No Cheese

Joined September 2015
  • Day19

    Il Castello di Roccascalegna

    April 19 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    Atop a steep stony crag in the foothills of the Apennines sits a castle, parts of which have been there since the 11th century.

    The vile Baron Corvo de Corvis ruled the land in the 1500s and enacted a law that entitled him to bed local brides on their wedding nights, thus making the most of his lordly rights by stealing their virginity in accordance with “Jus primae noctis” custom. Well, Karma got the best of him when one night he was stabbed to death by a particularly feminist donna.

    Our tour of the castle was most interesting with each room providing some description of what went on there back in the day. The most disturbing room was the torture chamber where various devices, such as a rack used to stretch wrongdoers until their joints dislocated, and a tall, thin wooden pyramid upon whose point witches or females possessed by demons were sat and ……uhmmm.....penetrated......as gravity took over. Ugh!

    The views from the castle were outstanding, but anyone visiting should wear shoes that are suited for climbing.

    Check out the amazing drone footage on this YouTube video: https://youtu.be/ogu-3lqOA0E
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  • Day18

    I Trabocchi dei Abruzzo

    April 18 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    If Puglia is Italy's heel, Abruzzo is the lower calf. The landscape here is very rugged with steep cliffs, rolling hills and the snow-capped Apennine mountain range.

    But unique to this part of Italy are the numerous trabocchi that you find all along the Adriatic coastline.

    In the 18th century, Abruzzese fishermen devised an ingenious method to reap the fruits of the sea, even during bad weather. Using wood from the local Aleppo pine trees, they built massive wooden structures, on piers, a couple hundred meters from shore. From the shelters, two long poles, aptly called antennae, extend, and a net is strung between them. Using winches, the net is lowered into the water, which is at least six meters deep, and then promptly raised, hopefully filled with the catch of the day.

    Sadly, many of the trabocchi fell into disuse and disrepair over the years, but several were repaired and rebuilt using public funds, others have been converted into popular tourist attraction restaurants, and some still operate exactly as they did nearly two hundred years ago.

    In San Vito Chietino, where we were staying, they are so numerous, the area is labeled La Costa dei Trabocchi (The Trabocchi Coast)
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  • Day17

    Ciao, Puglia

    April 17 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    After leaving our trullo in Alberobello, we turned in La Grande Orange at the airport in Brindisi and then caught a train to Pescara, where we spent our first night in Abruzzo.
    We had pizza at Pizzeria Gluten Free (yes, that's really the name), where they serve nothing but gluten free products. I’ve eaten a lot of GF pizzas and have tried making my own dough at home, with varying degrees of success, but never have I ever had one whose crust was indistinguishable from a regular wheat flour dough. That is, until today. They used a variety of different GF flours in the mix to produce a crust that was crispy, yet whose rim was filled with air pockets and would spring back when squeezed. Quite amazing.

    After dinner we turned in and, in the morning, made our way to the airport to pick up yet another rental car. Once again, Brenda’s desire to drive around Italy in a Fiat 500 was foiled when we were upgraded to a Lancia Ypsilon. Surprisingly, the Italian car has a lot less pep than the Citroen we had in Puglia – I would have thought Lancia, with it’s racing heritage would have been the sportier drive, but such is not the case. I guess I’ll just have to wait for some kind rental car clerk to upgrade me to a Ferrari or Lambo.

    Speaking of which, I see more Italian supercars in Vancouver in one day than I’ve seen in Italy in eighteen days. In fact, the only high-end wheels I’ve seen was a Maserati SUV. Go figure.

    Our next stop is a four day stay in San Vito Chietino, a small fishing village on the coast where we’ll be visiting with our friend Tash and her family. It is truly beautiful here, but the city is divided into an upper and a lower town.

    We rented a very nice Airbnb in the upper level and Tash resides, you guessed it, in the lower town. We had arranged to meet up with her and her sixteen-month-old son, Giorgio, yesterday afternoon and began walking down the main road with its many switchbacks and without any pedestrian sidewalks. Despite the lack of high-performance cars on the road, it seems like most Italians drive like they’re behind the wheel of an F-1 car. I’ll be driving along at twenty or thirty kms over the posted speed limit and cars whiz past me like I’m standing still. Worse yet, when I see them coming up on me in my rear-view mirror, I hold my breath and close my eyes as they always wait until the last possible second to move into the passing lane, missing my rear bumper by inches. Naturally, when driving on winding roads, they are always looking for the racing line, which places a pedestrian on a road with no sidewalks into very perilous position.

    Fortunately, after negotiating a couple of switchbacks, I spotted some stairs that seemed to give us a safer route into the lower town, which indeed they did.

    We spent the afternoon getting a guided tour of San Vito from Tash and then met up with her husband Alessandro in a little café where we had our first Aperol Spritz apperitivos and plates of local cookies, some made with almond flour that Brenda could eat.

    After drinks and a snack, we headed back to our accommodations, which seemed like an awfully long way up when viewed from the lower town. We nonetheless slowly climbed the hundred of stairs to the top, picked up some fruit and veggies at a local market and a couple of slices of pizza and focaccia for me and locked ourselves in for the night.

    Tomorrow, we’re excited to be having lunch at Alessandro’s restaurant, Insight Eatery!
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  • Day15

    Alberobello, Trulli Wonderful

    April 15 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    Nothing could have prepared me for the uniqueness of our next stop, Alberobello, not to mention its cuteness factor.

    As we approached the town, we began seeing some examples of what we came here for: the trulli of Puglia.

    Trulli have been around for many hundreds of years, though the oldest surviving ones date back only to the 16th century.

    One of the most common theories for the origin of the Trullo involves the tax laws of 17th Century Italy. It is known that the nobility of the time imposed heavy taxes on any permanent structure. Thus, the theory goes that the peasant families, not able to bear the burden of this tax, built their dwellings so that they could be literally demolished at a moment’s notice! Because a conical roof depends largely on the ‘topmost’ stone to prevent the roof from caving in, the peasant owner was able to literally demolish their house simply by removing this stone. Imagine the taxman's surprise when he arrived at Locorotondo, Alberobello or Fasano, only to find mounds of rubble and virtually no houses! As soon as the inspectors went away, the trulli would spring up again and the locals would move back in!

    A typical trullo has a cylindrical base with a cone-shaped limestone-tiled roof. Originally built without cement, their thick white-painted stone walls ensured coolness in the summer and warmth in the winter. The roof was often painted with an evil eye, a cross, or an astronomical symbol, topped off with an ornamental flourish. In more recent times, the use of mortar is commonplace.

    Walking through the streets, surrounded by these odd little buildings, I was half expecting to run into Smurfette or Papa Smurf, such is the fairy tale feeling of this place.
    We visited the sovereign trullo, which is the only two-storey building with a staircase built into it. The woman working there gave us quite a history lesson, describing how it is believed the design of these buildings originated with the Turkish prisoners who were put to work following their capture during one of the many battles that took place at the time. Unfortunately, there are a lot of different versions as to who dreamed them up, and without any accurate written record, it’s impossible to know which one is true.

    Although they are not exclusive to this city, in Alberobello alone, there are more than eighteen hundred trulli, one of which Brenda and I called home for a night.

    In order to support the enormous weight of the stone roof, numerous arches are built into the walls to distribute the load. Of course, this fact, combined with the shorter average height of the medieval residents, made for a stay fraught with the danger of my head impacting the structure. Naturally, within ten minutes of our arrival, I struck the door frame on the way out, and I have the scar to prove it. The shower stall made for another vertical challenge.

    Other than the constant fear of concussing myself and the contortions required to shower, our stay was delightful, and we could virtually imagine what life might have been like here hundreds of years ago.

    We ended our evening with a wonderful dinner at Casa Nova restaurant, whose staff went to great lengths to accommodate Brenda’s gluten intolerance.

    Any visit to Puglia would not be complete without a visit to this magical place.
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  • Day15

    Ostuni, The White City

    April 15 in Italy ⋅ 🌧 12 °C

    On our way from Gallipoli to Alberobello, we stopped off for a visit to Ostuni, a picturesque hillside town that is known as Città Bianca, The White City. The majority of the buildings in the old town are constructed of limestone, a readily available commodity in the region, whose white colour served not only to keep the homes cool in the summer, it provided lime, the mineral that acted as an effective disinfectant in ancient times of epidemic. In fact, it is believed the city was largely spared from the plague in the 17th century because of the inhabitants’ use of lime.
    From the highway one can see Ostuni gleaming in the sunshine from several kilometers away, quite a spectacular sight.
    The area was first inhabited by Neanderthals some 40,000 years ago and the remains of a pregnant woman, who died 25,000 years ago, were found in one of the nearby caves. Quite a history.
    Of course, like most of this part of Italy, the city was built, conquered, destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. Messapians, Greeks, Romans and Normans all held the city at some point in history.
    We wandered through the old town, admiring the 13th century cathedral, the palaces and some of the ruins of the ancient fortifications.
    We were surprised to find the city to be teeming with tourists, particularly this early in the season.
    When we arrived in Ostuni, I parked the car in the first open spot I saw. Park first, ask questions later. When we got out to read the signs to see if we could legally park in that spot, we were both puzzled by the posted pictograms. As we stood on the corner debating what to do, we were approached by an American couple, who have also been touring around Italy. The woman inquired as to our nationality and then went on a rant about how many tourists are already in the more popular cities further north. She claimed Rome is now almost unrecognizable with all the African, Syrian, Iranian and Chinese immigrants roaming the streets. Brenda politely agreed with her that the mainland Chinese tourists are quite unpleasant and said she does not want to be mistaken for one. The woman said, “I understand. Maybe you should have some surgery done to change your eyes or something”. Hmm….I wonder who she voted for.
    By the time afternoon rolled around, we were getting a little hungry, but couldn’t find anything open to meet our dietary requirements. OK, there were a few, but the prices they were charging in the old town were ludicrous. Sorry, I can’t bring myself to pay €10.00 for a plate of pureed fava beans, even if it is a regional specialty. We made our way out of the old city and eventually came to a Tavola Calda that was filled with locals having lunch. Food is served cafeteria style and we ate delicious tomato and artichoke salads, pickled beets, orrechiette pasta and I had a decadent slice of tiramisu for dessert.
    With very happy bellies, we jumped into La Grande Orange and made our way to our next destination, Alberobello.
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  • Day14

    Manduria

    April 14 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    This may be my shortest blog EVER!

    The wines produced in Puglia are primarily Negroamaro and Primitivo. On Sunday, we thought we'd make the fifty minute drive to visit Manduria, probably the largest and best known Primitivo producing region.

    This being Sunday, and off season, we figured most things would be closed, but we hoped we'd find enough attractions open to keep us busy for the afternoon. WRONG!!!

    When we left Gallipoli, I programed "Manduria" into La Grande Orange's GPS. As we drove north, the closer we got to our destination, the roads got worse and worse. Narrow, winding, potholed, and sometimes not paved at all. Oh yeah, we were definitely driving through vineyards as far as the eye could see, but the vines had all been pruned back almost to stumps and there wasn't another car, or soul, in sight. Certainly, my hopes of stumbling across an unknown winery that produces great wine were slipping away as quickly as the south's blue skies were turning to grey.

    We nonetheless soldiered on until, eventually, the GPS announced, in the middle of a vineyard, in the middle of nowhere, that we had arrived at our destination. Not good.

    Brenda then programmed in "Manduria Centro Historico" into the GPS and within ten minutes, we found ourselves in the old part of the city. But wait a minute. We had no trouble finding a place to park and there didn't seem to be very much activity on the streets. Where is everybody?

    We wandered around and came across a very old looking church that, like everything else, was closed. There were no signs outside to tell us about the buildings age or origins and no tourist office to offer any information.

    Undaunted, we continued to explore the empty streets and closed shops until we finally broke down and admitted that there would be absolutely nothing to see here today. Once we made that admission, Manduria began to sprinkle some rain upon us. We had wandered almost 1.5 kms from the car, so we hastened our pace to make sure we didn't get caught in another Pugliese downpour. I had my little travel umbrella, my Tilley hat and my nylon windbreaker with me, but Brenda was unprepared for inclement weather. After all, when we left Gallipoli, the skies were cloudless, and the temperature was on the rise. Who knew?

    We hadn't walked a block when the raindrops began to increase in size, and we were suddenly being pelted with hail. HAIL FOR GOD'S SAKE! In April!! In Southern Italy!!!

    We ducked into the covered entrance to a building and took shelter for at least fifteen minutes as we waited for the storm to pass. It was quite surreal because all around us, the skies were blue.

    I don't know, maybe my numerous walks through all these churches without once making a sign of the cross, even when passing in front of the altar, combined with not attending mass this morning has finally caught up with me. Maybe the big guy is trying, not so subtly, to tell me something.

    Naaaah! It's just bad timing.

    After the rain stopped, we made our way back to La Grande Orange and hightailed it back to Gallipoli, where we thought we'd go for dinner at the only other gluten free pizzeria in the city, Capri New Style. Since it was only a couple of kilometers from our accommodations, and we'd already spent two hours in the car, we decided to walk. As it turns out, the restaurant is located way off the beaten track, which required us walking along a rather busy highway, with no sidewalks, for almost one kilometer. Since nightfall was rapidly approaching, I was very concerned about how safe it would be to walk that road after dark, particularly since I was wearing mostly black. Well, in the end, there was no need to worry since the Capri New Style was not open, nor was it going to be opening any time soon.

    I guess some days are just like that.

    We turned around and walked the 2.1 kms back to our apartment while the sun was still above the horizon and I didn't have to use my cell phone as a flashlight. I ended up eating a rather forgettable pizza from the pizzeria in our building and Brenda just had a serving of fries.

    On the bright side, the €4.99 on sale bottle of Bolla Prosecco we bought the other day was a very acceptable accompaniment to my meal.

    There's always a silver lining.
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  • Day11

    Otranto, the Far East

    April 11 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    Next to Lecce, Otranto is the most beautiful and historic city we've visited so far. It's lighthouse, located about 5 kms south of the old city, marks the easternmost point in Italy.

    We managed to find a parking spot a few hundred meters outside the walls of the old city, which is considerably smaller, but no less of a maze, than Lecce. Once we crossed the drawbridge into the old town, we were transported back in time by the aged castle walls, the massive fortifications, the well-worn stone footpaths, and the awe-inspiring places of worship.

    Of all the churches and cathedrals we've seen thus far, the Otranto cathedral is, by far, the most, .............hmmm............interesting. The cathedral was founded in 1088 and the main entrance is adorned with an ornately carved rose window and a coat of arms supported by two angels. Once inside, one’s eye is immediately drawn to the mosaic tile floor that depicts various biblical scenes from the old testament as well as medieval and mythological beasts, all intertwined in a tree of life showing the human experience from Adam and Eve to the Salvation. The mosaic was created between 1163 and 1165 by a group of artists led by Pantaleone, a Basilian monk. For more detailed photos of the mosaic, click here:
    http://www.italianways.com/the-great-medieval-mosaic-of-the-otranto-cathedral/

    On the right-hand nave of the cathedral is the Martyr's chapel, that contains, encased in three glass displays, the bones of 813 residents of Otranto who were executed for refusing to convert to Islam when the city fell to an Ottoman force in 1480. Gruesome! The martyrs were canonized in 2013 by Pope Francis.

    Below the main floor of the cathedral is a crypt that dates to the original 11th century church and contains seventy marble columns of different design, that represent all the cultures that have held the city. There are also several original frescoes, including one of the Madonna and child, that date to the same period.

    After leaving the cathedral, we wandered through the streets of the town as the shops slowly reopened after their afternoon lunch break. We stopped for a beer in a charming little cafe while we waited for a sudden rainstorm to subside.

    We ended our day with pizza at Horus restaurant where my pie was so large, I had to doggy bag a quarter of it home. While we were in the restaurant, some very serious flashes of lightning constantly lit the sky and the thunder crashed. The skies opened and the rain was coming down in torrents. Of course, I had left my jacket and umbrella in the car, which we had fortunately moved closer to the restaurant. With no end to the rain in sight, I dashed off to the car, picked up Brenda in front of Horus and we hit the road home. Rather than take the short, direct route through the winding backroads, we detoured through Lecce to stay on the highway, which was a good decision since the downpour only let up after about twenty minutes into our drive.

    And thus ended our exploration of Puglia's Adriatic coast.
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  • Day11

    The Deep South (Part II)

    April 11 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    After leaving Leuca, we were both very excited to visit Grotta Zinzulusa, a series of coastal caves that apparently offers astounding rock formations. The caves were about a forty-five-minute drive north from Leuca and the entrance was at the bottom of a very narrow and twisting road with numerous switchbacks. When we arrived, the skies had clouded over, and the wind had picked up. We looked around, hemmed and hawed, did some internet research and decided we'd forego visiting the damp, cool caves and perhaps return to explore them some other time, when the weather is warmer.

    Brenda generously offered to buy us a spa visit in our next stop, San Cesarea Terme, where hot springs fuel the town's economy and we headed straight for Terme di Santa Cesarea only to find the spa closed. We figured it was likely just shut down for lunch, but a little internet research uncovered that visits at this time of year are by appointment only. Drat, once again foiled by our off-season travels!

    As we wandered around the town, we realized that literally NOTHING was open, except for Martinucci Dolci e Gelateria, a cafe and pastry shop that seems to have branches in every place we stop. I had a coffee and a panino for lunch, served to me by one of this restaurant's typically miserable staff. Unlike every other establishment we visit, where service has been friendly and welcoming, at Martinucci belligerence seems to be a prerequisite for working there. At least the panino and coffee were good.

    As we traveled North, we were struck by the presence of dry-stone walls everywhere we looked. Surely, tens of millions of stones were used to create these walls that, in Puglia, were built to define landowner's boundaries. Stonemasons must have been very, very busy in those days.

    Our last stop on our 'round the heel tour was Otranto, which deserves a blog all to itself. I have nonetheless attached a few pictures here because I have far too many to share and each of these blogs allows me to post only six photos.

    Until tomorrow!
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  • Day11

    The Deep South (Part I)

    April 11 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Today we continued our exploration of Puglia by jumping into La Grande Orange, our rental car, and driving around the bottom of the Italian boot heel, from Gallipoli to Otranto. We had hoped to make the journey by following the coast all the way, however between roadwork and missed turns, we didn't always mange to stay in sight of water. Nonetheless, the ride was unbelievably scenic and inspired more than a few oohs and aaahs to escape our mouths. Unfortunately, the roads are often so twisty and narrow, it was far too dangerous to stop and take souvenir photos.

    The Western side of the heel is coast to the Ionian sea and runs from fairly flat, sandy beaches near Gallipoli to rocky rolling hills as one travels further south.

    This road trip saw us visit two extremes of Italy: the southernmost point and the easternmost point.

    Our first stop was just to the west of the city of Santa Maria de Leuca on a little spit of land where the Ionian Sea meets the Adriatic. This point is as far south as one can travel in Italy. I felt a need to go there as I had already been to the southernmost point in the USA, Key West, Florida, and the kid in me had to have the experience on a second continent. However, unlike the US where the landmark is teeming with tourist trap shops selling everything imaginable with "Mile 0" printed on it, we were hard pressed in Italy to be certain we were in the right spot. We had to look at Google Maps on our phone to ensure we were indeed there, and sure enough, the little blue dot confirmed our position.

    From our vantage point we could look over at Leuca and see an ancient flight of stairs climbing from the lower part of the city to the upper. Brenda immediately decided she wanted to conquer them. As we explored the city, we real realized the stairs were inaccessible from where we were and, although I offered to drive to the foot of the staircase, Brenda decided to forego the challenge.

    Traveling in Italy at this time of year is both rewarding and disappointing. Rewarding because there are no throngs of tourists all vying for a glimpse of the same landmark and disappointing, particularly in the smaller cities, because virtually nothing is open. And so, after wandering around for a while, we decided to head off northward to our next stop.

    Sometimes the navigation system in La Grande Orange is a little slow on the uptake and, as luck would have it, she lagged just as we came to a fork in the road leaving Leuca. Brenda suggested we take the right fork and we suddenly found ourselves in front of a large church overlooking the city at the top of Brenda's coveted staircase.

    The church, which, in contrast to so many of the places of worship here, was so simply decorated I assumed it must have been built recently whereas Brenda was certain it was very old. Everything being relative, I guess we were both right, it was erected in the 1700's on the site of a former Roman temple.

    After seeing the church and admiring the windswept trees in the piazza, Brenda was compelled to tackle the stairs. I, on the other hand, had no such desire and found myself waiting at the top of the monument with another tourist who was in the same predicament as I. His wife panted her way up to meet him about five minutes later and they went on their way while I waited for Brenda to complete her ascension of the 284 steps.

    Interestingly, between the twin staircases there is a monumental man-made waterfall, built to signal the completion of the Puglia aqueduct. To showcase the grand project, Mussolini ordered the construction of a suitably showy finale: the mouth of the aqueduct is built into a bridge at the top of the promontory and a waterway of rocks falls away below, flanked on either side by 284 steps. The cascade is still opened a few times a year, but, sadly, not on the day of our visit.

    Tomorrow I'll write about our northbound travels.
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  • Day9

    Mystery Solved

    April 9 in Italy ⋅ 🌧 14 °C

    The other day I posted a couple of photos of what appeared to be a nun that was seemingly hung by the neck and put on public display. Well, it seems the worst is yet to come for this poor creature: she will be lit on fire at noon on Easter Sunday!

    As it turns out, even though we are in the deep south, there are no lynchings going on here.

    The old woman is known as La Caremma, which translates to English as Lent. She is created to look like a witch, and she represents all that is evil. She is hung out on the first day of Lent and an orange, with seven capon feathers stuck into it, is placed below her feet. One feather is removed on each of the following Sundays leading up to Easter when, at noon, she is lit on fire or blown to pieces with fireworks to complete her exorcism and purification.

    The most devout Catholics here will continue the purification at home by opening their doors and saying, "Essi tristu e fanne trasire Cristu" (Out with evil, in with Christ). And then they all sit down to Easter dinner and the end of their forty day fast.

    La Caremma also represents the symbol of waiting. For weeks she hangs from the gallows in the crossroads of the streets for all to see, but above all to despise her because she is so ugly and horrible.

    Her black dress makes her even more disturbing, especially to children, in whom she inspires terror and fear. Easter Sunday is anticipated as the day of liberation, the day when the old witch will no longer be visible and can no longer cause harm (if only in the imagination) to anyone.
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