Thursday, September 20, 2007

Viaggio: A Day in Lecce

Lecce is a wonder of baroque architecture, and is sometimes referred to as the Florence of the South. It's no surprise that we wanted to check it out!

As you can see from the photo above, the city center conserves the ruins of a Roman amphitheater (one of three we would see during our trip in southern Italy). It was built in the first or second century B.C., but was only uncovered in the early 1900s. About half of it has been excavated.

Lecce also has numerous other notable churches, squares and porte. The city is really beautiful. Only one small problem: it was hot hot hot!

We visited Lecce at the beginning of our second week in southern Italy, while we were renting a house with our friends in Ruffano. (If you're keeping track, this is Day 8 of the trip; still a week more to report on!)

In addition to sightseeing, we wanted to eat at another restaurant listed in the Gambero Rosso guide to restaurants. We struck gold at Picton.

Here's what I ate:
Ciceri e tria: Pasta e ceci alla leccese con la pasta fritta

Translation: Pasta with chick peas (the noodle-like homemade pasta in this dish is half fried, half boiled -- a special preparation known to Lecce)

This dish came with a special note on the menu: "Piatto storico Salentino: unico in Italia per la sua preparazione." Translation: Classic dish from the Salento area; prepared here in a way that's unique throughout all of Italy.

Padella di scamorza affumicata con funghi porcini
Translation: Smoked scamorza cheese cooked with porcini mushrooms

Here's what Il Nostro Inviato (Mike) ate:
Spaghetti di Gragnano (con acciughe, peperoncino, aglio, mollica speziata)

Translation: Spaghetti with sardines, hot pepper, garlic and spiced breadcrumbs

Insalata tiepida di farro con fricassea di gamberi e seppioline

Translation: Lukewarm salad of spelt (raise your hand if you're an American who knows what spelt is!), with fricasee of shrimp and cuttle fish

Wine: a bottle of Cappello di Prete Salento Rosso Candido 2003, which is a red wine from Puglia that's made only with the negroamaro grape

Here's what we both thought: one of the best meals we have ever had!

I am sorry to say none of the photos we took at the restaurant came out well. But it's gorgeous inside, with a high ceiling and an arbor, and the food is exceptional. The owner, Tonio Piceci, is a well-known chef who's published several cookbooks.

We also did a little shopping in Lecce (just a little, though, because almost everything was shut tight like a drum for the afternoon break until 5:30 or 6 p.m., which was when we headed back to Ruffano).

In particular, we visited a bookstore,, La Libreria All'Ombra Del Barocco (Corte Dei Cicala, 1), where I went a wee bit crazy. I will report in a future post the wonderful books I bought there and elsewhere.

We also bought a few gifts at a lovely store, Al Levante Taberna Libreria (Via Umberto, 1), that sold a bit of everything. Mike even got a free store t-shirt that says "Smetto Lunedi"! ("I'll quit Monday"). There, I bought a fantastic CD that takes traditional Pugliese music and overlays it with drumbeats and other modern synthesized music.

Since returning home, I have rocked out to this album while driving to work! It's oddly compelling!

Here are a few other photos we took while in Lecce.

I saw this tree in Piazza Sant'Oronzo (named for the city's patron saint) and thought it looked cool. You can see the amphitheater in the background. Do you see how cool this city is? I hope so. I would also like to note the people in Lecce were very friendly.

I will admit I don't remember where in Lecce I saw this bust of Aldo Moro, but I had to take a photo of it. I personally don't see much in Italy that memorializes the leader of the Christian Democrat party who in 1978 was kidnapped and killed by Italian terrorists. Which reminds me of another book I bought in Italy: "L'Ultimo Brigatista." But now I am getting ahead of myself (I bought it in Trani....which is coming up in the travelogue!)

The last photo below is of the "porta" through which we entered and exited the city.

For more information on what we saw in Lecce:
Picton, Via Idomeneo, 14, Lecce;, or, (this site provides information about the entire region surrounding Lecce)

Goodbye Lecce! Arrivederci!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Viaggio: Signs along the road, in towns, wherever


I am going to take a break for a moment from recounting our trip, day by day and town by town, and instead write a post that's dedicated to all the wonderful signs that caught my eye while we were traveling.

Here's a sampling:

We took this photo above in Torre San Giovanni, on the west coast of the Salento peninsula. Our friend Ilaria pointed it out to us. In addition to the standard "welcome," the sleepy seaside town added: Vi vogliamo bene! Which means: We love you! Aw, how sweet.


I snapped this photo in Peschici. A bit odd for something one would see in Italy. Anyway, the sign says: Adam, Adam, Why did you listen to your wife and not Me? What do I have to do for you now?


Translation: "If you park right, there's enough room for everyone." We took the photo above in Ruffano (LE), where we saw a number of "quality of life" signs designed to gently nudge some Italian habits out of existence.


At the Tazza D'Oro bar in Rome near the Pantheon (our favorite building in Rome). Translation (LITERAL): "Buy a sack of coffee, and you'll acquire a sack of friends." It's a pun! They use the phrase "un sacco" to indicate "a load" or "a ton," as in: buy some coffee, and you'll find yourself with a ton of friends.


This is the "legend" of Ugento, a small township at the bottom of the Salento peninsula in Puglia. The wonderful wooden sign contains a map, a street index, advertisements for restaurants and other useful information about Ugento. We had to drive through Ugento, from Ruffano, in order to get to the beach, and we stopped there one day to have a gelato. You know, us, and the "sacco" of other Americans visiting Ugento that day. He he he he.


Graffiti I saw, not sure where. Do any Italians wants to explain this sign?! I will leave that as your "compito."

A tra poco! More to come!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Viaggio: Next stop: Matera

I Sassi di Matera... the "rocks" of Matera. That was our first stop when we left dear San Marco dei Cavoti, and began the real descent to Puglia.

(First real stop, I should say, since that morning we briefly visited Pietralcina, near San Marco, which was the birthplace of Padre Pio, the widely venerated saint who has achieved cult status in southern Italy....just imagine a hot summer morning in a tiny town whose winding streets are crammed with "religious" tourists...oh it's a trip.)

Matera, in the Basilicata region, is a World Heritage site because of its cave-like (and in some cases, they are really caves, no more, no less) dwellings that had to be evacuated in the middle of last century for sanitary reasons.

I will give you a bit of the city's history, show you a few blurry photos Il Nostro Inviato clandestinely took in a cave church and relay a few details of our quickie, two-hour tour of the rock city (not to be confused with Rock City in Tennessee, folks!). But not now! I have to go to my day job.

But before I go, I just want to remind you of my true feelings (at left). Thanks for visiting! You rock (he he he)!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Viaggio: SMDC: Food! And Wine

Buongiorno signori e signore!

Mangiare e bere....isn't that what you want to know about?

We had a few good meals in San Marco dei Cavoti (BN) that I would like to mention (ok, truth be told, we had no bad meals during our trip to Italy, only absolutely fantastic meals, very good meals, good meals, and then maybe one or two meals that did not live up to the rest but were still buonissimi!!)

We ate in three places of note: U Magazzeo, Ristorante Il Melograno and a place that I only remember as containing the word enoteca in the name (we did not receive a receipt, if you know what I mean, so I don't have anything that tells me the exact name).

In all three restaurants, we felt as though we were eating in someone's home and in the case of the enoteca, we were! (the scampering of little feet and the shrill voice of a talkshow host from a television on the third floor above us accompanied our meal)

There were no menus. The owners asked us what we wanted to eat, and we asked what they had, what was good, what was local. I'm not trying to be the patron saint of localism but hey that's how it went! We ate quite a few dishes in which the pasta was fatta in casa (homemade).

At U Magazzeo, we had pasta ai fagioli (with beans that the owner of the restaurant grew in his yard) and lombatina di vitello (veal sirloin). The wine was a wonderful local Aglianico (red) and the bread was crusty and homemade. We also had rucola from his garden and local tomatoes. Should I mention this was lunch? We were hungry. Very hungry.

Unfortunately, it was a bit dark inside the restaurant so I did not get any shots of the meal there. Peccato! It was good. The restaurant's mantra, printed on its business cards, reads: "Il vino è sollievo...per l'anima." Wine soothes the soul. Amen!

At Il Melograno (the name means pomegranate), I ordered spaghetti alle vongole, which as you can see came with tomatoes as the dish often did in southern Italy. It seemed only appropriate: as we drove around, we were often passed by flatbed trucks filled with crates of just-picked tomatoes.

And the enoteca is where we scored the wild boar mortadella and other local salumi I mentioned in a previous post. Here's a marginal shot (perdonatemi!) that shows a small amount of the pieces of parmeggiano that we were given, and as you can see, ate! Ah mortadella, parmeggiano, bread (the remains of which are in the photo!), wine....what more can one want?

I won't lie: this food report is a bit lacking (incomplete meal reports and a shocking scarcity of photos)....but just wait until we arrive in Puglia where we ate in not one but four restaurants listed in the Gambero Rosso guide (somewhat like the Michelin guide). Want a sneak peek? Va bene. Eccolo!

One more thing I want to show you about San Marco dei Cavoti. Floats from a holiday (La Festa Dei Carri) we missed by just a few days. What the little car is made of I don't know, but I will find out just as soon as Il Nostro Inviato wakes up tomorrow.

Grazie per averci seguito. A tra poco!

Viaggio: Benevento

Benevento, in Campania in southcentral Italy, is probably not on too many Americans' tourist itineraries, which may be a shame if only for the Arch of Trajan that's there (yep that's it above).

Have you seen the Arch of Constantine in Rome, next to the Coliseum? Same thing and pretty darn cool at that. I guess it's also like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, n'est-ce pas?

Benevento also has the remains of a Roman amphitheatre. The city is one of the most ancient in Italy, and was once a Greek settlement. For a time, it was inhabited by I Sanniti, a tribe not unlike the Etruscans that settled Tuscany and other areas of Italy before the Romans.

Benevento reluctantly became a Roman colony in 275 B.C. (after Rome waged three wars with I Sanniti), and the Arch of Trajan was built in honor of the Roman emperor of the same name not long afterward.

I don't have much more to report on Benevento because it was so hot the afternoon we were there that I think Bono himself could have staged a concert and I might have opted to go back to the hotel just the same....maybe, you know, who can say?

In any event, it's fascinating to visit towns that predate the Romans, I guess because it just seems like such an incredibly long time ago. You've always thought I was brilliant and that sentence just sealed it, no?! Sorry, but that's how I feel. I just try to imagine how they lived and what they thought, so very long ago.

In the unlikely event you want to keep track, we visited Benevento on our third day in Italy. The next day we left our new friends in San Marco dei Cavoti to visit Matera, the city of ancient cave-like dwellings in Basilicata, and make our way down to the region of Puglia, where we would join our friends from Florence and spend the rest of the trip (except for a brief but extremely satisfying afternoon in Rome on the last day of our trip).

Please keep coming back! I have more to show and tell.


(In case you don't know, this is a ciambellina, which is the name of this blog and my screen name. Meaning I think of myself as a cute little sugar-covered donut?! No, not at all. It's just my favorite Italian pastry. He he he he. And calling it a donut does not do it justice because it's so light and airy but it does look like a donut so there we are).

Friday, September 07, 2007

Viaggio: San Marco dei Cavoti

I think it's time to get I will begin at the beginning of the trip: San Marco dei Cavoti, a quaint little town in the hills outside of Benevento, in the region of Campania which is also home to Naples (to the west and south of where we were).

Why go there? Well it's the little town where the grandfather of Il Nostro Inviato (a.k.a. Mike) was born. It's also, to be clear, the town of the Torrone and Croccantino, locally-produced chocolates in which the residents take great pride. ("Dire Croccantino è dire San Marco dei Cavoti.")

Like many Italian towns, San Marco has streets lined with cobblestones, its historic center is full of tiny alleys and the food and wine are to die for (at least by American standards). Which is to say very different from the world I live in every day.

The first night we arrived, there was a drumming concert in the piazza right outside of our B&B. What a way to arrive!

I would say the music we heard was where the show Stomp got its whole inspiration. For two hours, a half dozen men played probably a dozen different percussion instruments. Not mops and forks but actual drums. It was mesmerizing!

Just imagine: a tiny medieval square filled with people, the stars above and traditional music filling the air. Pretty much the reason I took vacation in the first place.

The group did two encores, and I think they could probably have played another hour, if the crowd had its way. While they were drumming, they performed simple choreographed movements that enhanced the presentation. Here's a photo of the group, Percussioni Ketoniche, above.

Interwoven with the group of drummers was an additional performer who played the role of storyteller, as well as a large tambourine. The performer, Nando Citarella, harkened back to the traveling musicians of the Middle Ages, and in fact, explained the history of such musicians as part of his set. He also sang an ancient tune, like a town-crier, that was beautiful in as much as it was rustic. Here he is making his arrival.

Folks....this was just the first night! I haven't even showed you yet the homemade wild boar mortadella we ate or the bottle of Aglianico we gladly ingested before the concert!

Let me quickly give a plug to where we stayed, B&B Vicidomini (left). It's in a building from 1674 that was once a church. The owners, Rino and Franca, bought it as their home and then converted the upper wing into a bed and breakfast. It was a fine place to stay, and we really wanted for nothing. Unlike the small pensione where we later stayed in Trani, the bed was firm, the room large and cool, and the hosts really quite hospitable. Thanks Rino and Franca!

There's more to tell about my trip to the south of Italy.....

Stay tuned! A tra poco!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Puglia (ecc.): Cominciamo.....

Ciao a tutti,

I am going to be posting a lot of photos and comments about the trip in Puglia (and other places) but I am still organizing the information. I will be posting a lot in English so that friends and family in the U.S. who don't speak Italian can follow along.

But how about a stuzzichino while I get myself organized?

Va bene....ecco qualche foto dal viaggio:

L'architello lungo la litoranea Peschici-Vieste nel Gargano (Puglia); one of the things I most wanted to see during our visit to the Parco Nazionale del Gargano; qui si può vedere la terra bruciata dietro l'architello; durante il mese di luglio e poi di nuovo la scorsa settimana mentre c'eravamo, ci sono stati degli incendi per il Gargano che hanno distrutto ettari e ettari di boschi; potete immagine quanto bello ancora sarebbe se il bosco fosse tutto verde e vivo?

A street scene of San Marco dei Cavoti, in provincia di Benevento, Campania; dove nacque il nonno del Nostro Inviato; ci siamo fermati li' tre giorni all'inizio del viaggio

Un antipasto di frutti di mare; come voi potete immaginare, abbiamo mangiato tanti piatti a base di pesce durante il viaggio; qui una foto di un antipasto (con uno scampo, le cozze, alice, ecc) che ho preso a San Marco, presso un'enoteca molto accogliente

A tra poco!!!