I suppose as I sit and write this in the beautiful historic city of Lecce most of you have finished your Christmas break and have headed back to work with a spring in your step and have started counting down the days to Easter. Well, no such pleasantries for us as we have to slum around Italy and Sicily for the next couple of months. Since we last blogged we have been back to the UK to visit in the following order; The grandchild and doting parents, Tracy’s family in Devon and mine in Milton Keynes. Willow, our first grandchild is far too lovely to be shown on a publication such as this, but my dad who celebrated his 100th Christmas is not, so here is a picture of him.
Richard Chevertonnn”s 100th New Year
We arrived back bang on-time with Ryanair and were met with supreme efficiency by the folks at Park Via. Although efficient for us it did manage to bring the Airport service road to a halt as our driver just dropped anchor while he bundled everyone and everything on-board. We had 11 people in a 7-seater minibus and so every person had a person on their lap and that person had a suitcase on their lap. Lucky everyone was part of a couple otherwise some persons Italian break might have got off to a cosy start. Anyway, we must not complain as the kind people let us stay the night in our van for no extra cost. This was an early warning to the friendliness and helpfulness we have experienced so far in Italy.
Our next stop was a supermarket for some supplies. Outstanding, is the only word to describe the food emporium we encountered. The quality and choice of food on display even surpassed the offerings in France. The only thing lacking as far as Tracy was concerned were the lack of pre-prepared Donner Kebabs. Packed to the gunnels with fresh meat, veg and fruit we sauntered off to find the TIM Italia shop for a data card. Most phone companies in Italy offer a foreigner tariff and we went for the €20 for 4G 20gig proposition. You can get a slightly cheaper tariff from Wind but this has patchy 4G reception and works mainly in the South of Italy.
Wet weather was forecast for the next three days so the plan was to take a slow drive through the Karst geology of the Valle d’Itria and end up in Lecce when the sun was due to shine. As we were leaving Bari we came across one of the more amusing aspects of Italian life; the lingerie wearing women that adorn every road junction. Being from sheltered backgrounds we are yet to work out what ladies from the continent of Africa are doing standing at the side of the road with next-to-nothing on in the middle of winter.
Grotte di Castellana 05/01/2016
Our guidebook implores us not to miss the spectacular caves of Castellana. They may be the longest caves in Italy but at €15 a pop we decided to give it a miss. We did take full advantage of the free council run Aire on the edge of town to get our heads down and fill-up and let-out our water based systems. Nowhere looks good in the rain but so far our initial foray into Italy has been met by some pretty dull architecture and scenery. Everywhere is just an endless 50 shades of Grey.
The scenery did start to improve once we left Castellana as dry-stone walls replaced scruffy urban sprawl. There also started to appear the Tajine shaped houses known as the Trulli. These curious circular stone-built houses dot the countryside with their roofs tapering up to a stubby and endearing point. Nowadays these symbols of Puglia have been turned into holiday homes for the chattering classes of Islington to gain Kudos at their willy-waving dinner parties.
The epicentre of Trulli architecture is the town of Alberobello where 1500 beehive-shaped houses amass themselves on the side of the hill resembling Mount Crumpit more than Disney would care to admit. You expect to be greeted by Horton, Jojo and Ned McDodd at any moment.
Arberobello unfortunately is a tourist-trap and there is a never-ending enticement to pile into trullo homes, drink in trullo bars and shop in trullo shops. This coupled with no-parking anywhere near the centre and a never ending supply of the wet-stuff forced us to park-up and block the town-centre for some picture taking before moving off to the borghi piu belli d’Italia – that is, it’s rated as one of the most beautiful towns in Italy, Locorotondo.
With the weather still on the rubbish side of foul and Locorotondo being on top of a hill and the only parking at the bottom we decided to give it a miss. We reasoned we will be Italy for a while and would have plenty of time to see beautiful Italian villages.
We pulled into our overnight stop of Cisternino in the late afternoon and after visiting the local soupy we sat down for a quit night in this borghi piu belli d’Italia. Without sounding repetitive we took a swerve on exploring the old town and instead had a feast of fillet steak with a mushroom infused pasta. Gosh Tracy can cook.
The parking spot in Cisternino is a designated Aire with facilities to take-on and take-off water. However, when we went to try there was nothing working. As we had filled-up before we left the last place it did not present too much of a problem.
We awoke the next morning to find the police accompanied by the mayor crouching down at the end of the car-park and looking quite inquisitive at the obelisk-shaped purveyor of water. After much pointing and kicking it appeared water was now flowing. How nice we thought that the entire town had turned out to fix the fountain for our visit and we planned to have breakfast before replenishing the van. I was on my last mouthful of eggs benedict when not one but 17 motorhomes arrived in the car-park and formed an orderly queue to use the water. Once the last van had left we nipped over to fill-up only to find they had switched the feed off and we were left with just a wee dribble from the tap.
Amused we left and headed on to Lecce.
06/01 – 08/01/2016
When we arrived in Lecce the place was like a ghost town with the streets deserted and all the shops closed. We then worked out it was Epiphany and that just happens to be a public holiday in Italy. We parked up adjacent to the old-town in the university car-park and done a deal with the attendant to stay for €10 a day, no questions asked. As we had been couped up in the van for a few days and it at last was a dry evening we went for a stroll around.
Eureka, we were now in Italy. Lecce is a beautiful baroque city; it is a glorious architectural confection of palaces and churches intricately sculpted from the soft local sandstone. Marble paved streets give way to enticing public piazzas with designer clad locals sipping on endless espresso coffees. Churches are decorated with asparagus columned tops, decorative dodos and cavorting gremlins. This is like walking around a superior version of Rome but without the crowds and hawkers. The highlights include the drug induced façade of the Santa Croce, the Piazza Duomo, where the locals used to barricade themselves in the square during times of invasion and the Piazza Sant’Oronzo with its sunken 15,000 seater Roman Amphitheatre which at this time of year displays the best Nativity you will ever see. We treated ourselves to a cocktail and a pizza before retiring.
Lecce Nativity Scene
The next day had the word disaster written all over it. I had booked Tracy into Lecce’s finest hair emporium for a cut and colour with the plan being while Tracy was having umpteen Latin Lotharios pamper to her every need I could stroll around town and put my newly acquired lens from Santa through its paces.
The place chosen for Tracy’s transformation was the aptly named Caligula Couture, the short lived tyrant being one of Tracy’s favourite Romans. However, before we get to the telling of the makeover story we have pictures of the Baroque Bravdo that is Lecce.
Lecce Chiesa di Sant’Irene
Lecce Corso Vittorio Emanuele
Lecce Piazza Duomo Bell Tower
Chiesa di Sant’Irene interior
Lecce Chiesa di Sant’Irene detail
Lecce Palazzo del Governo
Lecce Santa Croce
Lecce Santa Croce 2
More from Santa Croce
Santa Croce last one
Lecce Porta Napoli take 2
Lecce Colonna di Sant’Oronzo
Lecce Piazza Duomo
Before going to the Hairdressers I dropped off the washing in a nearby laundrette for a very handy service wash. So now with no distractions we galloped along to Caligula’s through the early morning hub-hub of Lecce.
Lecce Caligula Couture
As soon as we arrived through the door the over attentive-coiffeurs were all over Tracy like a moulting wig, pulling her hair one way then another while keeping one eye in the mirror on themselves to see how they were performing. I on the other hand just wanted to hoof it out of there and get snapping away. My plans were scuppered when it was suggested I get mine cut at the same time. Reluctantly I agreed and was placed in the capable hands of Pietro. I can now say I have never had such a fantastic haircut in my life. The attention to detail was staggering and I was left with the impression that each hair on my head was studied before selecting one of the 6 pairs of scissors used to cut it were chosen. This impressive follicle-shaped workout has resulted in me giving a mighty fine impression of the Spring watch Superstar himself, Lisping Kwis Packham. As a pin-up to millions of bird-watching ladies of a certain age I now plan to misarticulate sibilants while teaching Tracy the similarities and differences between the Gannet, the Cormorant and the Shag.
Tracy’s creation took a smidgeon over three hours and included cutting, cable ties, polythene bags and an army of staff. Again the result was fantastic and we left the salon over the moon with our new look for a celebratory lunch. So if you are ever in Lecce and need pampering then Caligula Couture is the place to be had. I will leave you with some photos of the process and will write another entry soon.
Tracy having hair bondage
The team and the end result
Love to All