Welcome to the blog for our round the world trip.

02 February 2008

The Spur and the Heel

After a brief sojourn to Malta to meet Helen’s mum and the Sant family in order to celebrate Barbara’s 65th birthday, we rejoined the van in Rome to continue our journey south. It was all too easy to replace our gas canister (the original having been left behind in India due to shipping regulations), which was a shame because it meant that we no longer had an excuse to keep buying vast quantities of delicious, freshly cooked Italian pizza!

We chose a route across the Apennines towards the Gargano peninsula (the “spur” of the Italian “boot”, which sticks out into the Adriatic Sea). This is a little visited but beautiful part of the country, with pretty hill top towns and rolling green hills. We visited the fishing port of Peschini; the far end of the peninsula at Vieste; and the mountain top town of Monte San Angelo. Each town was very similar: tall white washed houses; winding flagstone alleys; lots of churches; and an almost total absence of people. In fact, it seemed that as we moved through Italy, the local day of shop closure moved with us… so every town was basically shut up and eerily quiet. All of which meant that we had limited contact with the Italians, but plenty of peace and quiet to enjoy the surroundings. Quite a contrast to India and, no doubt, to the scene in the heat of summer when we are told that these places are overrun with visitors.

One of our stops was in the town of San Giovanni de Rotondo, high up in the mountains. It used to be a small village, but is now a fast growing new town due entirely to the cult of Padre Pio, one of Italy’s most recent elevations to sainthood. Apparently, a seven-year old child was cured of meningitis after a vision of Padre Pio appeared to him one night. Not only was this the miracle required for Pope John Paul II to promote the (rather Mafioso-looking) PP to sainthood in 2002, but also the green light for his home village to develop a thriving tourism industry and a new 7,000 seater church to house all the pilgrims. We visited the Padre Pio experience, saw his monastic cell, and observed the bizarre waxwork of him holding the baby Jesus (?). Our limits were tested, though, and we decided against both the interactive “Voice of Padre Pio” exhibition and PP’s “Crucifixion Walkway” up the nearby mountain.

We left the “spur” and continued our journey down into the “heel” of the boot, via a dramatic night camp under the floodlit Castel del Monte (an impressive castle perched high on a hill). There, we managed to befriend a pack of local stray dogs which caused Michael huge frustration by failing to understand how to play “fetch” and instead just staring up pleadingly at us for food.

Next stop was the cave town of Matera, the site for the filming of the crucifixion in “The Passion of the Christ”. The town is set into two deep ravines and is made up of a series of fairly primitive “sassi” (cave homes) and cave churches. Our journey through the heel then took us into “Trulli country”: a series of villages set in lush green countryside, all featuring distinctive, round, white-washed circular houses with dry-stone-wall-effect conical roofs, some of which are painted with various symbols to ward off evil or bring good luck. There are huge numbers of Trullis both in the towns and dotted around the fields in the countryside, providing a very picturesque scene.

After some turmoil about buying a house back in England (which was on, then off, then on and then finally off again), we reached our southernmost point in Lecce: a university town with some really over the top Baroque architecture, which made for an interesting wander in the sunshine. Not long after, we were heading up to the desolate dockyards of Brindisi to catch a Greek ferry.


Post a Comment

<< Home