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Trip Report: Bella Puglia (plus Basilicata and Rome)

Hopefully, reading this piece will be an adventure in itself. Here is part one. Enjoy.

Bella Puglia: The Heel of the Boot

"Friends, Romans, Travelers, lend me your um, attention span?" What follows is both lengthy and jumbled. It may serve as a sort of trip-report-plus-tips-list based upon our recent ramblings around sunny Puglia, Basilicata and Rome. We’d been to the latter numerous times, but this was our first visit to the former pair of places. It has been re-read many times by the Department of Redundancy Dept. to ensure that there was no undue repetition, incorekt spelling or grammar badly. It has been re-read many times by the Department of Redundancy Dept. to ensure that there was no undue repetition, incorekt spelling or grammar badly. Hungry readers will be rewarded with (sound of trumpet fanfare) a special SPIKE Mullet fish recipe towards the end. A few eclectic musical references will also be included in an attempt to convey something of the coastal character of the Adriatic seaboard. We hope that somehow, these facts and opinions may prove useful to travelers who are Puglia-bound.

Five Reasons to visit Puglia during the late Fall:

1 Lower off-season rates
2 Lesser crowds, fewer lineups.
3 A welcome cessation of zanzara (mozzies).
4 Temperatures that more closely resemble those found on Planet Earth and not those on Venus.
5 Locals who work in tourism will be exhaling for the first time in months and may welcome the chance for a more relaxed chat.

Weird pre-trip coincidences:
Just a few weeks prior to our departure, Italian TV stations in our city, Toronto, broadcast a pair of shows. One show was an episode of ‘Il Stagione del cuore’, which was shot in Monopoli. Later, I also chanced across a home-hunting show depicting a real-life couple and their real estate agent shopping for homes in Gallipoli. Both Monopoli and Gallipoli were on our itinerary. Five months earlier, we’d never heard of either place.

Best new bus discovery: Bus #11 took us most everywhere throughout both Puglia and also Basilicata. It also proved indispensable in Rome. Number 11, get it? A pair of stick-legs? We walked our butts off on this trip.

Most egregious error regarding train tickets: Moon handbooks suggested that both the Info Point, plus the APT offices in Lecce, would assist travelers in securing treno tickets. We suspected otherwise and were eventually proven correct. C’mon man editors @ Moon!

Most Unexpectedly Pleasurable Treno Ride: The Frecce express from Bari to Rome. This newish, non-stop train has replaced the old Eurostar. It has a 6:24am departure that gives sleepy riders passage through picturesque Pugliese valleys and misty Campania countryside (e.g. the Roman Carolina-Vanvitelli Aqueduct) before sliding through Lazio into Termini Stazione three and-a-half hrs later. It may be half-price on Saturdays. Admire the engineering skills that cause the train to tilt here and there, as though trying to provide the best possible views. My wife enjoyed the scenery so much that she quipped, “Make them back up!”
Taxi in Matera: Davide Gentile 39)3382500494. Taxi in Monopoli: Sergio 39) 3665498514

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Ways of knowing Puglia & Basilicata—the Senses:

Serene Sights- ‘Beautiful’ is a tired word. But when the sun is setting in Monopoli’s tranquil port and golden light reflects off Palazzo Martinelli’s ‘Logia di Pilato’ Venetian balcony onto the blue gozzo fishing boats, there are few other suitable adjectives. See also, a full moon in Matera.

Signature Sounds- Along Monopoli’s dazzlingly whitewashed Lungomare S. Maria, the stormy sea snaps as breakers cream on the boulders below. Hear also, terracotta ‘cucu’ whistles in Matera.

Special Touches- A furry tarantula. That spider plays a role in one of the iconic symbols of Puglia. Legend has it that once peasant girls in the field were bitten by the spider, the inevitable result was for them to do a heated, trance-driven dance called the Tarantella. Delving deeper, one might interpret the dance as a way to express forbidden desires in a staunchly Catholic land. Anthony Bourdain’s recent ‘Parts Unknown’ episode in Puglia has revealing modern footage of such a dance.

Invigorating Smells- Breathing deeply of sweet wood-smoke during a sunrise stroll in Trani.

Terrific Tastes- Fresh bread from Altamura, be it hearty ‘u puenne muede’ (priest’s hat) or our favourite, ciabete, the yellow challah-type. Some Materans claim that their original recipe was stolen by scoundrels from Altamura, who were far better marketers. Taste also, ‘ricci di mare’ (raw sea urchin). Surprisingly sweet maritime magic. Easy to find in season.


YES YES YES: The clementines of Puglia have got to be the best on Earth. Ottimo.

NO NO NO: A silly Canadian traveller tried tasting olives fresh off the tree in a misguided effort to be seen as ‘a man of the land’. Imagine such foolishness. Yuck! (sound of spit)

Yum Yum Yum- Honey enthusiasts will want to try thick ‘melata’ (honeydew) honey. Pugliese melons and cheese are also top-quality. As well, be sure to try the dried figs with ‘mandorla’ (almonds) inside, then sprinkled with fennel. Of course, Puglia is the place to engage in fishful thinking. The seafood can be very good, if uncheap. Unfortunately, the recent rise in tourism and subsequent desire to maximize profit, has led to an unfortunate increase in frozen product on menus.

Vitamin ‘G’--Gelato: (Note that Polignano is one of Italy’s gelato capitals)
Bella Blu-(Polignano)- an award for its sublime gelato ‘Torta Sorrento’, a chewy lemon flavor that buried the competition on this trip.
Super Mago-(Polignano)-historic shop with ‘gelsi neri’ (mulberry granite) & other unique specialties.
Martinucci-(Lecce & Gallipoli) plus Caruso (Monopoli & Polignano): both are stylish and very good.
Il Capriccio-(Monopoli)-uses silky smooth Modica chocolate for their specialty. Very good.
Bar Tripoli-(Matera)-limited selection but high quality. *Vizi del Angeli was closed during our stay.
Galatone-(Rome—Monti) try their ‘crema di nonna’. Momma mia! Grandma would be proud.

Time for our first musical interlude:
The song below is in fact, an old Brazilian hit (‘O Trem Azul’) sung in Portuguese about a train. In my opinion, its feel also captures something of a dreamy day at a sandy beach somewhere, say in Puglia. Just add squawking seagulls. Andiamo. Didja’ bring the sun lotion?

Uncanny musical irony- As we pulled into Bari during the quiet time before the dawn, the car radio played an atmospheric pop song by ‘Late Night Alumni’. The repeating chorus sang about ‘empty city streets.’ A perfect match.

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Our new habit of hand-picked rental accommodation continues to serve us well. A vacation house or apartment will offer many useful options. The following sympa rentals come highly recommended and we found it wrenching to leave each of them (sniff):
1) Lecce— The two ground floor apartments available for rental through Prestige B&B can be combined as one. Owners Renata and Steve will take care of you. Their wonderful upper terrace, part of their actual B&B, is a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of the main street below. At night, the terrace is so calming that more than once, as staff has arrived at 7am to set up breakfast, they’ve discovered a slumbering guest there collapsed on a chair, an empty bottle of wine in hand! Location: next door to noted Church Rosario-Battista.

2) Monopoli--- Our coastal connection here was the local ‘Albergo Diffuso’. The name refers to a novel form of dispersed rentals created by Giancarlo Dall’Ara back in the early ‘80s. The concept was meant to promote converted rentals in the historic centres of small towns that were off the beaten path. The one in Monopoli is run by Anna, Sabrina, Sylvia and Sergio. They were all pros, who went above and beyond to help us live like locals and experience a week stay in a genuine Pugliese community. Their top restaurant recommendation was spot-on: Il Guazzetto (maybe try the ‘m’be Cecce’).

Some Monopoli Moments: The aged granny who ran the alimentari communicated with us by using Google translate. Her surprise message was to inform us that her family would soon be travelling to our city. Also, we hung our laundry out to dry on the balcony just like everyone else, while being serenaded by two sisters below. Hannah (8) and Alexia (5) sang their hit, “HelloHowAreYouIloveYouWhatisyourname!”

On my daily garbage run, I would nod to the beautiful blonde who always squatted in her doorway disheveled, as she had her sunrise ciggie. As well, we were impressed by the oversized candle left aflame in the same lane on the eve of All Saints Day. During a seaside stroll, we once observed young boys with a golden hoverboard, a remarkable juxtaposition of modernity next to ancient stone walls.
We met the teen rowing club as they welcomed a troupe of youngsters for a free paddle. Also, living like locals, we could not help but hear the nearby household with an autistic teen daughter who would sometimes scream uncontrollably. Finally, we relaxed with smoothies at Bar La Nave and were glad to not be press-ganged there.

Look Up in Lecce: The ornate, carved-stone details on the town’s 52 churches are mostly up above eye level. That is, except in privately-owned Museum Faggiano, a modest but interesting series of displays featuring 2 millennia of underground history. A home reno project on the site 16 years ago led to the discovery of much history throughout the ages.

Uplifting daytrip out of Lecce: Gallipoli, part of Magna Graecia and the Ionian Sea. Gallipoli (kali-polis--‘beautiful city’) was indeed lovely, but very windy. The gusts knocked our hats off, even after the straps were used. We were nearly uplifted into the port. Police detoured us away from the site of some fallen roof stone, where a cherry-picker was being utilized to effect repairs. The winds created metallic creaking sounds on local scaffolding, as if from a demented pterodactyl. Each local that we asked had a different answer as to the proper name for the type of wind it was. One said, “Tramontana,” while another claimed, “No, it was Sirocco.” A third person stated, “Actually, this is Mistral”.

Senator Biagio Tato once wrote a poem about the ways of the wind titled ‘La Tramontana’. In it, he expresses his wish that all the politically-led idiots he’d been dealing with would gather, so that they could be mummified by such powerful gusts.

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Our odyssey that day also included a stop at a great Gallipoli sandwich shop: ‘Baguetteria de Pace’ (try the black pork). Added value: Just across the alley lies the public biblioteque, which is housed in one of those intriguingly-unique historic buildings that are a dime-a-dozen in Italy. In this case, it was the former Oratorio S. Angelo. So evocative.

Transit tip: If taking the FSE train from Lecce to Gallipoli, buy return tickets. As in Polignano, Gallipoli’s stazione does not always feature live staff. The ticket cost was only 4.20 euros due to government subsidizing. Conductors on FSE used the honor system and did not ask to see our tickets. The oh-so slow route travels the olivescape that is the Salento heartland and is a great way to meet some of the local expat African men who sell trinkets for a living. Lots of olives.

Most Underrated Daytrip out of Monopoli: The tiny San Vito port, with its remote ruined abbey not far west of Polignano. It has one or two chilled-out restaurants. Visitors are taken by the tranquility as they ponder the soul of the sea. Maybe go by cab—old taxi driver Sergio tends to hang out @ Monopoli stazione. In Polignano proper, we enjoyed eating ‘tieddrd di cozze e riso’ (mussels & rice) at Antiche Mure, where we didn’t realize that Slow Food apparently also includes Slow Service.

Essential Mediterranean Musical Interlude: (see @ 1:12)

Things that made my wife smile: The irresistible view through the arch to Monopoli’s old port; local marzipan; the excited children dressed up for Halloween.

Most under-the-radar attraction in Puglia: The atmospheric backstreets. Wandering through Lecce, Gallipoli, Monopoli, Locorotondo, Polignano and Trani will reveal the character of each town, be it classic hill town, baroque wonderland or historic port. Tip: wander through Trani’s historic Jewish quarter until you arrive at the stately, soaring S. Nicola Pelegrino Cathedral. Along the way, you’ll probably be alone as you experience the village vibe (chickens?) before marveling at Puglia’s most striking duomo. Kids could search for the carved elephant corbels on the facade.

Most touristy spot in the heel of the boot: Alberobello. Trulli. Madly. Deeply. Every single credible source warned us ahead of time that in visiting Alberobello, “an hour will be plenty enough!” They were absolutely right. Hordes of tourists and a mixed vibe awaited us. This irredeemably touristy town is the centre for those ‘trulli’ stone houses, the ones with cone-shaped roofs which are the motif for the area. Someone needs to include Alberobello in their doctoral thesis about towns that have surrendered to mass commercial tourism and have lost some of their souls in the process.

“They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.” (Joni Mitchell)

Drivers note that the #SS172 road that winds NW from Martina Franca through Locorotondo into Alberobello, is nonetheless a pretty drive. Hikers note that the trailhead on the edge of Locorotondo, from v. Templari down through the vineyard, will lead walkers into the same Valle d’Itria plain.

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Funniest Misunderstandings: Our Albanian friend in Toronto has a saying whenever she encounters foolish people. Under her breath, she mutters ‘Eedyawt” (idiot). We have co-opted her habit. But often it is ourselves who are the foolish ones.
One occurrence of this kind happened when our Lecce landlords told us how the children of one of their friends had dug up ancient shards while playing in the yard. I thought that I heard them say that these shards were ‘Mesopotamian’. As a history major, I couldn’t fathom how shards from so far away could’ve ended up in Lecce. For 2 days I was baffled, until finally someone explained that the pottery pieces were in fact, Messapian, as in ancient Greek. Eedyawt!

A second misunderstanding occurred at Rome’s Termini Station and this time, I could not claim that hearing shortcomings were to blame. Maybe the cause was lack of sleep due to an unholy early train departure time. We had been warned not to trust Termini taxis drivers there, and that the maximum fare to our Monti rental should be no more than 7 euros. So, when our turn came at the head of the line, I sternly asked the young driver whether his taxi metre was working. He was a bit taken aback and pointed to his perfectly-functioning meter. In short order, we pulled up in front of our rental and the driver kindly commenced to unload our pair of suitcases. He mumbled some total fees, which I misunderstood to mean were to be combined as extra amounts for the heavy bags. For all my “Ain’t nobody gonna’ rip us off!” bravado, I ended up paying the driver more than he asked! Eedyawt!! Eedyawt!!!

Respect for the fallen of Italy: if you’ve studied the chaotic mess that was Italy in WWII, then you know something of the tragic circumstances. From Palermo to Monte Cassino and far beyond, the irony of war in such a special place was brutal. In Polignano, female engravers were restoring name lists of the fallen on the memorial. We were also moved by Locorotondo’s eerie bas relief.

A Place to Chill-out: Locorotondo’s Villa Communale (public garden). There was birdsong, benches, church bells, locals of all ages and a spotless washroom. The views down to the Valle d’Itria below revealed a few close-by trulli. Directly across from the relaxing garden through Porto Napoli lay tiny piazza V. Emmanuel. No wonder that Locorotondo was on the list of Italy’s most beautiful villages.

Most Perplexing Pugliese Mystery: Which Roman Emperor is depicted by the Eraclio statue in Barletta? It seems that Venetian merchants arrived with the bronze colossus in the 13th century and left it there. Apparently, nobody can verify the identify of the ancient ruler. Historian Rocco Sefreddi of Lucca University claims that it is Marcus Aurelius, but many disagree.


1) Head Over Heel by Chris Harrison (Australian journalist marries woman from Puglia).
Here is one hilarious story from Harrison's book. The author is with his fiancé and a large group of in-laws-to-be, as they all relax seaside during a Salento beach holiday. Someone suggests that they all rent paddle-boats. Anxious to impress everybody with his newly-learned Italian language skills, Harrison volunteers to approach the elderly paddle-boat vendor. He nervously approaches the aged man then unknowingly gets his words mixed up. Instead of ordering paddleboats, Harrison accidentally asks if he can rent a pedofile! Bellisimo!!

2) Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. An American chef marries a man from Puglia. Painfully honest and extremely well-written.

3) Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi. This is one of the definitive books about Basilicata’s modern history. The description of the rural poverty could fairly represent Matera during the 20th century.

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That Comment Award: The award goes to the Belgian couple who said straight to our faces (fellow Canucks may want to look away at this point), “We were going to travel to Canada on our next trip, but we decided instead to go to somewhere with culture, so we chose Japan.” Sorry, ‘eh.

Fire that new translator: Some promo for Locorotondo referred to one of its lovely piazzas: “Suddenly, the gaze is raped….”

A pair of unnecessary nicknames: Lecce has been called ‘The Florence of the South’, while the coastal drive south of Otranto has been called ‘Little Amalfi’. Both comparisons are ill-advised. Lecce and the SE Salento are plenty characteristic on their own and need no corny marketing nicknames.

Touching verbal communication: Our elderly neighbour in Monopoli would come home each night, ascend the entry staircase, then say the following through her door, “Ay’ Raimundo….meow!” Her feline companion, Raimundo, would then pad to the door and respond in kind from within. Then the elderly woman would unlock the door and enter her home.

Who Knew? Puglia Historia: The Salentine peninsula is not only Italy’s least mountainous region, but it also has one of the largest spreads of Neolithic megaliths (dolmens and pietrafitta menhirs) in Europe. They are also found along the Bari province coast, plus Taranto’s northern hinterland.

Most under-appreciated attraction in Lecce: Everyone knows about the Roman Amphitheatre but few know of the more intimate Roman Teatro just behind the M.U.S.T. museum.

Some places to eat in Lecce: All Ombra del barocco (breakfast, live music and more); Mamma Elvira Enoteca (vino and chance to try specialties from Martina Franca); Valentino (traditional deli w. many old-school Pugliese baked goods); La Prelibatezza and also L’Angolo della Puccia (perfectly acceptable budget sandwich/puccia take outs); Doble Zero (doubles as a deli); and lastly, a longstanding local family favourite for Calabrian dishes, 'La Veccia Osteria’. We ate there twice.

Best place for carnivores in Lecce: Just through Porto Napoli, by the obelisk, there is a meat place called ‘Locanda de Macellaio’. Locals outnumber tourists 50-1. Argentinians and Brazilians, this is your kind of place.

An indispensable trio for self-caterers in Lecce: Just through Porto Rudiae arch, travelers find a slice of less-commercial, more local Lecce at places like ‘Golosona’ pizza. You will also find a small, permanent market called ‘Mercantino Rudiae’, which sells produce, fish, roast chicken and a bit more. Next-door is ‘Bar Rudiae’ (pasticcio plus) and across the road is the all-important ‘Supermercato di Lecce’, which offers most everything, including hot prepared foods. Also try some grano or durum grain. It goes well with mussels and olive oil. Bonus: Each Sunday, there is a modest farmer’s market @pza. Bottazzi beyond Porto Biagio arch. It includes a seafood truck from Gallipoli.

Our award for Best Weekly Market goes to Locorotondo’s Friday mercato. Seek out friendly Francesco Montanaro’s deli booth for superb cheeses from Martina Franca, and other goodies, such as agrumi citrus honey.

Runner-up: the nearly-as-sprawling Tuesday market in Monopoli. Marvel at rare ciepi or mushrooms. See also the salt-blooded, Barnacle-Bruno-types in portside Trani, with their teeming, wriggling seafood.

Best Classic Rock Shrines posed as restaurants:
Joyce Irish Pub in Lecce-album covers, posters, photos and quotes, plus VG salads. Also,
Docks 101 in Locorotondo—oversized posters, displays, live shows plus VG vino and food.

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Mixed feelings: Some local people expressed dismay at how their All Saints Day has recently been morphing from a traditional family-time affair, into a full-blown, American-style Halloween, with throngs of sugar-high kids in costumes expecting candy from homes, shops and restaurants. In Monopoli, giddy adolescent gangs of boys and girls needed reminders from their elders to roam safely, after throwing cherry-bomb firecrackers onto moored boats down in the old port.

Interlude--Here is a fun game: Ten Questions
Cross out the word or phrase in each group that does not belong:

1) a) Matia Bazar, b) briganti, c) steelworks, d) vaulted

2) a) volare, b) cantare, c) masseria, d) Polignano

3) a) Ionian, b) Adriatic, c) Ligurian, d) Mediterranean

4) a) I Ragazzi boys di Panisperna b) nuclear c) The Pope
d) Testaccio

5) a) gelso neri, b) gozzo, c) gelato, d) octopus

6) a) Lecce, b) scaffolds, c) trulli, d) tobacco

7) a) Puglia b) terra di rimorso c) fico di India d) gondola

8) a) Otranto, b) Primitivo, c) Negroni, d) latte di mandorla

9) a) demographic, b) FSE, c) Russians, d) tourists

10) a) Lucane, b) Potenza, c) earthquake, d) Balotelli

FLIX shot in Matera:

-the latest Ben Hur’s fruit market scene
-Wonder Woman’s intro (it was computerized to meld with a shot from the Amalfi coast, then SNL spoofed the same footage later on)
-Passion of the Christ (a brief scene was shot right on ‘our’ patio)
-The Gospel According to St. Matthew was shot in ’64 right after the final impoverished inhabitants were forced out and the footage documents how run-down the old town was back then, before the eventual revitalization.

Things that made us both smile: taking an APE Calessino tour in Matera with knowledgeable young guide Vito. His vehicle was flaming red and his English was excellent. We were stanco by this point in our itinerary (my wife: “My knees refuse to cooperate and are taking a lawsuit!”) and loved this fun way to get around the labyrinth town, especially top down. Ask him to point out fossil seashells and also to clarify misconceptions about the local weather-worn stone. Vito is typical of the many younger Materans who have returned to their Apennine birthplace after university or work stints up north.

Our Podiatrist’s Tip for Matera’s rough townscape—thick socks, as extra padding for your feet.

Sassi people-Much has been made about Matera’s impoverished former inhabitants and their forced exodus by an embarrassed government. But not as much is known about what ever became of those people. Apparently, most evacuees were culture-shocked as they tried to adjust to life in new government housing complexes located in villages throughout the greater Matera area. Not only did the evacuees encounter an increased cost of living (energy bills, etc.), but they suffered the removal of communal support, an old tradition which had made their deprived lives somewhat more bearable. Also, some of the former sassi-dwellers were unaccustomed to having a door on their homes, they were not needed. So later on, when they tried to return to Matera, they found it shocking to discover that the government had deliberately filled-in cave entries with cinderblocks, making it impossible to live there again. One wonders whose needs were being met? It’d be good if Mel Gibson would shoot a movie about that.

Fancy hotels took the place of a number of formerly impoverished homes. Some of those lodgings are foreign-owned. One elderly ex-evacuee recently commented on the rates at the luxe hotel Sextantio: “That many euros for only one night!! I never saw that much cash on the table in my entire life!”

Who Knew? Basilicata Historia: South of Matera, near the Sinni River, lies The Battle Site of Heraclea. There, King Pyrrhus of Epirus defeated the Romans yet again, but at severe cost. His ongoing losses were so great that we now have the phrase, ‘A Pyrrhic Victory’.

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Places to eat in Matera:

Matera has become a serious foodie town. I don’t mean Michelin, nor do I mean visits from celebrity TV chefs or shout-outs in pfft magazine. I’m talking about a number of truly great eateries that offer added value in the form of location, tradition or uniqueness. For location, we suggest the patio at da Nico, with its very good service and great food quality (try cialledda or miskiglia). For tradition, maybe go for the lamb-baked-inside-bread-crust dish, ‘la pignata’, at Kappador restaurant.

As for uniqueness, its no contest. ‘Area 8’ café/teatro/agency/bar is an absolute must. During summer months when clients sit outside, there is the rear shell of a white van, which serves as an additional bar. This unusual idea reflects the overall uniqueness and zany decor of this venue. Their own private vintage Aglianico red wine was the best tipple that we drank on this trip and their couscous chicken was so tasty that we nearly ordered a second serving. Fair warning: the demographic @ Area 8 leans heavily to hipsters, and the young-at-heart. Friendly owner Mikaela looked at us with a quizzical expression that almost, but fairly said, “Are you lost?” Mikaela was quoted on behalf of Matera on page 143 in the most recent Lonely Planet ‘Best in Travel/List of Top 20 Cities’ for 2018.

Other foodic suggestions:

Rizzi deli (cheese/meat taster plate); Pane e Pace forno (popular long-standing bakery); Dalla Padella alla Brace (more locals than tourists); finally, a pair of neighbouring places on the edge of the New Town—Panficio del Pane and Il Buongustaio deli. Burp.
PS One local told us that nearly everyone in Matera will recommend certain restaurants based upon the expectation of the owners later paying them a commission. Whatever. Matera was where we had the best meals of this trip, something that we did not anticipate.

Best lesser-known Photo Op: Moody Matera has several idyllic vistas for photomaniacs, but the least-visited one is located in the Sasso Caveoso, just south of S. Lucia alle Malve church. Unlike the other lookouts, this stone-orama is more of a general reference with no specifically designated vista. From the area, shutterbugs may point their lenses west into the town, or eastwards towards ancient caves across the wild river gorge. Btw, the recent Lonely Planet poster shot was taken from the lower courtyard at S. Agostino monastery, at the top of the town.


Trani--- Turenum Apartments blew us away. It was far better than we expected. Their sprawling 80m ‘V. Emmanuele’ apartment (“We need a map!”—my wife) was a compelling mix of modernity (sensor-lit closets) with antique (exquisite glass/wood coat rack) and museum-quality travel artifacts from owner Maria Pia’s voyages. A generous welcome bowl of fruit, nuts and chocolate awaited. A quality breakfast was delivered to a private hallway niche. Nancy and Trevor from Norwich wrote in the guest book, that of the many places that they had stayed at in Trani over the decades, Turenum was by far the best value. Attractive early-bird, no-refund rates. Brava!

Matera-- La Corte dei Pastori B&B, the sole non-rental lodgings of the trip. Location location: burrowed into the base of Mount Errone. Owners Tiziana and Mimmo work hard to provide hospitality for their guests. Mimmo’s late father was a respected local artist and his tasteful work is found in niches throughout the property. Ask to borrow their carved walking stick or just grab it from where it hangs in their fig tree! Soon Tiziana and Mimmo will open their fourth and newest room, a truly luxe suite with views to rival the best of them. I suggested that they name it ‘The Mel Gibson Suite’.

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Some places to eat in Trani:

La Darsena in the port is welcoming. Self-caterers will want to visit Super Bar, Panficio del Porto and Panficio Adriatico. At ‘Monasterio’ restaurant on the outskirts, the short owner jokingly surprised us as we were perusing the dessert menu, by lugging over a big, no, immense lobster that was nearly as large as he was! He wanted to impress the foreign tourists.

Prime place to relieve bladder pressure in Trani: The Giovanni Bovio public library. Friendly female staff. Nice washrooms. Great travel magazine collection.

Who knew? Trani for clothes horses

Trani has numerous sophisticated clothing and jewelry shops. One footwear shop had fancy dress shoes for teens, with permanent, hand-written messages scrawled across the shoe top: “I’m Thin and Gorgeous and I Want More!” (long groan)

Only in Italy:

  • a live pianist performs casually in a cobbled Lecce lane.
  • dozens of colorful umbrellas suspended overhead in the laneway of v. Zanardelli in Trani.
  • handwritten poetry inscribed on jumbled fruit boxes in San Vito, also on staircases in Polignano.
  • an extraordinarily-realistic male mannequin dressed up to sit smoking by a Lecce alley.
  • 3-for-1 architecture in new town Matera: an ugly fascist-era building, next to a bland ‘70s government headquarters, beside the historic Church S. Francesco da Paola.

-Lecce’s distinctive Sedile building: a picturesque mix of Gothic arches and a Renaissance loggia.

-Bari’s drinking statistic: the port city consumes more champagne than all of Japan. Salute!

-Puglia’s drinking stat: it downs more sparkling wine than the rest of the country. Cin Cin!

Currently closed or under scaffolds: The paper-machier museum located inside Lecce’s Castello is now closed. Two of Lecce’s most prominent churches, S. Croce and also Rosario-Battista, are now scaffolded. We got real lucky in Matera, as our lodging directly overlooked Pietro-Caveoso church and afforded numerous magnificent vistas. The night before our leaving the city, a team arrived to install scaffolds across the façade of the aforementioned church (btw, we counted nearly 20 construction cranes throughout Matera).

Most unexpected sight in the heel of Italy: Pink Floyd CD advertisements @ misc. tabbachi.

Coastal Cooking: Spike Mullet Recipe

1 kg of red mullet fish; I clove of garlic; cherry tomatoes; olive oil; SPIKE seasoning; lemon or lime
Proceed to boat basins in either Monopoli, Gallipoli or Trani. Inquire as to which local trawlers might have fresh red mullet for sale. Try to arrive with some general idea as to the regular pricing for such catches o’ the day by asking a local friend beforehand. Don’t be shy about asking the vendor to fillet the fish for you. These nutritious fish (mineral salts such as potassium, calcium and vitamin A) are not so big, therefore maybe a good idea to buy at least a kilogram. After rinsing (the fish not you), sprinkle liberal amount of the world’s greatest mullet seasoning onto surface of fish: SPIKE by Gaylord-Hauser. Note: Use only the original red box version. After briefly boiling the tomatoes and heating the olive oil, place all ingredients in the baking tray. Cook the lot for 8 minutes at 375 degrees. Enjoy!


The allure of Puglia is powerful. Many a visitor gets relocation fantasies. How about you, are you hooked?

(circle one)


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Monti is a gentrified area in Rome with a hilly, village tone. It was known until recently as the wrong side of the tracks, home to hookers and thieves. Its ancient name was ‘Subura’ (‘outside the sacred center and its fire-wall’), hence our word ‘suburb’. Monti is a residential area, but it is also all about unique boutiques, whose products would make superb gifts. We can also attest to its abundance of very good restaurants. There are some real winners there.
We recommend friendly ‘Monticiani’, which is at 84 Panisperna. It is a casual caffe-bistro, more locals than tourists and features many Argentine items on its reasonably-priced menu. It is open from 7am and the service is friendly. It is our kind of unpretentious 'local' place, so we went more than once. (my wife: “Ladies, the tall owner is probably the most handsome man in Monti”).

Locals recommended a bar on v. Merulana called ‘Panella l’arte delle Pane’. It offers a wide variety of good food. Right around the corner on v. d. Statuto, there is a great cake shop. Self-caterers should know that there is a classic butcher, plus a good fish shop, in Monti.
Perennial fave bar, ‘Tre Scalini’ (three flies), seemed always to be packed, so with my hearing issues, we gave it a pass. Once as we passed it on the street, we witnessed a patron cradling his tiny baby inside the bar. That was a first.
Other bars: Black Market, Libraria Caffe Bohemian and Analemma.

If you want to buy designer chocolate, then ‘Grezzo’ is a good choice, all modern and run by women. If you want rustic Calabrian deli foods, then 'Delizie di Calabria' on v. Serpenti is pretty good.

Places that we heard were good but ran out of time for:
L'Asino D'Oro, Carbonara, Urbana 47, Enoteca Cavour, Alvino, Fafiuche, la Caseta, Hasekura, Guru and Maharaj. The latter trio speak to Monti's multi-kulti component and are close to the fountain-piazza, Madonna di Monti, which serves as the ground zero/meeting place for Monti. It was at this fountain during a heat wave back in May, that some African refugee men caused controversy by stripping down to their civvies and cooling off by soaking inside the basin. Much Romanesco slang by local curmudgeons ensued. Film fans, note that Woody Allen and Alec Baldwin shot a memorable scene for ‘To Rome with Love’ just one block west on tiny v. Neofiti.

We saved the best for last:
Antico Forno Serpenti—top-quality bakery and they too, do a modest lunchtime buffet as well. Their pizza was the best that we tasted on this trip to Italy.

Which adjective best describes Monti? (circle answer)

Quirky, hip, funky, boho, cobbled, youthful, hilly, arty, bustling, trendy, gritty, twisty, vine-strewn.
A-all of the above

Who Knew? SPQR Historia: Julius Caesar was born in this neighbourhood, back when it was a tough, effluent-ridden, fire-prone slum. Juvenal wrote in his satires that the main cause of death in the noisy chaos of Subura/Monti was insomnia!

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Most appealing street in Rome that has nothing whatsoever to do with Monti:

Via Giulia is hardly a secret, but at least this squisito street is right in the heart of the city. The surrounding exclusive area is seen as the ‘Salon’ of aristocratic Rome. It runs straight as a carpenter’s level. Long the home of antique shops, the street also has numerous palazzos. A brief detour also allows one to see the close by, and equally picturesque, via Pellegrino, with its timeworn ‘pomerium’ or stone boundary announcement from the age of Emperor Claudius. We missed the bougainvillea which used to grow above the pomerium. Via Giulia ends with a climax at its southern terminus, with a pair of morbidly colourful edifices, a vine-strewn arch, plus a historic fountain. Walkers are able to continue with ease up to nearby piazza Farnese and the neighbouring Campo dei Fiori outdoor market. Added value: the opposite end of v. Giulia heads towards Ponte St. Angelo and onto Castel S. Angelo/Hadrian’s Tomb. Tremendous views.

Great source to learn more about ancient SPQR:
Mary Beard. Any book or BBC-TV source by her will prove to be very interesting indeed.

Not sure whether Mary Beard has addressed this topic yet:
Whereas the ancient Romans took indoor plumbing to a new level, they never did master the S-shaped toilet trap bend, meaning that feces were not flushed as thoroughly as might’ve been desired. The olfactory and sanitary results meant that few folks lingered in latrines, regardless of class.

Circus Maximus 2017

Has the local atmosphere changed much in two millennia? On the fringes of the Forum, one finds a wide variety of the usual performing suspects. Whether they were born in Rome remains unclear. There are some talented folks, like the sax player. Street performers abound. I always admire the ones with a sense of humour, so the gal who appeared headless dressed in a man’s suit with her hat floating way above in mid-air, got my thumbs-up. As did the pleasant man who had kids in the crowd pull a seemingly endless succession of scarves from his mouth. He would suddenly stop and close his mouth, when it was time for another coin to be dropped into his basket. The children squealed with laughter. Spray paint artists coloured the sidewalk with their stinky cans, attracted crowds, no matter whether they displayed any discernable skill or not. Aggressive African hawkers approached passersby and did not hesitate to lay their hands on folks in their efforts to corral a customer, “Where you from, Chief?” Pickpockets drooled over the whole scene. One could spot naïve newbie travelers. They were the suckers who photographed the cute parakeet atop the strolling Indian guy’s shoulder, without realizing that of course, a tip would be expected afterwards. “Whatever you want to pay, to help feed my birdie,” the Indian guy said nonchalantly. One sucker turned to her travel partner, “Oh geez Cathy, have you got any coins?”


In Monti, we rented a cozy apartment with two terraces on via Panisperna. Thank God for elevators. Hard to imagine a better location, close to the Forum, Campidoglio, Colosseum, Trajan’s Column, Vittoriano and the Trevi fountain.

Grazie for reading. And an extra grazie to Mrs Z. for editing: “Ardo d’amore. Dammi un bacio!”
Peace Always.

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267 posts

Oh Wow! What a fun trip report! Makes me want to go to Puglia! We have been to Italy 3 times, each time a different area. I am ready to go back and I've only been home 6 weeks!

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11294 posts

Thanks for taking the time to post this! Not only is it a great report, but this is a part of Italy I know almost nothing about (and I know I'm not alone). I had thought one needed a car to see this region, but it sounds like you managed just fine with trains, buses, and taxis.

You emphasized that summer is a bad time for this region, and that late fall when you went was very good. How do you think spring would be?

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Hello Harold,
I'm guessing that the high tourist season begins to rev up around the same time as the Amalfi coast, say April-ish. I recall someone describing the immediate post-Easter weeks as the kick-off to the season, so to speak. We have that very time slot in mind for our next trip (inshallah), i.e. the Amalfi coast during the back half of April. We haven't been there in 27 years. I should be out of prison by then, so fingers crossed.
I am done. The end.

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@Harold, I've been to Puglia many times using trains and buses. Spring is a great time to be there.

Alberobello has two trulli districts, the one with the 2-story trullo is less Disneyfied, but that probably won't last forever.

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Enjoyed the report. Many years ago I was stationed at San Vito Air Station, between San Vito dei Normani & Brindisi, and lived in San Michele Salentino. Reading about your trip in the areas I used to visit brought back some good memories. I have always wanted to return to the region. Only got to Rome & northern Italy 3 years ago, hopefully I will make it to the south again.

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The Senate has censured me. That pomerium just off v. Giulia in Rome is not on v. Pellegrino, instead it is on v.d. Banchi Vecchi. I was confused by the street layout there. Apparently, my consequence is 'to construct at my own expense a temple dedicated to the goddess of accurate travel reportage.'
I am done. The end.

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3200 posts

What a great tale of your travels, Gregg!
Really enjoyed it, thank you.
And loved the Belgians' comment about no culture in Canada........

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2252 posts

I loved reading this wonderful trip report. You have made your journey literally come alive for me with all the visuals, and imagined sounds, smells, etc. What a terrific trip! Will print it out for future reference (lots of good info and advice here!) as several of the places you were are places I'd like to go. I so enjoyed reading it and I thank you for taking the time to post. And editing to add: absolutely; I am hooked.....

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1056 posts

fantastic, creative trip report. I've read it end to end twice, and bookmarked it. I already have Puglian relocation fantasies and I haven't even been there (yet). Might have something to do with the current -30C weather in Calgary. Puglia's probably on for me in 2019, so I'd better start decluttering the house I don't have to come back.

Thank you! Write again from wherever you go next!