Marg and Leigh's travels around the world

We are two retired women from New Zealand, busy travelling the world. Our quest is to experience other cultures before they are changed beyond recognition, and see endangered animals and environments before they disappear. We hope you like our blog and enjoy our exploits. We sure have had fun getting here.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Bongiorno Italia

Brekkie on deck beside Vanni
Sadly we bid farewell to Greece & sailed on an overnight ferry from Patras to Brindisi in Italy. Our plan was to sleep in the van as the ferry supplied power but it was incredibly hot & noisy on the vehicle deck so we ended up sleeping on couches upstairs amid the noise & hubbub of passengers. We amazed ourselves by actually getting some sleep! We arrived in port early morning & drove around Brindisi before heading off up the coast & driving along the beaches of southern Puglia.

Adriatic Coast fishermen
It was a lovely drive. We saw lots of beautiful tiny bays and inlets between Brindisi and Monopoli, and fishermen selling their catch from their colourful boats. We based ourselves at a busy Italian holiday campsite in Capitoli where we stayed for the night. Our campsite, opposite the beach, was a ‘villaggio’ style which provides everything the Italian holiday maker might wish for! Very ‘Club med’ and very, very noisy!!!

Leigh eating Capitolo mussels
The ‘beach’ was amazing as it consisted of the most amazing coastline of rocky grottos & old Roman ruins that people used for sunbathing, picnicking, and to dive from. The water was stunningly clear. We bought a kilo of fresh mussels just across the road & Leigh Googled a recipe for them so we had a great meal of ‘drunken mussels’ for dinner – yummy! They were very small compared to NZ green lipped mussels but very sweet & creamy.

Ostuni Village
An absolute highlight was stopping at the town of Ostuni, one of the three beautiful ‘white villages’ of the Puglia area. Built on a hill overlooking olive groves and the sea, and with all the buildings painted white, it was quite spectacular. The way it was built, and the ancient old walls were beautiful and totally captured our imagination. We walked through the maze of winding & narrow pedestrian size streets and were continually amazed by the way the locals were able to drive in such narrow places. Needless to say most of the cars were small ones!

Monopoli beach
We visited Monopoli where in the older quarter, tall medieval houses are built right up to the quay. The town overlooks the sea and had many quaintly painted fishing boats lined up ready for the daily fishing foray, and lots of people on the seaside swimming off the rocks. We found it was very easy to walk around Monopoli’s maze of little streets which are partially enclosed by a castle wall with old cannons pointing out to sea.

Monopoli restaurant view
We discovered a market place that included a cheese shop with delicious local cheeses & there were lots of vegetable stalls with a great range of goodies to choose from so we had a shopping spree – beats supermarkets! We had lunch in a lovely place by the port called il Guazzetto Ristorantino. They had what looked like a fabulous view to the sea, which turned out to be a very clever photo – hooked us in!!! We found the meal and service to be excellent and with a great waiter. We also met an Italian who had lived in Canada and wanted to practice his English. It was a most entertaining afternoon.

Builders repairing Trulli house
Leigh & Trulli houses
Parking warden
Leaving Monopoli we drove to Alberobello where we saw some amazingly distinctive ‘Trulli’ houses. They are circular with a cone shaped roof, all made of stone, whitewashed, single story, ancient, and still inhabited. We watched workmen replace some of the stones in a cone-shaped roof – fascinating and highly skilled work. The campground provided a free shuttle service into Alberobello and we wandered around the tiny and beautiful (and hot) streets of the Rione Monti and Aia Piccola quarters which are full of Trulli houses and shops. While resting under a shady tree we observed the local parking wardens who all wore these cute little white handbags – reminded us of you Greggles!

Sassi houses in Matera
We drove to Locorotondo, another white village of the Puglia region where we wandered through the tiny streets. It was very beautiful and also very hot. We drove further south on a tricky route to finally find the town of Matera where we walked around the ancient town to see the ‘Sassi di Matera’ (meaning ‘stones of Matera’). The Sassi are houses built into the rocks. Many are mainly just caverns and the streets in some parts of the Sassi are on the rooftops of other houses. They originate from a prehistoric (troglodyte) settlement and are apparently one of the first human settlements in Italy. Matera is the only place in the world where people are still living in the same houses of as their ancestors after 9,000 years - although many are now uninhabited. We viewed one that was set up as in the early days which was fascinating. 


We trekked on through Metaponto beach to Trebisacce (near the instep of the boot of Italy).  We thought the drive from Trebisacce along the Ionian Sea to be rather boring. The villages were old (but not necessarily ancient), tired looking and dirty, and the beaches were not terribly clean, and pebbled rather than sandy. Also, driving conditions were difficult due to the heat and a very hot and gusty wind. We saw lots of bushfires in the surrounding hills that were being driven by the hot wind. We pressed on and kept driving down the coast to get away from the smoke and heat. Finally the late hour, heat and tiredness pushed us to find the first camping ground that could accommodate us which turned out to be in Pietrapaola Marina. The campsite was right on the beachside, but the hot the wind provided a disincentive be on the beach. We had our first Italian pizza at the campsite’s pizzeria but unfortunately they anglicised it and we ended up with the ‘tourist menu’ – aaagh!!

Towards Sicily
We then moved on to Reggio de Calabria at the toe of the boot of Italy. We couldn’t find a camping ground in Reggio so we free-camped on the port - our point of departure the ferry to our next stop - Messina, Sicily.  


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