Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Roma, once more.

Apparently I've been making a habit of lying to you all, because our hostel in Rome indeed did not have wireless access (thus explaining the lack of posts for two days), and I just remembered that the David isn't in the Uffizi, but rather the Accademia. The former of the two didn't really bother me at all, because Frankie and I had an overwhelming two full days in Rome. The latter, however, I'm still pissed about. Oh well.

As stated in my last post, our train left Lecce Sunday morning at 6:00. The six hour trip wasn't too bad this time, as I occupied most of my time with a couple newspapers (La Gazzetta dello Sport, and the only independent newspaper in Italy, which happens to be Communist: Il Manifesto) and a new book I bought the night before: Annelisa e il passaggio a livello. The countryside in southern Italy is truly beautiful, so that also helped pass the time. Once we arrived, we found our hostel fairly easily, and we spent an hour or so talking with Alessandro, the owner and manager. We had originally booked a mixed dorm room for two nights, but by some divine intervention he put us up in a private double room with a private bathroom. It was small, but it was a bed. And a bathroom. Private. So, needless to say, we were happy with Alessandro and his Ciao Roma hostel.

F and I knew, vaguely, the places we wanted to go and the areas in which we wanted to eat. The "main" things remaining that we hadn't seen on our last trip were the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona and the Colosseum at night. At least, those were the places we figured we could reasonably fit-in to six hours of walking. I've been told a few times that the Spanish Steps seem much smaller than most people imagine, so when we approached the top of them (after a long walk up-hill) I wasn't too surprised with the mass of tourists that dwarved the steps themselves.

I was hoping there would be a decent view from the top of the stairs, but the way the architecture is laid out, there really wasn't one good place to get a shot. Anyhow, the view from the bottom was pretty nice.

Seeing the Pantheon for the first time was undoubtedly one of the most overwhelming things I've ever experienced. Not just because it's almost 2000 years old (around 126 A.D., more or less), but because, unless you're looking on a map to find it, there's no way of knowing where it is until you round a random corner, and there, in the middle of Piazza della Rotonda- which houses countless restaurants, cafes, shops and even a lonely McDonald's, sits the best-kept temple in the world. And it's insanely large, to boot.

I totally was not expecting the Pantheon to be as big as it is. But, I suppose it's just one of those things you have to see to believe. Unfortunately, on this day (Sunday) the door's close at 1, so we weren't able to go inside. We decided it was a must to go back on Monday.

After the Pantheon, we walked over to Piazza Navona to see the fountains and the artists working in the square. We wanted to eat in the Piazza, but all of the restaurants seemed to cater to the tourists (or, us, basically) with prices through the roof. I decided on a good way to guage the price level of any restaurant: check and see how much they charge for a Pizza Margherita (just cheese, sauce, and basil)- if it's more than €6 or €7, then that place is too expensive. Works well for me, anyway.

We capped off the night with a walk to old Rome, to see the Colosseum and the ruins. The moon was completely full and brighter than I had seen in a while, so immediately I knew I had to get a shot of the Colosseum with the moon above it. Being dark, and knowing my shaky hands, I bartered with one of the street vendors and bought a small, but big enough tri-pod for €10. Unfortunately, by the time we got up close enough to the Colosseum for me to frame a shot, the moon was nowhere to be found. Evidently it had ducked behind some buildings while I was smooth talking the vendor. Who knows. I used an exposure time of almost 6 seconds for most of the shots, and I'm really happy with how they all came out.

I'm only going to post Day 1 of Rome for right now, because Day 2 was much, much too overwhelming for only half a post. That, and we just got to Florence, and I promised Brunelleschi I'd check out his dome.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Our train leaves Lecce tomorrow morning at 6:00 A.M., and arrives in Rome sometime around 12:00. Our hostel is situated fairly close to Termini station and we're only traveling with one bag this time around, so things should go a little bit smoother. As of now, we're planning on seeing the rest of the sites that we missed the first time around tomorrow, and then spending the majority of Monday at the Vatican. )

All three of our accomodations (Rome, Florence, and Verona) have wireless access, so I'll have time to update while away. F and I are meeting up with a friend from school in Florence, and we've reserved tickets for the Uffizi. I'm so giddy it's stupid. The only thing that has kept me away from the Uffizi thusfar has been the reported 6-hour wait in line, but with reservations, I've been told, we won't have to wait. I'm hoping that's true.

I forgot my camera today, otherwise I'd post a few pictures from our trip to the Leone de Castis cantina. Just watch the firedancers a few more times until I can update, Roma style.

Ciao, for now.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fire dancers.

**Edit**Until the video authorizes, there might be some difficulty viewing it.

Because of its close proximity to everything in Lecce, Piazza Duomo has become a central meeting place and a starting point for most, if not all nights. I was really surprised by the number of street performers in Lecce, and the fact that most of them are amazing at what they do only adds to their coolness, if you will.

I spotted these two performers late one night, and I had the forethought to have my camera ready. So, I present to you: awesome fire performer people, pt. 1.

Eventually, I plan on getting information and pictures/videos of all the unique street performers here, which would make for a neat post.

Thursday we're heading to a wine tasting seminar at a nearby winery, and next week we're off to an olive oil press to watch the magic happen (that is, the magic of Italian olive oil production). There's big stuff for the blog soon.

I hope everyone in the states is enjoying the moderately warm summer (81 degrees today? Oh, man), because here I sweat more in the shower than I do on the hottest day in Columbus. Today, it's 104, and yesterday, at the beach, it was almost 112 on the sand.

O, Dio mio.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


We finalized our travel plans for our 9-day break yesterday, with a trip to a local agenzia di viaggio (travel agency).

Roma, Firenze, Verona, e poi ritorniamo a Lecce.

Non vedo l'ora.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Torre dell' Orso

I apologize for the week-long lapse of posting, but I've been pretty busy this past week with school presentations and reading. I bought two new books: Kerouac's On the Road in Italian (or, Sulla Strada) and a book by a well known Italian author called Per un attimo immenso, ho dimenticato il mio nome. It's becoming easier and easier for me to understand longer texts, and it's helping immensely with my vocabulary and sentence structuring. Also, it helps that my Italian roommates are bibiliophiles like I am, because we spend a lot time talking about Italian and American works.

This weekend was yet another spent lounging al mare (at the sea), but Saturday was a little different than our school had originally planned. Frankie and I again decided to skip the organized day trip to Trani, and instead we piled into Davide's tiny Fiat ane he drove us to a beach near his hometown of Maile. The beach was called Baia dei Turchi (Bay of the Turks), and it was, again, a beautiful, clear-water beach along the Adriatic Sea. For some inexplicable reason, I didn't bring my camera along for that trip, so I couldn't document the hours I spent playing soccer with Davide and his friends on the beach. Afterward, he took us to his parents house in Otranto, and we spent a few hours talking with his family over coffee and his mom's homemade Tiramisu-like cake. Again, I was amazed by the hospitality of Italians.

Sunday, too, was spent at the sea, only this time I made sure not to forget my camera.

Torre dell' Orso is a long stretch of beaches along the Adriatic Sea, made up of Baia del' Oriente (where we were), and Baia dei Turchi (where I was Saturday with Davide), and a sprinkling of other, smaller beaches. When we first got to the beach in the morning, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of people on the beach, leaving only walking space in between each group of people, so my friends and I found a nice spot in the shade just behind the beach, from which the picture was taken. We spent the largest part of the day up there, until I decided to walk around a little bit more and see the other side of the beach. I'm glad I did, too, because on the other side of the beach, obscured from our view by some of the gaping cliffs, was some of the prettiest coast line i've ever seen.

The view from the bottom of the cliff I climbed to get a better picture.

A close-up of the rocks.

After discovering the other side of the beach, I went back to our spot and convinced the others to follow me back to the, in my opinion, best spot at Torre dell' Orso. Once they got there, they all agreed. The water was warm and clear, and we waded around the far side of the rocks to find another grotto of sorts, hidden from the rest of the over-populated beach. I spent a few minutes trying to decide how to get my camera across the water without ruining it, when a friend of mine chimed in: "Throw it in a plastic bag."


So, we waded back to our belongings, and I double wrapped my camera in two large ziplock bags (which, of course, we brought from the 'States, because Italy has yet to discovery their utility), and waded back to our hidden cove.

With the plastic wrapped tightly around my camera, leaving only the lens exposed, I was able to get some pretty cool shots of the water and the rocks.

The view from the hidden beach.

Fellow explorers.

In all, this past week was filled with all sorts of intersting things, including new great gelato, cafe and architectural discoveries. I promise more posts in the next few days, as Frankie and I start planning our oncoming 9-day break.

Alla prossima.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Porto Selvaggio.

Sunday morning the entire OSU group and I trekked to the bus stop nearest our school, for a day in the province of Nardo, at Porto Selvaggio, a gorgeous, rocky coastline with clear waters and cliffs spanning for miles. Because of the location of the beach, we had to hike for about a mile to get down to the water.

We were all surprised when we saw the Romanesque lookout tower nestled atop the tallest cliff, adjacent to Porto Selvaggio, and we all stopped in awe for a few minutes, in typical tourist fashion.

Beaches are extremely popular in this region of Puglia, especially on Sunday, when most stores in the city close, and families have nothing else to do but relax al mare. This day was no exception, as a hundred or so Italians spread out all around the rocky shoreline.

Shortly after arriving at the beach, I noticed a trail that led up the side of the mountain, presumably leading to the Torre at the top. I wanted to investigate the scenery first, before swimming or lounging about. Here are a few shots from our (Frankie, our friend Jim, and myself) trek up the mountain.

The climb up was actually quite a trek, as we followed an almost unnoticeable path leading up in between rocks and groups of trees. Once we reached the top, however, some 20 minutes later, the view completely assuaged any fatigue we felt.

Torre Rinaldo is a typical coastline lookout tower, constructed most likely during the beginning of the Roman empire. It’s nestled in between Gallipoli and Porto Selvaggio, and offers amazing views of the coast along the Ionic Sea. I spoke with the two Uomini (men) on top of the tower stairs, whose job it was to keep an eye on the beach below with a few trusty pairs of binoculars. One had been doing the job of a watchman for almost 20 years, he said, and the other, presumably his son, had just started.

The rest of the day was spent swimming in the cold, refreshing water, and jumping off a small rock formation with a few Italian kids. Italian kids are nuts, by the way, as most of them already drive scooters in the insane Italian traffic by the time they are 12. More on that topic in a later post.

Underneath the rocks in this picture, where I was standing when I snapped the photo, was a grotto that went underground for about 30 or 40 feet. The rocky ceiling had holes in it, allowing the afternoon sun to seep in and light the underground cove. The water was even more translucent and blue in there, and it was times like that in which I wished I had an underwater case for my camera, like Jeff over at Jeff in Puglia.

Tonight is my Scalpellino (stone carving) course, and I plan on bringing the camera along to document the happenings. It’s a great class, and it will only get better as I get the hang of those pesky sege (saws) and chisels.

Fortunately, I think i'm balancing the inane amount of panini and calzoni I'm eating with the equally inane amount of walking we do around Lecce. It's a fairly simple city to navigate, which is nice, but it's big. And I don't mind it at all.

Monday, July 09, 2007


As I mentioned in the previous post, our school has organized day trips every Saturday and Sunday while we're here. Being so close to the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, almost all of the trips are to nearby beaches or sea-towns. This weekend, there was an organized trip to Otranto and Porto Selvaggio, both of which are only a 30-45 bus ride away. During the next two months, we are scheduled to visit Otranto two more times, so Frankie and I decided to stay in Lecce on Saturday and take advantage of the saldi (sales). Twice a year, all throughout Italy, there are sales at most clothing and shoe stores, and the second saldi period started Saturday. It was heaven for Frankie, but still not my cup of tea. So, I walked around with camera in hand, and captured a lot of the "must-see" sights in Lecce (at least all the ones that appear on most of the postcards).

I walk this street almost every day, on my way in centro (downtown). It's right behind Porto Napoli, one of the main entrances into the city center, and there are numerous shops and ristoranti along the way.

These door knockers caught my attention while walking to the Duomo (cathedral).

Piazza Duomo is the main square wherein lies, you guessed it, the duomo, and there are always weddings or funerals taking place. Luckily, on this day, there was a wedding.

All of the architecture in Lecce is constructed out of the local Pieta Leccese, a stone for which Lecce is renowned. During the first four weeks of my trip here, I'm taking a scalpellino (stone carving) course, and all of the stone is the pieta leccese. More on that subject at a later date.

This is Piazza Sant. Oranzo, and standing atop the 30 foot obelisk is none other than Mr. Oranzo himself.

There is a Roman Ampitheater in Sant. Oranzo that is amazingly well preserved. It's juxtaposed with a street full of shops, cafes, and tobacchi (corner stores) on one side, and the other, a McDonalds (ghasp!) and the main bank in Lecce. Luckily, there's only one fast food restaurant in Lecce, but man do the Italians love it (despite the average 7 Euro value meals).

The name of this last chiesa (church) is escaping me at the moment, but I'll definitely do some more research. At night, it's one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Lecce, because of the intricate Baroque facade made out of the Leccese stone.

And to honour my word in the last post, here is a little gem I found while perusing a touristy-type shop in front of the Coloseum.

You can read more about the Priest Calendar here, at Shelley's Rome blog.

In the coming days: a tour of the Baroque architecture of Lecce; our day trip to the beautiful coast of Porto Selvaggio, and some reviews of the best gelaterie (gelato shops) in Lecce.

Alla prossima.

Friday, July 06, 2007


Finally, after days of not being able to access my laptop (God forbid, right?), I found a moderately priced internet cafe that has access points in over a 100 locations in Italy. There are computers with internet access available at the scuola, but my flash drive doesn't seem to work properly on them, and that is my only source of uploading pictures.

But, I digress. We've been in Lecce since Sunday afternoon, and things are going amazingly well already. We have class from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. every day, and in the evenings our school has planned excursions for us, in many different surrounding cities near Lecce. Tomorrow we're heading to Otranto for a day at the beach and a tour of the city, and Sunday we're off to Porto Selvaggio, for another day-trip in spiaggia.

I've been mainly getting acquainted with the city and my new apartment (with two Italian university students, Davide and Nicola, and their 5 month old puppy Markos), so I haven't had much time to take pictures, but in the coming weeks I'll assuredly wear my camera out. The architecture here is, at times, breathtaking, and there seems an endless amount of trattorie and gelaterie, all of which make for decent blogs.

But, I do have some pictures from Rome still on my flash drive, so here are those.

La Galleria d'Arte Nazionale, as seen from the front door of our hostel in Rome.

The first real espressos.

No caption needed.

L'Arco di Trionfo.

The monument Vittorio Emanuele.

I'm not sure what those guards are called, but they seem pretty proud.

La Bandiera.

Piazza Venezia.

Shelley, if you read this, I have a picture which I'll post next time that you'll probably enjoy. Let's just say we saw some "hot priests."

Jeff, if the gelateria you were talking about is Natale, then I've already found it, and it's godsend.

I hope everything is going well back in the states. Frankie and I are just starting to get into the swing of La Dolce Vita.

A la prossima.