La Dolce Vita:  True Confessions, Rants and Ravings

Travel and travail are closely related. Travel is fun, but it comes with travail. I try not to rant too frequently, and generally look on the sunny side, but today I’ve decided to share some True Confessions, Rants, and Ravings to get them out of my system.

Lecce’s Napoli Gate. I’ve been “on vacation” and know nothing about the gates!

 

I confess, a week passed before we decided whether or not we liked Lecce, Italy. Not only was it a new country and new language, it was winter – and Christmas! Being winter, we were not seeing Lecce and Salento at their best.  Being Christmas, we felt a teensy bit homesick. Travel fatigue was definitely a part of the picture. “Oh, joy! Another cute walled city! Why can’t we find a grocery store in this place!”

Lecce’s San Biagio Gate.

 

Lecce’s Rudiae Gate.

 

For the month of December we wanted to relax, read books, and watch movies. We wanted a place that would be pedestrian friendly, convenient to food markets and eateries, quiet, and interesting, but not overwhelming with sightseeing and history.

The Roman Theater in Lecce.

 

After so many short term stays with nothing more than a bed to sit on, when considering apartments our number one criteria is the furniture, in particular, the sofa. Many modern sofas remind me of my old Ford F150 bench seat.

Both the City of Lecce and our sofa lived up to our expectations. Unfortunately, the wifi situation did not!

The massive Italian leather sofa in our Lecce apartment lived up to our expectations. The VRBO profile said the apartment came with wifi. If we had known the wifi was limited we would not have rented the place!

 

It was hard to get past the disappointment and frustration to be told on arrival that the apartment had “wifi limited to email and internet surfing” and “broadcasting” was not allowed. We learned that broadcasting meant no streaming because we had completely exhausted the 1 GB allowance in the first 2.5 days.  

We offered to pay for additional data and were told “Impossible!” Not willing to accept the verdict we pleaded, prodded and pushed. In the end, additional data cards were purchased, but still not sufficient for as much FaceTiming, and streaming of news, church or movies that we do. We discovered which coffee bars had free wifi and made lengthy visits. This wasn’t ideal; coffee bars are cold, crowded and play loud music. On the other hand, I read 10 books.

 

Feeling sympathetic to our wifi frustrations, the apartment managers and their English-speaking friend befriended us inviting us to coffee, to their home for a delicious typical Leccese meal, and out for pizza. Communicating is difficult, but we appreciate and will always remember their kindness, hospitality and sharing with us their city and lives.


Lecce is a relaxed university town of 100,000 and over 40 churches.  Many times I am awake during the night and hear a gentle ringing of a bell in a not too distant church. But other times during the day multiple church bells all over the city clamorously and wildly toll and since it’s not always on the hour or quarter hour we are left wondering why.

Within the walls of the historic town where our apartment is located, is a maze of narrow, winding lanes and car traffic is severely limited.

 

Big Brother is watching.

Trees and gardens are scarce in these old stone cities. I like to admire the rooftop gardens and windowbox plantings.

 

A domed church inside the Napoli Gate.

 

On our previous visit to Italia we encountered the stereotypical Italian who seems curt, speaks (shouts?) loudly and sounds angry. The Puglianos are gentler – not as intimidating as the Romans and Napolitanos. This has encouraged me to attempt speaking  I’italiano with baristas and waiters. English speakers are rare in Puglia.

Lost in Translation

I was told to speak Spanish to the Italians and we’d communcate just fine. I ordered in Spanish a “café con leche.” The Spanish word “leche” is pronounced exactly the same as “Lecce” the name of our town. The waiter served me this coffee shot over ice with a shot of some sweet almond flavor. I reminded him I ordered a “café con leche” and he said that was what I got. Since then I’ve seen “Caffé Leccese” on a menu: Iced coffee with almond milk. Exactly what I received.

 

Outside the historic walled city traffic (and honking) are heavy, especially midday when everyone wants to get home for the Italian siesta. (I didn’t even know Italy had a “siesta” – what do they call it?) Supermarkets, museums, banks, churches, stores – nearly everything closes for several hours in the middle of the day reopening around 4:30 or 5:00pm for the evening passeggiata.

We had to change  the way we do things. Mornings we like to leisurely drink coffee, then read emails, and catch up on social media and news while breakfasting before showering. Around noon we are ready to go out to do errands. But that is exactly when the stores are closing down! A few hours later we are hungry and that is exactly when then the restaurant kitchens are closed down. Until they reopen around 7:00 or 8:00pm the food choices are limited to gelato, coffee, pastries, focaccia and calzones.

We don’t have any complaints about the Italian food. These cones cost €2 and that pizza €4.50. We like the Italian mantra: Live to eat, not eat to live.

 

We’ve had to adjust our usual schedule and plan ahead whether we’re going to eat out for lunch before 3:00 or go out for dinner after 8:00 or to pick up takeout to eat at home.

Take out usually wins. The many Pasticcerias, Gastronomias,and Rosticcerias offer amazing choices: pastas, rice dishes, potatoes, vegetables, meats, breads, cakes and other delights! I’m loving the eggplant parmigiana and grilled yellow peppers!

 

We were feeling sorry for the restauranteurs because as we would be headed home for the night there was nary a customer in sight! Then one Sunday evening while walking home later than usual we discovered all those outdoor restaurants were buzzing with business!

Late night dining all bundled up in the cold does not appeal to us!

 

La Passeggiata

It’s very real. Every night and all day on Sunday. Young and old, friends, small families, multi-generational family groups, singles – all out walking. Walking dogs on leads, leading young children by the hand, pre-teens straggling behind, pushing strollers, slowly strolling, arm in arm, visiting, eating, kissing, admiring window displays, clogging the wide pedestrian zones. No one is in a hurry. Bicyclists, segueways and wheelchairs are in the crowds as well as the ever present street venders.

On Christmas Day we were surprised by the amount of people on the streets.  Eating and drinking establishments were open. Beggars were out en masse.

We wonder if this is normal or if the crowds were heavier than normal on account of it being Christmas.

 

I confess, the Italian women got under my skin. I could see them looking me over, up and down. In my travel wardrobe I felt dowdy! I was cold too! I purchased a pair of cheap black and surprisingly comfortable boots for only 10 euros at a Chinese store. Now, warmly dressed, I enjoy the evening passeggiata brimming with self confidence.

My new friends and I were discussing the trend of a living for travel and experiencing culture versus accumulating material possessions. They admitted that the Italians need to show outward perfection. Their lives are full of many unsolvable issues (like the wifi.)

We watched workers create this little Town of Bethlehem from a pile of stone in the town piazza. The plants and grass were the final touches.

 

In Italy, on Christmas Eve the Baby Jesus is placed in the crèche and thus begins The 12 Days of Christmas ending on January 6th – Epiphany – the day to celebrate the arrival of the Magi. The Presepi Viventes (live nativities) are live starting the day after Christmas until Epiphany.

In the US, Christmas Day is the culmination of Christmas festivities. By Boxing Day folks are standing in long lines to do returns and exchanges and by New Years Day taking down the tree.

The Leccese art of Papier-maché (cartapesto). These figures are about 24″ in height.

 

One more rant. The “Old World” has been civilized ages longer than the USA, but apparently hasn’t learned the science of staircase building. Our bodies are accustomed to anticipating the regular height of each riser and trip up when the individual risers are not consistent – even when we know and anticipate it. The tallest steps appear at the top when the builders realize they have run out of space and divide the space over two huge steps. (We have found this phenomenon in every country we have visited, not just Italy.)

Some staircases are very steep with high risers. The stair to our Lecce apartment.

 

Evora, Portugal

 

Even with new construction we find a staircases with inconsistent heights of risers and one or two extra high big steps! It’s crazy…

 

Recap of 2015 and 11 full months of travel:

1/23/2015 – Merrill’s last day on the job

1/27/2015 – Left Sacramento, California for Portland, Oregon

2/2/2015 – Flew to Quito, Ecuador

We stored less than a dozen boxes with friends and family and are living out of a suitcase and carry-on each. The photo of us was taken at PDX on 2/2/2015 when we were pretty excited to head out with a vague itinerary. I am still using the blue suitcase and wearing the same clothes, but Steve exchanged the huge black suitcase for a smaller one.

 

Valentine’s Day – Quito, Ecuador

Easter – Cuenca, Ecuador

Mothers Day – Medellin, Colombia

Wedding anniversary and Fathers Day – The Algarve, Portugal

Independence Day – 4th of July – Scotland

Steve’s birthday – Oban, Scotland

Merrill’s birthday – Bucharest, Romania

Thanksgiving Day – traveling by bus from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Christmas – Lecce, Italy

New Years Eve – Lecce, Italy

One final rant. This has got to be the most ridiculous modern invention ever. Cold water on the left and piping hot water on the right – and never the twain shall meet (unless you plug the drain and fill the basin.) Who fills the sink to wash their hands and face? Notice how there’s no room to put your hand under the faucet?

 

We are rested up and sad to say our time here is over. Tomorrow we pick up a rental car and leave Lecce for a short visit to Naples and Rome before we say “ciao” to Italy. By next week I will writing to you from a different country and will tell you all about it next time I Meet You in the Morning. 

Thanks for reading and I wish you all a very Happy and Healthy New Year!

One final confession…I’m headed out for Passeggiata – and another creamy gelato!

 

9 responses to “La Dolce Vita:  True Confessions, Rants and Ravings

  1. We experienced similar with WIFI in the apartment we rented in Portovenere. Very frustrating. Travel!!! there is always a price to pay but at the end of the day we tend to just remember all the good things. Happy travels in 2016

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A few years ago, when I was studying in Japan, I missed the sound of church bells (and even churches). What a little thing, and yet . . . .That apparently wasn’t your problem.
    I applaude you for being on the road a whole year. Not many couples have that kind of perseverance.
    Dorothy B.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That sink looks almost exactly like the one we had in our house when we first married(almost 16 years ago). It was super annoying! We have not lived there for the past 18 months and a few years prior to us moving Steve finally replaced the sink with a “modern” one…it was so delightful to have a normal sink! I really enjoy reading your travel updates…safe & happy travels!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funny story! Thanks for writing Erika. It seems whenever we remodel we move shortly afterward as well, and can’t enjoy the fruit of our labor! Thanks for reading.

      Like

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