On our return to the campsite after our Fracchie outing, we knew we’d missed the curfew and the gates were closed. We slept outside on the road, waking up briefly to drive into the site when it opened again at 6.45am. I could get used to being driven around while lying in bed!
We lingered at the site for several more days, firstly to bide our time over Easter, and then it seemed silly not to take advantage of the seven nights for six offer. As well as doing some bits of research and vague planning for the next part of our trip and catching up on laundry, I changed the spark plugs on the van, and we made several other forays into the hills of the Gargano peninsula – the fetlock of Italy. It is a beautiful area and we explored Monte Sant’Angelo, a busy but freezingly windy town at the top of the mountains. The warm spring had dropped many degrees and snow had fallen on the mountain tops. We took loved its spectacular views and visited a cave church where the Archangel Michael is said to have appeared a few centuries ago. A service was in full swing but they didn’t seem to mind people milling around and coming and going. It all added to the atmosphere.
A quiet Easter Sunday wander round what would be a tourist hotspot in the summer high season. We enjoyed a lovely pizza in the sunshine of a sheltered back street, entertained by a huge joyous gathering of friends at the next table, which included singing along to corny pop songs and all of them bidding us farewell when we departed. Driving down through the centre of the Gargano, the scenery became anything but typically Italian. It felt very like home … the beech trees with their gentle spring foliage set against a snowy dusting in the hills of the Umbra Forest, or ‘forest of shadows’, wound through by tiny lanes.
Another outing westwards took us into the rolling farmlands of the Tavoliere plain, the breadbasket of Puglia, where a large percentage of the durum wheat for pasta is grown. We sauntered around the small sleepy town of Lucera, which couldn’t seem to even muster an open restaurant, although we were just in time for a slice of pizza from an old backstreet bakery, and then to Troia with its pretty rose-windowed church, where we were guided around by a local chap looking for a diversion on a quiet afternoon, and a chance to practise his English.
Back at the site we socialised with some more Brits, Austians and Germans. Germans Martina and Hubert who were with their purple VW T25 with Westfalia interior, had been placed in the pitch next to ours and we swopped notes on travelling in a small van over some wine.
We had finally decided to sail out to the port of Vlore in southern Albania. The sailing leaves from the port of Brindisi, and on the way there we spent a couple of days with Jochen, Sylvia and Jacob, a Germany family we first met at Ksar Ghilene in Tunisia, who live in Bari. It was great to see them again and they made us very welcome. It was good to have a glimpse into real life.
We explored the wonderful old town of Bari, where the narrow streets in light coloured stone feel airy rather than hemmed in as we were expecting. The churches too are simple romanesque structures, with wonderful crypts beneath them.
There was an orthodox Easter ceremony taking place in the crypt at San Nicola, which houses a wonderful icon presented by the King of Serbia. On the way to Bari we had also stopped off at Trani, where the church was also high and light inside and which had two more churches in its crypt areas.
It took a few phonecalls to make the ferry booking, as the site we normally use wasn’t accepting bookings for this crossing, (to the broker site in the UK, to the ferry company in Greece, and to the agent in Brindisi) but we got there eventually. It was sad to say goodbye to our German friends, but we headed off into a rainy day to see a bit more of Puglia before finally catching our ferry.
The weather worsened as we headed into the picturesque countryside around Alberobello, known for its charming buildings, called trulli, which are conical shaped oast house like structures with pointy roofs like gnome hats. Unfortunately, even they couldn’t lift our spirits, and these were further dampened when we found out we couldn’t park for less than eight euros an hour … We drove onto the next town – Locorotondo – where we arrived soaking wet at a lovely restaurant and our moods lightened. We decided not to stay in the locality but to press on to the town of Lecce, further south. After a few false starts we even found a camper stop site that was open. We’d bought lots of food at a local market, so set about making a rather larger than planned dinner. And it kept on raining in the night.
Next day, dawned fine though, and we went off to explore Lecce, a light coloured Baroque town with wonderfully ornate churches and elegant buildings. We were glad we’d made the push to see it before leaving Italy. We had another lovely lunch of local cheeses and a good wine, in a quiet square. Puglia is specially known for its wonderful food, which is going some in Italy. The weather changed again though as we were finishing lunch and the afternoon saw more torrential rain as we did our last bits of shopping before leaving the country.
We have spent much longer in Italy on our return than originally intended. What was meant to be a week or so’s drive through the country to catch a ferry across the Adriatic has turned into nearly a month. The country just can’t relinquish its grip on us! It’s been a relaxing few weeks, but now we are ready for new experiences, tastes and cultures and look forward to the next eastern phase of our journey, as we sit here on a rainy dock at Brindisi.