Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving Trulli

I am uploading several posts today while I'm on base using the library WiFi. I am beginning to think we will never get internet. After Christmas, I am going to go get an aircard so that we at least have something at home. I thought it might take 6 weeks or so, we're at that mark now, with still not even an appointment (from all reports, it takes at least three scheduled appointments before the service tech actually shows up). It's especially odd because a family who moved onto our same block, three weeks after us, had internet within two weeks of move-in. Usually these delays are because internet isn't available in one's neighborhood. Ahhhhh, Italy!

The time has once again escaped me, and I need to leave the base soon, but I'll quickly write about what we did for Thanksgiving. We decided to travel south to the Puglia region to a little town called Alberobello (pretty tree). The town is an UNESCO World Heritage site due to thousands of trulli homes - little, white, round houses with conical roofs of stacked stone. They are adorable. This trip was inspired by an article saved for us by Nathan's Aunt C. when we visited last spring. She had an article on the food in the Puglia region with pictures of this town, and my imagination was captivated. Once we arrived in Italy, other people also mentioned the town, and there is a friendly hotel owner who has captured the American military market (and allows dogs in his houses!), so we decided to make that our mini-vacation. We stayed in a trulli house (they are cold for the first day or so until the heat fills the space!) and had the chance to enjoy the town in the off-season. It was nice to have some quiet, but it was a little too quiet. The shopkeepers were somewhat aggressive since we seemed to be the only game in town. And every restaurant we visited, we were the only table - we got great service! The food was phenomenal. I had the best pasta I've ever eaten - freshly made, and filled with ricotta and chestnuts in the lightest cream sauce. I'm drooling as I remember it.

We tried to do a good bit of exploring of the surrounding area as well, visiting the Grotte Castellana, a fantastic cave system. I've never been to Luray Caverns in Virginia, which are reportedly amazing, but this cave system here is just indescribable. "Room" after "room" of formations all over the floors and ceilings. One particular cave in the system, the White Cave, is so named because every formation in it is white - and no one knows why. There are plenty of theories, but no one knows for sure.
Another day, we visited the town of Lecce. This is a beautiful town, but to me, it was like many beautiful towns in Italy...charming streets? Check. Beautiful architecture? Check. Amphitheater in the middle of town? Check. Lecce is worth a visit for sure, if only to see the baroque architecture on the churches, but I think  the more important "site" is some of the best gelato ever! Ever! It's at Natale, which is located off of the piazza where the amphitheater is located. And Nathan finally had the chance to taste "real" gelato. He loved it! On our way to Lecce, we stopped in the tiny town of Locorotondo, which our guidebook stated has the prettiest centro (center) in Italy. I might just have to agree. The buildings are all white, the pavement is ivory, colorful flowers spill out of window boxes, and alleys are small and curvy, leading you ever onward with the expectation of more lovely sights to see around the corner. Shops and bars were all closed, but the kids were on recess, which apparently takes place in the alleys/streets of the town. We dodged many soccer balls, including one made of balled up paper.

Our final stop was on the way back to Naples, where we stopped in Matera, home of the Sassi (stone/cave dwellings) and the town where "Passion of the Christ" was filmed. The sassi rise up on a hilltop, and across the gorge, the views are of more and more cave dwellings. These places have been used as homes for many thousands of years, and Matera is thought to be one of the oldest, inhabited towns in the world (the whole world - not just the western world!). This place is only two hours south of Naples, yet we'd never heard of it until we were skimming the guidebook to see what types of things were on our route. I look forward to returning and doing some exploring in the gorge/ravine, where there are many, frescoed churches in caves.

We didn't load up on turkey, stuffing, cranberries, potatoes, and pumpkin pie. But we did have a Thanksgiving feast, quite by accident. We'd had a late (and large) lunch, so at dinnertime, we headed to one of only two restaurants we found open and asked if we could just have antipasti, wine, and dolci (dessert). The answer to these types of questions is always a yes, with a look of confusion as to why that would not be possible. But anyway, we ordered our bruschetta, the wine, then decided to also try the antipasti sampler of regional dishes. Good gracious was that a lot of food. Six of us could have eaten on that appetizer as our meal and still not finished it! We had a cheese platter, meat platter, basil souffle, chickpea mix, a bunch of other things of which we weren't sure what we were eating, and even that most disgusting of delicacies, tripe. We'd never tried it before, but since it is considered a very special item here, we thought we'd at least give it a taste. Well now we've tasted it. And that's all I need to say about it. At this point, the food had been so plentiful and delicious, we decided we had to try their dessert and ordered what we thought would be a small bowl of gelato. Nope. Large bowl of gelato, big plate of cookies (lots of cookies), and another large plate of chestnuts the restaurant owner had been roasting at a nearby stand. The restaurant was an old olive mill, in an underground trulli house, so the atmosphere was as delicious as the food. The only thing missing was the nap on the sofa after our gluttony.

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