20
Apr
14

Europe Trip – Italy – Zigzagging through Southern Italy

SOUTHERN ITALY PICASA PHOTO ALBUM (139 photos)

From Rome, we drove south via toll road (any other way is basically bad quality road that is very slow-going) to Naples. Towering darkly over town is the towering hulk of Mount Vesuvius, the only active volcano on the European mainland. Pompeii is a stark reminder of the gigantic forces that lie within Vesuvius, and makes for one of Europe’s most compelling archeological sites. The town wasn’t blown away by the volcanic explosion in AD 79, but buried under a layer of burning pumice stone, thus preserving amazingly well household items, mosaics and even the bodies of the dying people. Wandering the site together with Kyra (as Shadae and Kyle were staying at the camper) was a strange sensation, as she was curious in the sometimes gruesome artefacts. The site however, stayed Italian, as there were huge parts closed down or gated off without any form of explanation.

We then wanted to explore the Amalfi Coast, said to be very similar to Cinque Terre and equally inaccessible (especially by camper). We took the metro-train to Sorrento to take further public transport and arrived in a full bus-strike and road-partly-closed day. Thus far our attempt.

We then cut from west to the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea, to visit the Promontorio del Gargano, one of Italy’s most beautiful areas with limestone cliffs, fairytale grottoes and sparkling seas. We spent time in Vieste, an attractive whitewashed town blessed with wide sandy shallow beaches full of shells.

A necessary stop in the Ford garage in Bari was next, as previously on the way to Foggia, the engine warning light came on. We were told we had had a problem with the EGR (exhaust gas reduction) valve but that meanwhile the valve worked again (often there can be carbon deposits that cause the valve to block). We were recommended not to change it there, but to drive further and see if the problem would reappear, as the only issue could be the loss of power or turbo, but no breaking of the engine itself.

Relieved, we followed the coast to beautiful Trani, also called the Pearl of Puglia, as the harbor and historic center have a sophisticated feel about them, and the seafront cathedral and castle are worth a peek.

The spectacularly positioned little town of Polignano a Mare is built on the edge of a craggy ravine pockmarked with caves. The crashing waves, the beautiful historic center built right on the edge and the caves themselves, often with restaurants or other businesses, are all nice to explore.

In the Valle d’Itria, curious circular stone-built houses dot the countryside, their roofs (traditionally built by stacking stones without using mortar) tapering up to a stubby and endearing point. They are called trulli, and in the town of Aleberobello (Unesco site) you can find the highest concentration of such trulli, as the western hill of the town is a dense mass of over 1500 of these beehive-shaped houses.  We took a few days, on bike and on foot, to explore the different neighborhoods, churches, and even two-story trulli in this ‘truly’ unique town. In Locorotondo, a small hilltop town in this beautiful valley, the historical center is rated as one of the ‘most beautiful towns’ in Italy. Indeed, the streets paved with smooth ivory-colored stones, alleyways and arched backstreets are fun to explore and soooo quiet and relaxed.

Matera is unique because it the haunting and beautiful sassi or stone houses carved out of caves and cliffs. All these sassi, spread over two town districts, sprawl below the rim of a yawning ravine and the old town is simply unique. Riddled with serpentine alleyways and staircases, dotted with frescoed cave churches, Matera contains around 3000 habitable caves created between the 8th and 13th century.  Shadae couldn’t get enough of this beautiful place and we explored it time and again and from all sides.

In Lecce, the biggest town in the heel of Italy, it is normally hot and dry, but we passed when the rain was pouring down almost night and day. During a short dry spell, Shadae stayed in the camper with the kids while Dimitri explored the baroque town center, with the nice Piazza del Duomo and double-façade cathedral; the hallucinating outside of the Basilica di Santa Croce, and the beautiful Piazza Sant’Oronzo.

The last two days in Italy we followed the coastline further south, increasingly wild and rugged but as a result less developed, through nice little towns such as Otranto (where we let the Easter Rabbit come to visit a morning) and Dilo (amazing preparations for Easter in progress). Travel was slow as the roads are in bad shape, yet we made it on time to Brindisi, our departure point from Italy. The Grimald Lines ferry boat took us (Italian style, meaning with delays, lots of chaos and noise) to Igoumenitsa, on the western shores of the Greek mainland.

We are looking forward to explore yet another country.

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