Europe In The Spring

April - May 2019
Fifty four days, four countries, no schedule.
  • 38footprints
  • 6countries
  • 54days
  • 171photos
  • 0videos
  • 16.7kkilometers
  • 11.6kkilometers
  • Day 1


    April 1, 2019 in Canada ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    Since we didn't REALLY have a winter getaway (because we're retired, I can't call it vacation anymore) this year, we decided a prolonged trip to Europe was in order for the spring.

    Unlike most of our trips, we'll be doing a lot of moving around this time as we attempt to catch up with old friends and family.

    Today is a long travel day. We have a direct flight from Vancouver to London Heathrow and then we make our way to Stansted for a flight to Bari, which is located in the heel of the Italian boot.

    Once we arrive in Italy, we plan on staying in and around the southern part of the country for most of April, although we have no real plans nor itinerary.

    In May we'll be visiting friends in France and Ireland and, near the end of our stay, we'll return to the UK to meet up with my cousins and 95 year old aunt, who I haven't seen in forty seven years!

    Along the way there is sure to be lots of wonderful food, great wine and brews and many adventures.

    Stay tuned for details!
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  • Day 3

    Mangia, mangia!

    April 3, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    We finally arrived at our Airbnb accommodations late last night. We left Vancouver at 6:40 PDT on Monday and arrived at our Bari apartment at around 11:30 GMT+1. Even considering the nine hour time difference, it made for a very long travel day, indeed. After partially unpacking our bags and having a chat with our neighbor, Jen, in Vancouver, we hit the sack a little after midnight and both went out like lights. Unfortunately, my internal clock had me wide awake at 5:00AM, so I guess it'll be a fairly early night for me tonight. Brenda managed to stay asleep until almost 6:30, lucky girl.

    I got out of bed at around 7:00 and went for a little 3km run along the waterfront. I packed only shorts and T-shirts for workout gear and, at 11°C, I received a lot of strange looks from the Italian runners who were all decked out in their track suits. Hardy Canadian blood.

    After I showered, Brenda and I went out exploring and immediately found a little cafe where I had an espresso and a cornetto (a croissant filled with jam) for the ridiculous price of €1.00.

    Brenda and I then walked along the shore and circled the old fortified city before entering in through the wall in search of Largo Albicocca. After Google mapping our way through the narrow, winding streets of the old city, we came to a small piazza that was teeming with people stuffing their faces with all manner of goodies. We were in the right place!

    Bari's street food consists of Focaccia, Sgagliozze and Popizze. Our first stop in Largo Albicocca was to La Sgagliozze de Donna Carmela. This little open air shop consists of a work table, two gas burners and two large pots containing boiling oil. Into one pot of oil, Donna Carmela drops blobs of raw pizza dough, fries it until it's golden brown and serves these Popizze piping hot. She then cuts squares of polenta from a large block and tosses them into the other pot. Once they're golden, they go into a bag along with a sprinkle of sea salt and those are your Sgagliozze. We didn't have any of the Popizze, but the Sgagliozze were scrumptious. They tasted like popcorn but with a palate burning, smooth mouthfeel. They did, however, contain enough oil to stop your heart.

    While we ate our deep fried polenta, we couldn't help but notice other locals coming into the piazza with what looked like slices of pizza and little bottles of Peroni beer. Pizza and beer?!? How could we resist?

    We went off in the direction the pizza slices were coming from and our noses quickly found Panificio Santa Rita, a little hole in the wall that was filled with people waiting to place their orders.

    What we thought were pizza slices turned out to be the Barese version of focaccio. They make a white version, that has only oil and herbs on it, or a rosso style that has oil and fresh tomatoes baked along with the crust. For €2.40 you can have the whole slab, €1.20 for a mezzo (half) or €0.60 for a quarto. Add in a €1.00 bottle of beer and you're good to go.

    Another thing Bari is known for is their Orecchiette. Everywhere you look there are women seated at tables rolling out these little pasta pieces that get their name from their shape. The literal translation of Orechiette is little ears.

    These same stands also sell a variety of baked goods, including one of my personal favorites, Taralucci cookies. These hard, round biscotti are coated with a sweet lemon flavored glaze that makes them irresistable to me. Yup, I came home with a big bag of them.

    I haven't been running a lot lately so I thought I'd slowly ramp up to longer distances as our stay in Italy progresses. However, after our first exposure to Barese cuisine, I'd better crank up the mileage very soon or they'll have to roll me onto the plane back to Vancouver.

    Oh yeah, we're not done eating just yet. At 7:30 we're off to Restaurant Al Raffaello for dinner. Oh my goodness!
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  • Day 4

    A Rather Blustery Day

    April 4, 2019 in Italy ⋅ 🌬 17 °C

    Despite being exhausted and going to bed with a full belly well after midnight, I'm still operating on Vancouver time and this morning I found myself wide awake at 3:00 AM. I tossed, I turned, I read, and I meditated, but nothing I did brought me back to dreamland. I finally fell asleep as the sky was beginning to brighten and managed to sleep in until 9:00 o'clock. Hopefully tonight will be better.

    The weather forecast this morning was very promising with a high of 21°C, however, by late afternoon the wind would be gusting to 49 KMH! I figured that even with the high winds, at 21°, I'd be fine wearing my shorts. After all, as soon as it hits 10° in Vancouver the convertible cars have their tops down and shorts and sandals are the order of the day. In Bari, not so much.

    I don't know if the temperature ever reached the forecast high, but after an hour of exposure to the elements, my legs were begging to be covered up. And unlike Vancouver, I didn't see another soul wearing shorts!

    In any case, we went for lunch at Pizzeria Bari-Napoli where they offer gluten free pasta and pizza, which is a treat for Brenda and her gluten intolerance. As so often happens in Europe with the narrow streets and tall buildings, Google Maps gets confused and directions can be hard to follow. This is exactly what happened today. We ended up walking around and around the restaurant before we were finally able to settle the GPS signal and find our way inside. The frigid wind made our inability to find the eatery that much more frustrating.

    To make a long story short, the GF pizzas are only available at dinner and we ended up ordering some very lackluster dishes that made us regret not deciding to go and eat elsewhere. Brenda's alternate choice was a €6.00 salad that filled half a small bowl with spinach, large chunks of fennel and grated carrot. The DYI dressing consisted of a bottle of balsamic vinegar, a bottle of EVOO and salt and pepper shakers. My Sicilian spaghetti was equally unimpressive, and we left the restaurant with very a bad taste in our mouths, literally and figuratively.

    Brenda was so hungry we ended up stopping at a little middle eastern restaurant and ordering her a plate of falafels to tide her over until dinner.

    Because the weather was so unpleasant, we decided to come in from the cold and went to see the Van Gogh Alive exhibit at the Teatro Margherita. There were no original works in the exhibit, but there was a recreation of VVG's painting of his bedroom that was very cool to see. Most of the exhibit was a 360° slide show of all his works that were accompanied by his word and a soundtrack of music from each period. The show provided good insight into Van Gogh's troubled life and how it was reflected in his work. I found it most interesting to learn that only one of his paintings sold during his lifetime and for a mere 400 francs at that (equal to about $1900 USD in todays money). Today, some of his works have sold for as much as $82.5 million.

    After the show we returned to our lodging and searched for a Gluten free pizza place for dinner. The reviews for Pizzeria Tana, about 1.8 kms from us, were outstanding and, as a bonus, Brenda found a GF bakery along the way where we could stop and get dessert.

    We headed out the door at around 7:00 and, only a couple of blocks from home, the rain started. Fortunately, I had my little travel umbrella with me, but with the high winds, it offered little protection from the downpour. I left Brenda under an awning and rushed back to the apartment to grab the golf umbrella that our host made available. With our upper bodies protected from the deluge, we soldiered on toward the bakery, only to have the GPS get lost again and have us overshoot it by a couple of blocks. With our feet and pants getting wetter by the minute, we elected to forego the pastries and go straight for the pizza.

    You know there are just some days like that where nothing seems to go right. all the rest of the way to Tana I had visions of it being closed or packed to the rafters or out of GF pizza dough. Surely our miserable day was destined to continue.

    But no. We were warmly greeted and given a table right away. Brenda ordered her GF pizza and I ordered mine with regular dough along with a glass of the house red. While we were waiting for the pies to bake, take out pizzas were flying out the door. There was one employee assigned just to make up pizza boxes for the take-out orders. No sooner did he complete a pile than it was taken into the kitchen to be filled with orders.

    Our pizzas arrived in very little time and they were every bit as delicious as the reviews made them out to be. Brenda said it was the best gluten free crust she had ever eaten. And the pizzas were cheaper than Bari Napoli AND the service was better AND the place was more comfortable.

    By the time we left, the rain had subsided and, if it hadn't been nighttime, I'm sure there would have been a rainbow in the sky to put even bigger smiles on our faces.

    All's well that ends well.
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  • Day 5

    Ciao, Bari

    April 5, 2019 in Italy ⋅ 🌬 15 °C

    Our short stay in Bari has drawn to a close as our bags are packed and ready for our next stop, Lecce.

    With one glaring exception, the food has been outstanding here, offering countless vegan and vegetarian options as well as some wonderful gluten free choices for Brenda.

    People have been very helpful and made efforts to communicate with us in English or shown immense patience with deciphering our limited Italian.

    The weather has felt cooler than we expected, but was nice for my early morning run.

    The narrow, winding streets of the old town are great fun to explore and they hold hidden treasures around every bend. It would have been nice to have had a little more time (and better weather) to see more of it, but we can leave that for a other day.

    Our time here has been most enjoyable and we would definitely like to make a longer stay sometime in the future, if only to come back for more of Tana's pizza!
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  • Day 5

    Lovely Lecce

    April 5, 2019 in Italy ⋅ 🌬 14 °C

    The train ride from Bari to Lecce was uneventful and, in the grand Italian tradition, arrived thirty minutes late. Sadly, it seems the nasty weather we were experiencing over the last couple of days followed us southward.

    Once we left the train station, we found our way through the old town's winding streets to our B&B, despite the challenges Google Maps was experiencing. The narrow laneways lined with three and four storey buildings wreak havoc on a GPS signal. We often had to stop in an open piazza to let the app relocate our position.

    After checking in, we went out to have lunch at a little vegan cafe called Zenzero, where we ate some yummy dishes that offered a welcome change to all the dough and pasta we've been eating. Because of the rain, we didn't spend a lot of time wandering the streets, although our first impressions of the town make us anxious to see it in the sunlight.

    They call Lecce the pearl of Puglia and it's a well-deserved moniker. Every corner turned offers a view of another spectacular structure, be it a church, a palace, a castle or a piazza. The city abounds in history and, take away the electrical installations, one can see what it looked like here five or six hundred years ago.

    After our brief tour, we returned to our B&B to dry off, do a little internet research and choose a spot for dinner. Our first choice, Il Volo, didn't offer pizza, so we again braved the elements and walked through the wind and rain to La Romana where we had very good pizza and Moretti beer. This is a shop that caters mostly to take out orders and has only three small tables for those eating in. But boy, there sure was a lot of pizza going out that door. One fellow left with a stack of seven pizza boxes!

    After dinner, the rain had stopped, and we slowly walked back to our lodgings to wind down.

    Another day, another pizza!
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  • Day 6

    DIY Nightmare or DIY Dream?

    April 6, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    In 1971, Luciano Faggiano purchased a building in the old city with the intent of opening his own trattoria. Shortly into the project he discovered water continuously appearing on the floor of the building.

    In order to fix what he assumed was a broken pipe, he enlisted the help of his son and began breaking through the stone floor. Much to his surprise, beneath the floor, he found an ancient sub floor and evidence of additional windows into the region’s long history.

    After seven years of digging and the involvement of archeological experts, Luciano uncovered an underground world dating back before the birth of Jesus, with many rooms, cisterns, escape tunnels, Messapian tombs, a Roman granary, a Franciscan chapel and even etchings from the Knights Templar. More than five thousand artifacts were uncovered during the excavation, the best of which are now housed in a nearby museum.

    Rather than open a trattoria, Luciano converted the building to a truly fascinating museum that allows visitors to descend into the ancient structures and see first hand where these treasures were found. Our visit there was probably the highlight of our stay in Lecce (with the possible exception of the gelato).

    So fascinating is the story that no less that the New York Times published an article on the museum:…

    Since I am limited to posting only six photos on this blog, here is a link to the museum’s photo gallery:

    Luciano still hasn’t opened his trattoria, but plans are in the works.

    Oh yeah, in 2008, he finally located and repaired the broken pipe.
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  • Day 6

    Good Day, Sunshine

    April 6, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    We awoke Thursday morning to beautiful blue sunny skies, although there was still a bit of a chill in the air. After a very Italian breakfast of espresso and a nutella and pastry cream filled pastry, we headed out to explore Lecce's old city, armed with our smart phones that we loaded with tourist apps and wikipedia.

    As soon as you step outside in this city, you sense the long and diverse history of the place. Everywhere you look, there are churches, basilicas and cathedrals, some of whose construction dates back to the 16th century. Some of these buildings contain detail and artwork that is rivaled only by St-Peter's in Rome and Notre Dame in Paris. Frankly, while we were en route here, I commented to Brenda that I'm becoming a little tired of looking at all these churches, you've seen one, you've seen 'em all. It's almost like the big guy upstairs was listening in and decided to show me up. The churches here are nothing short of awe-inspiring. The kind of places where your jaw drops open as you stand beneath the central dome. Where you gape up in wonder at all the thousands of hours of work, the buckets of blood, sweat and tears, and the utter devotion that went into creating these masterpieces. I haven't posted many photos of the inside of these places of worship simply because pictures do not do them justice. However, I can't help but share one of the delightful cherubim I spotted in our visits.

    In the early 1900''s, excavation was being undertaken in a couple of areas in the city. While construction work was being started for the new Bank of Italy building, the remains of a Roman amphitheater saw the light of day and, under the guidance of archaeologist, Cosimo De Giorgi, excavation lasted until 1940.

    At present only a third of the entire structure has been uncovered. The church of Santa Maria della Grazia and the Piazza Sant'Oronzo were already in place when this discovery was made, so there was no way to uncover the rest without destroying two landmarks.

    This structure is believed to have seated 25,000 people. When looking down into it, particularly at the iron gates through which gladiators and beasts once passed, one can only wonder how much blood was spilled, how much pain and suffering was inflicted, all in the name of entertainment.

    In 1929, work in the gardens near the Roman Palace was halted when workers' shovels began hitting stone blocks. Under the supervision of architects, the digging continued until a 2000-year-old Roman theater was uncovered. It is estimated that the theater had a seating capacity of 5000. This structure would have hosted plays and musical events.

    We finished off our day eating yet another pizza at LoRe Pizzeria chased down with a Perroni beer. After all, we worked up quite an appetite absorbing all that history and culture.
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  • Day 8


    April 8, 2019 in Italy ⋅ 🌧 13 °C

    Last night we had a wonderful meal at Volo to finish up our stay in Lecce. I had the local specialty, orecchiette rape, and eggplant Parmigiano while Brenda had a very substantial bowl of soup and another local specialty, Fave e Cicorie, which is essentially hummus made with fava beans.

    This morning we had set our alarms for 7:00 but we were awakened by brightness in our room. Fearing we had slept through our alarm, I quickly looked at my watch to discover it was only 5:00. WTF?!?

    Once the cobwebs had cleared from my sleep deprived brain, I realized the brightness was emanating from the emergency light located above the entrance door. There was no power in the building, which triggered the emergency lighting to kick in. Good idea in theory, not so good in practice if you're hoping for a good night's sleep.

    Fortunately, there was enough hot water left in the tank to allow us to have a hot shower before breakfast. This was the first day we ate at the B&B and they went all out looking after Brenda's gluten intolerance. In fact, I think there were more GF options available than there was standard fare.

    After checking out, we walked to the train station and caught the 11:13 to Brindisi that, amazingly, left and arrived exactly on schedule. We arrived at our lodging only to find we were too early and had to wait in a little cafe until our host arrived at 1:00.

    After checking in we wandered through the old town, which, after Lecce, was a little anticlimactic. The city has little charm and, very strangely, doesn’t have the historical feel that seemingly drips from many other cities of the same age and region. I say strangely because it has a long and storied past.

    The city was originally a Greek settlement long before the Roman expansion. It then became a major center of Roman naval power and maritime trade. After the Roman Empire collapsed, all hell broke loose with the city changing hands incessantly. It was conquered by Ostrogoths and reconquered by the Byzantine empire in the 6th century. In 674 it was destroyed by the Lombards. In the 9th century, a Saracen settlement existed, which had been stormed in 836 by pirates.

    In 1070, it was conquered by the Normans. After the baronial revolt of 1132, the city recovered some of the splendor of the past. The period of the Crusades saw the construction of the new cathedral and a castle. In 1227, Frederic ii of Germany erected a castle, with huge round towers, to guard the inner harbour. Like other Pugliese ports, Brindisi for a short while was ruled by Venice but was soon reconquered by Spain.
    A plague devastated Brindisi in 1348; it was plundered in 1352 and 1383; and an earthquake struck the city in 1456.

    Brindisi fell to Austrian rule in 1707–1734, and later to the Bourbons.
    You’d think that a city with a past like that would be like one big museum, but other than Frederic II’s castle, the Roman columns (actually only one column remains as the other was misappropriated by Lecce), and some old churches, there ain’t that much to see. Fortunately, we’re only here overnight as tomorrow we drive across the heel to Gallipoli, which by all accounts, has much more to offer.

    Of course, our sightseeing probably would have been more interesting on any other day of the week. In Italy most shops close at noon on Sunday and don’t re-open until Tuesday morning, so for the most part, Brindisi was a ghost town today.

    We nonetheless managed to find a little café that was open and where we ate a decent lunch. Tonight, however, we’ll be having a very simple meal of soup cooked on the stove in the kitchen of our B&B. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m getting a little pizza-ed out!
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  • Day 9


    April 9, 2019 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    Our primary reason for our one day stay in Brindisi was to pickup a rental car at the airport there. Strangely, although Lecce is a much bigger city, there are no car rental agencies there, so we had no choice but to detour north before heading to our next stop, Gallipoli.

    After we checked into our Brindisi hotel, I put my hand in my jacket pocket and realized I had not handed in the keys at our Lecce hotel. fortunately, Lecce was on our way to Gallipoli, so we called the hotel and told them we'd stop in on our way through and return the keys. D'oh!

    Being used to travel in Canada, I sometimes forget that not every map is on the same scale as the ones back home. Looking at the map of Puglia, I figured we were in for a good two to three-hour ride to Gallipoli. Much to my surprise and joy, the entire ride from Brindisi to Gallipoli, including our stop in Lecce, took only an hour and a half.

    We booked an Airbnb apartment right on the coast, a fifteen-minute walk to the old town, for four nights. Once we got inside, looked the place over and saw the location, we immediately booked two additional nights. Our host had left us a huge plate of fresh fruit on the kitchen table and, just off the kitchen is a very large deck that looks out onto the water and the old town in the distance.

    Once we unpacked our bags and ate a few pieces of fruit we walked the fifteen minutes into the old town and did some exploring. The city is charming, ancient and quite beautiful. Its location is central enough for us to make various day trips to further our exploration of the Puglia region.

    The only odd, and somewhat unnerving, thing we saw in the city were two effigies, seemingly of nuns, hanging above the street. I'm going to have to do some research to see what that's all about.

    Hopefully the townsfolk will be a little more tolerant of a big bald Canadian.
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  • Day 9

    Mystery Solved

    April 9, 2019 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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