time! I’ve enjoyed chatting to you over the last few days and hope to see you again very soon. As always, as I end my trip, it just leaves me say ‘May the road rise up to meet you and may the wind be always at your back!!’ All my love, Neil x

17 August 2018

The actual reason we came to Taranto though was not to visit the city but to visit the National Archaeological Museum of Taranto, otherwise known as marTA! The museum is housed in the old convent of St Pascual of Babylon, and houses the best collection of antiquities in the whole region. Due to its Greek ties, the quantity of Greco-Roman relics that have been found is incredible, and incredibly beautiful. The prize of the collection is the ‘Ori di Taranto’ or Golden Treasure of Taranto, which consists in delicately crafted gold jewellery including diadems, necklesses and earrings. A sight to behold and to have survived so long, it left us open-mouthed. However, the museum also boasts a huge collection of Greek pottery and funerary items, most interestingly from the Tomb of the Athletes, which contained items from the Olympic Games and the skeleton of the oldest knows sportsman ever to have been found. It took us a good three hours to see the collection before heading back.
Well reader, this is our final day and after a lovely meal last night in our favourite fish restaurant, Pescerí, we decided that instead of sitting round Bari after checking out of our apartment we would instead take a last trip to the city of Taranto right on the arch if Italy’s foot. The city was founded by Spartan settlers in 706 BCE on a small peninsula which separates the Ionian Sea the ‘Mar Grande’ from an inland sea, almost lagoon called the ‘Mar Piccolo’. The newer city was built over the old so few actual sites remain apart from two temple columns and some tombs, however the legacy has left a huge range of artefacts which we will come to later. The oldest part of the town is quite run down now but judging by the number of for sale/sold signs we saw I don’t think it will be long before gentrification takes hold. At the end of the road there is an Aragonese Castle sitting in lush gardens and jutting out to sea. There is a small Romanesque cathedral with a baroque facade

16 August 2018

Lecce was beautiful but absolutely packed with tourists making it another ‘theme park’ destination. However this was NOTHING compared to our last stop. The famous Trulli of Alberobello! The route we took through the hills caused a little matrimonial upset but was a very picturesque, verdant and rolling landscape. The town of Alberobello is an hour south west of Bari and famous for its town of conical stone houses or ‘Trulli’. The oldest are from about the 14th Century although the style is much older. All built by dry wall technique so that the owners could dismantle them to avoid taxes, they really are curious dwellings and seeing a whole town of them is very interesting. However yet again the site has been invaded by tourism, ourselves included, and the Trulli now house tacky gift shops and pubs, with the original owners squashed between the masses of scurrying tourists. This does not mean they are not worth a visit, dear reader, they are, but it does taint it a little bit!
Well hello there readers and welcome to our last full day in Apulia. Actually our most touristy day of all. Our first stop is to Lecce, ‘the Florence of the South’! Known as such because of the array of Baroque architecture this city boat many impressive churches and piazzas, as well as archaeological sites. The storm clouds were rolling in just as we arrived in the city so we took shelter from the storm in a small bakery where we waited for the rain to subside. The city (or rather the original city 3km to the south west) may have existed as far back as the Trojan war and was home to the poet Ennias. The city was moved during the reign of Hadrian and still boasts the remains of two rather underwhelming Roman ruins, a small theatre and half an amphitheater (the other half still buried under other buildings). Supposedly the most ornate building in Italy is here in the form of the a Church of Santa Croce, but as luck would have it it is being renovated at the moment!!

15 August 2018

... Highlights of this fascinating town for me are the churches of San Pietro Barisano and the wonderful Madonna dell’Idris, both rupestrian churches cut from the rock with frescoes dating from the 12th to 17th Centuries. Some of the frescoes have several layers of images as one priest took over from the previous and wanted to ‘redecorate’! Across the gorge are older and more cavelike dwellings, but by this time we were worn out and headed back through the Sassi one last time towards the car. Out last stop of the day was the town of Altamura, just 20km back towards Bari, where, as you know, we are based. This town is famous for its bread! In fact, it has been famous for its bread for more than two thousand years since it was mentioned by the Latin poet Horace! We never got the chance to try the bread because today is a very important feast day in Italy, the Assumption, so everything was closed! Apart from the church carvings, I wasn’t taken with the place to be honest! Never mind
Good afternoon, readers, let’s get on with today’s story shall we? Well, today we drove to the city of Matera in the adjacent region of Basilicata. This was once the capital of the region and is famous for what is known as the ‘underground city’; two areas of houses and churches cut from the rock of a ravine. These ‘Sassi’ which were once the poorest of homes are now a tourist attraction, and have been immortalised many times in celluloid, from Pasolini to Mel Gibson. In fact in the 1950s the inhabitance were all but forced out of their cave homes and made to move into more modern housing. Matera is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, about 12,000 years approximately and is a world heritage site along with its beautiful rupestrian churches. Frankly it needs several hours to explore properly and a good set of legs to get you up and downs the long stone staircases! There was a brief respite for lunch at an elegant cave restaurant called ‘Dedalo’. ...

14 August 2018

The Castel de Monte was built by Federico II in the 1240’s. Its position on a low hill make it an imposing sight as you drive towards it. Its unusual octagonal shape and lack of defences led to the assumption that it was built as a hunting lodge. However, recent discoveries of a curtain wall mean that indeed it could have been a citadel. The fact is Federico probably never even came here much but it has been associated with scholars and erudites down the ages. Federico is the only ruler to have ruled over a country of Muslims, Jews and Christians in peace, so it was only right that the castle became a melting pot of ideas. Although mostly nonsense, the castle has been associated with astronomy, the occult and even the grail quest. The simple truth is the castle is stark, mysterious and beautiful, even today and leaves you with a feeling of wonder. Our last stop was the city of Trani to see the Basilica di San Nicola Pellegrini, which sits brooding on the edge of the Adriatic!
The story goes that the colossus was washed up on the shore after a Venetian ship sank coming back from the fourth crusade in 1204. It may also have been found by Federico II in Ravenna during archaeological digs. No one knows who the emperor depicted is. There are several thoughts however, such as Heraclius (not likely) and Leo I The Thracian (more likely)! The statue is about three times life size and carries a cross held high. The legs are not original, as the legs were melted down to make a bell for nearby monks!! The town of Barletta itself is well kept and clean with another Suevian castle and a nice old town. We ate in a typical restaurant where we were treated to a local speciality with beans before our grilled vegetables and fried fish dishes. The waiter was about 90 years old and reminded me very much of an old Victoria Wood sketch! Glad we didn’t order the soup!! Now, it was time to head inland to the mysterious castle built by this Federico II...Castel del Monte!
Good day to you, readers! I hope you’re well. Today started with a trip by bus back to the airport to collect the hire car we will be using for the next few days. The bus was busy and we arrived just in time, so I found myself squashed into the middle seat on the back row like a rowdy teenager! The car hire was harmless, although you need to be prepared for hidden costs that never appear at the time of booking. It’s run of the mill now so I don’t let it get to me. Our first stop was a little obscure. We headed off to see a Bronze Age burial chamber near the town of Bisceglie. The Dolmen of Chianca. The site is one of the biggest in Europe but off the beaten track so there wasn’t a soul to be seen. I loved it, although I understand that to some it would mean nothing at all. We now headed back onto the road to the town or Barletta to see its famous colossus! See you there, reader!

13 August 2018

After a home made Ragú in the apartment, we decided to take it easy for the afternoon and head to the local city beach, amusingly called Pane e Pomodoro (Bread and Tomato). I’m not a beach person and the beach is a 2km walk from the apartment down the seafront. I was not particularly looking forward to it. I was however...wrong. The beach is actually quite nice. It is busy but not as incredibly crowded as other Italian beaches I’ve been to. The water was clean, in fact cleaner than our beach back home. You do need to look after your belongings but that’s the same anywhere now and there is a free locker service if you need it. Even the walk to and from the beach was interesting as there are some impressive, quite spartan buildings along the front from the facist regime. Our evening meal this evening was truly excellent at a restaurant calle Pescerí, just ten steps from our apartment. The place is deceptive and the restaurant area is through the back of the take away area.
This morning we are retracing our steps from yesterday but spending a little more time in each place. The city old town is much livelier in the mornings and the souvenir stalls are out in force. The old ladies are sat outside their front doors selling home made orecchiette. We discovered the little church of San Marco dei Veneziani, built by the Venetian sailors to remind them of home. We now turned back to the cathedral to go down into the crypt where there is an archaeological dig which has uncovered artefacts and remains from Roman and Early Christian/Medieval sites here before the cathedral was constructed. There is a section of the Roman Via Traiana and a beautiful mosaic floor from the original church on the site depicting...what other than octopus and squid! Just 3€ this was well worth the visit. After the cathedral we headed to the Norman Castle, the Castello Svevo, built in 1132. This costs 9€ to get in and to be honest is more impressive from the outside.
Anyone who knows me well, my darlings, knows that I have a ritual whenever I’m in Italy, which as you know is quite often! I like to get up early and have a wander on my own, pop to a bakery and get something scrummy and local for breakfast. The morning is a special time in most cities and many times people sleep through this quiet time of day, especially when they are on holiday. I enjoy this time alone to explore and see what’s happening with the people who live here, what they’re up to and what makes the city tick. Today I headed down to the harbour to have a look at what the fishermen were bringing in. Hopefully see the stalls with raw fish to eat which I had heard all about. There were only a few stalls selling the fresh raw octopus and prawns with lemons slices and there was only one fisherman beating an octopus to death with what seemed to be a stone, before grabbing it by the legs and smashing its head agains the floor repeatedly. I wont be eating octopus again, readers.

12 August 2018

I had already booked the table this evening so that we didn’t have to worry about looking for something specific. ‘Black and White’ sits in the corner of Piazza Mercantile and is a modern seafood restaurant from chef Daniele Caldarulo. The excellent starter of a selection of raw fish in a vegetable gazpacho was definitely a star dish. Jesus bit off more than he could chew with a whole octopus cooked over charcoal as his main course, whereas, as usual (ahem) I was little more humble and my dish consisted of the typical orecchiette in a turnip pesto sauce. A very nice way to end a day of travelling. Goodnight my friends. Sleep tight and let’s bring on tomorrow. X
After a very well deserved ‘nana-nap’, it was time to have a wander through the streets of the old town. Bari old town is not that big so to see it all you only really need a day. There are several places of interest and we intended to see them during this afternoon and tomorrow morning. Our first stop was the Cattedrale di San Sabino. The building that is there today is mainly from the late 12th century after the previous site was destroyed by William the Wicked. The original Romanesque style was restored in the 1950s. Although more important, this church is much less famous than the Basilica nearby which houses a the remains of San Nicola, or as we know him ‘Father Christmas’!! The saint was originally kept in Myra in Turkey, but when invaded by the Saracens some took it on themselves to use it as an excuse to steal the remains and bring them back to a ‘safer place’ where they remain today, in a crypt below the church. After a stroll along the promenade it was time for dinner.
Well dear readers, after a somewhat longer journey than we first thought and the computers on the plane finally switching on, we arrived in Bari later than expected. Fortunately, as our check in time was later anyway we got to our Airbnb at exactly the right time. We were met by Andrea, who showed us up to the seventh floor apartment loft which will be out home for the next five nights. By now of course ‘someone’ was in dire need of food and getting grumpy. Naming no names. Ok...Jesus! We left our lovely modern nest to head into the sweltering heat to look for something to eat. We headed up past the marina and to the Piazza del Ferrarese and into the Piazza Mercantile, one of the liveliest areas of the old town, replete with restaurants and bars. However at this time of day and in this heat (less than Valencia but more uncomfortable), it was empty. We ate at a small family-run restaurant ‘Le Nicchie’ and tried the local, potato, rice and mussel dish before heading back.
Well my friends, here we are again on another journey. Welcome once again, it’s lovely to see you all again! This time we are on a short break to Italy. More specifically, we are heading the the region of Apulia, which makes up part of the heel of Italy. We are basing ourselves in the city of Bari from where we will explore the city itself before hiring a car and heading of to explore the region. I’ve never been to this area even after years of travelling round almost the whole of Italy, so this will be a new experience, exploring new landscapes, villages and maybe a couple of beaches on the way. However, dear reader, right at the moment I am stuck on a runway at Valencia airport because there is a technical problem with the computers on the plane. This does not inspire confidence and we have been inside the plane now for over an hour. Have they tried turning it off and on again? Not the best start to the holiday. Let’s see what happens!