Tag Archives: Alberobello

Italy and Puglia, Driving and Rain

Trulli House Alberobello Puglia Italy

Simply because we had a hire car we felt obliged to use it even though my personal preference would have been to leave it in its safe little parking spot close to the Trulli house where we were staying and just waste the day away in the tourist town of Alberobello.

I wasn’t really sure where to go, I didn’t want to drive too far and yesterday the places that we had visited had been rather disappointing so without a real plan we headed out of the town and made for the naval city of Taranto on the other side of the heel of Italy’s boot but with an idea that we might stop off in Mottola and Massafra, two towns that both featured in the guide books.

First we drove to the nearby town of Noci which was reasonably straight forward and we rather enjoyed driving through the countryside and along narrow roads with verges decorated with pretty wild flowers and next to fields of grazing cows and the inevitable olive groves twisting away as though in a Chubby Checker dancing competition but this all changed for the worst when we arrived in Mottola and the minor road came to a sudden end and we were obliged to join a main road.  I say main road only because it was marked in red on the map but the standard of maintenance was no better and now we had to share the tarmac and the potholes with hundreds of demented Italian drivers.

Perched on a hillside Mottola didn’t look anything special so we rather unfairly wrote it off as not worth stopping for and we carried on to Massafra where the driving deteriorated even further where I swear the drivers were all competing in some sort of scrap-heap challenge.  Caught up in the flow of speeding traffic I was terrified by the narrow lanes, the closeness of the steel barriers at the side of the road and just how close people were prepared to drive to the rear end of our car.

At every junction I had an expectation of a collision – at a roundabout I showed some hesitation and a twenty tonne truck just cut straight across me, missing me by inches!  I realised by now that stop signs are completely meaningless as, on approaching one, an Italian driver just ignores it and simply pushes the front of his car into the flow of traffic while he continues to chat away on his mobile phone.

My nerves were in shreds and it was in the middle of all this mayhem that Kim confessed that she was feeling rather stressed as well so we both agreed that probably the best idea was to abandon any ideas of visiting Massafra and the planned trip to Taranto (there was still fifty kilometres to go), turn around and go directly back to Alberobello.  Luckily this meant that we could leave the main highway and get back onto the country roads which although tricky and at times dangerous were thankfully not completely murderous.

Incidentally if anyone has been to Mottola or Massafra can you let me know if I missed anything by not stopping off?

I was so pleased to get back  to Alberobello and park the car in a safe place where it was now going to stay until tomorrow morning when happily we would be returning it to the Sixt car rental office in Ostuni.  You have probably guessed this already but I didn’t enjoy driving in Italy and it will be a very long time before I do it again!

While we had been driving and concentrating on the roads and staying alive we hadn’t taken much notice of the weather but now we could see that it had become horribly grey and soon after arriving back it started to rain, gently at first but then turned into a real down pour that kept us confined to the room for a couple of hours.  This was reminiscent of childhood holidays in Wales where it always rains and where as bored children we spent hours staring out of the door looking for weather improvement and watching raindrops racing down the windows of the holiday chalet.

Thankfully we had a nice room in Alberobello in Italy and not a damp holiday chalet in Wales.

Eventually the rain finally cleared away, the sky brightened, the sun came up and the streets quickly dried so released from confinement we had one last walk around the Trulli houses but to be honest there are only so many times that you can walk around the same streets and we had had enough of Alberobello by the end of the fourth day and we looked forward to moving on again tomorrow.

Alberobello Sunset Puglia Italy

 

Italy and Puglia, Monopoli and Martina Franca

Monopoli Puglia Italy

Car parking and driving discipline in Italy…

I love the way Italians park… it looks like a parking competition for blind people.  Cars are pointed in every direction, half on the pavements and half off, facing in, facing sideways… fitted into spaces so tight that the only way out would be through the sun roof.  (Italians) park their cars the way I would park if I had just spilled a beaker of hydrochloric acid on my lap.” –  Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’

Reasonably satisfied with my own fussy and overly fastidious parking arrangements we left the car to the mercy of Italian drivers and walked towards the seafront and the port of Monopoli.  To be honest I remained way too stressed to really appreciate the coastal town and as we walked to the Centro Storico I found the place to be faded, shabby and untidy but, the way I see it, no one asked me to visit and if that is the way people like it with dirty streets and beggars on every corner then that is just fine with me.

Maybe it was just my frame of mind this morning because after the drive I wasn’t really in the mood for this.

Basilica of St Nicholas Bari Puglia Italy

Monopoli, Italy…

We found our way to the sea and a small crescent shaped beach of caramel sand where sunbathers were stretched out and working on their tans but we weren’t inclined to go down to the water and instead carried on into the old town and slipped into the labyrinth of streets leading to the cathedral.

So far Monopoli hadn’t really grabbed my attention and based on Kim’s view (often proved correct) that cathedral’s are generally disappointing I wasn’t especially optimistic about a visit there either  but on this occasion Kim was completely wrong and there was a wonderful interior that stood out from all of the other churches  that we had already visited on these travels.

From the Cathedral we negotiated the narrow lanes of the old town down towards the harbour and the medieval castle but there was disappointment when we arrived there (well, for me anyway) because it was closed on account of hosting some sort of conference so we had to be content with looking around the outside and then walking the walls until we found a water side bar and sat down for a while at a table next to two rather odd middle-aged English asylum dodgers who were sharing tales about their lives and their personal trials and phobias but each was so interested in their own stories that they did this without really listening to one another.  It was entertaining but eventually they paid up and left so shortly after that we did too.

On the way back to the beach and with clouds moving in quickly from the east we both agreed that we didn’t especially care for Monopoli and I was glad about that because it meant that we could return to the car and rescue it from its precarious parking spot.  It was perfectly fine of course but I was glad to get back to it and move on and away.

Sardinia window

Martina Franca, Italy…

We thought that we might now leave the coast and take the main road towards the town of Fasano and then on to another of the white cities, Martina Franca where we arrived about forty minutes later and where the traffic was at its murderous worst and by the time we had found an empty car park  I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and Kim wasn’t too far behind me.

The car park was the size of a football pitch and to be safe I parked the car right in the middle where there was no other vehicles and then walked towards the centre.  I wasn’t absolutely confident about this because what normally happens to me in these situations is that I find a good parking spot like this and then a few seconds later someone in a 4×4 or a twenty year old Transit van comes along and parks right up next to me.

I really wasn’t in any sort of sightseeing mood today and was immediately not overwhelmed by Martina Franca, not helped by the poor weather and the fact that we had arrived at about one o’clock and anywhere remotely interesting was closing down for the afternoon siesta and here in Martina Franca there was an absolute rigid adherence to the tradition of an afternoon sojourn.

Doors of Sigüenza 5

Cloudy and overcast we stopped for a coffee in a single bar that remained open and then we were both glad to leave the place and after a moment or two of panic when we couldn’t remember where the car was parked we were both happy to return to Alberobello where, by an absolute stroke of luck, we found a perfect parking spot very close to the Trulli.

Even now however the problems weren’t over because the builders hadn’t stopped for the afternoon siesta like everyone else and were still hammering away in the house next door and then it started to rain – heavily – and we were confined to the room with the battering noise and there weren’t even any tourists popping by looking for guided tours this afternoon.

Problems with Builders next door…

Early in the evening, like Moses parting the Red Sea, the clouds suddenly separated and disappeared, the rain stopped and within a few moments there were clear blue skies once again so we rushed outside and took a short walk and then returned to the accommodation where thankfully at last the builders were clearing up and going home.  I asked them if they were coming back tomorrow and they said no and I was so glad about that I offered them both a bottle of beer!

It had been an odd sort of day with equal measures of problems and disappointments and as we prepared to go out for evening meal I suddenly began to worry that our favourite trattoria might be closed for the night and that would just about cap it all.

But I needn’t have worried – it was open for business and when we arrived they seemed genuinely pleased to see us as we surely almost qualified for a frequent user loyalty discount card by now and we enjoyed a third excellent evening meal at a pavement table surrounded by pots of effervescent geranium blooms.

The end of the day turned out to be the best part of the day!

Alberobello Sunset Puglia Italy

Italy and Puglia, Driving and the Italian Highway Code

Street Parking in Italy

“To an American, Italian traffic is at first just down-right nonsense. It
seems hysterical, it follows no rule. You cannot figure what the driver
ahead or behind or beside you is going to do next and he usually does it!”  –  John Steinbeck

After our evening meal and a walk through Alberobello in the moonlight we went to bed in the serene and quiet surroundings of our charming little Trulli but, we were abruptly woken at seven o’clock by the pounding of a pneumatic drill because the owner of the next door Trulli had chosen this particular day to begin renovations and the street outside was transformed into a building site and as I lay listening to the racket I had a horrible feeling that today was not going to be a good one.

And very quickly I was proved correct.  Puglia is sometimes called the ‘California of Italy’ because, being a predominantly agricultural region, it supplies plentiful fruit and vegetables to the whole of the country and as though to demonstrate this, today was market day in Alberobello.  And so, because Kim likes walking through markets and searching through hundreds of stalls all selling rubbish, we left the accommodation early and spent an hour among the market stalls while I tried to feign some sort of interest in scratting through market tat although I do have to confess that I did like the food sections with the cheese and hams and especially the vegetables.

There was a problem at breakfast because there was no black tea and it was too far to walk back to our Trulli to get emergency supplies and then once back at the room the construction noise had risen to breaking the sound barrier levels so it was clearly impossible to contemplate staying there for the day so now I had to face the biggest problem of the day so far – more driving in Italy and we made the decision to drive to the coastal town of Monopoli.

Trulli Houses Alberobello Puglia Italy

I would have been quite happy with leaving the car in its safe little parking spot for a second day but as I started the engine and nudged my way into the traffic I immediately began to regret hiring a car because I was really not enjoying the temporary responsibility for the brand new Renault Clio.

There are three main problems when driving in Italy and the first is the condition of the roads.  Unlike Spain, where the Government has spent millions of Euros investing in and improving the transport infrastructure and built many new roads and where driving is a pleasure, in Italy they clearly haven’t spent any of their EU money on highway improvements, the annual maintenance budget is zero and the condition of the roads is appalling which makes using them rather like like playing Russian roulette. Pot holed and poorly maintained and with white lines that were first painted when Mussolini was in charge they are down-right dangerous but on account of this there is a general speed limit of fifty kilometres an hour but Italians generally ignore that and this is the second problem – the drivers because one of the biggest mistakes in the development of the modern world was to introduce the Italains to the motor car!

In Italy, traffic regulations currently in force were approved by the Legislative Decree number 285 of 30th April 1992 and are contained in the Italian Highway Code called the Codice della Strada, but anyone visiting a busy Italian city or town would be certain to dispute that there is such a thing as a highway code in Italy.

Italian drivers obey no rules and have no self-control, manners or tolerance, junction priorities mean nothing because show a moment of hesitation and this is interpreted as a sign of weakness and an opportunity to pull-out, cut you up or just simply push in.  They are ignorant and impatient and show a split-second of indecision and they go for their car horn like a trigger-happy wild-west gunslinger.  At a junction or a roundabout the Italian driver narrows his eyes and flashes a ‘do you feel lucky punk’ sort of glare while his right foot hovers menacingly over the accelerator pedal.

The only exception to this is nun’s.  Italian drivers will not hit a nun – you see groups of them breezing across eight lane highways with amazing impunity, so if you wish to cross some busy place your only hope is to wait for some nuns to come along and stick to them like a sweaty T-shirt” – Bill Bryson

Driving in Italy is like one massive demolition derby!  Red lights are ignored, speed limits are purely advisory and it appears to be compulsory to drive while speaking on a mobile phone.  After half an hour or so my nerves were in complete tatters and my stomach as knotted as one of the trunks of the thousand year olive trees at the side of the road especially when we arrived in Monopoli and encountered the third problem when driving in Italy – finding somewhere safe to park the car.

There is no parking discipline because an Italian will gladly block you in, double-park, use the bumpers to nudge other cars out of the way, scratch and graze other parked vehicles on the way in or the way out and generally disregard all of the normal rules of parking a car.

It took me some while to find somewhere that I was reasonably happy with and found a spot away from the busy part of the town on the end of a street where hopefully no one could park behind me because I didn’t want to get back to the car later and find it sandwiched like this…

Car Parking In Italy

Italy and Puglia, Yours Trulli in Alberobello

Trulli Houses Alberobello Puglia Italy

On account of the thousand or so Trulli houses and because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site Alberobello is vulnerable to severe tourist overload so Kim’s plan was to get up early to beat the crowds and go and get some photographs of empty streets

We debated this before lights out and I suggested seven o’clock and Kim said six which I said was too early, so we agreed on seven and Kim set the alarm for six!

Which was too early because it was still dark so we turned off the alarm, went back to sleep and woke at about eight; a perfect compromise. Once awake and dressed we left the Trulli and walked into the town up and down the lateral streets and around and around the looping alleys and lanes.  It was rather cloudy but we still managed to get the pictures that we wanted and then went to the Truli Holidays reception and breakfast room for the first meal of the day which turned out to be exceptionally good and only the same price as the Nonna Isa which only served to open up recent wounds.

Kim now decided that she needed some face cream for dry skin so, because I didn’t want to drive, I volunteered to walk to the supermarket that we had driven past on the way in the day before and she went back to the room.  The problem with going on foot back to somewhere that you passed in the car is that distances can be very deceptive and although it had been only a couple of minutes the first time it now took me a good half-an-hour to get to it and then it didn’t sell face cream anyway (well, not the sort Kim wanted) so I bought some bottles of Peroni instead then took the long walk back just as the temperature began to rise.

Kim was sitting outside the Trulli so I opened a Peroni and joined her.  Although our accommodation had been restored and modernised to make it suitable for holiday accommodation it was a genuine traditional house with whitewashed walls and a stone roof and there was a framed photograph inside that was eighty years old to prove it.  Trulli houses are unique to this area of Italy, they are rather like an igloo with a conical roof and a single windowless room inside with shallow alcoves for bedrooms and storage.

Where they first came from is a matter of some debate. One theory is that since Trulli can be built up and pulled down in a hurry, in past centuries their owners would demolish their own buildings whenever the tax man came to town to assess property duty, and then rebuild them when he had moved on.

When one house became too small, the owner would just stick up another one next door, and knock the walls through – repeating the process whenever more space was needed. It makes the larger clusters look like a scale model of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow that has been built by Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble.

Trulli House, Puglia Italy, Alberobello

At about midday we did another lap of the town, had a drink in the main square, found a mini market and bought some  Parma ham, cheese and fresh bread for lunch and then Kim found a pharmacy and bought the face cream she couldn’t manage without which cost a massive €25!  Now, for €25 I would expect to get a bucket full but it was only the tiniest little tube so when we got back to the Trulli I went for a lie down and a bottle of beer, which for comparison purposes cost only €1.30 for half a litre.

The cost of the hire car was also a waste of money today because, to be honest, I couldn’t really face driving it again so we left it parked up all day while we sat about the Trulli as tourists continually wandered past taking snapshots and after an hour or so I was beginning to understand what it must be like to live in Bourton-On-The Water or in Williamsburg.

So many people came by and admired the exterior of our Trulli house that eventually Kim began to offer guided tours and during the afternoon we showed around some Australians from Melbourne, a German couple from Frankfurt and a Japanese family from Tokyo and I think we were missing a revenue earning opportunity there that might have offset the cost of the face cream because just around the corner a local couple were charging people for a peek inside a genuine Trulli house.

Eventually we tired of the tourist attention and walked to the new town for a change and visited the large cathedral and the surrounding streets where traditional Trullis were randomly tucked in between modern concrete apartments and shops and then on the way back I visited the Trulli museum but Kim turned down this fascinating opportunity and went back to sit outside in an exhibitionist sort of way whilst passing tourists took her photograph.  After the museum visit I joined her and we spent the rest of the afternoon and the early evening in the sun splashed street and then watched as it went down over our shoulders and left just a fleeting sunset as it sank like a stone in the west.

There was no debate to be had about tonight’s choice of place to eat – we had enjoyed last night that we both knew that we would be returning there and as it turned dark we walked away in the direction of the restaurant that had already become our preferred choice.  This is silly I know but once we find somewhere we like we get in the habit of going back even though there are others to choose from.  Once in Barcelona we went to the same place four nights running and I think we had paella every night as well (different varieties of course).

Well, the place didn’t let us down and we had a second excellent meal.

Oriecchette pasta Bari Puglia Italy