I blame Shakespeare – or what I did on holiday in Puglia

Several people have asked how the holiday went; I am sorry for not sending more postcards, but I’ll come to why later. I think four short blogs should cover it :

  • Why Puglia?
  • Why train and how did it go with the NEXEA strike?
  • The value of an EHIC card and its relationship to Shakespeare
  • Why did you come back with a case full of paper covered in scribbles and a bunch of photographs of cats?

Why Puglia?

The predominant sound in any paved area is the scraping of shoes along the ground. My mother would have said ‘Pick your feet up when you walk’ but that takes effort, here you never flip your flop. Slow walking is a Puglian art, never hurry, especially during the passeggiata, the stroll in the early evening. Here, older people take their chairs into the road outside the house, or into the square and sit to chat. Young couples walk or sit hand in hand; groups meet where they have met for years. Some cycle, grandparents with toddlers on handlebar seats; the grownups slowly peddle, knees akimbo. All to work up an appetite for a meal that if you are eating out, will not happen before 9.00pm.

Food is important; markets are burgeoning with truck loads of melons, peppers, tomatoes and lumache snails. We mostly cooked for ourselves; breakfast on the terrace of strong coffee, sharp pecorino cheese, bread, prosciutto crudo, boiled egg and fresh peaches; lunch of focaccia, tomatoes and melon and evening meals mostly of pasta and salads. The care taken by suppliers such as the local butcher, who asks how you are going to cook your sausages and when he learns you will barbecue them, carefully slices each one lengthways part through and spreads them so they will cook evenly, means eating-in is effortless.

The siesta, when everyone scurries home or to the beach for a few hours rest. A road packed at 11.30am will be empty at 1.00pm with shutters firmly down and no sign of life returning until 4.30 or 5.00 or 5.30, well whenever seems right for the temperature, time of year and the mood. You just have to adjust to a different timescale when you migrate from the UK.

On the beach, any shape, age, colour is acceptable but preferably really brown, the kind of brown you only acquire through 7 months sunshine a year. So if you are 78, overweight and grey haired; don’t let that stop you wearing a paisley bikini and standing at the water’s edge, up to your knees, chatting. If standing is too strenuous you may prefer a short legged deckchair to sit on, at the water’s edge, chatting. Perhaps a swim; well stand-in-the water, chatting. The particular area we have become attached to is the coastal strand between Bindisi and Lecce, here there is beach after beach, with shallow waters and yellow sand. Typically there is a Torre, a ruined tower and a simple beach bar; which may also sell nets of mussels. Some beaches are even more basic or rocky and others may be packed with pay as you go deckchairs and umbrellas. The beach will fill with families and groups, or people attached to mobile phones, who will stand and talk. Out in the water you may also see the fluorescent green of snorkel tops like fireflies against the darker blue sea indicating rocks beneath, where shoals of fish swim, ready to nip bits of dead skin off your legs as you swim past. On windy days you may see wind and kite surfers, generally though you don’t find many people playing in the waves, so on windy days the beaches can be deserted.

This is mostly an area for Italians on holiday. They pack up their houses and move to the coast for the summer, many of the areas reduce to about 10% of the summer population during the winter months, even though the move may only be a few kilometres. English is not spoken much, so it is worth grappling with Italian and being brave, you will be rewarded. As I was leaving the market one day, an old boy stopped me and asked me if I would like some figs. His ancient Ape truck appeared empty but he proudly swung back a cloth revealing one last tray of succulent figs, which he wanted to sell me for five euro. I did my best to explain that as I was on holiday I couldn’t use them all but would take one euro’s worth, which I did. Then ensued a conversation about where I was from, was I married etc…. What more could I want, a man with his own business, transport and teeth; I resisted the temptation but the figs were grand!

Eating Out

We ate out at Bahia Negra in Casalabate, good for pizzas and selection of antipasti and pasta main courses. Also Gio Stefs, in Corso Umberto, Torchiarolo for home cooking, a massive array of antipasti and great main course pasta dishes. In Otranto we ate at a restaurant on the old city wall – the picture above is from the inside of the menu. Here you can be introduced to your lobster before you eat it. You are paying extra for the view of the clear aquamarine sea of the stunning harbours, and you may have a roving musician play to you but it is very atmospheric. Otranto is one of the main tourist areas, my personal tradition there is to find a spot where you can climb over the city walls, near the harbour and walk around to an old fig tree growing out from the side of the city, the figs are ripe, luscious and slightly salty, worth the trip.

Where we stayed

Casa Mare, Contrada Cipolla, a lovely villa with three large bedrooms that can be arranged with large doubles or single beds, terrace, large kitchen and living rooms. This was our first stay at Casa Mare but our third with Debbie and Bob. We arrived with high expectations for the welcome basket and facilities and we knew that the descriptions would be accurate or if anything slightly understated; all of which was true. Casa Mare is a fantastic location, 24 seconds walk from the sea, great for sea swimmers and a huge pool and hot tub for those that like their water tamed. The kitchen is well equipped and with a seemingly endless supply of tomatoes and peppers from the garden we ate out much less this year than in previous years. This is a quiet area, during the day you only hear the gentle clunk of the wind chime or the pulsating sound of sprinklers, plus voices from the beach or the couple walking their dog down the lane. In the evening there can be a bit more noise from the nightclub on the main road, but it is far enough away not to disturb you.

The reading list this holiday:

  • The Olive Harvest – Carol Drinkwater.
  • The Villa in Italy – Elizabeth Edmunson.
  • Come Thou Tortoise – Jessica Grant
  • None of this ever really happened – Peter Ferry : In my view the best read of the lot
  • The Bad Tuesdays Strange Energy – Benjamin J Meyers

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Posted on September 4, 2009, in Italy, Puglia. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This armchair traveller thanks you, think I shall have to follow you here too, easternsparkle will tell you I am harmless!

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