Thursday, 28 August 2014
TRAVEL ADVENTURE PART 9 - MESSINA TO CASTEL DEL MONTE
Sicily was wonderful and the memory of it will live with us for a very long time. In addition, we identified a few places that would be worthy of a week or fortnight's holiday should we ever make a return visit. After getting off the ferry from Messina to Villa San Giovanni on the mainland, we faced a very long drive around the sole and heel of Italy's boot. I'd heard a lot about the trulli town of Alberobello and determined that we shouldn't miss it out but we were a long way from getting there.
We pulled into the Campeggio Doccica at Palizzi Marina. We needed food and so drove into the main town of Palizzi to find a supermarket but we ended up getting a takeaway which consisted of a hotdog sausage baked within a bread roll and a couple of arancini but it was all cold by the time we got them back to camp for our supper. There were lots of young people about doing their hair, looking very dressed up, and we realised later that the camp site was holding a birthday party for someone. There were older people and families on the site too and they all seemed to know each other. We felt a bit isolated but at least we could understand the music that blared out until 1am. It was all English and American and included tracks played by Santana and Queen.
The next day we packed up to leave but when we went to pay for the pitch, there was a delay as the person who takes the money wasn't around. Instead we were invited to play a game of table football with an Italian man and his son. Suffice to say, just like the England team in the World Cup, we got whupped but it was an entertaining way of hanging around.
We took the coast road and went through lots of little seaside towns which were the same in character as any seaside town you find in Britain. Rubber dinghies, rubber rings and surf boards hung outside little shops that also had flip flops, sea shoes and postcards for sale. We eventually managed to find a better road that moved a bit faster and drove for miles across a country landscape on one side with the sea on our right. As long as we could see the ocean, we knew we were heading in the right direction. We weren't entirely sure of where we were going next but we headed for Taranto which sits right at the top part of the inside of the heel.
The Calabrian countryside was littered with fires burning in the distance. It was very dry and barren but quite lovely and the sea was azure blue. This beautiful scenery was contrasted with old rusty industrial relics, big factories and lots of half built apartment blocks and hotels. We didn't know whether work was abandoned due to the economic crash Italy has endured, or workers were on a rest day or siesta, but clearly there are some moves to develop the area's tourism and expand some of these little seaside places in an area where few foreigners go.
We were racing back to the north and we didn't stop to do any sightseeing. We'd spent more than half the budget but we still had the whole east side of the leg and the heel to explore so we decided to play safe and be selective about where we visited. We'd accepted that we'd already seen a lot and we'd never see every city, town, village, hamlet or tourist attraction in the country.
We drove all day and ended up pulling into the Pineta camping village because it simply got too hot to drive anymore. We endured a night of bad karaoke coming from somewhere nearby but it wasn't a big problem for me because I'd got myself some earplugs.
After that we drove past Taranto and then pulled over to decide where we'd go next. Ideally, we wanted to drive around the whole heel but this would add extra cost to the petrol so we went for Lecce - the town right in the middle of the heel - instead.
To save money, we'd started pulling over at picnic stops, taking out the camping cooker and making our own tea. At Lecce there was a big car park right near to the historic attractions so before we went to have a look around, we had a cuppa first. There were many camper vans there which could stay overnight. This type of trip is more cost efficient in one of those because you can pretty much pull up anywhere safely on the roadside for free and at special park ups in towns for a small parking fee.
We had a good couple of hours in this ancient town and then set off towards Ostuni and Alberobello via Brindisi. The road signs were not very clear on that stretch of road and having seen none for Ostuni, which was on the map before the trulli town, we wondered if we had somehow missed it because we couldn't work out where we were. We came off the road to retrace our steps backwards via the coast road but soon worked out that wouldn't help.
We really thought that we missed it and as time was getting on, we pulled into a camp site called the Meditur Village which was a bit like a hotel for campers. The reception was marble, very posh and very, very cool as the air conditioning made it feel like the sort of cold summer day we get at home. My other half wished he could put the tent in there but the pitch we got was very good. We had no idea where we were and so had to ask. The staffer who took us to our pitch pointed on our map to Specchiolla. We asked if we were far from Ostuni. It was just 20 km ahead of where we were were. It was great to know that we were still on the right track. There was a great supermarket on the site and unlike the many others we had seen on camp sites during our travels, this one actually sold more than a few Italian delicacies, wine, dried food and bread which always sold out quickly. My other half got some cornflakes and real milk and I got some bacon and eggs. We had a breakfast fit for kings the next morning and felt good as we hit the road again.
I'd noticed my husband scratching his ankle a lot as we drove on the road to Lecce and then I saw a huge ant that must have got into the car with us when we packed up that morning. We both already had something like 30 mosquito bites each but now we were covered in ant bites on our legs that itched like mad during the night. The treatment cream we'd bought from home helped a lot but it was almost gone. The Meditur camp site shop also sold packs of treatment and repellent wipes which were great, really soothing.
Ostuni is known as the White City and they worked hard to keep it that way. We saw an old woman scrubbing her white steps as we wandered down some of the narrow passageways and up stepped streets.
We could have hung around there for a while but we had to move on and I really looked forward to getting to Alberobello. My husband liked to browse in estate agent shop windows everywhere we went. In Ostuni there were quite a few trullis for sale and often for less than our little bungalow at home is worth. I guess if I decided to move out there and buy one in retirement then they'll be a lot more expensive as they call Puglia the new "Chiantishire" because of it's current fascination with British tourists who are snapping up cheap properties for renovation, holiday homes and to live in.
Alberobello isn't far from Ostuni so we drove straight there arter leaving the White City and headed for a camp site mentioned in my camping guide book but again we lost the sign and ended up elsewhere. We stayed at the Bosco Selva site which was very spacious and not too packed out. There weren't many travellers there when we arrived and of those who stayed, they seemed to be mainly foreigners. Our neighbours were French. I wanted to stay another day because I loved the site and the area but we'd already decided to stay one night at different camp sites on our journey back north.
The owner gave us a map of the UNESCO world heritage site and said it was not too far and easily reached by walking. This was good news. The car was a blessing and a curse. It was great for getting us to places we wouldn't normally be able to reach via public transport but it was a pain sometimes to try and find parking and then find the car again after we'd left it somewhere. The walk, however, seemed to take a long time and we reckon it was more than a km as the owner had said.
The town itself is very charming but very busy with tourists getting underfoot everywhere you went - says a hypocritical tourist who probably got under the feet of others. We visited the Trullo Sovrano which is a small museum giving something of the atmosphere of trullo life, with sweet, rounded rooms that include a re-created bakery, bedroom and kitchen. The entry price of one euro and 50 cents made it the cheapest museum that we visited and it was well worth the money.
I took some pictures and again those pesky tourists got in the way as I tried to get shots of the inside, but not always and I sometimes had a clear shot.
It was a very hot night and after we walked back to our tent, we sat in the light of our small lamp drinking tea and looking at the map trying to decide where we should go next. The Castel Del Monte wasn't far and and I wanted to see it as I thought Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose literary medieval crime novel was set there because of it's eight sides.
I wasn't greatly impressed when I saw it, and it didn't take very long to look around, but the countryside around Andria, it's closest town, was stunning. At one point it felt like we'd taken a trip back in time when a goat herder, who looked for the world that he'd just stepped out of a 19th century hillside, skillfully stopped his animals from crossing at a roundabout we were going through. I'll write more about that tomorrow and the women on the Foggia to Pescara road as I promised. I think this series, that I initially only intended to be a couple of posts, is almost at an end as our sightseeing trip became even more of a road trip race up north as our budget depleted.