Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Reflections From Roma #19

Reflections From Roma #19
22 novembre 2019

Photo Update Alert:

Hello there… Rodger French here.

As our tour in Italia winds down, and we are busily scheduling all the travel we can possibly get away with, I’m pleased to report that our most recent trip, a week in Puglia in October, was molto successo. Fine weather, great food, and - grazie alle stelle - no ZOTA™. 

LecceFive and a half hours from Roma by train, Lecce is located in the Apuglia region at the “heel” of the Italian Peninsula. It is over 2000 years old and has, of course, been occupied by an assortment of conquerors. It is a beautiful city, sometimes called “The Florence of the South,” with ancient Roman ruins and beautiful Baroque churches and monuments, many of which are constructed with leccisu (“Lecce stone”), a locally quarried limestone famous for its malleability and beautiful color.

MonopoliRiding the rails, Monopoli is located on the Adriatic coast, a short distance from Leece. The centro storico (old town) is small and a safe place to lose your sense of direction as you wander about in search of the perfect seafood restaurant. Lots of churches, all closed, but none seemed to be in actual use. The waterfront was modest and picturesque, with fishing boats coming and going, fishermen mending their nets, and groups of old Italian ragazzi (guys) haggling over the day’s catch.

AlberobelloThis is one of the “must see” sites in Puglia, renowned for its trulli, hundreds of whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs. We had to engage a car to take us there/back from Monopoli, and an English-speaking tour guide as well. The whole arrangement was a bit expensive, but worth it. Of particular interest is the fact that the houses were built without mortar so that they could be easily disassembled, in order to avoid taxes levied by the Spanish viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples. From tax dodge to UNESCO World Heritage site… not bad at all.

Bari- The capital of Apuglia and a major port city, Bari was quite a change of pace. The city has changed hands numerous times in 2000 years, suffering through the usual appalling and inevitable cruelties of conquest. The centro storico is extensive, very lived-in, and a bit seedy. Primo tourist sights include the Hohenstaufen Castle built for Frederick II (and rebuilt several times), and a couple of truly impressive churches.

The most famous of these is the Basilica di San Nicola. Consecrated in 1197, it attracted both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christian pilgrims whose well-being became central to Bari’s economy. (The Basilica remains an important pilgrim destination.) Inside are interred the remains (hijacked by sailors from a church in what is now Turkey) of Saint Nicholas, alleged hometown boy and patron saint of, among other things, children, sailors, and thieves.

Bari also has a beautiful lungomare (waterfront) and we enjoyed strolling along the strand as we searched for the perfect fish sandwich joint.

Trani- This lovely port, 45 minutes from Bari by train, was a charming place to spend a day. Trani has a rather impressive history for such a small city. During the Crusades in the 11thcentury, it was the most important port on the Adriatic. Indeed, the West’s oldest surviving maritime law code was written there in 1063. Trani also played an important role in Medieval Jewish history. And, of course, there was the inevitable imposing cathedral that, of course, was closed.

FWIW, we’re going to be spending the next few weekends traipsing around Roma, looking at new things. In December, it’s off to Verona and Venizia (assuming it doesn’t get washed away) for the Christmas holiday. Then, in January one more trip to Verbania to see our famiglia italiana. After that, Stateside and retirement beckons. Stay tuned.