Living the Dream
We dumbed down breakfast a little this morning by just having toast and jam. Although despite its simplicity we really enjoyed it.
The jam was just a basic strawberry conserve but the butter was made locally in Alberobello and was the creamiest butter we had ever tasted. Several rounds of toast later we moved to the comfy chairs and spent the rest of the morning in a glorious state of laziness.
We even returned to bed for a mid-morning nap. It was so nice to be able to do so.
When we woke up for the second time we switched the TV and were enthralled by an episode of Peppa Pig in Italian. What amazed us was that the animation was clearly made in Italy or made somehwere else but for Itlay. Judging by the glaring Italian stereotypes like pizza eating and a visit to the Leaning Tower of Pisa I suspect it was the latter.
We easily could have spent the entire day doing nothing but decided to visit Cisternino for the afternoon. It took us over half an hour to drive the short distance to Cisternino. One reason why it took us so long was some congenstion driving through the centre of Locorotondo.
It was made more frustrating by the realisation that we needn't have driven through the middle of the town. There was a newly built by-pass but our SatNav completely ignored it taking us instead through a ugly graffiti strewn modern town. It came as a bit of a surprise to see the less attractive side of a place considered one of Italy's most beautiful villages. Of course we hadn't seen the heart of the town, the centro storico which was the more familiar white-washed hill top town image of Locorotondo.
Cisternino is also known for its white-washed historical centre up on a hill but it is less popular with those doing a whistle-stop tour of the area. That's not to say Cisternino isn't worth a visit, only that it has tough competion in the Valle D'Itria what with the larger Locorotondo and the more celebrated Ostuni a little further away, in addition to the unique Alberobello.
The SatNav redeemed itself by guiding us right to the heart of the centro storico where we found a parking space on the side of the Via San Quirico. A €1 in the meter gave us four hours to wander around.
We made our way towards the square, past this temporary inflatable exhibition space.
It was very odd, almost cubed in shape, with holes for windows. Inside we could see something not too dissimilar to a Nativity scene and there were artwork hung up on the inflatable walls. Unfortunately nobody was allowed inside.
What was even stranger was whilst we were trying to get our heads around the blow up exhibition we saw a couple that we recognised from the hotel Matera. Wow! What were the chances of that happenning!
We didn't get an opportunity to grab their attention so we couldn't share our serendiptuous moment with them.
We stopped here for something to drink at a cafe called 110 Cavalli which called itself a "mozzarella bar". It was just behind the inflatable exhibition.
It had a really nice patio area overlooking the Itria valley. The idyllic spot was spoilt however by the loud generator used to keep the inflatable structure full of air. So we gulped down our drinks and moved on.
Although before leaving we did stand at the edge to admire the view. The Valle D'Itria wasn't a deep valley but more of a wide flat plain between two hill ranges. Despite the geographical downgrade it was still a pretty sight.
I spent sometime trying to locate Martina Franca, a town in the middle of the plains but I couldn't find it anywhere.
We walked up to Piazza Guiseppe Garibaldi where there was a stage with a bright red fabric drapped along its length, set up in front of what I thought was the town hall.
There wasn't any one around so we couldn't work out if it was left over from the last night's revellry or was it being prepared for a performance tonight. If it was for this evening we were considering changing our plans.
We left Piazza Guiseppe Garibaldi and entered the narrow streets of the old town. There wasn't anything specific to see except for the streets themselves which were so full of character.
With pale limestone paving stones and white-washed walls any dash of colour like the green of a potted plant or the red checkered tablecloth hanging from the washing line really stood out.
We had no idea of where we were going nor where we had been but that was part of the fun. You couldn't really get lost. At its heart was Piazza Vittorio Emanuelle from which all the streets began and into which they all somehow returned.
Along the way we passed several restaurants where almost each one had a local speciality that translated as Donkey stew. "Poor old Eeyore!" we thought. We avoided them as if they were peddling something vile but in reality I don't see much difference between donkey or lamb.
Having worked up an apprtite when we returned to the piazza at the centre for the third time we decided to stop for some lunch at a cafe called BarFod1951. It was a nice spot. They took over much of the square with their tables and chairs. They also had a donkey free menu!
The menu was quite limited, in fact I struggled to find anything to eat. Being a vegetarian in Southern Italy isn't usually a problem but here it was. The waitress explained that the limited menu was because of the 'musical performance' which we had just missed. (BarFod organises music every Sunday at 12pm.)
I asked if they could make me a cheese and onion panini but she said they were all pre-made. They could only offer what was on the menu. So I went for a selection of meat free nibbles.
Julie and I shared small bowls of olives, nuts, crisps and some curly round biscuit / bread called Tarallini.
Julie also ordered a piadini, a flat bread speciality of Emilia-Romango not Puglia. It was filled with ham and cheese, rolled up and warmed in a griddle. It looked tasty and I was so jealous as I chomped on my dry Tarallini biscuits. I had to order a beer before I choked on them.
Julie also ordered a drink. She went for a Strawberry and Prosecco cocktail which looked stunning in the glass and tasted divine. I could share this one.
Not to be outdone I decided to have desserts, not one but two of them. The first was a tiramisu, the Italian Restaurant standard but there was nothing standard about this one. It was delicious, light in texture yet strong in flavour. It was the sort of dessert that gets eaten far too quickly and you end up licking the bowl in a vain attempt to prolong the ectasy.
My second dessert was even better. It was a chocolate and red currant bombe. It both looked and tasted sensational.
Our light lunch came to €21 which considering the high standards we felt was good value.
Afterwards we did another loop around the narrow streets before popping back out at the main square, the one with the town hall and the stage.
On the opposite side of the square was the church of Santa Chiara. It was built from the similar almost white limestone and was quite blinding in the brightness of the sun. We headed for some shade in the form of some trees passing along the way a memorial to the fallen soldiers of the Second World War. It was sad to see over three hundred names listed on three marble slabs dated 1939-43.
Italy was in the grip of facism during those dark years and allied itself to Nazi Germany but of course that's no reason not to honour the dead.
In a few short steps we moved from a sombre reminder of the consequences of war to a hilarious electoral campaign poster. It had been tampered with. The scratching out of the eyes of one of the candidates was a little sinister but the addition of a false bushy moustache was comedy genius.
We continued to the park. It was so peaceful sat there overlooking the Itria valley. We could hear no cars, no people. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere and not in the centre of a town.
Our attention was soon taken by this most beautiful butterfly. I think it was a Tiger Swallowtail. It had a black and yellow stripe pattern with some blue trim towards the bottom and an orange splash to finish the dandy look.
After spending sometime watching the road crew set up a large PA system on the stage for what was going to be a performance later we decided we would leave Cisternino and head back home.
However this time we took the by-pass instead of driving through a busy Locorotondo. The poor SatNav was having a meltdown as it coldn't compute where we were and thought we were driving across the fields!
The road took us far enogh away to get a view. I wanted to stop to take a photograph and fortunately there was a convenient car park directly opposite. From here we could see the Duomo dominating the skyline. Nothing else came close to it. The view however still wasn't the classic white-washed hilltop town I had seen in countless travel guides.
We decided we should visit Locorotondo tomorrow.
Behind where I stood was an abandoned trullo identical in size to the one we were staying in. It was in a state of neglect but far from derelict, in fact it was in surorinsingly good condition.
There wasn't a For Sale sign but it didn't stop Julie and I imagining ourselves buying and renovating it. Although in reality its location right next to a busy road and car park possibly wasn't the best for privacy although great for accesibility.
A little further up at the car park's exit I could see a statue so I went to have a closer look.
It was the image of the Virgin Mary and it was absolutely beautiful.
It had been painted which brought it to life. I stared into her big blue eyes and came over all epiphanous. I would have converted to Catholicism right there and then such was the all consuming serenity I felt by simply looking at her face.
There was a plaque beneath the statue. From what I could work out it was in memory of a George.
"With devotion to the Virgin Mary through her eyes you will look at your eternal Locorotondo." or something like that.
Instead of going straight home to our little trullo we popped to Alberobello. We walked along Largo Martellotta the wide avenue along the bottom of the trulli zone with our phones in our hands looking for a wi-fi signal. It picked up one called Bar Tropicana so that's where we headed.
We sat outside on the square sipping a coke zero and an aqua minerale con gas uploading todays photos onto Facebook.
Whilst sat here looking across towatds the trullis I noticed that if I could only get a little higher up I would get a great view of the conical rooftops. So I left Julie behind and went on ahead, up the hill towards Piazza de Popolo, walking backwards most of the way, constantly checking the view which never quite materialised.
I eventually reached the large piazza where I could see Alberobello's cathedral at the far end of a long street. I did think about walking down to take a closer look but thought the better of it.
As I left Piazza del Popolo I noticed at the opposite end there was a South facing balcony. This time I did make the effort to go and have a closer look.
I was glad I did as I finally got to see the best view of the entire trulli district. There were so many conical roofs. One could really appreciate the concentration of trullis from up here. I began to count them but it was an impossible task. It must have been in the region of a thousand.
I returned down to Julie who was waiting patiently for me.
We set off in search of a wine shop called Paco Wines. Google Maps had it located somewhere back up the hill but we failed to find it. At least our futile search meant that we ended up in Piazza de Popolo and Julie got to see the incredible view for herself.
Checking the actual address of Paco Wines we eventually found it in the cellar of the last trulli at the end of Via Monte Nero.
We walked down into the cool underground shop and were greeted by the very friendly owner.
The store had wines from all over Italy. It also had a small bar area where you could enjoy a glass or two.
We bought a bottle of pink prosecco and a white wine from Locorotondo for under £10 for both. Great value.
As we left he asked if we were coming this evening to see the light show. Apparently it was a celebration of Van Gogh which made me wonder what the connection was between the Dutch master and Puglia. None I would hazard a guess!
It was going to be here all week so we planned to visit another evening.
When we arrived home one of our neighbours up on the hill was playing some awful music at such a high volume that we felt like we were at an Ibizan festival! It was as if they had boght a new P.A. system and were testing how loud it would go. Thankfully after half an hour they stopped and the peace returned.
We settled down for the evening. Not having eaten much I was ready for an early supper.
Tonight's menu was cavatelli pasta with a tomato sauce and some garlic bread. On the effort to pleasure scale it scored really high. So simple and easy but tasted really delicious.
The limoncello made an appearance after we had eaten. I had forgotten how much I liked this lemon liquer. It's so sweet it's almost a dessert course in its own right.
We fancied a swim but we had to wait a while. I don't know if the old saying "Never swim on a full stomach" is just an old wive's tale or not but we waited for our food to digest.
Even then we had to wait a while longer whilst the pool was cleaned by a pair of swallows! Their aerial display was very entertaining as they swooped from the sky and skimmed the surface of the water scooping up the bugs.
Eventually as the sun was beginning to set we got into the pool. The water was much warmer than expected but I guess it had been heated by the sun all day.
Now I'm not much of a swimmer but what little I could do I did with great gusto. With the pool being equal depth and not over my head I had the confidence to thrash up and down its length without stopping.
I said to Julie "If I had one of these at home my swimming would improve a hell of a lot!" but in reality back home we would only ever have the weather warm enough to use it once or twice a year!
I have to admit I was really enjoying all the splashing about.
Once again we were living the dream. The one where we could pop and have a swim whenever we wanted. The one where we could eat and drink outside in the open air. The one where the wine was made five miles away and the butter was made even nearer. We were loving it.
We hung around outside until it got dark, which was around 9:30pm and then headed inside. Tired but super relaxed, we were ready for sleep.
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