Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Italian Foray

Sorry for a distinct lack of transmission recently. 2 reasons: the boring one is what seems to be our annual Autumn internet blackout, lasting 3 wks so far. The 2nd & much nicer reason is we have just had 'Fall Break' & been to Italy. One of the constant wonders (to someone from an island) is the serendipity of living with 4 countries on one's border, (incidentally do you know which 4 they are?) & Italy just across the water, which is, together with Greece, in fact the most visited of the 'spitting distance' destinations, (probably because it its the most developed).

Hoards of car ferries plough back & forth across the Adriatic sea leaving at 11p.m & arriving around 8a.m the next morning. They are all manned by Philippinos who work them 7 nights a week, floating (literally) stateless & living a life between countries & having an abode in none. They cram the cars & huge numbers of lorries in so tightly that when we came to return to our car, we had to weave back & forth in a metallic maze until we found a way to squeeze through the gaps between cars, only to reach a point too tight & so we had to double back & start again.

We were going to spend a week on the 'spur' of the heel of Italy's boot. A place called the Gargano promontory – limestone cliffs, beech forests, escarpments, wild & rocky beaches one side & sheltered powdery beaches the other. And of course endless white washed medieval towns with cobbled streets & bleached churches on rocky outcrops.

The south is becoming very fashionable, but it is still cheaper, slower paced, poorer, with strong traditions & family ties & much friendlier. In fact, more like Albania than Northern Italy, we felt. And the traffic? Not mad at all, very civilised in fact, but then I am coming from Albania.

We stopped off at a co-operative in Bitonto to buy some of the area's famous olive oil, & have breakfast. Much like Albania, many o f the caf├ęs & bar s only serve drinks, so we went into a little unassuming shop with the ubiquitous fly-screen tassles. I remember these from my childhood (IN Britain. Perhaps there were more flies 30 yr sago.......?) They are on every shop & apartment in this s area of Italy. This little shop sported a huge variety, for its size, of prosciutto crudo & hard gran padano style cheeses, so the shop assistant kindly made us rolls stuffed with parma ham & some salty cheese which we devoured sitting under this window.

We had lunch in this farm restaurant which was full of 3-generation-families enjoying lunch together, & consisted of whatever they had cooked that day, on this occasion, at least 10 mini courses of olives, antipasti, tiny soup portions, pasta etc., ending with

nuts, mini desserts & espressos. It took about 3 hrs. Fortunately our daughter

fell asleep, & our son had 'The Young James Bond' for company.

Then we stayed overnight in an old monastery in Trani where we breakfasted in a citrus tree-ed

courtyard. Our 10 y-o took this pot(below), experimenting with Mr Ingo's cast off camera. We were even served olive & sun-dried tomato focaccio bread. Salty, doughy & warm. You can get used to anything for breakfast in this kind of environment.

I must admit, loving cooking as I do, I was very excited at the prospect of eating genuine Italian food (as opposed to an Albanian version of it) & going to their food markets. We saw fishermen selling their catch from the night before & in Vieste men selling mushrooms in baskets.

Even the supermarkets sold huge brown multi floreted dark brown mushrooms which had more in comm

on it seemed, with alien life forms than those anaemic white things you get in blue plastic cellophane-wrapped tubs in the UK.

We spent our days on the beach surfing (the children in wetsuits), me doing life guard duty (spent too long in warm climes to cope with cold water anymore) & MrIngo surfing with no wetsuit, we also mountain biked in the national park & played beach cricket: as well , of course, as sampling the local red wine, cappuccinos & gelati & roaming round the little medieval towns' old quarters. On one occasion we stumbled upon a carabinieri Fiat Cinquacento in one of these impossibly narrow, hilly cobbled streets that locals drive around with such aplomb & alarming speed. The 2 policemen were escorting a young man, in hand cuffs from his home, pursued by his 'mama' clutching her cheeks & wailing dramatically. And we hadn't even stumbled upon a film set.

The only down side was our car breaking down but even that meant we got a new starter motor & a check up in a reputable garage with a mechanic who knew what he was doing & didn't rip us off. And the owner of our self catering apartment even offered us his car to use that evening should we have wished to go out somewhere.

Next time we'd like to go down to the heel & also in Basilicata, visit Matera, with its ancient cave dwellings inhabited since the Palaeolithic Age & the Mediterraneean's most extensive troglodyte complex, now , of course turned into hotels & houses, but still awe inspiring. A UNSESCO world Heritage Site. Mel Gibson's Passion Of the Christ was filmed here. This is definitely one of the perks of living abroad, the accessibility of travel options.

A welcome break, I've finally kicked off my chest infection & it's still warm back in Albania. And I have a large stash of imported olive oil, red wine & other food goodies to see me through the winter.


London City Mum said...

How gorgeous! Wonderful photos and so glad you had a lovely time.


nappy valley girl said...

Ah I love Italy. I can almost taste those parma ham and olives and smell that Mediterranean air. Bliss! Glad you had a good break.

Iota said...

Well, I was hopeless on the 'guessing the 4 countries' challenge, but that was because I was thrown off the track. I didn't read to the end of the sentence, about Italy being ACROSS THE WATER, so I was trying to make Italy one of the four, which had me putting Albania way too far north.

My son last year in 3rd grade had to learn all the European countries and their capitals, and how to place them on a map. He could probably have done it (though I doubt if that's the kind of knowledge that lasts in the memory).

Anonymous said...

How blissful!

PantsWithNames said...

How gorgeous! What a treat for you too, life in the Balkans is lovely but always exciting to get over the Adriatic!

BTW some friends of us from Tuzla have headed out to Tirana (she's Albanian), if you come across an American couple called Tom and Orla do say hello from us!

Iota said...

So, Pants, the conversation would go

"Oh, you're Tom and Orla. Pants with Names, who used to be Brits in Bosnia, says hi. How do I know her? Well, we both blog. Yeah. It's kind of weird isn't it? But we have met. Honestly. Just the once... Where? Well, it was at a conference for bloggers. In London."