Puglia, Italy Day 4: Electric Bikes and Haunted Farms in Alberobello

This is the continuation of the posts about about our trip to Puglia, Italy, earlier this summer for a friend’s wedding. I’m planning my own wedding, which is happening this December — which is why I’m just getting to this now. Here’s Saturday, Sunday, and Monday’s posts.

Tuesday 9/16
Alberobello, Noci, Putignano

I wake Olivier up at 9am. Olivier does not want to be up. We argue again over whether to take a shower. I say it dries out your skin and hair. Olivier says I smell.

I say I’m tired at 11am. Olivier smirks of victory.

We eat breakfast from Francesco on patio: espresso, pain au lait, madeleines, jam, milk. I decide European milk tastes way better than American milk. But why? I wonder: Do they feed milk cows hormones in the US?

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Rent electric bikes. Genius. 5 electric speeds help us to go faster (up to 25km per hour) when we get lazy. I get map of our route from the bike people, then we take them back to get our cell phones at the apartment.

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Olivier forgets map at house. Olivier says I forgot the map.

Biking through the countryside; it smells amazing — like pine trees and hay.

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We visit the Red house of Alberobello, which was first a rural institute and then a death camp for Jewish prisoners of war from 1940 to 1943. The place is like a set for a horror film. There are cats everywhere. A fancy hotel is on the same property. We wonder: who would want to build a hotel next to former concentration camp?? Or stay there?

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alberobello red house 1

Stop for lunch at Noci and order our first cheese and meat platter of the trip (!!!). I argue people spend 1/3 of their energy on brain activity. I spend 3.2 calories thinking hard about it.

Visiting the creepy death camp has stayed with us, and we have a big discussion on what would’ve done during WW2. As a young blond catholic? I ask. Yes, not as a 12-year-old black girl, answers Olivier (this is a recurring dream I have, I wonder if it was me in a past life).

Big answers too: We want to think would hide someone, but that would be freaking scary.

Continue riding to Potignano and Castellana. Not much to see in either city.

We ride back through more farms. Very pretty one-lane roads, cows, and olive, fig and pomegranate trees.

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When we realize the route we were planning to take is on a busy highway, we opt for a side road that’s three times as long.

Then, 45 minutes into side road, Olivier’s battery dies (he’s been using it a lot)…just before we hit a chain of huge hills. We bothpedal up hills manually (or for the most part — I’m trying to ride motorless in solidarity, but these bikes are HEAVY!). I don’t offer my bike. I also complain about how far it is, and am a general pain, while Olivier is sweating his balls off and expertly finding directions (his words).

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Still, we wind up on a winding two-lane highway anyway, pedaling up on huge hill in the middle of a forest. I see road kill cat and think: That’s soon us.

7 hours after we first left, we finally make it home and return our bikes. Comment to Olivier that we did not die. And that we’ll never use electric bikes again. I take my first shower in two days.

We go out to grab a glass of negroamaro and greasy cheese and meat appetizers in square. Then off to dinner again at the same pizza place Francesco recommended. It’s not as good this time around as before, but the dough is so yummy.

Order dessert (we deserve it!) and I dump my fig ice cream on floor. The waitress offers to cut off the part that hit floor so we can eat it anyway. OK, I agree. And it’s worth it.


Puglia, Italy Days 5-7: Wedding at the Borgo Egnazia

This is the last blog in a series about a trip my fiance and I took to Puglia, Italy, for a friend’s wedding. See Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Thursday 9/18
Borgo Egnazia

I wake up at our hotel room in Matera before Olivier and decide he needs to sleep this morning. So I go for run. I find my way around the cliffs easily after getting so lost the night before. Aside from a local blasting music from a boom box strapped on the back of his bike, singing in Italian and peddling up and down main street, I am only person up and definitely the only working out. Italians look at me like I’m crazier than crazy bike guy.

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When I get back, I shower, pack, and eat two croissants; one plain and one made with chocolate chips and filled with Nutella, for measure. We decide croissants in Italy are definitely not as good as croissants in France.

We drive to the Bari airport to drop off our rental car. On the ride, we discuss what it would have been like to live in Middle Ages — a town like Matera was built for protection and survival, near a source of water, where people could hunt and gather and live in cave homes sheltered from intruders in the cliffs. I think even though it all sounds romantic, people spent their whole lives just trying to eat and not get killed. And we are pretty fortunate today in the US for not having to spend every day worrying about getting speared in the back, or dying from childbirth or dysentery. And now that we have it so good, we need fast cars and skydiving to get the thrills that were once everyday life. That people couldn’t have been as happy as us tourists, dropping by for a day to drink wine and eat croissants. Olivier says he thinks happiness is relative. I think he’s just arguing to argue.

We drop off the car. Guy who checks us in notes a couple of scratches. We tell him they were already there; first guy who rented us the car refused to note them because they were too small. The first guy is there: He denies it. But Olivier took iPhone photos of scratches before we left (they’re dated and everything), which we show to the rental company. They still have us fill out paperwork that basically says we’re responsible. But insurance covers it. Now it makes sense. This is the Italian way of doing business.

We cab it to Borgo Egnazia, the hotel where our friends are holding their wedding weekend (Thursday to Sunday):

Borgo Egnazia map

This place is insane. The lobby’s air vents are all perfumed with a signature fig milk scent. There are candles everywhere (must be someone’s job just to run around and light them all day). Justin Timberlake had his wedding here three years ago; this is also the place where sultans from India come to get married. This sounds like our friends.

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The front desk tells us the hotel was built — three years ago, by Americans — to look like a typical Italian village, complete with its own cathedral. The design is convincing. Except everything is so perfect it all looks same to me…and I keep getting lost.

We eat lunch by the pool. Servers are “polite,” pulling out chair for me but not Olivier, and giving me a menu with no prices printed. (Olivier, of course, gets a menu with prices.) I want to pull out my own chair and see prices. We order pasta with saffron and mussels, local white fish with roasted vegetables:

Borgo Egnazia lunchBorgo Egnazia Lunch 2

Then we spend the rest of the afternoon at the pool, reading:

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That night, we go to a wedding welcome dinner in a nearby restaurant, among olive groves. I give my bridesmaid speech to Emily and Matt, the couple. I had planned it thinking this was the rehearsal dinner, and it would be 20 of their closest friends. The realty: It’s 120 people. Emily, my friend, is only person laughing at my inside jokes. I am humiliated. So I just get really drunk (we later find out that each guest drank an average of 4 bottles that night).

Friday 9/19

7:40 am: Splitting hangover. Can’t fall back asleep. Olivier is out. And mad at me for mouthing off last night. I lay in bed, then slip out at 9am. I don’t make a peep.

9:30 am: Yoga class by MOH. I get the spins in child’s pose; almost puke in downward dog. Two girls do just that in bathroom.

12pm: Olivier and I skip out on socializing for an amazing massage at the spa.

2pm: Rent bikes to try and go to the beach club, where the rest of the wedding party is, instead of taking the bus with the rest of the guests. We are proud of ourselves for being adventurous. We bike to wrong beach. We go back, take the bus.

3pm: We arrive at beach club our friends have rented out and hired a DJ to give it a boozy brunch atmosphere. We feast on a huge Italian buffet with six types of pasta, seafood, cheese, grilled veggies, rose wine on ice; then we float on rafts in the lagoon. The bride’s photogs are stationed hidden behind bushes on cliff taking pics of us. We pretend we’re celebs.

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Dinner that night is in “Borgo Square” of our hotel. There are candles everywhere, and even more food: A chef making burrata in a giant barrel as we watch. Other chefs slicing steak and ribs, serving pastas and cheeses. During dinner, an 8-person traditional Italian band played while four traditional dancers danced. Then the piece de resistance: Three hours in, a 20-person Brazilian drum band arrives and plays for the next four hours.

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This is not even the wedding day.

We note we will probably never be invited to a wedding like this again. Including our own.

Saturday 9/21

Olivier and I go for run in morning around the golf course next to the hotel. An Italian security guard kicks us off 20 minutes in: Guess some things are too tacky for even guests to do.

After preparing at the hotel, we load on buses to go back to Ostuni, the place we visited on Day 2:


But this time, it’s to attend the wedding of my friend. She and her husband met and live in New York, but they love Italy and decided it was the place for their wedding.

The ceremony takes place in the same cathedral that Olivier had commented — before we knew it was where our friend’s wedding was going to take place — that he would want to ditch our beach wedding and have a wedding in a church if it looked like this:

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We take photos of the bridal party on our iPhones before going into the church:

Ostuni wedding party

This is the last I got of the wedding itself, since I was busy doing my bridesmaid duties…but the local Ostuni newspaper featured the wedding that weekend.

We bus back to the hotel, and after cocktails on the roof, we bus again back to the hotel beach club. It’s lit with hundreds of candles. We eat until we’re stuffed and dance until 4am to the tunes of BBC DJ our friend flew in. Private fireworks show: included. It is over the top, and it is beautiful:

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Borgo Egnazia  16 Borgo Egnazia  15

Puglia, Italy Day 5: Caves and Cathedrals in Matera

This is the continuation of a series of blogs about a trip to Puglia, Italy, for a friend’s wedding (I’m just getting to write now —  been planning my own wedding). See Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Wednesday 9/17

This morning, after our 7-hour bike tour around Aberobello and Noci the day before, we wake up only when the alarm goes off, at 9am (first time for me this trip!). Rush out of house at 10am in caffeineless haze and drive an hour and a half to Matera:

Matera map

This is the jackpot of our trip. Matera is incredible — a Unesco World Heritage site — that still doesn’t seem to be too inundated with tourists (those that are there are Italians).

It’s on a small mountain, nestled by a river; people have been living in the area since the Paleolithic age. Houses are literally carved into the stone mountaintop, with wealthy medieval castles and a cathedral nestled at the peak. It was a big city, too for the time — 30k people lived here hundreds of years ago.Matera 19

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We meet Angela, who takes care of the home where we’re staying, in Piazza del Sedille — one of towns oldest courtyards now filled with tourist cafés with menus in English. We are lost. Then late. She is not amused. We thought that was how the Italians did it?

We’re staying in a castle at the top of the hill on Castille Street. The apartment is HUGE and cost $160 for a night again on AirBNB. A steal.

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Downstairs, we stop at a restaurant (something Gato?) for tuna steaks and pasta with shellfish — though the presentation is better than the food:

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I treat myself to a cannoli (better than the main courses):

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We settle up and start walking, down the steps on backside of the cathedral near where we’re staying:

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The view from this side of the village is breathtaking. We look down on a valley hugged by a river, and a mountainside filled with hundreds of grottes — ancient cave dwellings where poor people lived; this area is called Sassi (which means stones).

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We take a tour of a mock cave (people would have lived in something like this — but less lit — as recently as the 1800s:

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We continue. Olivier walks into an abandoned grotte — many are just open for visitors to wander in — and pretend to take a poo on what looks to be the toilet while I take a photo. We both think this is very funny.Matera 5 

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We visit a medieval church literally built into a pyramid-shaped mound of rock on a cliff. Its walls are covered with Medieval (11th, 12th 13th century) paintings of saints:

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The view from the cathedral is breathtaking:

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View from the other side of the mountain, toward the cathedral:

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Wood carvings on a church door:

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After a nap at our apartment, we get dressed to explore other half of the city Sassi. We walk down into town square and then down the steps to the bottom of the town basin.

I comment how there seem to be only Italians — no Asians,  Arabs or black people living in Puglia. Probably more in Rome through?

Matera 2

We stop for a glass of primitivi at the terrace of La Ptèj d’Nadi (local for “Nadi’s Boutique”), located at the bottom of village.  DSC_0734

We’re starved by this point: It’s time for dinner. We consult a map and decide the restaurant we want to go to is near our apartment, which is on the other side of the mountain.

We trek up the side of a cliff, over and around to the cathedral near where we’re staying.

And we can’t find the right road. Maps in Matera are terrible.

In short: We walk up and down the cliff three times. Just as we’re about to give up, we realize the restaurant is literally a two-minute walk from where we started. We’re too hungry and tired to find this funny — and I have to pee — but we know we will laugh about it soon (we have).

The restaurant, Malatesta Osteria, was suggested by our host; it’s delicious and affordable. We order simple pasta with olive oil, fried bread and chilis, and it’s the best we’ve had yet. We order a plate of olives (maybe the most delicious I have ever eaten) and cheese. We discuss introverts vs extroverts, Darwinism, orciette pasta (it looks like ears! must be where got its name), Noci (=hazelnuts??). I wonder: is Nutella from Noci? Or is the guy who invented Nutella from Noci? Or did I just take my brilliant deduction skills up a Noci? We’re full but want more pasta, though the server is MIA. When we do find her, I have a hard time saying the name of the pasta, arrive derchi, or anything vaguely Italian.

We walk back from the restaurant. What took us an hour to get to takes 10 minutes (and no hills) on the way back. But it was well worth the effort.

Puglia, Italy Day 3: Trulli and Negroamaro in Alberobello

This is the continuation of this blog and this blog about our trip to Puglia, Italy for a friend’s wedding.

Monday 9/15

I am up at 8am. Wake Olivier up. Olivier does not want to be up at 8am. He shares his nightmares, of Chinese man and Jennifer Lawrence. He says it’s because he was wearing ear plugs.

He takes a shower. The bathroom smells like sewer. So does Olivier now.

We walk up town to cathedral, have croissants and cafe outdoors. Decide Nutella is Italian. These croissants are much better than the ones we bought in the Rome airport.

Drive from our AirBNB apartment in Ostuni to the beach at Terre Guancento nature preserve. Park near a farm growing tomatoes. Pick two tomatoes:

Terre guacinto


We walk to beach, wash tomatoes in ocean, eat them. They’re salty.

Lie on beach on hand towels we brought from the apartment and read, sleep. Take dip, pee in ocean. Sleep some more.

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Back in Ostuni, drop off keys and have lunch at a pizzeria recommended by an Italian we met in Monopoli. We eat pasta and linguini. It’s not very good. Italians at the table next to us laugh loudly when I try to speak Italian.

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Drive to Aberobello, an inland town with hundreds of trulli (more on that below):

alberobello map

Olivier refuses to look at map. He also won’t down-shift gears in the car when we’re on a hill. I drive stick too and say this is stupid. But Olivier says he never goes into first.

The drive is beautiful. See lots of olive groves, wineries.

Arrive in Alberobello, beet Francesco, our AirBNB host. He’s much more business than other Italians. We even have a contract!

We’re staying in a trulli — an ancient mortarless home that people in the region have been building for centuries. They’re made of huge limestone bricks topped with conical stone tops. Rumor is, they were constructed this way, stone by stone and without mortar to keep it together, back in Middle Ages so people living in them could quickly tear down their homes when the tax collectors came, so it would look like pile of rocks instead of a home. Proves people have always been trying to evade taxes.

We walk around town visit other trulli — there are over 1400 in the area — and take lots of pics:

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Have drink at cafe off main road: Aperol spritz and a mojito:

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We go for dinner at restaurant recod by Francesco. Il Guercio di Puglia: The waitress tells us it means “one-eyed guy of puglia.” He turns out to be a real person, famous in Puglia in the 1800s, who fought in “some war.” Waitress is not sure what war.

Olivier and I discuss boob jobs, fat vs sugar, why English people are fat, why Olivier is weird, hermaphrodites, cuddling. Oliver’s dad now says he is coming to wedding.

Our pizza is delicious, and the negroamaro wine so good:

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Puglia, Italy Day 2: Napolitan Pizza and Street Performers in Ostuni

This is the continuation of the blog about our trip to Puglia, Italy, for a friend’s wedding.

Sunday 9/14
We wake up late (13 hours of sleep to get back on track after our sleepless American Airlines flight in coach) and take a walk around Monopoli before lunch:

Monopoli 7

As the slightest breeze carries my new hat flying — which an Italian hat shop salesman somehow convinced me the day before to spend way too much money to buy — that it really does not fit. We try to find the hat shop. We cannot find the hat shop. We keep getting lost. And are starting to get hangry.

Still, we take lots of pics along the way:


(SIGN: No dogs peeing on the plants)

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We give up on hat shop and try to get wifi at coffee shop to clear Olivier’s debit cards for travel. We can’t get connected. Olivier’s credit card doesn’t work, and I’m down to my last Euros. We wait at the coffee shop until 1 pm, when the sandwich shop next door, Panini y Vino, opens:

Monopoli panini

We order a panini with spec and cheese, and bruschetta on soft, chewy bread with tomatoes, mint and strong ricotta cheese (that tastes more like blue cheese):

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I bite my lip (the third time in a week) and bleed everywhere. Olivier remarks repeatedly how adorable the little town is and everyone seems to know each other; notes that everyone looks like Roberto Benigni. We agree later, this might be the best meal of our trip.

We get ready to settle up and find out it’s cash only. Wander around town for half an hour, and can’t find an ATM to pay.

But we do finally find the hat shop. It’s closed (it’s Sunday).

Olivier finally stumbles on ATM, the only in the old town, on a back alley. (Reminder: We are not in NYC anymore.)

We pack our bags. And can’t find car keys. Search for 10 minutes. Decide AirBNB host Rosa has snuck into the apartment while we were gone, taken keys, and stolen our car. We probably deserve it for leaving keys in the apartment in the first place.

We find our keys under my bag.

Head off to Ostuni — an English tourist in Monopoli tells us is known as the “White City” (“Città Bianca”). On the drive we talk about living wills and euthanasia. Cheery!


The area has been inhabited since the Stone Age, and the city itself, like most others in the region, was built in Medieval times, starting as a castle on a hill. Everything is built out of limestone, the local rock, hence the “white” name:


We arrive in late afternoon; it’s beautiful and sunny. The old town is filled with impressive baroque-style architecture:

Ostuni 1

Ostuni 2

We stop to have a cafe, and finally connect to the Internet:

Ostuni 3

Ostuni 4

Olivier calls his bank. We find out that the card is actually not on hold; the lady at restaurant the night before who said it didn’t work probably just didn’t want us to use our card.

I stop for a chocolate gelato. It is decadent.

Ostuni 4

We walk around the middle of the old town, a walled city a couple of miles from the ocean. Notice all Italian women wear heels, even in this hilly town. Try to find the main city cathedral. Get lost. We realize: There are lots of cathedrals in Italy.

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We finally stumble onto it, at the top of a steep hill. It’s huge, built in limestone and marble. I can’t decide if the seats lining sides of altar are for clergy or rich people. Olivier remarks for our own upcoming wedding (in December) that he would want to get married in a church if it looked like this. We are getting married on the beach, no priest.

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We walk to our apartment to meet our AirBNB host Umberto, a 10 minute walk from the old city:

Ostuni 11

The apartment is small and smells a bit of sewer, but it’s cute. Umberto is a sommelier, who has worked at the hotel where we’ll end our trip for our friend’s wedding. He says it’s the hotel in Puglia. We don’t doubt it.

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After a nap, walk around town more:

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We stop to have drink at tourist restaurant La Belle Vista. A 10-year-old boy in line for bathroom is playing with squishy ball that looks exactly like a woman’s breast. Nipple and all.

We talk about Olivier’s dad, who’s probably not coming to our wedding. Decide he’s jealous. And maybe a jerk? Also discuss whether Olivier is cheap. Decide maybe he is.

Walk to restaurant, a Neapolitan pizza recommendation from Umberto. I get lost (I’m always the one finding our way). Olivier finds the way. Rubs it in.

The pizza is delicious. Olivier agrees, better than our favorite NYC pizza place, Keste. And the bread is better than French baguettes. This is huge.

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Once again, we arrived at the restaurant at 8pm and it’s empty; when we leave at 10pm it’s packed. It’s Sunday.

On our way back, there’s an arts festival in the street. We stop to watch street performers play with fire. Drum players beating their drums while a woman dances barefoot. Another woman who’s doing a modern dance with a (very realistic, life-sized) old lady puppet.

We have drinks on a terrace before returning to the apartment. Decide clowns and actors are narcissists. Maybe writers too.

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Puglia, Italy Day 1: Walk by the Sea in Monopoli

It’s been over a month since we took this trip, to Puglia for a friend’s wedding. She and her (now) husband met in New York and both live there, but they love Italy and decided to get married in the Puglia region (that’s the heel of the boot):


We flew into the Bari airport, arriving Saturday morning, September 13 — a week before the festivities. And immediately, we start taking notes. Here’s day one of our Italy adventure:

Saturday 9/13

We almost don’t make it on our flight from JFK Friday night. When we arrive at the airport, Olivier can’t get his seat assignment (he can never check in in advance because of his Visa-H1B status). We are told we may have to wait until the next day for another flight; there is no offer of a voucher if we’re kicked off. Getting pissed. The guy next to me is screaming at the gate agents about getting downgraded to economy from business, because there’s not enough room on the flight. Agent says they “got a different plane” than expected and are extremely overbooked.

Five minutes before the scheduled departure, we’re allowed onto the flight. We’re the last passengers on. We are not sitting together. We are squished in economy. Seats are getting tinier; I’m not a very big girl and I barely fit! Black box under the seat in front of me takes up half of my foot space. Guy next to me on the flight also lives in New York, in the same neighborhood (Chelsea) as we do. He is nice. But I start to get testy after attempting to sleep for three hours on our overnight flight. I do not sleep.

We arrive at the airport in Rome, haggard, for a layover. (Note to self: Never fly American again). Eat croissants (awful) and have an espresso to wake up (amazing). Pile onto another flight and arrive in Bari airport at 11am. Pick up car rental — it is SO European (Fiat); bet Berlusconi drives one of these:Fiat car rental-Italy

Drive to Monopoli, a fortified Messapic city of about 60,000 people about an hour’s drive away from Bari. It was first settled in 500 AD and always been an important city for trade with Asia, and was at times under Byzantine, NormanHohenstaufen and Venetian control:


Olivier and I do not have a road map for Monopoli. Just the highway map and the street address of our AirBNB host. We get lost. We ask for directions. We get lost again. We finally stumble onto the address when we park our car by the port. Olivier is very proud of himself.

We meet Rosa, our AirBNB home owner, who comes with her granddaughter. She does not speak English. And she does not know how to read a map. We are excited because we figure staying with an AirBNB host means they know all the local hot spots. We ask where to go for lunch and dinner. She says every restaurant is here is good. At least the room is gorgeous, and in the middle of the historic district:

Monopoli room

We walk around the port, take lots of photos. There’s a medieval castle, built in the 1500s by Charles V, that was, like many European landmarks, at one time also used as a prison:

Charles V Castle Monopoli

We walk by the water:

Monopoli water


We stop for lunch at a restaurant by the port eat – squid pasta and ravioli outside. Half awake. Many serious conversations, including genetic testing.

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We walk around some more, on winding streets and by the port. Take lots of pics:

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After showering back at the apt, we go back out and I am lured into a hat shop. The owner, somehow convinces me, in two-word sentences, to buy an expensive hat (the next day, I realize it doesn’t actually fit).

The friend of Italian hat guy, who speaks French like Olivier, shares photos of two 20-something daughters living in France. He walks us to a hole-in-the-wall seafood restaurant near our apartment. When we arrive there’s no one. We determine pics of celebs on wall including young Sean Connery were not taken in restaurant. Then we realize, we’re eating dinner at 8pm. By 9pm, the restaurant is filled out with locals, mostly families with young children. We order a bottle of white wine and a seafood platter with lots of squid (I eat it all). Then an entree of simple but perfectly cooked pasta and red sauce. Then a whole fish, branzino, which Olivier de-bones for me. The whole meal costs 40 Euros (what a treat! compared to NYC prices). We go home and crash.