Living the Dream

Living the Dream
3rd July 2015

From the moment I opened my eyes this morning I had one thing on my mind - breakfast!

We were leaving Matera today but not before filling our boots. After last nigh's late finish it seemed that everyone woke up and descended to the breakfast altar at the same time.

All the tables were taken and we had to wait. Thankfully the torture was brief. Within a few minutes we were sat inside drooling over our plates.

Yesterday I let my excitement get the better of me and pigged out a little but this morning I excercised some self control. I only put a slice of a zucchini focaccia, a tomato bruschetta and a small burrantina on my plate. They were all wildly delicious and I had to fight the urge to go back for more.

So before I gave in to my savoury craving I headed over to the tarts and pastries on the sweet table. Once you've gone sweet there's no going back to savoury!

I was immediately drawn to the large fig tart. It looked very impressive with its latticed pastry top.

I picked up a slice, a big slice and a few other sticky pastries which also seemed to be filled with fig jam. A cappuccino perfectly complimented their sweetness.

Full and content we returned to our room for our luggage. It was time to get a move on.

Whilst we were checking-out Julie noticed they were selling the type of candles used in our rooms so we picked one up to buy. When we paid for our accomodation the lady at reception very kindly gave it to us for free.

As an organisation Sexantino supported a charity providing healthcare in Rwanda. They ask all their guests for a small donation so we ticked the box to add €3.50 to the bill plus we added the €10 we would have paid for the candle.

We sat around for a while waiting for our car to be delivered. When they did they brought two back and parked ours up on the pavement first, leaving the second one blocking the little ramp to get off the kerb. The drop was too much for me to consider driving off the pavement in our mint conditon Fiat.

Before leaving Matera I wanted to visit the Church of Santa Maria de Idris so instead of driving down we walked. At least it wasn't far. Julie waited for me at the bottom as she did yesterday sat outside Cafe with a can of Coke Zero.

The climb up was still putting her off. It was a shame really as there weren't that many steps, which was fortunate as I had to go up and down them twice!  There was a €3 entrance fee which I didn't have so I had to skip back down to Julie to get some cash.

A lady was sat behind a table collecting money and selling postcards. In front of us was a large screen hiding the interior from view. I suppose you had to pay the fee to get to see.

I was excited to finally stepp inside the Church of Santa Maria de Idris. It was just one small room where much of the walls were bare but above the marble altar the fresco was mostly intact.

It was a painting of the madonna and child with St. Eustachio to the right. They dated back to the 14th century and were in fairly poor condition but quite dramatic because of it. Also in this room in an alcove to the right was a fresco of the crucifix with what looked like Matera in the background or was that Jerusalem?

To the left of the altar a low doorway lead through a passageway into another room. Shuffling through the dark tunnel you could make out some frescoes along its length. It opened out into a larger room but this was actually known seperately as the Church of San Giovanni in Monterrone.

Once again it was mostly only fragments of frescoes still clinging to the walls but they certainly gave n indication to their ancient origins. It's believed that some may even date back to the 12th century.

In contrast, one corner had an almost complete piece intact. They were the image of St. Peter and St. John, their saintliness represented by their halos, the ever present sun dial behind their heads.

In addition to some rubble piled in the corner like some odd artistic instalation there was a large baptism font on the floor and carved out of the Materan rock.

I didn't spend long in here, no more than five minutes and I was soon making my way back down to rejoin Julie.

Although I almost didn't make after slipping on the smooth steps. I was distracted by the stunning view across the city. Fortunately I was agile enough to recover my balance and avoid any injury. The inconvenience of not being able to drive wasn't worth thinking about.

I took my time after that.

When we returned to the car our exit was clear but even with the ramp down off the pavement I took extreme caution to get onto the road.

"Perhaps I should have been a bit more patient when they were trying to sell me the extra insurance" I thought to myself.

We drove down through Piazza San Pietro with our Sat Nav guiding us safely out of the Sassi and up through the more modern part of town. We got onto the SS7 and headed South. The roads were nice and quiet as we made good time towards the Ionian coast.

Shortly after passing the pretty hilltop town of Montescaglioso, some 45 minutes since leaving Matera, we saw a roadside service station.

We stopped for a "comfort break" as they call it in America or a piss stop as we like to call it.

Of course to use the facilities you feel duty bound to buy something so we asked for a Coke Zero but the girl behind the counter went all startled rabbit on us and called over her friend.

She couldn't speak any English either but at least she wasn't too embarrased to try and communicate with us. We shared a biccheri of Coke Zero. Feeling more "comfortable" we moved on.

In a little over 15 minutes we rolled into Metaponto. There was absolutely no one around. It was like a ghost town. It had the feel of a University campus during the summer break. Wide streets with no people, no cars. It was quite eerie.

I was looking for the archaelogical museum and we found it quite easily with the help of the Sat Nav. We parked the car in the shade and walked across to the museum. Still no one else around to disturb the emptiness.

With some surprise we found the museum was actually open. An old lady was sat behind a glass window which she opened and greeted us with a cheerful buongiorno. The entrance fee was €3 each which was cheap enough.

We were shown first to a small room to the right of the entrance with many artefacts in glass cabinets from the Grecian period. Metaponto was founded by the Greeks around 700BC when they ruled much of the mediteranean in what was known as Magna Grecia.

There were some fascinating pieces, all of which were found in the local area.

There wasn't any no photo signs up so I snapped merrily away. But then the lady from the ticket office came to the room with a "No, no, no".

She lead me back to the office. I felt like a naughty schoolboy caught red handed and now being brought to the headmistress office. I was made to sign a document wholly in Italian which as far as I could make out was a declaration that I would not use the photographs for any commercial gain.

After signing I was allowed back to the room where a concerned Julie was waiting for me. I was a little unsure whether it was alright for me to continue taking photographs or not. Was I now licensed to do so?

Anyway I erred on the side of caution and didn't take anymore. (Well apart for one sneaky one)

Once we had finished the small side room we were lead along the corridor to a much larger room filled with countless artefacts. The piece that tempted me into risking possible arrest was a large block of a pediment from a temple with a lion's head staring out at me.

It was all very interesting despite feeling very odd being the only people there. We literally had the place to ourselves.

However what I really wanted to see were some large scale stoneworks. As we were about to leave I pointed to an image on the wall of an impressive temple structure and asked where this was. She explained it was known as Tavole Palatine and actually wasn't in Metaponto but a few kilometers away on the road to Taranto.

She even attempted to give us directions but it all got horribly lost in translation. She did also tell us there was an Archaelogical Park (Parco Appollo di Lici) in Metaponto itself.

It was straightforward to find as it was basically drive out of the museum and continue as straight as possible over the roundabout and down a country lane for a kilometre. We found it quite easily.

Once again we were the only people around.

The attraction of some rubble in a field didn't lure Julie out of the air conditioned car so I ventured out into ancient Metapontium on my own.

The park was spread out over a large stone strewned field. At first it all looked random but as I got closer it was possible to make out what was once foundations to houses and possibly temples.

Some pieces of rock were placed on top of each other to recreate the sense of what they may have looked like as temples. The Parthenon they were not, nor were they as impressive as the image of Tavole Palantine on the museum wall but I still found them quite interesting.

I walked from one end of the park to the other working up quite a sweat in the process. It was deifinitely warmer today.

There were once four different temples here, dedicated to Athena, Appollo, Hera and Aphrodite.

The last one was the most impressive and the most complete with full doric columns and pediments. From a distance it gave the appearance of being complete but it was only two sides of a full temple.

It had clearly been reconstructed with the missing pieces of the jigsaw replaced by replica stonework (which looked like most of it) Other than the fact the false pieces were much yellower in colour they blended in seemlessly.

I went for a closer look and found hidden behind it was an elevated platform. I'm not sure what, if any its purpose was so I went to have a look.

It did offer a better view of a small semi-circular amphitheatre which I hadn't even noticed whilst on the ground. But other than that it was the just the same view across the same field of stones.

I don't think I spent much more than twenty minutes walking around the park but it was long enough. Not that I was bored just it really was plenty of time to see it all.

It was time to leave so we reset our SatNav to take us to the beach at Lido di Metaponto only a few short miles away. There we plenty of signs showing us the way. Julie even remarked "They do like their road signs don't they?!"

There were often junctions with a dozen seperate signs in an information overload. You would never have time to read them all when driving past at normal speed. However the roads we very quite so we could read them all almost at our leisure. In the end we ignored the GPS directions and trusted the signs. The fact we were driving down a road called Via Lido gave us all the confidence we needed!

It lead straight to the beachfront where we parked up and walked down the promenade.

Most of the beach was segregated into areas that effectively belonged to the bars and cafes dotted along the front. Each one had different coloured parasols marking their patch.

There were pockets of free beach where the public were welcome to pitch up with their own parasols and towels but as we had neither with us we moved on to look for a cafe.

On tripadvisor we had read that the #1 beachfront cafe was called Blumen Bad, despite its awful name!

We used our phones to pin point our loction crossing an open area of the promenade where a peculiar modern sculpture stood. It was a simple yet joyful looking stickman.

You could almost hear it shout 'Woohoo!"

It was just the other side of this open space where we found the Blumen Bad Beach Cafe Bar. From the outside it looked great. It had the look and feel of an exclusive club.

Although inside it was a little less sleak and stylish and more the expected beachfront bar.

It was now 2pm and we were a little hungry so we sat outside on the balcony overlooking the Blumen Bad exclusive beach.

Nobody came out to serve us so I popped back inside to ask for a menu. The waitress smiled nervously and just pointed to a blackboard.

For some inexplicable reason I decided to order on Julie's behalf. I don't know why I did. I would never do that. It's just very presumptious. I chose for her the house speciality Insalata Blumen Bad. She did say she only wanted something light so a salad made sense.

When it arrived Julie was so disappointed. For her it really was a bloomin' bad salad!

I hadn't thought it through. It turned out to be a seafood salad and she's not the biggest admirer of cold rubbery sea critters.

The baby ocotpus and squid were pushed to one side as she picked out the three prawns on top but they were still in their shells and such a faff to eat. That was as far as she got bar a few shreds of lettuce and some tomatoes. At €14 it turned out to be a bloomin' expensive side salad.

At least it was balanced out by my bargain value €4 gourmet bruschetta which was incredibly delicious and very filling. Although I'm not sure why they called it a gourmet bruschetta.

To me adding the word gourmet to the title implied that it had some extra flourishes in a "pimp my bruschetta" sort of a way. It was just a standard bruschetta, toasted bread rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil and topped with chopped tomatoes seasoned with salt.

I was expecting something far removed from a bruschetta but it was the simplicity of the dish that made it remarkable. The intensity of the flavours was fabulous. "Quality ingredients" I purred knowingly in a peculiar non- distinct European accent.

Julie didn't find my amateur dramatics that entertaining so I quickly felt stupid and embarrassed as well as guilty so I offered her a gourmet bruschetta.

Time seemed to move slowly. It was so relaxing just gazing out to sea over the jazzy orange striped parasols of Blumen Bad Beach. We were in no real rush to leave.

There was a lot of flesh on view. Julie almost choked on her iceberg lettuce when one guy wearing flip-flops and the briefest of trunks walked into the cafe. It is strange how uninhibited people get when they're at the beach.

Evetnually of course time waits for no man and we ended up in a bit of a rush to leave.

We were renting a trullo near Alberobello and had arranged to meet the owner at around 4pm. Our SatNav suggested it would take just over an hour and a quarter to get there. We had to get a move on.

The E90 expressway whisked us in the direction of Taranto. It had to be one of the prettiest stretches of roads to drive along. Not for the views as it was qutie flat but for the unique floral central reservation.

With our windows down we could smell the sweet fragrance of the rhodedenrum bushes that seperated the West and the East bound carriages.

As pretty as they looked I'm sure they were a pain in the municipal budget having to regularly cut them back. It could be quite dangerous if they were allowed to encroach the fast lane.

Before reaching Taranto we turned off the autostrade and headed North driving cross-country by-passing the towns of Paligiano and Mottola on our way towards Noci.

We were now entering the land of the trulli, curious little dry stone huts with a conical roof that were traditionally agricultural buildings.

Our first glimpse of a derelict trulli in the middle of a field was quie exciting.

"I hope the one we're staying in is a bit better than that" joked Julie.

About 15 minutes away from Alberobello Julie phoned Antonella the owner to let her know we weren't far. She spoke no English and we spoke no Italian so neither could understand the other. Fortunately we had exchanged a few e-mails before today and knew where we were going. Antonella then sent us a text which Julie Google translated and even replied in Italian telling her we would be outside Camping Bosca Selva in 10 minutes.

Having said that the SatNav initially took us to Via Vittoria Veneto a dead-end street in the middle of Alberobello which was a little annoying. Google maps had failed us by not providing the right road name. Thankfully we had high speed 4g phone network and after checking iMaps we found an alternative road name. After a quick recalibration we were on our way to the outskirts of the town along Contrada Bosco Selva, a back road towards Martina Franca.

Within a few minutes we were parked outside the camp site for our rendezvouz with Antonella. Another Google translated text was sent to say we had arrived and another one received to say she was on her way. Minutes later she arrived, waved at us, turned around and started to drive off. That was our queue to follow.

They sped off down the narrow country lane skirting a small patch of forest known as Bosca Selva. We were in hot pursuit trying our best to not lose them whilst at the same time making note of any landmarks so we could find our way here again.

It felt as if we were participating in the Puglian Motorcross Rally.

We passed a small cultivated patch of land filled with what appeared to be grape vines. Then only a short distance later we veered off to the right. In was a very pleasant rural setting.

It was a relief when Antonella and her boy racer driving partner eventually pulled over outside a property. We had arrived.

Our little trulli or trullo which is the correct singular term was incredibly cute. It was like some Hobbit house.

It was also simply renovated. We had passed some trullis that had been extended where the original dry stone hut was nothing more than an entrance hallway.

Here the original simple structure was all we had.

We got the formalities out of the way. Having already transfered €133 deposit we needed to pay our balance of €535 in cash. In addition to this a deposit of €200 was required which was a bit of a nuisance as we wouldn't get the cash back until our last day. All of this exchange I already knew about and had the cash in envelopes which made it all easier.

At times the "check-in" became quite comical with neither of us understanding each other. Thankfully she was quite good humoured about it. Somehow we managed to muddle through, completing a registration form with our name, address, passport numbers and so on.

She then launched into her dos and donts spiel to which I listened studiously, nodded knowingly and said 'OK' when she paused despite not understanding a word she said.

When she finished she gave us the key, bid us a cheery "ciao" and left. Julie and I stood there admiring our beautiful little home. We were near to tears of joy, it was so idyllic.

It was essentially one room with a sofa-bed, a dinning table, and a tiny portable tv with a ladder up to a crog-loft in the coned roof. It was described as the sleeping area with a futon, a thick mattress, to sleep on.

However getting up into the sleeping area was challenging to say the least. I clearly wasn't as agile as I thought I was because even I struggled to get up there. Julie wouldn't even contemplate sleeping up there.

The other half of the room was the kitchen with a sink, gas hob, fridge/freezer and a microwave. very compact and functional space.

There was also of course a small toilet & shower room which were grateful for. The idea of an outside toilet would have sent shivers through our bladders.

Now the idea of an outdoor kitchen on the other hand was thrilling.

It had several ways of cooking, on a gas hob, in a wood-fired oven or on a barbecue. I was so excited to get in there and cook supper. For me it was like a dream come true!

First we needed some supplies.

We scoured the Italian only information folder for the word supermercato and found one listed in Alberobello.

Armed with an address the SatNav directed us to Via Ammiraglio Millo where we found Tutto e Tutti which translated as Everyone and Everything. We pulled into its car park and went inside.

Well it had everything you could imagine except for food! It was more of a hardware store than a supermarket. We still bought a few things, toilet roll, kitchen roll, washing detergent, fabric conditioner, four citronella candles and an inflatable lilo for the pool!

When we paid Julie asked the girl behind the cash register "Supermarket?" more in hope.

She nodded and pointed vaguely outside. Whilst her directions were lost on us at least we knew it wasn't too far away.

Back in the car we drove up the road for less than a minute and there it was Supermercato SISA. It was only a small store, it didn't even have its own a car park so we pulled over into a parking space outside some flats on the opposite side of the road.

Shopping in a local supermarket is one of our little pleasures when we're on holiday and this little shop was up to the experience.

First we targetted the fruit and veg section where a member of staff was loitering to not only weigh and price our choices for us but also pick them for us. I remember a similar arrangement in Seville but she picked all the rotten onions. I kept a close eye on what was being selected but to be fair all the courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes, potatoes and plums looked very fresh indeed. They were all weighed and one price tag was placed to cover the lot. The garlic and basil weren't weighted as they were priced per item.

Next up we came to the deli counter where we got even more excited. We bought some burrata and some really fresh ricotta, also a loaf for only 11c. It was the end of the day and wasn't the freshest. Perfect for toasting however. Moving along Julie bought a pork chop and a few sausages. Julie described the young lad from behind the counter as being "fit as a butcher's dog" which was funny at the time. Perhaps lesser so out of context.

We continued to fill the trolley with supplies. In went a bag of charcoal, some salt, a variety of pasta, a bottle of olive oil, several bottles of wine, (a Prosecco, a frizzante, a local white from Locorotondo and a local red from Salento) and six bottles of sparkling water. It all came to a very reasonably priced €60.

With a heaving trolley full Julie waited for me outside the store as I went to get the car. There was now space to park outside but for how long? I ran to the car as quick as I could so I would get back before we lost the space. I ran across the road, unlocked the car ... and opened the passenger door I stood there for a moment wondering where the steering wheel had gone before realising I was on the wrong side.

I slammed the door shut and turned to go to the other side when I realised a passer-by had noticed my antics. Like someone who had slipped on their backside springing back to pretend it never happened I insticively opened the back door and faked a frantic search of the boot. I was hoping to give the impression that the only reason I opened the wrong door was that I was looking for something.

I thought I had got away with it until I returned to Julie who was doubled over with laughter having seen the whole thing. "That was hilarious You looked so funny"

I wasn't the only one who thought we were still driving our right-hand drive Fiat 500.

When we got back to our trullo I parked, pulled the handbrake up and Julie instinctively reached for the gear stick to put it into neutral. For a split second she thought she was in the drivers seat.

We fell about laughing again.

After keeping all the groceries, filling all the available space in our compact kitchen we opened a bottle of wine and sat outside in the warm sun.

It just felt so relaxing to finally stop, knowing that we here now for the next week and our time was our own.

It was here that Julie first noticed that my hair a bit of a wave to it. I'd never had curly hair before except for once in the late 80s when I permed it in an attempt to look like a rocker from an LA metal band.

"All you need is a laurel leaf and you'll look like Caesar"

She took a photo on her phone for me to have a look and she was right. There was a kink to it.

After loosing all my hair because of the chemotherapy the consultant did say there was a possibility of it coming back curly but there was no chance of it ever growing back black.

It was soon time to start cooking. I have to say that doing it outside in the open air whilst the sun set was such a joy.

On the menu tonight was maiale alla griglia for Julie, a pork steak not grilled but pan fried with rosemary fresh from the herb garden, served with tomato and basil and a bowl of mashed potatoes.

I had cavatelli al pomodoro, small almost bean sized pasta shells in a rich tomato sauce. We shared the Negroamora red from Salento which was unbelievably good for the €3.50 price tag.

We both agreed that tonight was the best meal of the trip so far. Of course it wasn't a totally unbias review but neither was it blatant self-appreciation, it really was delicious.

The sun was just setting, the food was great, the wine was superb and the company was the best.

"This is heaven on earth." said Julie with a wonderful smile of complete contentment.

"I could stay here forever" I added echoing her.

We were living the dream.

It is a long held ambition of ours ever since we visited Rome in 2001, a dream of moving to Italy to live, preferably when we don't have to work for a living.

It will happen one day. (I guess when we retire.)

In the meantime we'll settle for a week of it.

As dusk fell we opened another bottle of wine, the lightly fizzed white. Once again we were surprised by the excellent quality for the knock-down price.

When it got darker and before the midges came out to play we lit two citronella candles.

My God the citron smell coming from these large foil pie trays was intense. They were industrial heavy duty ones and they seemed to be working.

Whilst there were no flies on us the acrid smell didn't deter a ginger cat from coming to say hello.

To start with we gave him some milk which he lapped up in a flash. So then retrieved the pork bone from the bin. Well I just made a friend for life.

He wasn't a scrawny stray cat. He had a collar and was well fed. He was certainly a fine figure of a ginger tomcat.

Once he had finished chewing the goodness out of the pork bone he came and sat on our knees, mine at first, then Julie's.

We named him Guiseppe and he spent the remainder of the evening with us.

It was late yet plenty warm enough to sit outside. We could have stayed out all night but eventully we said buonasera to the cat and retired to bed bringing an utterly joyful day to a close.

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