Saturday, February 22, 2014

Cutest hotel ever

Here are some photos I took on our last day in Alberobello. We stayed in a very nice bed and breakfast that had 3 different trulli. Ours was the biggest one--the very nice owner upgraded us for free--with 6 domes. It was spacious and cozy inside, and the breakfast in the morning was superb.  We know where we are staying if we ever go back down to this area (which we would love to do sometime with some guests...hint, hint!).
Anyway, on the last day as we were getting ready to leave, I took some photos on the outside. The inside was a little dark during the morning to get good shots. This place was great in that it was far from the road, they had a playground for the kids, they have a pool for when it is warmer, the price was reasonable, and they were very nice and welcoming hosts. A++!

 The kids and our trullo in the background

 Norah and some trulli

 Norah and Luca having a race...she took off before he knew what was happening!

 Susannah...she just was too busy walking on the gravel to look up for the photo!

The view from the yard of our bed and breakfast.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Finally we had a chance to explore the town we were staying in, Alberobello. They (historians) think the name for the town came from some local trees that were growing here (the town name means, "Pretty tree"). Alberobello and the surrounding area are know for a very unique and very quaint type of building, the "trullo." Originally made to house farming implements and provide shelter for livestock, trulli began to be used as human dwellings in the middle ages, when a tax was issued on those who lived in regular houses.  The people, not wanting to pay the tax, started building nicer and larger trulli for themselves to live in.  A trullo is a stone house built with no cement. It is said that if one removes the key, supporting stone, the whole thing collapses in on itself.  This was convenient for the people because they could just temporarily "destroy" (and later rebuild) their trulli whenever tax collectors came calling.
Alberobello has a large collection of trulli in an "urban" town setting. It is really something. Most trulli are found more isolated on a large piece of land...usually a more rural dwelling. We saw many scattered here and there in the valley where Alberobello is found.


Before we explored Alberobello, we took a short drive to the nearby Grotte di Castellana, which is a huge network of underground caves (formerly the site of an underground river). We took a tour which ended up being hot, long, tiring, and slippery. James and I kept arguing later about who "took one for the team":  me, who carried Susannah in the baby carrier the whole way (and held Luke's hand for much of it), or James, who was like our pack mule and had to carry everyone's jackets as they got too hot. We were both sweating and miserable by the end of the tour.  That said, the inside of these caves is astounding!  They wouldn't let us take photos but for the beginning and end of the tour.  The stalagmites and stalactites take forever to grow.  I think the guide said 100 years for every centimeter.  We weren't allowed to touch anything because the oil in our hands would stick to the rock and repel any future water+minerals falling on that spot and therefore stop the growth of the formations.
 Going down, down, down into the caves.

 It's spooky in here!

 Some stalactites and stalagmites.  In each chamber, the guide would point out one that looked like the Madonna, or an ice cream cone, or the leaning tower of Pisa, etc..

 James wanted me to get a shot of him so he would know he was there, too.

 Looks like an organ to me!


 The view of Alberobello from Belvedere, a lookout point.

 The trulli.

 A trullo.  You can see that the roof is stacked stones.

 A street in Alberobello.

 Norah and Luca enjoying the afternoon.

 Exploring the side-streets in Alberobello.

 Mommy and Luca...faded but I like this photo.

Family band shot! Susannah was there, too!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lecce and Ostuni


Well, after our wasted day going back to get our camera, we rose extra early on the 28th of December and decided to go down south a bit more to the town of Lecce, which is known as the 'Florence of the South.'  Since we haven't been to Florence yet, I have no idea if this is an accurate description, but our interest was piqued, so we hopped in the car yet again and made our way to Lecce.
Lecce is known for its Baroque style...which translates to "very intricate" and "overworked" in some cases. Also found here are lots of Roman ruins.
 Roman amphitheater, with presepe (Nativity scene).

Another view of the amphitheater.  It was fun explaining to Norah that this is what the Romans did for entertainmen. ("What do you mean they didn't have TV's???")

 Love locks by the amphitheater. I also explained the tradition around these: lovers bring them to an important or meaningful place, and hook the lock to something.  Their love should last as long as the lock is there.  We (Chiara and James) saw these in many places in China when we were there many years ago.  Now, we are also seeing them here and there in Italy.

Just walking around the Roman theater.

 Chiara and kids in a piazza in Lecce. This was taken around 1 p.m., when, as in most Italian cities, everything shuts down for the "pausa" and the town seems deserted.

 Front of a church in Lecce.

Front of the main basilica in Lecce.  Under construction, but you can see the (very) intricate carvings on the facade.

After Lecce, we still had some daylight left, so we decided to see another "white city," the city of Ostuni, on the way back to our place.  Ostuni is built on a bluff, and the buildings here are made primarily of white limestone. On the way there, we passed many many (many!) fields of olive trees.  These trees seem ancient (look at the trunks...they are very big). Later, we found out from some people we met in Ostuni that it is actually illegal to cut down an olive tree in Puglia.  If one wants to build something like a road or building, one has to carefully dig up the olive trees and plant them in a new place (always in Puglia).

 Olive trees in the afternoon.

 Approaching Ostuni, the White City.

 "Street" in Ostuni.  Not very car (or stroller) friendly!

 The afternoon view from the top of Ostuni. See the trees down there? ALL olive trees...all the way to the beach (where the dark blue is).

 Family band in Ostuni.  Sorry about your head, gotta work with what you're given, and all of our family shots had some of your head missing!

As we were leaving Ostuni, I looked back and saw the sunset light hitting the old part of the city.  I screamed for James to pull over so I could get a picture from the car.

OK, in the next post, we will show you some trulli, which is what we came to Puglia to see!!!

On the road...for a LONG time...

On the day we had to leave Vieste (December 26), the weather was stormy and windy.  For us, this was a stroke of good luck!  Who cares if it's raining as long as we are just in the car?
Here's the view of Vieste as we were leaving on this stormy day.


On the way off the Gargano Promontory and down to Alberobello, we decided to stop at Monte Sant'Angelo, which is a mountain-top town and the home of the Santuario San Michele Arcangelo.  This church is unique in that it is one of the few churches dedicated to the Archangel Michael, and also that it is literally built inside a cave. We weren't allowed to take photos inside the church, but I stole one from the internet so you can see what I mean.
There are little side caves off to the left. When we were there, they had a big presepe (Nativity) set up in one of the side grottoes with electric lights. It was really beautiful, and recreated the scenes of the Nativity with the theme of the local culture and scenery.  This church was unlike ANY church we had ever seen (or probably ever will see!).  The legend is that the Archangel Michael appeared several times (once with flames and a big sword) to different people on this mountain, and specifically requested that a Christian church be built in this grotto.They obliged him.

We ate lunch afterwards in a nice little restaurant, packed up our stuff and drove the 3 hours down to the rain! We arrived in the evening to a beautiful little trullo, warm and cosy, and fell asleep.

OOPS!!!!!  OH NO!!!!!! followed by PHEW!!!!!

The next day (December 27) we woke up in our CUTE and WARM little trullo (pictures to come in the next post) and packed up for a beautiful day of exploring Alberobello, looked around for our new camera and realized (with horror!) that we had left it back at the restaurant in Monte Sant'Angelo!  A 3.5 hour drive away!  We called the restaurant, and thankfully, they had it.  (Phew!!!!)  They wanted to mail it to our home, but we wanted it for the rest of our journey, which had barely begun, so we begrudgingly got back into the car and wasted a whole day driving back up to get it.  Ugh!  Needless to say, we were very attentive as to the whereabouts of the camera after this experience. Maybe even more so than our own children!  So, we lost a day exploring the area, which, it turned out, was a shame because there is tons to see and do there. Oh, well, now we have an excuse to go back!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


After San Marino, we drove down the province of Puglia, specifically to the Gargano Promontory, which is like the "spur" on the heel of the boot of Italy. This promontory is predominantly forested, but the coastal areas have some civilization, and so we headed to the town of Vieste. Vieste itself was pretty much closed down for the winter; we thought it was a big enough town that there would be plenty of locals to keep things open and running. We were wrong. Our hotel the first night was an apartment that we rented, and the owner thought to turn on the heat about 3 hours before we got there. Needless to say, it takes a little more than 3 hours to fully heat an apartment with marble floors and cement walls. We were FREEZING all night long.  It was one of those situations where even the bed seems like it is sucking the heat out of you. The next day, we moved to a hotel and were a little more comfortable, albeit a little more cramped...
Vieste is a whitewashed city and against the blue of the sea, it looks very pretty when seen from afar (see pictures below).

Some views of Vieste
 On Christmas day, we went to the Foresta Umbra, which is in the middle of the promontory. It is a really beautiful forest with wide open spaces under the trees--not a lot of undergrowth. It really felt kind of like an enchanted forest. We found some ducks that were chillin' by a small lake, and fed them some old bread we had with us. Merry Christmas, ducks!

 Feeding the ducks. This might have been one of the first times Susannah actually put 2 and 2 together: the ducks that say "quack" in her books are the same ducks she sees before her. She looked a bit was cute!

 Susannah and Daddy walking in the forest.

 On the way back to Vieste from the forest, we took the scenic, seaside route. We saw this seemingly ramshackle structure, which we think is a fishing shanty (used in warmer months).

 Vieste, the white city, from the other side.

 The kids take any opportunity they can find to play on the beach. In this case, it was about 45 degrees F, windy, and COLD!  But they still wanted to play!

 Chiara and Susannah on the beach. Man, was it COLD!

All in all, our impression of Vieste is that it would be a great place to visit in the "high season" because more things would be open, the beaches would be clean, and the kids would be able to enjoy the sea more. However, I like going to places in the off season because we avoid crowds.  In this case, there just was NO one around. We were happy to be moving on to our next destination in Puglia, Alberobello, city of the trulli.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

San Marino

Well, as Rimini was still covered in a very thick, very cold fog bank, we decided to drive to nearby nation-state San Marino (James loves to check countries off his list!).  San Marino is located on top of a very tall mountain near the sea. As we drove up (and up, and up) the mountain, we began to see the sun, and eventually we popped out above the fog and had some great views!!!  Overall, San Marino is good for day trip, but there isn't anything that really makes it stand out. It's kind of touristy.
 Inside the basilica in San Marino.

 Who's that hip Italian lady walking in the piazza? Oh, it's Chiara!

 View from San Marino.  The sea is off to the right. See what we mean about the fog?

 Chiara and kids enjoying NOT being in a cloud (which is how we describe fog to the kids).

 The sun is coming out!

It really was pretty up there. It's amazing how this tall mountain just pops out of the landscape. And no surprise that there is a fortified city on top of it. This happens with almost every hill/mountain in Italy.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Christmas around Italy

James and I wanted to have a relaxing holiday over Christmas/New Year. We went to a travel agent here in town and looked into some options. When it became clear that our idea would cost a lot of money and not give us exactly what we wanted, we decided to take matters into our own hands and plan our own trip.  Well, we kept adding onto it, and adding onto it, and it became an odyssey around Italy by car.  We started our trip by driving from Desio to Rimini, on the Adriatic side of Italy. 

While staying in Rimini, we went to Ravenna, which is famous for its mosaics, many of which date back to the 4th and 5th centuries, A.D.
 Mosaic in a small chapel. You can't see the individual tiles very well here, but they were about 1/4 by 1/4 inches in size. Pretty spectacular, incredibly detailed, and the golden ones are gold!

Top of the cupola in one of the churches in Ravenna...all mosaic.

Church walls were decked out in marble. Pretty neat.

 Luca was in a bad mood; he wanted to see the beach.  We did too, but unfortunately, there was a thick fog bank on the water and we couldn't see it!  He just didn't understand the comparison between ancient mosaics and playing in the sand!

 Top of the ceiling in a baptistry in Ravenna.  Remember, mosaic! I like how they managed to make the water look transparent...pretty cool.

 In one of the churches in Ravenna, most of the mosaics were made before the rule of the Catholics. When the Catholic sect began to take power (and churches) in the 5th, 6th centuries, they decided to destroy and replace any of the mosaics that were not important to them.  This picture of the Emperor Justinian was not offensive to the Catholics, so they left it. Originally, he had been surrounded by mosaics of other important leaders.
 This mosaic at one time had important people peeking out from the curtains. The Catholics decided that those people didn't fit into their world-view, so they just replaced the people with black tile mosaic.  You can see evidence of this cover-up by noting that one of the columns in the middle has a "floating hand" on longer attached to its owner!
This is another baptistry that was astoundingly beautiful on the inside.  All the gold was GOLD, and it was just breathtaking.

Ravenna is also where Dante's Tomb is located (it's in the background of this photo). As you probably know, Dante Alighieri wrote the "Divine Comedy." The oil for the lamp which burns continually in the tomb is supplied by the city of Florence, from which Dante was exiled, as penance for sending away such a great contributor to Western literature. 

All in all, Ravenna was really neat.  Norah enjoyed it; Luke and Susannah were too young to appreciate it. But we are glad we got a chance to see it!