Torre Pozzelle Beach

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Today we woke up with a bittersweet feeling. This was the last full day of our trip. But we still had a fun day at the ocean ahead of us. We hoofed it down to Annamaria’s bar for our prima colazione and to check email for a response  from Matera about my jacket.  Nothing yet.

Anna Maria (behind the bar) and her sister at Tito Schipa Bar

Annamaria suggested we stop by at lunchtime. They’d be making some good food. We thanked her but said we’d be at the beach by then. She suggested a couple of beaches to try. Back at the Hobbit House, we gathered a few things for the day and struck out.

Getting to the sea was a short, uncomplicated drive, and without any problem we found the beach we had picked from the map: Torre Pozzelle. This part of the Adriatic coastline is wild and unspoiled, a meandering line of small coves and inlets. Although stretches of the shores have patches of soft sand, they are mostly dotted with rough rocks and scraggly scrub brush.

There weren’t very many people on the beach, but it was still fairly early. Staking out a spot on some smooth rocks a bit away from the sandy beach, we spread out our towels and lazed in the sun. I had brought along a book I found on the shelf in our room: Chocolat. I loved the movie, and now the book was proving just as good.

Look at the color of that water! And the guy is pretty cute, too!

Gino ventured into the water, but when he got out, suggested we move to the sand since the rocks made it rather difficult to climb back up.

We had been told that there was a small bar at this beach where one could buy provisions. There was, but it was closed. Gino saw another one down a dirt lane and went to check it out while I stayed with our things. He returned with drinks and reported that we could get panini and all kinds of food there, which later we did.

After a couple of hours of swimming and reading, we decided to hike over to a crumbling stone tower down the coastline a bit. Although through reading I knew that this was Torre Pozzelle, there was no identifying sign other than Ingresso Vietato — pericolo di crollo, advising us to keep out since the tower was in danger of falling.

It is this tower that also lends its name to the beach. Now in a sorry state of neglect, this 500-year-old structure must have been imposing when it was first erected to defend the coastline against the repeated invasions that Puglia has suffered over the centuries.

We walked up close and circled it, imagining how it must have appeared in its glory days. I was heartened to learn that there is a movement afoot to save this historical monument and keep it from further deterioration. It hope it succeeds.

Wandering farther out onto one of the rocky reefs, we stooped over to watch a blow hole. Every time a wave came in, an explosion of water would gush up then recede, like a flushing toilet. We stood awhile gazing out to sea, marveling at the intense blue-green of the water glittering in the afternoon sun before returning to the car for the short jaunt back to Ostuni.

It had been a great day at the beach


Truly Trulli

After lunch at an outdoor trattoria, we meandered back and forth, up and down, just enjoying this dazzling town. Walk with us. Enjoy the visions of Alberobello.

This stone dog had his own trullo, on the roof of a big trullo!

Not even a hobbit could fit into this one

Not a day goes by in Italia without seeing at least one bride

Gino is ready to return to Ostuni and relax awhile

I was OK with that...I had finally seen Alberobello

Inside A Trullo

Aside from the main street lined with shops selling souvenirs and local crafts, the entire trulli area was mostly deserted. Walking past one house, a bicycle propped against its front, we glanced toward its open door. A man stepped out, beckoning us inside. Va bene?” I asked, still not sure he was motioning us into his home. “Sí!”

The interior was cool and spotless. A woman and a boy about eight sat on a couch. We smiled at each other. The man proudly showed us around, explaining that they used to live here, but don’t anymore. Still, they own it and come during the day to keep it open for tourists. It was a priceless glimpse into life inside a trullo.

Equipped with a fully functioning kitchen and modern bathroom, the house also had a bedroom off to the side of the living room/dining room. I was surprised at how roomy it really was.

Nonna and her grandson

Notice the curving ceiling, making it a bit tight for non-hobbit-sized people.

I took their pictures and the man asked if we could send him copies. “Certo!” I replied. He wrote out his name and address. I was almost not surprised that his name was Pasquale. (How many are we up to, now?) They invited us to sit on the couch with them awhile, so we did. The woman told me they were the boy’s grandparents, and it was obvious all three of them were proud of this unique home.

They even had us perch on the edge of their bed

The little boy was a sweetheart

An he loved his cat

Later in the day, we came upon another trullo also open for visitors. This one had a bowl set out for donations, if you chose to toss a few coins in. We did.

Inside another trullo

A cozy cubby for sleeping

Pasquale hadn’t asked for a thing, other than copies of the pictures, but we also left him a few Euro. And, yes, we sent him the pictures of his sweet family.

Rooftop Magic

Two crafts that are common in this part of Italia are whistles and paper maché. I am not particularly smitten with either of those, but it was still fun to look at all the colors and designs. What is my thing is silver jewelry. An intriguing display of earrings in a window enticed me for a closer look.

I saw that they were dangling replicas of the strange markings we had seen splashed in white across some of the conical trulli roofs. The man inside the shop handed me a paper with an explanation of each of these rooftop symbols.

The symbols, which signified ancient beliefs in magic and religion, were categorized as either primitive, Pagan or Christian. Painted boldly on the trulli roofs, these markings served as signs of luck, protection, and sometimes simply decoration. I found them quite bewitching.

Bello Alberobello

Monday, June 14, 2010

Today was Alberobello day. This town has been on my list of must-sees for a very long time, and finally we were going to see it. We scuttled over to Annamaria’s bar for our morning cappuccino and cornetto. There, I was also able to dash off an email to the hotel in Matera to ask if they had found my jacket. Then, I turned my thoughts to the trulli.

Back in the car, we headed down into the Itria Valley. I couldn’t wait to get to Alberobello, famous for its trulli. Trulli are the ultimate in architectural whimsy: rounded sugar-white houses, curiously constructed with stones and rocks gathered from nearby fields and topped with comical domed roofs. Their thick limestone walls keep the houses cool in summer and cozy in winter.

Although the roofs of new trulli are still built in the ancient technique of drywall construction, the old trulli were built completely without mortar or cement. This enabled their owners to dismantle them at a moment’s notice if word came along that the taxman was on his way. Then, after the taxman left after seeing their poverty-stricken plight, the houses would be put right back up. Or at least that’s the common story.

Trulli dot the entire Itria Valley

The Itria Valley, which stretches across parts of three Puglian provinces, is dotted with trulli. While driving through the rolling hills of this area, you can see them sprout up like white wizard huts among the olive trees and grapes. But the town of Alberobello is trulli central. Spread over two gentle hills, the town boasts 1500 of these mystical dwellings.

Welcome to Alberobello!

It wasn’t a long drive from Ostuni; we arrived mid-morning. The trulli were everywhere. We just wandered, taking pictures and surveying the otherworldly scene from the town’s high point and then losing ourselves among the blindingly white streets.

Gino doesn't think he's in Greece anymore.

I know exactly where I am.

Gino, positively enchanted

Two men were hard at work on the front of one house, splashing white lime over the walls with rollers on long poles. We stopped to watch awhile, fascinated, before continuing down the white, curving lane.

The Restaurant of Lost Time

Although you can easily get lost amongst the twists and turns of the historic center, this area is not so large that you can’t eventually find what you’re looking for. And we found what we had been seeking: Osteria del Tempo Perso (Restaurant of Lost Time). It was an odd name name for an eating establishment, but when we stepped inside we understood why.

The entrance to Osteria del Tempo Perso

The exterior of the restaurant reminded me of the Minerva formations at Yellowstone Park in Wyoming: rounded terraces of marshmallowy travertine. The entrance to the Osteria seemed to have been scooped up from Minerva and plopped here.

Restaurant of Lost Time

Inside, the restaurant is separated into two main rooms: the grotto and the museum room. You can dine in the museum room while admiring walls now adorned with tools and items once used in daily Ostuni life. Or you can dine in the grotto, a cozy enclosure with curved ceilings, stony arches and alcoves.

Truly a grotto, this cave once served as a huge bakery dating back to 1500. The honey-colored walls are still rough-hewn, but the atmosphere is anything but rustic. Large terra cotta urns sit inside niches carved into the walls. Stone shelves are lined with rows of Pugliese wine. Soft lighting casts a golden glow over the room, creating an elegant, intimate atmosphere. You want to come in, sit down, and never leave.

From the menu, we chose dishes typical to this region, wanting to taste Puglia as well as see it. I couldn’t help but order a side dish of that fabulous fave e cicorie that I had enjoyed in Matera. We stuffed ourselves, all the way from antipasto to dessert. (I learned later that this restaurant is recommended by the Slow Food Association, and they are not wrong.)

During the meal, a table of boisterous Italians were seated nearby, obviously in vacanza like us. Their merry-making was infectious, and we lifted our glasses to each other more than once.

Well sated (more like stuffed), we lumbered back to the piazza. By now we could hear loud music and the swell of applause emanating from that direction. Crowds of people blocked our view until we weaseled our way closer. On the portable stage, a local talent show of sorts was in full swing.

Enthralled, we watched as modern dancers, two ballerinas, a hip-hop posse, a group of young fencers, and even a lone body-builder entertained us and the rest of Ostuni late into the evening. We stayed until the last wisps from the fog machine drifted away. Then we did, too.

Piazza della Liberta’

The heart of Ostuni is Piazza della Libertá. Sitting at the cusp of the old historic center and the “new” town, this square serves as the community living room where Ostuni’s inhabitants gather for events or just hang out, day or night.

A towering obelisk overlooks the piazza. Created by sculptor Giuseppe Creco in 1771, this column looks more like an elongated Baroque pyramid, sporting winged putti and topped by St. Oronzo, the patron saint of Ostuni. From his bird’s eye view, he can see everything in the piazza. And here is where all the action happens.

From the piazza, our apartment was but a five-minute walk. Back in our little hobbit house, we uncorked the chilled Prosecco and sat on the rooftop balcony, enjoying a glass or two of this Italian version of Champagne. The sun was sinking and we were getting hungry. We had seen plenty of restaurants to choose from during our walkabout.

The air was still warm. I wouldn’t need a coat tonight, I thought to myself. But where was my coat? Then I remembered. It was still tucked deep into the far corner of that armadio in our previous hotel…back in Matera. I was crestfallen. It was my favorite jacket! Oh well, too late now. I would email the hotel later and see if they could send it back to California for me.

From our rooftop terrace,
a view of the buildings that border the piazza

Ready for dinner, we wandered back towards the historic center, passing through Piazza della Libertá on our way. One end of the piazza was fenced off. Curious, we veered over to have a look. A few feet below, the crumbling remains of an ancient stone structure was slowly coming to light. What other treasures lie below, we wondered, just waiting for archaeologists to dig their way down and reveal them?

An archaeological excavation at the edge of Piazza della Liberta'

You just never know what lies beneath your feet!

Piazza della Liberta’ is dominated by the facade of the municipio
which is decorated with rows of statues such as this one

You can have a crepe while you people-watch

Piazza della Liberta' -- Ostuni's open-air living room

The action in the piazza was already picking up. A large stage was set up at one end with huge speakers off to the sides and lights pointing downward from tall poles. Something was definitely happening here tonight. And we had no intention of turning in early.