Sunday, September 30, 2012

Visiting trulli town

I had read about the ancient cone shaped trulli of southwestern Italy so when we found ourselves near the area of the trulli after getting off the boat from Dubrovnik we took a detour down to Alberobello to see these structures. The trullo (singular form) is a circular stone hut with a roof of concentric flat stones tapering into the centre as they rise, forming a distinctive shape. The roof is topped with a decorative and symbolic form. Apparently these structures have been built here since the middle ages and probably long before.
As we drove tpwards the Alberobello we started to see some trulli as outbuildings on the farms. And looking around us we could clearly see by the rockwalls and buildings that this rocky land offered just the materials needed to build them.

The town itself is quite touristy but that didn't matter because wandering these lanes of whitewashed houses was a trip. It felt as if Snow White and the seven dwarves might come out of a door at any moment.

Most of these buildings are probably fairly recent, as they have modern doors and windows, plus electricity. In fact you can even rent rooms in some of them to stay the night. But as we left to head home to Valle I saw an older style that's probably the an example of a more authentic trulli.

Now this is truly a trulli!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A jaunt to Korcula and a modern history lesson

This is Dubrovnik's Stradum as evening falls. We are enraptured with southern Croatia and are trying to cram as much sightseeing as possible before we catch the night boat back to Italy tomorrow. Today we took a tour that included a drive along twisty roads beside the sparkling blue ocean, up and down steep hills with olive groves, cypress trees and vineyards, a stop at the town of Ston with 13 km of walls built in the 13th century to protect Dubrovnik's salt marshes. Our tour guide Olga was a wealth of information about Croatia's history, both ancient and modern. She speaks five languages and teaches Spanish and Italian.

We took a boat to the island of Korcula, where Marco Polo was born in The 11th century. Croatians claim him as their own but so does Italy, as Korcula was under Venetian rule at the time. The old rivalries continue, it seems. As Olga spoke about Bosnia and Serbia and Kosavo and other Balkan countries it became obvious that cultures still continue to clash and ebb and flow. The layers of history and civilization that are so evident in this part of the world are continuing to be laid down even today.

Korkula is a sweet town set up for day trippers, but it's Dubrovnik's old town that has really stolen my heart. In the evening after the crowds from the cruise ships have left it weaves its magic with restaurants in all the ivory stone lanes, lanterns gleaming, music wafting on the warm air and people of all ages and cultures eating seafood and drinking wine. Tomorrow we get up early to walk the top of the old walls, then a few more hours of exploring before we have to say goodbye.

I haven 't downloaded today's photos so I give you a few more images of Dubrovnik.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Exploring the Marche region

After a few weeks of visiting places in Abruzzo we've widened our horizons to the state to our north, Marche ( pronounced mar-kay). Thanks to Alessandro, a young man who lives nearby, we are getting expert advice about places to visit. He loves the ancient towns and can tell us about their history; he even gives restaurant recommendations.

As we travel north the terrain becomes less mountainous and there is an increased sense of prosperity. Alessandro tells us that the border between Abruzzo and Marche is also the division between the north and south of Italy. The south is characterized as the land of the farmers and the north as the land of industry, business and education. As we drive further north we see larger cities along the coast, all with red tile roofs contrasting with the turquoise of the Adriatic, and there are areas of factories and industry. But here too we see traces of ancient walls and hill towns perched here and there to remind us of just how historic this land is. And as everywhere in Italy there are ancient churches.

Yesterday we visited Offida, a town of 5,000 people with one of the most amazing churches I've seen. Santa Maria della Rocca is an imposing 13th Century structure built on a rocky surrounded on three sides by ravines, so it appears massive. Both the entry level with its many arches and the tall main hall have areas of intact frescoes still glowing brightly on the walls.

Today we ventured further north to visit another famous church in Loreto, the Basilica of the Holy House. This is an elaborate church built around another smaller church, which is supposed to have been transported by angels from Nazareth to Croatia and then to Loreto. Inside the big church is a smaller building , elaborately carved of white marble elaborate.Peope were lined up to go inside this qholy house of Mary, lighted only by candles (and no photos allowed). Inside was a dim, painted room with an altar featuring a larged bejeweled Madonna and child with black skin.

Millions of faithful catholics come here to visit and take confession and hope for miracles, and the town is set up to receive them with tacky souvenir stalls, restaurants, and shops. While we were inside the church we heard a lot of clapping and and cheering and it turned out to be a wedding, We didn't see the wedding party but we did see this gorgeous young woman who seemed to be on charge of the Maseratti that was waiting for the happy couple. Clearly this is a prosperous place.

There's a lot to experience in the Marche. But after three straight days of touring, we will stay closer to homefor the bext two days as we pack up to head westward to Amsterdam and then home.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Civitella del Tronto

You can't go anywhere in Abruzzo without finding a medieval hill town with a backdrop of mountains. The area is dominated by the Gran Sasso mountains, the highest part of Italy's Appennine range, at 9,500 feet. And the land beneath these mountains is very hilly, gradually dropping as it raches to the Adriatic Sea. The taller hills have ancient towns and fortresses and the other hills are a patchwork of fields, orchards, and vineyards.

The other day we drove north to an amazing fortress looming over a Gothic-Rennaissance village. Civitella del Tronto dates back to the tenth century and the fortress is about 250 years old. The photo at the top is looking from the outside walls of the fortress down over the rooftops to the cultivated lands below and the mountain backdrop.

This is the 13th .century gate to the town.

And here is one of its residents.

An Italian cooking class

We spent a few hours yesterday learning to cook scrippelle, a type of crepe that is used like pasta here in Abruzzo. Vincenza offers cooking classes to the Canadian visitors that come through Valle. She is a charming woman who invited us into her family kitchen and managed to teach us to make several authentic Italian dishes without speaking a word of English.

We went with Barb and John, a couple from Toronto who are staying here and cycling around the area. Here they are helping Vincenza make the crepes. It was a lot of fun and the best part was getting to sit down and eat the meal once we'd finished. I loved the cannelloni con funghi and the torta with yogurt best. These I will make when we get home.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Two ancient hill towns

Back in 282 BC the Romans built a fortified town on the hilltop site of an earlier town. More than two millenia later it's still here and thriving. We drove up the steep hills to find Atri, explored its cobbled streets and alleys and sat in the piazza across from the church enjoying cioccolatte caldo, a thick almost pudding-like chocolate drink.

I love the regionalism of Italy, where each town has its special food. This is Atria's specialty, Pan Ducale. Apparently it was made for a Duke back in the 1300s and is now marketed as a specialy sweet in the piazza.

We tried it and liked it but decided to buy a box after we had walked around. Big mistake! Just as we got back to the piazza, every store was closing its doors for the afternoon break. I finally found a little convenience store that was open so we have some for with our morning tea. It has chocolate, almonds, and citron and is quite tasty.
Atri has the usual narrow stone streets that twist and turn. The little Fiat 500s are just the best cars for getting around.

Here's one of the ornate downspouts on a street.

Towards the coast from Atri is a smaller hilltop town, Silvi, which has a spectacular view of the Adriatic. This is the view from the terrace where we had our lunch.

And here's a view down a narrow alleyway with a view of the sea from the end.

I could wander around these hill towns for days. And in fact that's part of our plan. Abruzzo is full of these places and they're enough off the beaten track that they're not overrun by tourists.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Our Italian casa

The house we are staying in here in Valle is typical village Italian. It's deep and narrow and four storeys tall. You enter into a small vestibule with long stairs ahead of you. To the right is the kitchen; and that's it for the ground floor.

On the second floor is our bedroom, the bathroom and a small living room dominated by a huge fireplace opening. I think they used a stove in here but now it's just a gaping hole.

Then up more stairs to the third floor where there are two more bedrooms and a wooden staircase up to the top where there's a little unfinished room (perfect for an art studio?), and the door to the terrace on top with a fantastic view.

It's actually more stairways and hallways than rooms but even so, we definitely have room to put you up if you can get here before the middle of October. The weather has been a little cool but it is supposed to go up to 78F on Sunday.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Abruzzo village life

Yesterday we left Rome and drove East through the mountains to Abruzzo. It's only recently with the completion of the A-24 that this area has been easily accessible by car. We went through 17 tunnels, one of them 11 km long underneath the Appenines. East of of the mountains Abruzzo is a hilly agricultural area dotted with hundreds of small villages.

The little village of Valle San Giovannewhere we are has clearly been through good times and bad.

There are boarded up ruins and fancy modernized houses, but essentially it's a country scene.

Cats and village dogs keep their uneasy peace on the doorsteps, chickens strut in the back yards and this afternoon a tractor pullong a cart of firewood rumbled by our bedroom balcony. Here's the vista from the rooftop, showing cultivated fields undulating up the hills.

And here's a little chapel tucked behind some trees.

Valle is pretty small. There is only one bar/cafe and a couple of little stores. Apparently bread is delivered to one of these every day but we haven't yet figured out which one. If we only knew enough Italian we could ask the portly retired guys who sit at plastic tables and chairs outside the bar. Meanwhile we stocked up on supplies at the Conad supermarket about ten minutes drive from here.

We will get to know some of the village folk once we organize cooking lessons with a woman who offers them here. And already we are meeting the three other couples from Victoria who are also renting houses from Anita. She grew up here and now lives in Victoria, but she and her husband Gord run cycling tours from here every spring and rent the houses out inthe summer and fall.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Arrivederci Roma

We've been in this amazing city for five days and it still charms and surprises us. One of the things that I love best is seeing all the layers of buildings through the centuries one on top of another. Also, we love the brashness and courtliness of the Italians; they are both at once. Not to mention the food--and the outdoor restaurants tucked away in every corner.

For me walking around with my camera is being in heaven. At every turn there are beautiful textures and vistas. I can't wait to get home so I can do some editing on some of the shots I've taken. Well, yes, I can wait actually. There's lots more to come.

Tomorrow morning we pick up our car and drive to Valle San Giovanne and the countryside aspect of our journey begins.

We spent today masteriing the metro and bus system to get out to the Ancient Appian Way for a walk and a tour of the Catacombs dating back to 250AD. Here's a surprising number: around half a million Christians were buried in one catacomb, and its tunnels and levels under this olive grove.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Porta Portese market and the Capitoline Museum

We headed over to Rome's famous flea market this morning. It's not far from where we are staying and it is amazing. From underwear to antiques, you can pick up just about anything here.

We liked the heavy old irons and the wooden ladders.

I was coveting the chandeliers and furniture and Harry liked this antique travel case.

What we actually got was a very cool stainless steel corkscrew from France (a much needed tool) and for Harry a t-shirt of the last supper with rock stars faces instead of the Disciples. Perhaps sacreligious but right up Harry's alley.
This afternoon we visited the amazing museums on top of Romes Capitol Hill with incredible Roman scultures, artifacts, and temples.

Some of the sculptures are a bit unsettling though..

I was confused by this statue though. I couldn't decide what this fellow is looking at. Perhaps this is an illustration from some Roman myth or perhaps I am misinterpreting the statue. It does seem odd to have this front and center in Rome's political and historic center.