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the last supper

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Bari, Italy

If I don’t write about it, it won’t happen, right? So I’ll just say we went out for dinner tonight, Grandpa’s shout. I won’t mention that it was his last meal with us. If we don’t think about taking him to the train station by 6:30 tomorrow morning, we won’t realise he’ll be gone in a matter of hours.
The first time he went home, ER3 pined for him for days.
A few weeks back when he zipped across to Canada with Aunty, we found ourselves still setting a place for him at mealtimes.

So let’s talk about meals instead.
Back at the farm we just stayed at (as opposed to the IKEA carpark we’re in for the second night), some of us (not children!) ate at the onsite restaurant. Now we know why so many Italians are so well-covered.

There was a set menu for a set price:
* something we did  not understand to start with
* antipasti of the house
* pizza from the pizza menu
* black forest cherry cake
* something else we did not understand
* water, wine and coffee
Thinking there was no way we would manage to consume all that, we fumbled our way through ordering ONE antipasti to share and TWO pizzas (they’ll be small, right? they’re meant for one person).
We did not need the pizzas. And especially not when they turned out to be so large they hung over the sides of the oversized dinner plates!
In fact, we were so overcome that when Rob could eat no more, he fetched Grandpa, who had been watching the children (remember the restaurant didn’t open until after 9pm so most of them were in bed), and dragged him up to the restaurant to help us finish off!

Never will we forget the selection of antipasti.
Plate Number One: spicy sausage slices (about the amount our whole family shares at any one sitting)
Plate Number Two: bruschetta drizzled with delicious olive oil and topped with roughly chopped Roma tomatoes and red peppers
Plate Number Three: long thin marrow strips fried in olive oil and garlic, seasoned with cracked black pepper

When the waiter brought out these and the bread basket, we thought maybe we should change our order of two pizzas to just one. But it was too hard! And the waiter was one of those stereotypical flamboyant Italians with arms flying in all directions as he tried to bring under control situations totally out of his control. Like us arriving at the restaurant without a reservation (through no fault of our own). Like us offering to sit at one of the outside tables (thinking we were being helpful, but that proved to be a big problem, not a solution, as he was the only waiter for the evening and could not run up and down the stairs from inside to outside!) Like us not wanting wine – what? No wine? Surely not? I must have misunderstood!
So we kept the two pizzas order.

Then the waiter appeared with the rest of the antipasti!
Plate Number Four: five balls of mozarella di bufala
Plate Number Five: cucumber – sweetcorn – radish – celery – tomato salad dressed with balsamic vinegar
Plate Number Six: Three items!
1) zucchini stuffed with cheese…lightly grilled
2) a savoury roll somewhat like a chelsea bun, but filled with yellow pepper
3) two thin rounds of aubergine sandwiched around a slice of ham and more cheese, all dipped in breadcrumbs and fried in olive oil. Possibly the tastiest thing we have ever eaten! Ever. Truly!

The other Italians in the restaurant ate up their dishes with gusto. Most of them stopped between courses to go outside, presumably for a stroll. Some of them ordered extra dishes as well – as if the set menu did not provide enough! And when we left the restaurant as the clock neared 11pm over half the tables had not yet been filled – but there were names on the reservation sheet for them. It really is true that Italians eat LATE. And they eat LOTS.

And it really is true that in the morning Grandpa heads back to Rome to catch a plane to New Zealand, while we turn southwards, heading for the ferry to Greece.

Grandpa’s Last Lunch:

Grandpa’s Last Sleeping Spot:

uno trullo, many trulli

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Bari, Italy (via Alberobello)

When you live in a field that constantly spews rocks, you use them to build your fences, your house, even your roof. I have enjoyed looking at how people use locally available materials to create their residences. I have particularly enjoyed seeing round buildings; buildings with no hard edges. From the gers in Mongolia to castle turrets in England and western Europe, and now to the trulli of Puglia. What makes one people build a square with their stones and others form a circle? I have no idea!

Local historians suggest there were at least 40 conical buildings gathered together as early as the fifteenth century. In 1654 Count of “II Conversano Giangirolamo Acquaviva” was forced to present to the royal Court of Justice appropriate justifications about the illegal dwellings in Alberobello. Having heard of a royal inspection, Giangirolamo gave the order to immediately demolish most of the trulli existing at that time and ordered the inhabitants spread in the woods. The result of the inquiry was positive for the Count, who then recalled the farmers and authorized the re-building of the trulli with the command to not use any mortar, just houses built stone on stone. It was not until 1797 that seven members from the community were able to ask King Ferdinando IV to liberate them from feudal bondage and recognise Alberobello as a town loyal to the Kingdom.

rural trulli passed en route to the trulli town 

Getting to the trulli at Alberobello was no easy matter! Leaving the farm this morning we had no idea Mr GPS was about to take us on Italy’s equivalent of Cornwall lanes. The main difference was that these ones were not in such good nick.

They were just as narrow, and instead of hedges on either side, there were rows of olive trees and/or stone walls. More than once the trees brushed both sides of the van simultaneously. Passing oncoming traffic was an exercise in precision driving. Which turned out to be good practice for when we got to Alberobello. We drove straight into the centre of town, straight up to the basilica, right as morning mass was concluding and everyone was leaving in their cars. We could not have chosen a more chaotic moment to make our appearance in town. Nor a more chaotic place – there is no turning space at the basilica and you do not discover that until you have gone too far. Thankfully a well-meaning friendly rotund Italian jumped out of his car and wildly waved The Other Van away. He directed traffic behind us to back up and give as half an inch to turn in. He motioned for the first cars in the side street that he wanted us to enter to squeeze past us and then authoritatively commanded the rest to wait. We were out of the muddle. But The Bear Cave had to continue to the basilica and turn in the space that was not there! A mission they presumably accomplished, as they soon caught us up.

Actually, in between the teeny lane and the basilica-we-won’t-forget was a splendid drive through the vegetable garden of Italy. Over 70% of the entire nation’s produce comes from Puglia, this area down in the heel. This small region alone produces more wine than the whole of Australia! And it’s not difficult to believe. Hectare upon hectare of dry arid stony ground is covered with grape vines.

Just as much again is devoted to olives, and there were more peach trees than we have ever seen before too. Expecting to see huge market gardens, we were a little disappointed at their absence. Occasional fields of watermelons, zucchini and tomatoes came into view, but nowhere near what we had anticipated. How they grow anything is a miracle. The soil looks too dry, too inhospitable. In varying shades of brown – red brown in one field, dark brown in a field where it looks like topsoil has been imported to support newly-planted young trees, mud brown in another, through to a pale yellowish that looks more suited to making urns than nourishing fruit – the rocky soil provides a most unlikely home to Italy’s fruit bowl. 

And in this soil the trulli also flourish.


Time on the road: need to check
Distance covered: need to check

down on the farm

Saturday, August 29th, 2009
same place as yesterday, Italy – so nice we didn’t move on chickens clucking ducks quacking donkeys braying dogs gnawing on bones doves cooing roosters crowing horses neighing reindeer banging a box geese gaggling wasps humming sheep baaing peacock screeching a howl emus staring goats butting rabbits hopping cat meows under our van And that was ... [Continue reading this entry]

soul food

Friday, August 28th, 2009
somewhere near Altamura on the SouthEast Coast, Italy We woke in mozarella di buffala country…..from Naples onwards we had seen billboards and shops advertising the cheese the region is famous for and we had resolved to try it. Surely one ... [Continue reading this entry]

kids click

Thursday, August 27th, 2009
Paestum, Italy A quiet day at the beach with pictures of clear blue water reflecting clear blue sky, a heat haze shimmering on the horizon, just might be too taunting a post two days in a row. But looking through ... [Continue reading this entry]

beach blessings

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009
Paestum, Italy

We have seen a famous volcano (Vesuvius), accidentally ... [Continue reading this entry]

neapolitan christmas

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009
Battipaglia, Italy As a child, neapolitan meant icecream to me. Chocolate, strawberry, vanilla. Of course, it is also “of naples”. And today that’s where we went.


We only spent a couple of hours in the historic town ... [Continue reading this entry]

the untold story of italy

Monday, August 24th, 2009
Bacoli – virtually Naples, Italy Have you ever watched those travel documentaries or family-goes-to-find-their-dream-property-in-Italy programmes or read books of the same ilk? We’d read the books, but have heard the televised version exists too. However, I’m beginning to wonder if ... [Continue reading this entry]

follow the fountain

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009
Rome, Italy When the temperature gets up to the high thirties...and even creeps up into the forties...these little kiwis feel HOT. Fortunately, a fantastic place for this to occur is Rome with its over 1,500 fountains constantly spurting fresh cool ... [Continue reading this entry]

when in Rome….

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009
….let your imagination run wild.

I scurry from shadow to shadow, snatching what cool I can, evading the fierce rays beaming down from the eternally blue canopy. I wait in line at one of the ... [Continue reading this entry]