Two English words: 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 of things, but today I’ve decided to share some True Confessions, Rants, and Ravings to get them out of my system.
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. And 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!”
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.
After so many short term stays with nothing more than a bed to sit on, our number one criteria when considering apartments for a longer stay is the furniture, in particular, the sofa. Many of the modern sofas I encounter 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!
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 Italian 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, without streaming I managed to read 10 books previously downloaded to my reader.
Lecce is a relaxed university town home to 100,000 inhabitants 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. Many times during the day multiple church bells all over the city are clamorously and wildly pealing and since it’s not always on the hour or quarter hour, we are left wondering “Why?”
On our previous visit to Italia we encountered the stereotypical Italian who seems curt, speaks (no shouts) loudly and sounds angry. The Puglianos are gentle – 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
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’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.
We were feeling sorry for the restauranteurs because when 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 buzzing with business!
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.
I confess, the Italian women got under my skin. I could see them looking me over, up and down. My travel wardrobe was feeling 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 “living to travel” and experiencing culture versus accumulating material possessions. They admitted that Italians have real pressure on them to show outward perfection because their lives are full of many unsolvable issues (like the wifi.)
In Italy, the Baby Jesus is placed in the crèche on Christmas Eve and thus begins The 12 Days of Christmas that end 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 and on Boxing Day folks are standing in long lines to do returns and exchanges and by New Years Day taking down the tree.
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.)
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
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
We are rested up and sad to say our time here is over. We really did come to enjoy this place. 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!