North America, Europe · 20 Days · 90 Moments · September 2017

Gary's journi to Italy


15 October 2017

Final Thoughts Paula, Gary, Carol & Rich formed a good team Late September early October time to visit Stay off the beaten path Libraries in Rome Doria Pamphilj museum Scavi & other excavations Puglia history & ruins Swim in Ionian & Adriatic Cave art Churches - fine art Maria & Francesca Masserie Faraone Lecce baroque Really good food Best dinner - Gustavo braceria in Galatone Cacio e pepe Square long pasta shape Dried fava bean soup Orecchiette many ways Seafood - whole fish baked Trapizzino sandwiches Chicory puntarella Bombette in Cisternino Mushrooms from the street Mattia waiter in seafood restaurant

14 October 2017

Our last vacation dinner together at Pizzeria Remo in the Testaccio neighborhood said to be the best pizza in Rome. Arrived right at 7 when it opens. When we passed by our 1st night around 9 it was packed w people standing outside waiting for a table. We ate Pizza Remo w eggplant & sausage, pizza Bianca w zucchini flowers & anchovies, insalata mista, chicory (we've had a lot of it) & rice polpetti (little fried rice balls filled w cheese & tomato). We met Harriet from London on a mini vacation to Italy. She's 24 and a salesperson w Lenovo traveling alone, very outgoing comfortable for a young woman. She initiated conversation w us.
Toured the Scavi (no photos) under St Peter's Basilica to see the bones of St Peter which were documented as the real thing in 1968 by Pope Paul VI. It was a great tour w a terrific guide. She brought a group of 15 thru the excavation which was started by Pope Pius XXII in the late 1930's. Step by step, room by room she took us thru the history from Peter's hanging upside down in 64AD to his burial between 2 walls in a pagan necropolis to Constantinople building the 1st church on the site to finding an inscription saying "Peter is here" to discovering Constantinople buried the bones under the church to prevent theft. It was a fascinating 1.5 hour tour and then the topping was listening to Pope Francis say Mass when we were right below at St Clement's chapel while leaving the Scavi. We were prevented from leaving because the Pope was passing - Paula took a photo of him from about 40' away riding in a convertible. Rich & I tried to get into the church but line too long so we walked.

13 October 2017

Dinner at Flavio Velavevodetto in Testaccio. Couldn't get into Felice so this was our 2nd choice. Forgot to get photos of 3 pastas we had - rigatoni carbonara, Cacio e pepe & fettuccine w fungi. The entrees were oxtail, osso buco & rabbit stew. Also had a mixed salad & chicory vegetable. All delicious.
Can you tell where I am in these 1st 2 pictures? Of course the Pantheon - carol wanted to see again since it's been about 30 years since she's been in Rome. It's always worth the visit to this wonder of architecture & engineering. We then walked to Piazza Navonna which has lost its meaning/charm whatever it had. Then onto our final church for the day - San Luis Francesi w its 3 Caravaggio paintings depicting the life of St Matthew. The 1st one is the most interesting and needs explanation. It depicts Christ standing on the far right next to Peter reaching out w his hand of God recruiting Matthew sitting down who is pointing his finger at Levi who is standing to follow Jesus - as if to say "you mean him, not me?" It's worth reading more about this painting & the subtlety that Caravaggio employs. He's a master - the looks on various faces are telling. Finally, last photo is outside our apt bldg. facing the Tiber.
On to looking at more churches - St Ignatius, Jesuit of course, which Kathy Hamilton suggested, and Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a Dominican church. The piazza outside of SI is a semicircle of beautiful residential buildings probably 18th C. Inside is a beautiful wooden model of a church by a 20th C artist whose intention was to create a church or place for all religions. Leave it to the Jesuits to display this art in their church. We must return to see the Gesu church someday. The Minerva has a great Bernini sculpture - the one w the elephant - in the piazza; also here is the Grand Hotel. Beautiful marble columns and the burial place of Catherine of Siena.
There are 2 other quiet corners of art that I will need to return to Rome to do - so much to see & do, so little time. My other quest was to see these 3 libraries in Rome - because the Bibliioteca Vallicelliana is only open until 11:30 we missed it each day. But with much searching & all credit to Rich for seeing these small signs we found the Casanatense and Angelica libraries. The former was closed but the door open and we asked to spend 5 minutes in it & were granted 15. This is a marvelous library of old books. The Angelica is said to be Europe's 1st public library. Fiametta ... is the director & she was a terrific host. She wrote a book about the library & we purchased a copy. I showed her & a colleague a copy of the recent NY Times article - she had seen it - she pointed to the photos of her library & one of a copy of The Divine Comedy 1st Italian edition published in 1472. I asked to see it & after some consultation & effort it came! What a treat to see this. No photos allowed.
Note the photos of paintings w a woman holding a plate w a person's head - this is Salome, Herod's daughter, who after dancing for her father was offered anything she wished. Her mother told her to ask for John the Baptist's head on a plate & she did. Rich, who has a wonderful grasp of the Bible, related the story to us. The first painting shown is by Titian. I said this is one of only two things that the Corsini & Doria Pamphilj have in common - the other gallery style display or replacing wallpaper w art. The Doria is special. Great art, great audio guide and all for only 12 Euros (same as Corsini). There are 2 Caravaggio (two on loan), Brueghel, Titian, Coreggio, Fra Lippo Lippi, Bernini, Bellini, Velasquez, etc. we spent a good 2 hours here. The audio has a great intro about the Pamphilj family & one of their early relatives - Pope Innocent X. He mandated that all the art in the Palazzo never be sold. He is prominent in the gallery w sculpture by Bernini & painting by Velasquez.
We started out Friday around 9am and headed straight for Linari cafe, around the corner from us, for cappuccini and hot chocolate. Then to the new Testaccio market for a look and stop for "breakfast". As we were sitting a young woman came to us asking for money and I gave her some food. We saw her sit down w two older men and eat what we gave her. We believe she explained to them that she didn't buy the food w money she received but that it was given to her by us. Later another woman stopped me asking for money and we figured that this was a "family business". Caught a bus to Piazza Venezia to begin our tour. I have several articles I've saved about Italy and some specifically about off-beat things to see in Rome. One is about libraries, the other called "3 quiet corners of art" - one is Palazzo Doria Pamphilj. This was a spectacular choice. Compared to the Corsini we saw the day before - there is little to compare, except the style of displaying art in the 17th C and one subject.

12 October 2017

Dinner Agustarello: pasta amatriciana (tomato, guanciale & Parmesan) & pasta grecia (pecorino & guanciale) both delicious but flew off our plates before pix. Secondi lamb ribs, rolled beef stuffed w chicory, roasted sweetbreads & trippa in tomato sauce. Rich & Carol didn't like the trippa & sweetbreads (just tried a piece of each). Paula & I loved our entrees but Rich thought the bombette in Cisternino was the best. Perhaps not as memorable/special ias I remember 10 years ago. Home by 9:30
Where else - Roma! We arrived from Lecce Thursday October 11 at 11:30 in Termini rail station - had a great taxi driver to our apt. on Lungotevere (on the Tiber) in Testaccio - he complained about Uber but has relatives in Canada, New Jersey & Australia. Our host, Maurizio, met us at 12:15 and gave us an hour and a half tour of the apt. and info about the Testaccio as well as recommended walks to the Trastevere and beyond. Plus bus and metro info - really helpful. We went to a lunch place - Trapizzino - for sandwiches - Paula got us slow cooked beef & eggplant stews - really good. Rich & Carol had chicken & beef also delicious. This is a great idea for SF and the world! We then did a 4-hour walk (after getting due cappuccini at Linari cafe) thru the Trastevere & Jewish quarter, stopping at Chiesa Santa Maria Trastevere and the Corsini Museum. The Palazzo ... was closed. Back by 6:30 - what a day up at 4:30am and now getting ready for dinner at Agustarello.

11 October 2017

Lecce Arrived at Bella Lecce B&B at 10:30 after dropping off car at Avis - only public trans from now on in Italy. Paula & I walked for 2 hours then had simple lunch of salad, bean soup & grilled chicken at Joyce Pub in Piazzetta Castromediano - later returned to this piazzetta for Campari spritzer at da Povero. It's great to be in a real city - it's beautiful, vibrant, well planned. We're told that it was "dead" to tourism until late 90's. Met our tour guide, Simona, in the Duomo square. This isn't the church gem of the city - that's the basilica. It started to rain but we carried on for 2.5 hours. She explained the history, architecture, culture and art of Lecce. Interesting note about the basilica is it portrays both the daily and religious life of the city - the architecture is one part renaissance and one part baroque
Last day in Lecce - Wednesday, October 11 After visiting Museo Faggiano we saw the year old Jewish museum. Claudia gave a very good guided tour of the history of Jews in Lecce - here from 1300's to 1495 when they were expelled by Catherine. They are going to build a scale model of the Jewish area as it existed centuries ago - a paper mache model maker was busy at work. Long term they'd like to acquire some bldgs. in the neighborhood and restore I some way. Had lunch at "Small Fish Bar" in piazzetta Castromediano where we've already been a few times - good not great food. It's just a lunch joint - fried mixed fish, octopus sandwich, octopus w potatoes & a cheeseburger (?) made with a patty of swordfish - rich barely finished half (not to his liking). We walked some more - this time down the main drag into the new section of Lecce which has many brand name Italian stores and then back to Da Povero for salads before retiring early - 9pm - for early wake up tomorrow.
Museo Faggiano This was fascinating - story goes in 2000 the bldg. owner wanted to have a trattoria and needed to figure out plumbing. That turned into an archeological exploration o which ultimately resulted in discovery of Messapian (predecessor to Greece 5-6th C BC) ruins and a medieval convent w escape passageways. This is close to the Roman Anfiteatro and is thought to have been connected.

10 October 2017

Lecce tour More churches, streets, architectural features We visited piazza San Oronzo w obelisk in honor of the man who is credited for saving Lecce from the plaque. Also the the Roman Anfiteatro which was discovered in early 1900's and restored by Mussolini in the 1930's as part of his nationalistic campaign. There are several Fascist architecture buildings around the anfiteatro. Had one of two disappointing dinners in Puglia so far - an uninspiring place called d'angiulio or something - orecchiette, baked ziti, mixed salad, chicory & mixed meat grill including sausage, horse meat and pork chop.

9 October 2017

As David Neeve says "more food porn:" we had dinner back at the same restaurant, Corallo, on the sea where we had lunch a couple of days before. We again over-ordered: an entree each - grouper, scampi, baccala and tuna - plus mussels and a tasting starter and they gave us a muse bouche to start and cookies to finish.
We left Paula at the villa and Rich, Carol and I went to Santa Maria al Bagno for a swim in the Ionian Sea. This is a great swimming beach because it's a protected cove w a gentle slope out and sandy bottom for a hundred yards at least. 3 young people were practicing volleyball - they were good - and there were people diving off 25' cliffs.
This is our "villa" in Galatone (couple of hours south of Masseria Faraone in Martina Franca) where we've been the last four nights. After touring we returned to our villa for lunch - a salad, left over fungi pasta, cheese and wine).
Ho hum another church, also in Galatina - we walked the entire centro storico looking for Santa Maria Della Grotta but when we arrived I realized took us to Santa Maria Della Grazie which wasn't open, except for a library & admin offices! We then walked thru the old centro's back alleys to find the octagonal Purgatory church but it was also closed. So we walked back to the car and in the process bought cheeses & produce for lunch. We basically did a windshield tour of Corigliano d'Otranto and did a short walk in Maglie to see the church there.
If it's Tuesday, it must be our last day in Galatone. We got a latish start for our tour of Galatina, Corigliano d'Otranto and Maglie - Galatina being the most important and where we walked for 2.5 hours. We returned to our villa by 2:30 for lunch. Galatina's cathedral is amazing - chock full of frescoes from head to toe, ceilings, arches & walls (not the floor). However cameras and phones are not allowed so Paula and I bought a book on Puglia cathedrals at the caffe across the square after having due cappuccinos. The frescoes show many western scenes, like knights in armor and village life but there are many Greek influenced portraits of saints, Jesus, Mary, etc. We also visited the one room museum next door with a nice exterior garden and frescoes; displays of church seating for priests attending Mass and crucifixes carrying the host.

8 October 2017

We then drove south along the rocky coast route to Santa Maria di Leuca at the tip of Italy - the end of the earth. We saw the lighthouse at the cape where the Ionian meets the Adriatic Sea. Castro looked interesting w it's castle and Knights of Jerusalem tower but we didn't stop. We stopped to photograph the Moor style late 19th C home of the developer of the terme or baths in this area, called Villa Sticchi. We left Leuca toward Salve on a local road then to Presticce looking for Patience Gray's home here - she died in 2005 but her sculptor & long time partner, Norman, just passed last April. Patience is the author of "Honey from the Weed" - her bio was just published. She was a food writer, forager and early adopter of local slow food and lived here 30 years. We think we got close to her home in an olive growing area but didn't know exactly where it was. She and her partner are buried in Salve.
We attempted to eat at Primo, another recommendation by Kate Simon, but it was closed so we walked across the street to Terra Nostra ( Our Earth), looked at the menu and decided to try it. Here's the chef after bringing our first couple of dishes: mixed seafood carpaccio (including swordfish, octopus, fried night bait, small fish, tuna & squid) & grilled and mixed grilled vegetables of peppers, melted mozzarella on baked potato, a fried layered thing. We also had friselle w tomatoes and arugula. As you can see by the pictures we ordered way more than necessary because the servings were huge but really good food. This was followed by octopus & potatoes in a tomato stew, mussels in broth w toast, meatballs in tomato sauce and mixed green salad - we asked to take w us the meatballs & salad! What a nice find after being disappointed Primo was closed.
Church of San Pietro is an amazing little creation - full of frescoes 5 layers thick - showing 3 great cultural influences: Greek, Byzantine and Muslim.
Otranto Cattedrale main church The mosaic floor done in the 12th century is unusual for Puglia - not the quality of mosaics we've seen in Sicily or Ravenna but given the location and Norman age, pretty terrific.
Drove an hour east to Otranto on Sunday, October 8 - arrived at 10am. Walked to the seaside and then up to first church we saw.
Otranto Cattedrale Crypt Walked up to centro storico as we have so many times on this trip. The old town is protected by a great castle on a promontory w stone walls around. It overlooks the Adriatic Sea.

7 October 2017

Home cooked dinner of pasta w the mushrooms we purchased yesterday on the street in Francavilla Fontana and pasta, salumi, cheeses & green salad we got today.
Gallipoli After lunch we toured Gallipoli on the Ionian coast. We walked across a bridge to the old fortified town and around the island - there was a terrific wind blowing off the sea.
Corallo hotel/Ristorante on the water in S. Maria al Bagno. We each just had a primi - Paula and Carol had polpo Nero (black octopus w squid ink), Rich the fettuccine in panna w two whole shrimp - wish I took a photo - and I had ravioli stuffed with salmon & cod in a light tomato sauce with clams & salmon on top. Our server’s name is Mattia, same as our grandson.
Nardo cathedral is fantastic - best of the Salento so far (I'm sure that's not the last time you'll here that expression. But look at the photos - frescoes, baroque style, old columns shown thru glass floor before earthquake in 1743 and the altar - oh my!bb
Nardo church front
Nardo centro storico - Piazza Salandra and Castello A nice walk again thru an historic city. If I can recommend one additional book to read and bring w you if you come here - it's "Old Puglia" published in 2016. It's a wealth of information about the history and how it relates to the present sites. It's an entertaining read.ga
Nardo church building Rich & I wandered in here at start of our walk - really not much to say except for these photos - note the chalices.

6 October 2017

Dinner: Gustavo Braceria I know I've said this before but this really was the best dining experience we've had so far in Italy. It wasn't just the food - I'll get to that - but the whole feeling from the moment we arrived in our new home in Galatone. Our host's son, Mimo, works at Gustavo. As soon as we walked toward the front door it felt welcoming. Then we were greeted by Mimo and sat down in one of three small dining rooms. The woman who owns the restaurant came to our table to say hello and let us know what to expect - but all in Italian so I missed a little in translation. The atmosphere was warm and hip - many young Italians no tourists. Carol found this in a Kate Simon article about the Salento region (the very bottom of the heel of the boot) of Puglia.
Dinner: Gustavo Braceria in Galatone Food started coming right away - many starters from a fennel celery root salad to a capacollo salami w pecorino cream cheese & fennel fronds on toast to a potato salad w thin sliced cauliflower, yellow cherry & sun dried tomatoes to lightly deep fried vegetables to thin sliced wedges of a hard cheese w thin slices of apples & honey to beans & barley w greens in a broth w oregano flowers on top - those were the starters! Now for the primi & secondi - first a sort of larger cavatelli in a tomato based sauce w mushrooms (I believe called carleducci - we bought some earlier in the day in Francavilla Fontana from a street vendor) and soft black pork slices w radicchio and mashed & sliced potatoes. We finished w a panna and chocolate sauce dessert. You might ask "what did that cost?" And I'd answer since I paid the bill 105 euros - amazing considering what that would cost in SF.
Copertino
Copertino This is the town with the flying padre Giuseppe - the story in "Old Puglia" was a paragraph telling about this priest who on 70 occasions flew in the air even taking passengers - his last flight was for Pope Urban VIII - he died the next day. The story didn't explain how he did this - it's a miracle! See the painting showing astonished faces. We walked the centro storico which has a Jewish ghetto section but again all stores and restaurants were closed in the mid-late afternoon so we headed for our new home, a villa in Galatone.
Abandoned trains in Manduria
Manduria This was a disappointment. I thought since the wine "primitivo di Manduria" is from here the city would have allure. But not much - we found the Messapian necropolis and Pliny's well but it was closed and looked like it hasn't been open for decades. We parked next to a castle (not open). This is a town mostly single story buildings. We looked for a bottle of wine but everything was closed mid day - not tourist oriented. There is an old section but not significant. However we did mange to find a bar/gelateria open where we had a treat - ciocalatta nero gelato. Carol found a string of old abandoned passenger rail cars she photographed.
Francavilla Fontana Of the 3 cities we visited today along the Avetrana road from Martina Franca to Galatone this was our favorite. We parked by the Palazzo Imperiali, a castle named after the Genovese banking family that had such a powerful and positive influence on this city and the surrounding area. We walked in but it was largely unavailable to us. On our way to the palazzo we stopped on the street to buy more fungi from a guy w a small truck full. They're a different variety from what we had earlier in the week. We toured the main cathedral extensively and came upon a young grade school class observing the church and saying a few prayers. We then walked the centro storico and saw another church which we couldn't gain entry. But it was a pleasant day for an hour and a half walk - it actually is the warmest day since we've been in Italy - about 80 F.

5 October 2017

I have to give Carol kudos for choosing Masseria Faraone and our hosts, Francesca & Maria Gianfiglio. As mentioned earlier the accommodations are wonderful but the breakfasts have been amazing - fresh baked cake every morning (today was hazelnut, yesterday was made w apricot jam), cappuccino, fresh fruit from their land, local cheeses, great breads (this morning Maria baked cheese polpetti- I liked them but Paula thought they should be lighter). Plus they have plain yogurt, cured meats and will make ham & cheese omelette or scrambled eggs & bacon on demand.
We drove 30 minutes from Ceglie to Torre Santa Sabina a beach town with a medieval tower. It was practically empty except for a couple of seafood restaurants. We chose Miramare da Michele on the water. Paula found an article raving about it but when we read ratings on Trip Advisor and Yelp we were skeptical - in the range of 3.5-4.0. But we were hungry so we got a table on the water - it was late for lunch, 2:45pm - there were a handful of tables occupied. We were not disappointed - whole branzino perfectly baked served with zucchini and potatoes. We first had cavatelli with mussels & clams in a rich yellow broth. We also had fish soup with shrimp, mussels , clams and whole small fish served in a tomato base broth. We finished with insalata mista. All delicious - 5 for food, 4.5 for ambience and service.
Miramare da Michele in Santa Sabina on Adriatic Sea
Ceglie Messapica: another medieval city in Valle d'Itria with a Castle and cathedral we walked in the old city - typical narrow streets and alleys. But before we parked I got off track trying to follow our car (Peugeot Magane) GPS. We got stuck in a narrow street and couldn't make a left turn so needed to back out - thankfully no damage to the car! We visited an art exhibit in the castle - many paintings by Emile Notte, an Italian painter from the 1960's & 70's. This painting is his most famous - he donated this and 10 others to the city. We stopped for a beer in Piazza Vecchia and listened to American jazz from the bar - nice way to kill an hour.

4 October 2017

Dinner La Cantina in Alberobello was the best! Thank you Gabriella & Chris. Started w 3 vegetable appetizers: Broad bean & chicory paste; chicoryw melted cheese & egg; thin sliced white zucchini & eggplant, melted cheese and lamb sausage (the winner). These were the most innovative dishes. 2 pastas: Fresh orecchiette w chestnuts & mushrooms; spaghetti w chili peppers, lemon & olive oil were great. 2 secondos: involtini veal rolls stuffed garlic cheese & parsley in tomato sauce; mixed skewer of neck pork, sausage & lamb - all were tasty.
Pool at Masseria Faraone - after making lunch - green salad & cavelli pasta with mushrooms & capacollo - relaxed poolside for 2 hours.
Walked across the old town w Maria and Francesca to Piazza Roma and the Duke's palace across from Maria's building which now houses her aunt - a wonderful location and the smallish home is nicely decorated w Francesco Carella paintings on the wall and ceilings dating to the 18th C. We chatted with the aunt and Romanian caretaker and toured the upstairs where there is a small bedroom and a larger bedroom with a view and outside deck and garden. The main living floor has a large living room w the paintings, a kitchen and bedroom.
Martina Franca home for sale belonging to Maria Asking 330,000 euros including 2% fee to listing agent
We met Francesca and her mother, Maria, at the family home in the old town of Martina Franca. It's for sale asking 330,000 euros. It's a large building that's been divided with 4 tenants in the rear facing another street and the main house on Via Savonarola #27. The house has not been lived in since 1981 except for a year when Maria and Francesca moved from Holland. Since Paula and I are in real estate and rich and carol are attorneys we are the perfect team to sell this house to one of our San Francisco friends, who want to live in southern Italy in the spring and fall in an historic urban area - and want a major rehab project. Paula took pictures - it's nominally a 3-story house with roof garden but there's one main living floor w potential for a master bedroom suite, kitchen, dining room, 2 small bedrooms & a living room. All rooms have vaulted ceilings - 2 small rooms up & small car garage w 2 more rooms down.
It's market day at piazza Filippo D'Angio in Martina Franca - walked for more than an hour - no interest in the dry goods - where's the food? Found & purchased items for lunch - tomatoes, lettuce, marinated mushrooms & artichokes and olives, of course, almonds & sweet green grapes.
Maria Gianfiglio, our host - what a cook!

3 October 2017

Back to Locorotondo for passegiata and dinner at Bina Ristorante. This was our most expensive, quite formal meal so far. We decided to do the tasting menu for 35 euros each. You get a lot more than tastes of the four menu items. Started with ricotta and carrot quiches - lovely presentation - then the first of two pastas, a round shape with small pieces of fried eggplant and the second, a fresh orecchiette in tomato/donkey meat sauce; we finished with two crusted fried lamb chops. There was no room for dessert.
Passegiata in Locorotondo - this reminded me of Lary & Judy's bike trip not only here in Puglia but all over the world.
On the edge of the centro storico in Martina Franca is L'Acropoli di Puglia, a 130 yr old olive oil producer. We were given an informative tour by Vincenzo, current owner & great grandson of the founder in the late 19th C. This was a real intro to olive oil. His opinion (he's a vegetarian) is one destroys the taste of olive oil by cooking with it - should only use to finish food after cooking. Much of the health benefits are cooked away. Start cooking w water. We bought his pitch and purchased 15-750 ml bottles of Mosto, an unfiltered, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. It is one of 4 varieties it produces. Each has a different strength - Mosto is best for cold food like salads and vegetables or pasta salad. Vivace is another type and it's filtered - can be used for hot or cold food. Amabile is for delicate food like risotto and fish. Florido is general purpose and is a blend of dark & light olives - come from same tree but dark ones are high up, more exposed to sunlight.
Monopoli: I should first explain that we are staying 6 nights and 5 full days (Saturday thru Thursday evening) and plan to leave for Galatone mid morning Friday. Monopoli is less than 45 minutes from our agriturismo. As always we parked next to centro storico and took a short walk to the cathedral which is on prime real estate virtually next to the sea - oh the Catholic Church! We wandered through old town and were helped by an Italian woman who lives in Oxford in locating Ristorante Palmieri where Paula read it has the best food in Monopoli - but it was closed. Since we were hungry we went to the little store in the same Piazza selling, what else, cured meats, cheese and vegetables w pane. After a bit of a walk we found our car in the Piazza Settembre XX. Back to Martina Franca for our date with the olive producer.
Carol and I swimming in Adriatic Sea at Capitolo beach near Monopoli
Egnazia: Roman ruins excavation site one of the most important in Italy. Located on the Adriatic Sea it was first developed by the Romans 1st or 2nd C BC. There are only foundations of buildings because during the Byzantine era buildings were destroyed and stone repurposed. This was a typical Roman town with acropolis, temples and necropolis. No amphitheater has been found but I'm sure one existed. This is a large area - at least a square mile. It now includes a good size museum, fairly new. We had a guided tour of the ruins. It's a working site, with many students from the University of Bari digging and cleaning.

2 October 2017

Dinner in Cisternino at Al Vecchio Fornello: the other thing Cisternino is known for is the macelleria or butcher shop with adjoining restaurants featuring "bombette" - little rolled meats stuffed with different things sometimes rolled in bread crumbs. We had traditional bombetti made from pig plus little sausages rolled up along with roasted potatoes w rosemary and mixed salad.
Ostuni: after Cisternino went to Ostuni, an historic city near the coast. It was a significant guard post for the Knights of Malta as they protected the Adriatic Coast first from the Infidels then from Albanians and North Africans. It's another hill town about 3-4 miles from the coast. You didn't live on the coast because you were an easy target for invasion. We met Fabrizio, owner of Risto Caffe Cavour here. Unfortunately it was closed but he remembered Elaine & Giacomo's friend, Isabella, who came to the USA from Cisternino and whose cousins know the owner. He recommended a panini shop on the corner where we had grilled vegetables, mixed salad and cured meats & cheeses plate. The city is more touristed than Cisternino but the old section has some interesting sites - a cathedral, a former monastery turned museum which was closed - it exhibits a 25,000 year old pregnant woman found nearby in a cave - she looks great.
Cisternino: after another wonderful breakfast at our agriturismo we drove to Cisternino about 20 minutes for a walk thru the "centro storico". It's known for its white buildings and narrow alleys - it's a gentle version of Alberobello, i.e. it's a local place without a lot of tourists. There's a nice view of valle d'Itria the area where we're staying - gently rolling hills planted mostly in olives and the murgia or plateau in the distance.

1 October 2017

I had a wonderful cheese and ham omelette and toast w a cappuccino plus fruit and yogurt for breakfast at the pleasant hour of 9:30. I could have had waffles and homemade fig jam and maple syrup. What a nice way to start the day. Drove to Alberobello to see trulli - these are stone houses with conical shaped roofs. It's a must see but it's infested with tourists and shops - curios, food, olives, wine, etc. it's a pleasant walk except for the crowds even though it's off season. Saw inside of a nicely appointed seemingly genuine trullo and a couple of churches (that's a thing here in Italy as you know).
Our host at Masseria Faraone is Francesca, a young woman born in Holland who speaks perfect English - I thought she was raised in the states! This is an olive and grain farm of 7 hectares that has been in the family for 100 years - Francesca and her mother, Maria, returned here a couple of years ago leaving the father/husband in Holland - he's an aerospace engineer - for the purpose of starting this B&B. There are 3 units - our bedroom adjoins Carol & Rich's and includes a good size kitchen and living room. It's a lot of space nicely decorated. There's a swimming pool among the olives. It's very isolated and secure. The area around is gently rolling hills and small farms (all separated w precisely constructed stone walls). There's quite a business in stone walls here! Went to Locorotondo for dinner at Casa Pinto pizzeria. We had 3 different pizzas - pesto, prosciutto and olives - and a large green salad. Really good - first pizza since we arrived.
Pasta & salad dinner at home in Martina Franca using mushrooms I purchased on the street in Alberobello and highlights of our walk through Alberobello.
Found this Benedictine monastery converted to a library with a display of revolutionary art - communist inspired. See two interesting photos - one showing what many Europeans think of our president. Walked back toward car thru Piazza XXVII September part of the parade route and next to the church whose saint is the festival's name. On our way back to Masseria Faraone we stopped at an abandoned trullo. Dinner was at "home" consisting of the porcini and Italian mushrooms we bought at a pop-up in Alberobello and some produce for a salad we found at a little produce stand. I made a pasta w sautéed mushrooms and Paula made a salad with lettuce, radicchio and tomatoes. Nice way to end our day. And the best was we got to FaceTime with Gabriella and family before going to sleep.
Went to Conversano thru Putignano (didn't stop). These towns are all fairly close. Conversano was an absolute treat. We met a young couple from Seattle who have been here for a month and told us this weekend is the festival of Santa Rita, a big deal for this area with processions and marching bands, etc. I learned about Conversano by reading "Old Puglia" a great history resource. This is a real surprise. Parked in the centro and walked to the cathedral. We chose a small street with smooth cobblestones - passed an alley where there were a lot of voices - turned out it was an early Sunday family dinner. Talked w the Seattle couple for 30 mins - they're in Europe for a year mostly vacation but some business - food related. Then had gelato on the main square in part of the historic castle. There is a view of the Adriatic about 6 miles to the west.

30 September 2017

On to Mottola to see the church of San Nicola, a rupestrian Byzantine cave from the 8-9th century. It's located in a rock depression called lama. Greek Orthodox followers separated from Christians and lived in this area until there was unification in the 11th century. There was a schism again two centuries later. So you see amazing frescoes in both traditions. We were led by a guide, Vita, who explained the many depictions of saints and Jesus, Mary and John. She also stopped on the 15 min walk to the cave to pick various wild herbs and gave to us to taste - oregano, varieties of thyme including lemon and 3 or 4 other herbs. We then drove to our agri tourismo in the countryside between Martina Franca and Locorotondo. Thank God for GPS - it's so much better for driving than the old days of fights with our navigator because he/she missed a turn because the paper map wasn't clear. There is no way of explaining how to get to or finding Masseria Faraone.
Metaponto Greek temple
After lunch we saw the Palatine Tables - a Greek temple to Hera originally consisting of 6-column by 12-column rectangular building - only 12 columns remain. Still impressive in that they are original not rebuilt.
Metaponto seaside lunch
Lunch on Saturday at Metaponto Ionian seaside.Went all the way to the beach - the Gulf of Taranto in the Ionian Sea. White sand, pleasant fairly warm water and nobody there - tourist season is over. We were hungry and found the only restaurant open at the beach. Sat down and waitress recommended the fresh fish of the day - brought 3 whole fish and I selected the sole. Chef cooked the whole fish for us with lemon garlic and herbs - served with roast potatoes - spectacular, what a surprise.
Metaponto seafood restaurant Left Matera and picked up car at Avis - Peugeot station wagon, plenty of room for 4 of us. Less than an hour drive south to Metaponto to see 3rd century BC Greek ruins. Went to archaeological park first - interesting in that the city once had great plans for this as a tourist site but now lacks funding for maintenance and further excavations. There may have been 4 other visitors while we were there. Same thing applies to the city's archaeological museum - we were the only visitors. .

29 September 2017

Il Cantuccio 2nd dinner
Visited the Contemporary Sculpture Museum - very interesting art in a former palazzo. Great space. Then back to Il Cantuccio for dinner - all of us had pasta - orecchiette, spaghetti, gnocchi and cavatelli. Started w 3 appetizers - black pork thinly sliced over radicchio, burrata with fried peppers and fried zucchini Flowers and cheese, all really good. Again had mixed salad and grilled eggplant. Finished with lemon and coconut ice creams.
Returned to Matera sassi district and found the Medieval museum which is displaying Carlo Levi's art depicting life in the sassi when he returned in 1961. The series of very large paintings are based on his friend's photos of people in the sassi. It's very touching - these were very difficult times - extreme poverty. Too big to photograph effectively - Carol took these photos of his more than 100 paintings on exhibit. Headed back to L'Arturo for lunch - again salad, soup, bread, meats & cheeses, bruschetta and zucchini cheese pies. Then walked to check out location of our next museum around the corner from our apt which is closed until 4 today.
Crypt of Original Sin Our last day in Matera visited the Crypt of Original Sin - a cave in a ravine on a farm outside the city. This was a church in the 9th century built in a cave run by Benedictine monks for a rupestrian community - amazing room of frescoes. We were brought to the site with a large group on a bus but it was a well organized presentation w audio headsets.

28 September 2017

Went directly to dinner at Il Cantuccio, another recommendation by Gabriella - our best dinner by far on this trip. We had two pastas - orecchiette & olives and spaghetti w sausage and artichokes in tomato cream sauce; two secondis - lamb stew w vegetables and sliced pork loin in carrot sauce; plus two contornis of fried zucchini & eggplant and insalata mista. All delicious. We booked reservation for tomorrow night!
Madonna de l'Idris
Madonna de l'Idris
Madonna de l'Idris
Met Nadia, our tour guide for the next 4 hours, outside our apartment. She gave us detailed history of sassi residents relocation starting in the early 1950's & ending in 1968. Approx 30,000 were moved from extremely poor, disease ridden "housing" (caves). They resisted moving intensely even to the point of taking the doors off their new houses to be more open like it was in the caves. We walked down into Sasso Barisano & looked at a miniature re-creation of the Matera sassi. Where we're staying is in the vicinity of the Duomo between Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso. Visited an example of cave living in the 20th century - where a family lived with its animals, difficult to say the least. They bathed about twice a year. Malaria was rampant. Infant mortality was 50-75%! Carol and Rich walked up to this church - Madonna de l'Idris - to see its wonderful frescoes from the 3-4th centuries
Visited the Catholic convent and church, Madonna Della Virtu, and above it the Greek Orthodox Church of San Nicola. Many frescoes also a contemporary sculpture exhibit featuring bizarre depictions of the human anatomy. Tour shows how the Matera ravine was built starting near the top with caves and eventually replaced w buildings, working down over centuries with more caves built on top of more caves down the ravine until almost to the river below. Of course there were paths in front of the caves and connecting one level to the one above or below. Finished w walk up to 3rd century rock church - San Pietro Caveoso (Paula and I did not go up).
Big day - we ate a little breakfast at apt before getting out at 10 for walk in the sassi. First stopped at Caffe Centrale for cappuccinos & a taste of room temp coffee cream out a foaming machine - delicious - we really liked the vibe of this place with locals coming in knowing everybody. Walked to Santa d'Agostino church for a look at 12th C frescoes. Great views of Barisano sassi. Stopped for lunch at L'Arturo (recommended by Brie & Chris); two insalata mistas, two bean soups and the mixed meat & cheese plate was plenty. Rich didn't join us for this morning's venture. Back "home" at 2 for siesta.

27 September 2017

After getting settled Carol and Paula planned our meals in Matera while Rich and I napped before passegiata and dinner. It started to rain. We walked in spite of the rain along Via Duomo, the Main Street for shops and restaurants. We stopped for drinks and snacks at a bar in a piazza and then had dinner at Il Terrazzino Pizza & Ristorante. It's located on a cliff side overlooking a sasso. Again we shared everything - two pastas, an oriechiette and a cavatelli, roast lamb and veal chop, insalata mista, tomatoes and broccoli rabe followed by two desserts, ice cream and cake.
We took the 12:32 FAL (Ferrovie Apulia Lucania) train from Bari to Matera thru Altamura (the "City of Bread"). The hour and a half train ride took us into the Murgia region of Basilicata. There's a lot of open land, relatively few olive trees but lots rocky ground - in spite of the tracks most of the land is tilled getting ready to plant something. Rich spent some time practicing his Italian with a law student who lives in Altamura and goes to school in Bari. We were met by our Air BNB host, Elisabetta, at stazione centrale in Matera on Wednesday afternoon; she had a small Lancia to take us to our apartment. Rich and I, after some discussion, took a taxi to the Duomo Piazza because all of us plus baggage couldn't fit in Elisabetta's car. We met there and carried our bags down and up to the apt. It's a large comfortable place overlooking the Sasso. Elisabetta is very pleasant and accommodating. We took our first passegiata.
The old city of Bari is still very alive. There are many indications of religious activity near the churches. Since we were out in the morning we saw the old city coming alive with shops getting ready to open and food being prepared - interesting time of day. We passed the Garibaldi Gardens where a class of 2nd graders was going somewhere.
I awoke at 4:30 am - our room is warm and my body clock is off. This little hotel is nice, simple,, well located and the price is right - 81 euros. Looks like my shirt that absorbed the brunt of the red wine spill is back to normal after Paula worked on it - thank you P - what would I do without you? Before our train leaves for Matera at 12:30 this afternoon Paula and I walked for 1.5 hrs to citta vecchio (old city) in Bari. We passed the Cattedrale San Niccola (Cathedral of St. Nicholas) and the Castello Svevo and meandered thru small streets and alleys. We saw fresh orecchiette drying in front of a ristorante and another shop with women cutting fresh pasta for today's lunch.

26 September 2017

We arrived at the B&B Oz in Bari late afternoon, met Carol & Rich who arrived early afternoon and promptly took a 2 hour nap before dinner. Dinner is at a nearby restaurant named Terranima. We started w house appetizers consisting of 3 mild cheeses (mozzarella, straccciatella), a bean medley, fried anchovies, a vegetable medley and two little potato & cheese pies. We then had a soup made of black chickpeas & fried green peppers plus two pastas - one orrechiette & salumi in a pastry and the other a fettuccine noodle w pork ragu. We finished w a baccala poached w vegetables. Paula didn't like the two pastas - too doughy perhaps or just not refined or imaginative. The appetizers, soup and baccala were delicious - inventive and typical of the Apulia region.
Our flights from SF thru Chicago to Roma were uneventful until I spilled red wine all over me! But I'll survive - arrived early - 9:10am. Have 5 hours to kill before flight to Bari. Paula rolled her ankle in SFO while looking at the typewriter exhibit - not a good way to start a trip. I left my back pillow on the plane after we arrived in Rome. Rich & Carol barely made their connecting flight to Bari because of a two hour delay in Dallas. Finally Paula dropped her inexpensive Timex in the tile floor in our room and it can't be repaired - took a licking and didn't keep ticking.
At Fiumicino Airport in Rome waiting for connecting flight to Bari. Doesn't this food look great - for an airport?

25 September 2017

On our way at SFO - flying American thru Chicago arriving tomorrow mid morning in Rome