Celebrating with Friends

23 May


My most heartfelt thanks for all the birthday wishes I received yesterday via hugs, phone and video calls, emails, messages and social media. The best part for me was seeing the names of special people in my life –  family members, relatives, dear friends I’ve known forever and new friends I’ve made along the way.

One of my brothers-in-law suggested that whatever I do, I should share the day in photos, so here are some of the wonderful highlights.

Breakfast at Tuscher:

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Hair Cut at AF:

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Lunch with a few friends (they brought the party items!) at Cafe Braceria Chianina:

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The chef, server and the piping hot grill:

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Shared antipasto:

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Various menu items ordered –  Pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil,

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Filet topped with bacon,

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Stuffed rolled turkey breast,

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and my favorite – grilled chicken breast!

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Dessert was self-select, and I managed to only get a photo of the tiramisu.

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After a most leisurely lunch, we headed to Fernanda’s for caffè and sambuca,

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and then Len engaged in his new favorite pastime – small Tuscan cigaros!

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Later in the evening, with no one hungry, we had an impromptu toast or “brindisi” at Tuscher.

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What a perfectly wonderful way to spend my birthday, being utterly relaxed, showered with gifts and loving wishes, including an upcoming CUBS night game from Benita, and sharing it all with dear friends in Cortona. Len said he wishes my next birthday could come sooner, but I’m quite happy to wait another year!

Till then, many many thanks to all who helped make my day so very special, and most especially, this guy.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

Mille Miglia Cortona 2018

17 May

Cortona was ready…the Mille Miglia was passing through the town for the first time ever and the spectators eagerly awaited their arrival. Although the main viewing area was Piazza Repubblica, where each car was announced as it arrived,

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each car first had to pass through the adjacent Piazza Signorelli, my first vantage point. I was in place as the first car arrived in this three-day Italy event from Brescia – Roma – Brescia.

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Other cars soon followed. Given that I took nearly 200 photos today, I leaned on Len to help choose a good sampling.

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As the cars passed from one piazza to the next, the delighted crowds cheered and waved flags. I love that some drivers seemed as taken with Cortona as the spectators were with them (see driver in the red sweater!).

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And then the parade continued, sometimes in single file 

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and sometimes in clusters.

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Stopping isn’t as easy as one might think – these cars have mechanical, not power brakes.

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An exception, of course, is this Ferrari pace car which Len said was too beautiful to leave out. Ok, ok.

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I decided to head toward the area where the cars were entering Cortona. On the way, I passed this vintage car on Via Dardano.

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Entering Porta Colonia is a rather tight turn, and I was interested in seeing how the drivers were maneuvering. This driver made it look pretty easy as these cars also have no power steering. 

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However, when I passed through Porta Colonia to Piazza Mazzini, I discovered the answer. The usual parking lot had been turned into a wide turning radius, greatly minimizing not only the tight turn but also the chance for scratches and scrapes.

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And then the cars kept coming and coming and coming. Whatever the final count, the original estimate was around 600 – with such an impressive array of makes, styles, colors, and sizes. 

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Not quite sure I could spend three days/1000 miles in this!

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Kudos to Cortona for making its debut in the 2018 Mille Miglia circuit and for a job well done! 

Arrivederci, Mille Miglia, hopefully we meet again.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

Mille Miglia – 1000 Miles

16 May

For the first time ever, the famous Mille Miglia open-road endurance race is coming through Cortona. If you are a car lover, or just a fortunate spectator, this will be a spectacular treat.

The race took place in Italy 24 times from 1927 to 1957 (13 before the war, 11 after 1947). From 1953-57, the race was also a round of the World Sports Car Championship. Today’s local paper proclaimed that this is the first time the event will come through Cortona,

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and posters are all over town.

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The race was banned after two fatal crashes in 1957, killing both drivers and many spectators. From 1958 to 1961, the event resumed as a rally-like roundtrip at legal speeds with a few special stages driven at full speed, but this was discontinued also.

In 1977, the Mille Miglia was reborn as a “race” for classic vintage cars produced pre-1957. The round trip route is Brescia-Roma-Brescia, similar to that of the original race, and takes several days to complete. 

Here is the route, published by the Mille Miglia official site:

Below are some excerpts taken (and translated) from an email I received this morning detailing some of the logistics. I imagine the times are estimates based on weather conditions and traffic. What is significant, however, is the sheer number of cars, upward of 600, expected to move through the streets of Cortona tomorrow.

Cortona for the first time in its history will be a stop in this race. Everything is ready in the city to welcome this historic passage. About 600 cars will participate in the Mille Miglia 2018. 30 Super Car Mercedes, 100 Super Ferrari Cars and 450 historic cars. Among these, 70% are made up of foreign crews and many famous people. The passage will last for four hours.

In Cortona the reception will be special: the cars will start arriving in the city between 12.30 and 13. The approach path will … enter the city from Via Dardano, Piazza Signorelli, stop for stamping in Piazza della Repubblica and exit from Via Nazionale.

Among the well-known characters at the start, Coldplay bass player Guy Berryman, Oscar winner Adrien Brody, Dutch prince Van Oranje, Piero Pelù, Spanish singer Alvaro Soler and former Formula One driver Giancarlo Fisichella, actress and model Francesca Chillemi, the patron of Prada Patrizio Bertelli.

Per Mayor Francesca Basanieri, … The Mille Miglia is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most famous and celebrated car races in the world, and having brought it to Cortona, even if only as an intermediate stage, is a very important result.

If you would like more info, from the years of history to this year’s event, this site is well worth visiting: http://www.1000miglia.it/MilleMiglia/ 

As for me, tomorrow will be a photo-op dream.

Just hope the weather cooperates! Stay tuned.

Ciao,
Judy

Sights, Sounds and Tastes of Puglia

14 May

Fourth and Final post of trip south…

When you find yourself not quite a stones throw from the Adriatic, seeking wonderful seafood is a given. Our B&B host suggested we lunch in Savelleti.

The drive there took us through incredibly colorful fields

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and past some of the oldest olive trees – i.e., immense trunks – I have ever seen.

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When we arrived in Savelleti, it reminded me of sights I had seen along the shores of Trapani in Sicily.

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We decided a walk along the shore was the best way to choose our restaurant. The first place we came to was the fish monger who proudly displayed the morning’s fresh catch. We knew we were in for a treat.

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There were several places choose from, on and near the water, but we were determined to choose a restaurant right on the water. And then we found Ristorante Da Maddalena.

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Sometimes a setting just takes you in, and this was that kind of place. The windows provided panoramic vistas of the sea,

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and you could hear the crystal-clear water gently lapping over the rocks.

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It was a bit early for lunch, but Lucrezia warmly welcomed us and gave us a front row seat to splendor.

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She explained the menu, took our order, then headed to the kitchen to perform her magic. The aromas were amazing.

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And then it was time to eat.

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Even more than seeing the trulli, or the caves, I think this was why Len really wanted to head south. We video chatted with him, but we could never quite find the words to describe our meal. Guess we’ll have to head back south to Da Maddalena some other time!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

13 May
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To all the amazing Mothers I am fortunate to know,
may your day be filled with love and smiles
and may you truly have some time
to stop and smell the roses. 

A tutte le meravigliose Mamme che ho la fortuna di conoscere,
che la tua giornata sia piena di amore e sorrisi
e potresti davvero avere un po ‘di tempo
sentire l’odore delle rose.

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Happy Mother’s Day – Buona Festa della Mamma!

Ciao, Judy

 

Lecce

8 May

Lecce, our last of the three-city trip south, is a town of over 95,000 people located in Puglia. It is well-known for its Baroque architecture, a style that began in the late 16th century and is often characterized by large proportions, twisting columns, theatrical effects, bronze and gilding, and extensive use of tromp-l’oeil. 

We entered the historical center via Porta San Biagio (St. Blaise Gate).

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and were immediately met with visions of baroque architecture.

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The Chiesa di Santa Croce, (the Basilica), was begun in 1353 and eventually completed by 1695.

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The church has a richly decorated façade with animals, statues, grotesque figures and vegetables, and a large rose window.

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Side altars are adorned with an abundance of Baroque columns and theatrical effects,

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while the chapel of St. Antonio is a great example of gilding.

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Lecce is a city where old meets “new”:

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The Roman 2nd century amphitheater was able to seat more than 25,000 people. It is now half-buried because other monuments were built above it over the centuries. The theatre is currently used for different religious and arts events.

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The biggest surprise came when we found out our hotel, Torre del Parco, is one of the medieval symbols of Lecce. It was erected in 1419 by the then-18 year old prince of Lecce, Giovanni Antonio Del Balzo Orsini.

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The tower, standing more than 75 feet, is surrounded by a ditch in which bears (the heraldic symbol of the Orsini del Balzo) were reared.

The whole complex was the seat of Orsini’s tribunal and of a mint, and after Giovanni Antonio’s death, it became a residence for the Spanish viceroys. Over the intervening years, and with the addition of acreage, it functioned as many historical places, including a grand tribunal, a palazzo, and even a prison.

From 1992 – 2006, the current restoration took place and it was reopened as a small private hotel, banquet facility, spa, meeting center, and just wonderful place to relax.

We visited the tower and were surprised by what we found…

a chapel,

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modern meeting space,

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small banquet rooms,

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and an interesting antique carriage. (Thanks, Susan, for posing.)

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The bridge from the tower to the hotel facilities crosses one of the main roads in town,

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and provides several spaces for relaxing and wine sipping.

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The hotel grounds, complete with palms and flowers everywhere, were a total surprise.

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After sight-seeing all day, and since it was our last night, we decided to “eat in” and enjoy the surroundings.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the spa, but the made-to-order breakfast and freshly squeezed blood orange juice were perfect for our last morning.

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Alberobello Trulli, Matera Caves, and the loveliness of Lecce, three amazing locations in southern Italy offering thousands of years of history, beauty and intrigue – so very worth a visit.

Ciao,
Judy

 

2018 Orto (Garden) Planted!

30 Apr

In a very unanticipated move, we planted the garden yesterday. The original plan was for this Thursday, but the weather outlook was not encouraging with a week of rain and thunderstorms in the forecast.

With Fernanda’s approval (she was at work), Len, Carlo and I headed to the nursery at 3PM to purchase tomato plants.

In late April/early May, hail producing storms can play havoc with small plants in Tuscany, but we were ready and determined to get the garden in before the storms.  After all, we did the same two years ago with great success.

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With two years experience under their belts, Len and Carlo were up to the task.

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They moved quickly and efficiently, re-using the cane from years past to make the trellises.

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My job was to cut the twine, make caffè, and hold things as needed.

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When not needed, I wandered the fields next door. Only this year have I learned that the tall green grassy fields that blow in the wind are actually grain/wheat fields. I had assumed, incorrectly, that wheat would be a tan color, not bright green. These happen to be orzo or barley.

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A close-up reveals the familiar spike at the top of the plant.

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But back to the garden…four zucchini plants and eighteen tomato plants, (four varieties),

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all covered in mesh to hopefully ward off any potential hail damage.

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By 7 PM, the job was done and the full moon showered her approval.

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All in a day’s wonderful work, truly from farm to table (eventually!),

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with, fingers-crossed, a bit of cooperation from Mother Nature!

Ciao,
Judy

The Caves of Matera

28 Apr

Many thanks to all who sent Len well wishes for a speedy recovery. While he got much better, his cold travelled far and found me in the caves of Matera, the next stop on our adventure.

Matera is in Basilicata and the drive there was filled with hills of lush green wheat fields and bright yellow flowers.

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But the view would soon change. I once read that nothing quite prepares you for your first sighting of the caves in ancient Matera,

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especially knowing these were human dwellings. Well, it literally took my breath away. My first thought was of Juda Ben Hur’s visit to the Valley of the Lepers searching for his mother and sister.

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The Sassi di Matera are divided into two districts, Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano, and are thought to be among the first human settlements in Italy. There is evidence that people were living there as early as 7000 BC.

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Sassi are houses dug into the calcarenitic rock itself, locally called tufo (not volcanic tufa) which is characteristic of the area.

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The ancient town grew up on one slope of the ravine created by a river that is now a small stream. The ravine is known locally as “la Gravina”.

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Below is an interesting description provided  “Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd”. Photos are my own.

The Miracle of Matera:
from city of poverty and squalor to hip hub for cave-dwellers

One of Italy’s most deprived cities – so lacking hope that God was said to keep well away – is now an Airbnb hotspot and set to be European capital of culture.

There is a sense of shame as Luigi Plasmati, 89, recollects growing up amid chronic poverty in a crammed cave in Matera, an ancient, bruised city in Italy’s southern Basilicata region.

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“It was brutal,” he said. “There were families of maybe nine or 10 children, sleeping next to mules and pigs. We were dying of hunger.”

Less than 70 years ago some 15,000 people, mostly peasants and farmers, were still living in grottoes carved out of limestone that dated back to Matera’s prehistoric era: dank dwellings with no natural light, ventilation, running water or electricity. Disease, particularly malaria, cholera and typhoid, was rampant. Bed space was scarce, with children squeezed with their parents into bunks that were deliberately built with space beneath for chickens. Coveted animals were kept indoors in case they were stolen. Large families would gather around a small table once a day to share a simple meal of bread with pasta or pulses.

The child mortality rate was high and Plasmati lost one of his five siblings. Those who survived grew up illiterate.

“I was working from the age of six, going out early in the morning to cut grain in the fields,” he said. “You’d try to sell the odd cigarette here and there to make some money, but there was never any money to spend.”

In the most extraordinary way, that history of squalor and poverty is now proving to be the making of Matera in the 21st century. A report last week by the University of Siena said that more than 25% of Matera’s housing stock is available to rent on Airbnb, more than anywhere else in Italy.

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On top of enjoying a remarkable tourist boom, Matera will also be 2019’s European capital of culture. The impoverished cave dwellings of the Sassi – literally “the stones” – are providing the economic platform for a more prosperous future.

“Airbnbs, bars, restaurants … this is the natural evolution of the Sassi right now,” said Nicola Taddonio, a local tour guide. “These changes have helped connect people back to the Sassi. Even though we lost that connection for some time, our souls are back there.”

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The extent of the squalid conditions in the Sassi only came to international attention when writer Carlo Levi was exiled by Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime to a town close to Matera in 1935. 

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In his book, Christ Stopped at Eboli, published in 1945, Levi described the horror he witnessed – the paltry furniture, children either naked or in rags, bodies ravaged by disease – and concluded: “I have never seen in all my life such a picture of poverty.”  For more of this article, see link below*.

In the 1950s, the Italian government forcefully relocated most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city. Riddled with malaria, the unhealthy living conditions were considered an affront to the new Italian Republic of Prime Minister De Gasperi.

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However, some people continued to live in the Sassi, as it was the only life they had ever known. Until the late 1980s, this was still considered an area of poverty since many of these houses were, and in some cases still are, uninhabitable. The current local administration, however, has become more tourism-oriented and has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi with the aid of the EU, the government, and UNESCO.

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As you might expect, our dinner was in a cave – of course clean and totally repurposed .

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Of particular note is the Pane di Matera, bread that obtained the IGP (Protected ID) label in 2004 and is made exclusively from fine durum wheat semolina cultivated on the Matera hills and highlands.

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Although I had booked a cave room, I found it a bit too dark and damp, especially with a cold, so I opted for a more traditional room with windows, lots of light and interesting views.

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Visiting Matera provided me such an incredible look into the long ago past of a people, culture and area I knew little about. If some of these sites look familiar, or you want to see more of Matera, many movies have used Matera as a setting: Christ Stopped at Eboli (1978); Three Brothers (1981); I’m Not Scared (2002); and The Passion of the Christ (2004).

Whether viewing Matera’s ancient and “modern” areas from across the gorge,

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or from high above,

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it’s still so hard to get my head around the fact that people not only lived for generations in these caves, but that natives can still live in the same “houses” of their ancestors from 9,000 years ago.

Ciao,
Judy
Note: Click on any photo to enlarge

Trulli of Puglia

26 Apr

Len and I had long wanted to visit Puglia and Basilicata, beautiful southern regions of Italy located in/near the boot. We had made plans a few months ago with friends Susan and Ray, and were all set for departure last Tuesday when Len got a flu/cold. Since our flights and hotels were non changeable, and he assured me it was nothing serious, he insisted I go. Thanks to some online video apps, Len sort of came along anyway.

Our flight took us from Pisa, Tuscany, to Brindisi, Puglia, where we rented a car and headed to Locorotondo in Puglia for two nights. We stayed in a lovely three room B&B, Da Concavo e Convesso, and used this as a base to visit other locations.

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Our primary goal was to see the Trulli. And truly, they are everywhere!

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So what exactly are trulli? They are traditional dry stone huts with conical (cone-shaped) roofs.

Their style of construction is specific to the Itria Valley in the Puglia region. Trulli generally were constructed as temporary field shelters and storehouses or as permanent dwellings by small proprietors or agricultural labourers.  The golden age of trulli was the nineteenth century, especially its final decades. Our destination was Alberobello, famous for its unique trull0 (singular) construction, and a UNESCO site since 1996.

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According to history, peasants were sent to this land to build dry dwellings without mortar, ones that were unstable and could be easily demolished. This had to do with taxation, as dwellings deemed unstable and temporary would not be taxed, or could be dismantled quickly when tax collectors were in the area. Having to use only stones, the domes with overlapping stones proved simplest to build, but as it turned out, very solid as well.

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The vast majority of trulli have one room under each conical roof, with additional living spaces in arched alcoves. Children would sleep in alcoves made in the wall with curtains hung to separate them from the central room.

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A multi-room trullo house has many cones, each representing a separate room.

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Because of the very dense concentration of houses, trulli have few openings except for their doorway and a small aperture provided in the roof cone for ventilation. As a result, they could be very dark inside. You can see here three front doors and associated addresses 42, 44 and 46, all within feet of each other.

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The stone, however, did make them temperature efficient – cool in summer and warm from the fireplace in winter.

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The domed roofs are embellished with various decorative pinnacles representing the master builder, restorer, or various religious, political or other symbology.

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Urban trulli, which still exist in the area, date from the 18th-20th centuries. But some settlements began to be deserted during the second half of the twentieth century.

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Although trulli dotted the landscape as we drove through the valley,

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according to the UNESCO website:  their highest concentration and best preserved examples of this architectural form are in the town of Alberobello, where there are over 1500 structures in the quarters of Rione Monti and Aja Piccola.

While many are occupied by locals, others have been converted to holiday houses for tourists.

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I had always heard of these interesting structures, but seeing them and visiting the museum helped me better understand the life and culture of a hard-working people. It is easy to understand why the trulli of Alberobello have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

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Trulli – a truly interesting site to behold!

Ciao,
Judy

Note: More of the trip to follow.

Lunchtime in Italia

13 Apr

Lunch (Pranzo) in Italy is a great time to enjoy fresh homemade food and local wine with family and/or friends, and yesterday was no exception. Well, actually it was quite the exception due to the incredible seafood feast which was prepared for our return by dear friends. Feast your eyes on this.

First Course (left pot):
Cozze e Vongole (Mussels and Clams)

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Second Course:
Pasta con Cozze, Calamari, Gamberetti e Gamberi
(Pasta with Muscles, Calamari, Shrimp and Prawns)

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Third Course: Gamberi in Padella e Verdure
(Prawns in the Pan and Vegetables)

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The ingredients were simple, the smell and taste divine – fresh seafood, local olive oil, garlic, a splash of brandy, salt, pepper and parsley.

I can’t think of a much better way to spend an afternoon than with delicious food, wonderful wine, dear friends, lively conversation, and loads of love and laughter. And of course, all of this followed by a Torta della Colomba di Pasqua (Easter dove cake), sambuca and caffe.

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Perhaps Virginia Woolf said it best:

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well,
if one has not dined well.”

Many thanks and sincerest compliments to our hosts/friends/amazing chefs!

Ciao,
Judy

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