Italy 2014 - Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Ostuni and San Vito - Click here for the slideshow (98 pictures)

Finished - September 21, 2014

Introduction
Rome
Venice
Florence
Ostuni
Taormina
Syracuse
Palermo
Travel day. The last time I was in the airport in Florence, was some time in the 80s. It hasn't changed. Bus to the plane and walk up the steps.

The drive to Ostuni went without problem. Okay, we did make a wrong turn, but didn't go more than a mile before I turned around and got us, with my wonderful navigator's assistance, back on course.

La Sommita Relais

The last hundred yards are up a two-way street that wasn't as wide as our driveway. It wasn't until after we found the hotel and made two K-turns on this tiny street, that we were told there's a parking lot at the bottom on the main street, and they have a shuttle bus to bring you up to the hotel. I had a glass of wine and forgot about the ride.

The view from the hotel is at least 50 miles of the Adriatic Coast. According to the staff, you can see Albania and Greece on a clear day.

For our first dinner, we took a recommendation from the front desk. What an amazing meal! Osteria del Tempo Perso is less than 100 steps from the hotel. Most of those steps involve stairs, what a surprise. I had octopus in a brown sauce that was the most tender I've ever eaten. And a brown sauce! For dessert it was impossible to resist the Tortone and well worth the calories.

Fun with food

Mussels and clams

Pasta with shrimp and pesto

Octopus in brown sauce

Grilled lamb

Tortone

It took me less than 24 hours to figure out that to drive in Italy meant to fall back to my roots and drive like I did in New York City many years ago. Rule 1 - Yield to NO ONE! Rule 2 - Speed Limit signs are only a suggestion. Rule 3 - Hand gestures are crucial. No one can hear you with the windows closed and the air conditioning on high.

We headed off to San Vito, where Suzi lived 35 years ago, in search of the two houses she occupied and the Air Force base she worked at. We found the street for house number one, but she couldn't remember the exact house. We asked a few people if they remembered her landlord, but it was too long ago. We found the location of the second house, but it was no longer there. The Air Force base closed in 2000, but many of the buildings are still there.

Not much else to see in San Vito - a couple of churches (what a surprise) and Jesus under glass (not the real one, though.)

The hotel is up a series of very narrow and winding streets that I only drove up once. They drove the car down to the parking lot and took us to it this morning in Mini Cooper. Upon our return, this afternoon, they sent a three-wheeled motorcycle with an enclosed carriage to bring us back up to the hotel. Did I mention it had no shock absorbers?

On our second trip up the hill, the following day, the driver told us he makes this trip up and down 44 or 45 times a day. Having driven up once, I had no desire to ever do it again.

Day three in Ostuni and we're back in the car. We found the famous Ostuni Market (open only on Saturday) after several harrowing turns and crossings. Even driving as a Yankee, there were some moments when I was truly out of my element.

The market is one of the largest flea markets I've ever seen. Hundreds of vendors - food, clothes, shoes (lots of shoes), housewares - and everything at rock bottom prices. It comes a dozen streets and alleys with similar items grouped together. The largest being food.

From the market, we headed north to Alberobello. Now, I'm sure I saw a National Geographic special about this place at some time in the distant past, but seeing it in the flesh is quite surreal. The structures are called Trullo or Trulli in plural. According to a sign next to the restaurant where we ate lunch, they were built by a long lost civilization. Most of them are topped by a three-piece ornament - sphere, cylinder, and dish - and often painted with magical designs. The whole thing has become a tourist attraction, but one worth seeing if you're ever in this part of Italy.

Beach Day! I soaked my toes in the Adriatic Sea at the famous White Beach Club of Ostuni. Just a short, winding, easy to get lost ride from the hotel. (We lucked out and found a guy on a motorcycle who was going there and followed him!) The water was FREEZING cold, there was no breeze and it was scorching hot (to borrow Suzi's phrase), but we rented an umbrella for 7 Euros (only 4 Euros to get on to the beach all day, but they get you with the extras) and stayed over an hour and half.

You never know what you're going to see in a foreign country, especially if you can't read the local paper. We found a Decathlon, right at the bottom of our hill. (The steep one that leads up to the hotel.) We watched them set up the course and waited and waited and waited until the race finally started. Lesson learned here: Italian time and Island time are the same.


Cooked and served on metal skewers

Sausage, beef, and lamb (left) - chicken wings (right)

Chips, made fresh. Almost Whale Fries
We found meat! At last, a meal devoid of pasta, cheese, and tomatoes. This place was down a narrow alley. It had air conditioning (first good sign), a menu that featured carni (meat) (second good sign), and a television with MTV (okay, not really a good sign, but at least it wasn't "Murder She Wrote" with Italian voice-overs.)

Gelato and cannoli for dinner tonight after a meat fest like this for lunch. Tomorrow we leave for Sicily and the real Italian food.

Overall Impressions
  • La Sommita - a resort, a true 4-star hotel. Magnificent bedroom, soft bed, soft pillows, huge shower, nice amenities - Bvlgari soap! The hotel is on the hill in the old section of town. If you've not read anything else on this page - do not, I repeat DO NOT drive up to the hotel, they will come and get you. Call from the street below that runs through the piazza. They have a parking lot that you can't walk from, but they will take you to and from your car as needed.

    The views from the hotel are stunning. Make sure you get a room with a view and a balcony. There are only 15 rooms, so choose wisely. The complimentary breakfast is way beyond a simple continental breakfast. You can get a hearty meal there, so take advantage of it. The front desk staff are helpful, but their English isn't what we found in the big cities, but this is the country, or at least less city-like than Rome or Florence. Actually, this is a nice quiet place to go to just to relax. Not much to see in Ostuni and the shopping is limited.

  • People - you'll need to know a lot more Italian to get around here. Yes, the people are friendly and they try their best to help with directions, but lots gets lost in translation.
  • Driving - too many one-way streets and most of them are very narrow. Get a small car that uses diesel rather than gas - big difference in price. Diesel was 1.56 Euros per liter, gas 1.77 Euros per liter.
  • Getting Around - driving is a necessity, there are lots of small towns to visit using Ostuni as a central location. Go to the beach, it's only a 15-minute drive. Again, learn some Italian and carry lots of maps.