Monday, October 10, 2022

Abruzzo and Puglia!

Day 6 continued!

We arrive mostly on time in Vasto, and Dad and Margaret are there waiting on the opposite platform. Hugs and kisses and excitement all around. We’re here!

We store our bags in their new used car, and go for a stroll through Vasto. The city has all the best Italian landmarks: piazzas, churches, old and new architecture, and stunning views. Many of these places come with stories from Dad and Margaret’s adventures the last six months. We take a stroll along the city wall, and Margaret and I walk down to the ruins of the Roman baths. The church we pass is open, so we duck inside. It’s decorated more “simply” in white plaster/marble and gold leaf. The resident churchgoers are friendly and full of smiles and “buongiorno” greetings as we take a look around. Next door, the ruins of the Roman baths are covered in scaffolding protection; it’s closed, but we can see inside to make out the rooms, the mosaic out of sight. The ruins were fortunately/unfortunately discovered during a landslide in 1956, which claimed a part of the church that was never rebuilt. The small info plaque on the fence calls it one of the oldest ruins in Italy, which does make you go, really? Is this like the same “Chicago’s best hot dog” claim to fame? 

Margaret had made a reservation at one of their favorite restaurants, so we sat down and had a lovely meal as the sun set in front of us. Seafood for the three of them, including clam pasta for Todd, and a great veggie pasta for me. On our way back to the car, we stop for some vegan gelato, and the night is complete. 

We pull up to their house in the dark, but we get the evening view, lights dotting the hills with distant dwellings. When we take the inside tour, I can see all the places where I’ve video chatted with them the last six months. I’m in their Italian home, and I love it. We sit and chat, and Todd and I put in laundry so it can start to hang dry overnight. We all peel off one by one to sleep, and I sit in the quiet of their living room for the machine to finish spinning, feeling at home. 

Day 7: Roccascalegna

The next morning, we wake up earlier than expected, yet the morning light hardly filters into the shuttered up windows. I look out the bathroom window, and see a great view, as Margaret had suggested. Dad is downstairs playing coffee barista, prepping the decaf French press and the espresso stove-top percolator. Todd and I hang our clothes outside to dry in the Abruzzo sun. We get an outside tour of the house, the trees, and flowers. Dad hands me the shears to clip some fresh figs. Margaret picks a fresh pomegranate. We get a tour of house #1 next door, the smaller house they originally rented. It’s super cute, but no AC and heat (except in the kitchen), and I remember one video call where they were bundled up in bed with hats and scarves and blankets back in March. House #2 has heat and AC, making it more livable, which they’ll put to the test this winter. 

We eventually pack ourselves up to go explore for the day. The drive is a beautiful one through the countryside, passing by olives being harvested and endless rows of vines. We stop at an old ruin, which is pretty in itself but comes with a good view. Our first stop is Tornareccio, a local town famous for two things: honey and mosaics. Today is the start of the honey festival, and we hoped to swing by before the festival. Unfortunately, it started already and parking was nonexistent. So we did a slow cruise down the streets to see a few mosaics. They are a meter square, and a few new ones are put up each year. To no surprise, many of the mosaics are bee-themed. 

Our drive then continues to Roccascalegna, where we will visit the castle and have lunch. Castello di Roccascalegna sits atop a rock outcrop that you can see clearly as you enter the town. It’s an ideal vantage point in the valley, perched as it is. Even I wonder how we will get up there. The approach takes us through the cute village. We wind through the main drag with houses built into the rock and decorative paintings on their electrical covers and rocks. Eventually, we start walking up the steps to the castle entrance. The views are already spectacular across the valley, full of ridges and forest and fields. 

The castle is part ruin, but many sections, like the tower that are visible from far away, have been maintained. Definitely a working fortress, it’s complete with torture chamber, holes in the walls to shoot a crossbow, and ramparts with strategic views. Every part of the castle is photogenic, and I can’t stop shooting. With the rolling hills of the Abruzzo countryside around us and a perfect blue and cloud speckled sky, it’s a photographic dream. These views remind me how vacation rejuvenates us, giving us new experiences and space to breathe. 

After seeing every nook, we make our way down. Uneven stones make it careful going, but on a dry day, it’s easy. Margaret made a lunch reservation for us at Civico 20, a restaurant they visited a month ago, asking if they could do vegan meals. The owner/chef said she was excited and would pull out the traditional Abruzzo meals. When we arrive, there is a vegan menu, and all of it sounds delicious. I order a farmer’s stew as an appetizer: greens, potatoes, and polenta. My main dish is a rintrocili pasta with mushrooms and truffle sauce. For dessert, apple streusel. All the food is delicious, and I only wish I had a larger appetite to try it all! Thank you to Margaret for arranging!

After enjoying our lunch with a castle view, we drive back home to prepare for dinner with the neighbors. Five of the local friends are coming over for drinks and appetizers. These friends have made Dad and Margaret a part of their community, even dropping heavy hints about them buying a house (not going to happen, they keep saying). Hearing about the rehab projects of the neighbors, which are certainly labors of love over years, you really have to want it! It was a lovely evening on the patio, the moon rising, conversation in English and Italian, food and drinks and laughter. 

Day 8: Casalanguida to Trani

A somewhat busy morning, as we repack and Dad and Margaret prep the house for the owners who will return in the wee hours of the morning for a week. We won’t have a chance to meet Julia and Valerio, but we’ve heard good things. 

Finally, we pick up the car with all our luggage, Dad and Margaret packing much lighter than us, though they will travel another three days when we leave them. We say goodbye to their neighbors, Maria, Robert, and Paul and head south to Trani. 

Located on the coast in Puglia, it’s often mentioned in the guidebooks as worth a visit. The drive is just over two hours, and we make it fine, navigating the crazy tight streets, finding excellent harbor parking, and then struggling to find our hidden B&B. Looking for the street and the number is challenging, but we finally find the right #41.

The B&B Palazzo Paccioti is lovely, and we all have nice big rooms. Ours has Botticelli’s Venus looking over us. After settling in and taking a load off, we head out to the harbor for the evening passegiata. Tonight is the most Italian evening we’ve experienced. Mostly Italians and few tourists, parents walk kids, young girls and women come out all dressed up, dog owners walk, people have a smoke. With the sun setting and music from a bar further down the harbor, the excited chatter of so many people, it feels quintessential Italian. 

We choose a restaurant along the harbor wall that Margaret liked the look of, and the food impresses us. The bruschetta bread is delicious, crispy and airy. The pizzas have a spectacular crust, and my eggplant and arugula pizza brings back a memory of ordering salad topped pizza in Lucignano back in 2004. Dad and Margaret both close their eyes and make moaning sounds of approval. Todd orders a burger and it comes without a bun and bacon strips atop the side of potatoes, and the flavoring is totally unexpected. 

By the time we are finished, the sun is fully set and the harbor is still busy. After dinner, Todd finds a vegan gelato place, and Dad coins him “The Gelato Whisperer” when they take their first taste. We meander to a quiet nearby square and enjoy our gelato under the date palms as kids play.   

Day 9: Trani

It’s a cloudy start to the day, and rain is in today’s forecast. Our B&B serves breakfast on the top floor, and we sit under an awning and enjoy the temperate morning. Todd battles a sinus infection (but he brought antibiotics just in case), so he decides to give his body more rest. 

Dad, Margaret, and I head to Castel

del Monte, about a half hour outside Trani. About a mile or two out, the castle becomes visible atop a hill. There’s no long walking approach today, as we can drive right up to the parking lot. The castle was built in the 1200s in a unique octagonal shape. The castle is solid stone—even the roof—so no wonder it survived! We walk the two floors, each tip of the octagon giving us unique views across the Puglian countryside. In 40 minutes, we’re done, as there aren’t really any informational displays or furnished rooms. Just the stone and architectural wonder on full display! 

Back in Trani, I collect Todd, and we join Dad and Margaret at a harbor restaurant. Soon, it starts to sprinkle. We move under the stone facade and enjoy our meal. Dad and Margaret have a seafood of the day (mussels with rice and potatoes), Todd has pasta with scampi (having to dismantle them), and I enjoy pasta marinara but with a new kind of pasta—oriccheti. The sauce is delicious. 

As we finish the first part of our meal, we hear the wet sound of a car driving. It’s suddenly pouring. It doesn’t let up for at least a half hour, and we try to wait it out, but dad’s weather app confirms that it won’t let up for quite awhile. So we put on our rain-ish gear and start the three block trek back to our hotel. The pretty little stone lanes have become mini rivers, and it’s careful Hopscotch, trying to avoid the streams and puddles and keep our footing. We arrive with wet shoes and some wet clothes but without incident, decamping to our rooms to dry out. 

Todd and I play uno, listen to the rain and chill, the rain never really letting up. We can hear the gutters and drains still emptying in the lane below. Let’s see what we end up doing for dinner: delivery anyone???

Tomorrow, the weather will improve, and we head to Alberobello, ending in Bari for the night. 

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