Holidays and Other Excursions

Month: April 2024

Alberobello

Trulli houses in Alberbello

Trulli houses in Alberbello

Friday 19.4.24

Our trip today is by coach and it transpires that Alberobello is the town we could see from Locotorondo with the vast number of Trulli houses on the other side of the valley and our journey is therefore similar to last Sunday.

Today the weather has really turned and whilst we do not have the strong winds experienced earlier in the week the heavens have opened and it is rain through the most of the day.  We have waterproof coats – but it is depressing if nothing else as we head towards the town.

Alberobello is a World Heritage Site and that has been taken seriously by the town who provide for coach parking quite a long way out of the town.  It is particularly annoying that we pass a completely empty car park where the coaches could be turned about 50% of the way into the town,

Trulli houses in Alberbello

Trulli houses in Alberbello

Once we reach the town centre we decide that to proceed further is not going to show us much more and I had spotted that by heading up the hill to a large group of houses we can walk through them and take photos and then return down the hill towards the coach dropping off point.

We pass one of the houses which is open for inspection – but there is already a significant crowd and we have no wish to get any wetter than we are already so we pass it by.

Trulli, Alberbello

Trulli, Alberbello

Allegedly the reason for the construction (which appears to be limited to a relatively small area) is that removal of a single keystone collapses the roof, so in the event of a tax inspection the removal of the stone would collapse the roof and it was no longer a habitable dwelling so not taxable.

At the far end of the coach station we eventually find a coffee / wine bar which is open and partake of some coffee and once we have consumed that we move onto a glass of wine each – well it fills the morning up.  It seems that many of the other travellers also visited similar establishments in the town centre – simply to stay out of the rain.

The return trip gets us back to the hotel in time for lunch.

This completes our sight seeing on this holiday and we have a relatively free afternoon and morning of the Saturday before our return to the UK.  There was one outstanding moment on the Saturday.  Jackie had reached the coach and was checking the bags to ensure they had been collected from outside our room and were loaded onto the coach.  Of all the travellers and all the bags ours were not visible.  Eventually the luggage men returned to our room, bags found and brought to the coach – probably the only time this week we have had a late departure and it was our fault.  Well not ours – but very annoying.  You would not believe how much counting and checking of bags was happening!

 

Matera

Matera

Matera

Thursday 18.4.24

The trip here is solely by coach and we arrive at the top of the newer town.  To me the route to Matera is interesting – there is an almost parallel narrow gauge railway (950 mm) – which tends to weave a little more around the countryside-  and I watch it closely but do not see any passing trains, although as the service is about hourly I may have just been a little unlucky.

Palazzo del Sedile

Palazzo del Sedile

On the higher level our attention is directed to the Palazzo del Sedile where the construction is not entirely straight but I cannot now recall the story behind the slightly wonky appearance

The newer town is along the top of the hillside but the older parts of the town are at lower levels with the dwellings carved out into the side of the hill.  We have been warned in advance that once we leave the higher level we slowly descend using many steps and steep slopes to the lower levels so Jackie decides to remain at the higher level once we reach Piazza Duomo.  Correctly as from that point it is all steps and slopes as we descend.

Matera was used at the start of the last Bond film – “No Time to Die” which brought to an end the Daniel Craig series of Bond films and potentially ended the entire series – we shall see.  It is an amazing site and the views across the town are stunning.

Matera is believed to be the second longest continuously-inhabited settlement in history – the first is recorded as Petra where we shall visit later in the year.  The Sassi houses were at one time regarded as very poor accommodation and much political and social pressure was applied during the Fifties with the area was regarded as a “National Shame“.  Much money being devoted to convincing residents to relocate.  By 1993 it was redesignated as a World Heritage Site and a few residents had never left.

Matera

Matera

The hillside across the river which we see as we commence the descent has some of the much earlier cave dwellings and that area was used in a couple of films – Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” and the Mel Gibson film “Passion of the Christ” – if I remember the briefing correctly.  With added wooden crosses!

Having walked through the newer town we reach Piazza Duomo as already mentioned.  From here Jackie returned through the town to a point where it is planned the main group will emerge from the lower town.  I have subsequently attempted – by using online maps – to identify our route through the lower town but the guide led and we followed and whilst I am happy with the start point at the back of the Piazza the route was complex.

Inside a Sassi house

Inside a Sassi house

Much lower down we have a long wait to enter one of the preserved Sassi houses where we can see how it was organised by the residents with the family and animals all in the small space.  Dome shaped inside and probably more space than it seems as the entire party manages to fit into the main room.

Model animals in Sassi house

Model animals in Sassi house

Once out I turn up the hill although others go a little further.  Once I reach the top – even if not quite where planned I find Jackie outside a bar with a glass of wine- she has been sending messages but I am not sure there was much signal in the houses below.

We wander back through the main part of town and had a bite to eat before returning to the coach.  Regrettable I did not manage to see a train on return journey either – simply timing I suppose.

 

Bari

Palazzo Mincuzzi

Palazzo Mincuzzi

Wednesday 17.4.23

Our excursion today works much the same as Monday – a swift coach ride – this time to our nearest station and then by train back towards Bari.  Again we run roughly parallel with the coast heading in a north easterly direction this time – so the other way to the previous rail trip.

For those reading closely you may have noticed that there is no mention of Tuesday.  That is the official free day on this trip and we repaired to the poolside post breakfast, until the weather started to break and there was indeed a bit of wind as well as no sunshine.  We decide not to go out so spent most of the day in our room catching up on some reading.

The road to the old town of Bari from the station is the main shopping street and is bedecked by brand names.  Along here is the magnificent Palazzo Mincuzzi which houses Benetton.  It is a stylish traditional palazzo which stands out from the other architecture surrounding it.

Bari

Bari

We slowly wander around the old town with our guide.   We wander along one side street where most of the residents appear to be making pasta in the shape of an ear – Orecchiette – which is peculiar to the local area – with colourful awnings and washing hung from the railings above.

Bari Cathedral

Bari Cathedral

A little later we reach Bari Cathedral, again there is a vast decorated ceiling and wall paintings and also designs incorporated in the floor.

We are equipped with headsets but there is little to distinguish Bari from the towns we visited earlier in the week.  It has for a long time been a major port and trading point dating back a very long time being under Greek influence, Roman, later Normandy and then Naples.

We had previously decided that we would eat out today rather than taking the packed lunch option and there were numerous restaurants around the end of the walk in the Piazza del Ferrarese – we inspect a couple and make a choice but it cannot be recommended.  Whilst not overly busy when we arrived it felt as if the staff were newish, the season had perhaps only just commenced and the lack of experience was palpable – a bad choice this time around.  It happens.

 

 

Lecce

ETR 104 126

ETR 104 126

Monday 15.4.24

Our first formally guided tour is Lecce.  Our coach takes us to Monopoli which is one station beyond Polignano a Mare, although quite why I am not sure as I think all trains stop at both.  However we are soon on a train heading generally south east to the end of the line at Lecce.  Unlike yesterday the town is on the flat and is therefore an easy walking tour.  The station is a little way outside the old town which we enter and visit the outside of the Cathedral and central Plaza which is surrounded by government and other related buildings to the church.

Lecce Cathedral

Lecce Cathedral

Local stone has been used in the construction and is easy to carve and work.  It is then hardened when exposed to milk – so that when the lactose soaks into the stone it gives a protective layer as explained here.  It then becomes extremely resistant – so ensuring survival over a long period.  Another feature of the town is that there are shops selling papier maché figures – along with invitations to test the samples from bakeries along the main street.

In the seventeenth century the city became very rich following the Battle of Lepanto which defeated the Ottoman empire and the area was no longer subject to raids and incursions so could develop as a key trading location and this era was when much of the area was rebuilt.

Chiesa di Sant'Irene

Chiesa di Sant’Irene

Chiesa di Sant’Irena allows us to rest for a few minutes out of the sunshine – which has continued from yesterday.  Saint Irena was the original patron saint of the town but later displaced by Sant’Oronzo.  The interior is lavishly decorated and so some photographs.

The Piazza Sant’Oronzo is the main public square and is over seen by a new statue of the Saint installed in the last year or so as a replacement for the older statue which was considered no longer safe following removal for restoration.  There has been some controversy as the new statue is not considered to be such a good representation of the first Bishop of Lecce (who can say?).

At the side of the Piazza are the excavated remains of part of the Roman amphitheatre which was uncovered around 100 years ago when there building work for a major bank.  The amphitheatre could hold about 25000 – so apparently quite large – possibly because it been a trading centre for a long time prior to the Romans.

We have brought a packed lunch from the hotel today – so bread and ham and cheese – but then we are in Italy.  it is again very warm and we sit in the park managing to find some shade before wandering back to the Piazza Sant’Oronzo.  The recommended gelateri has no chairs so we sit outside another one and order a pistachio ice cream and unknown coffee.  I am not sure I have ever previously come across such an adulterated coffee – I thought the Italians venerated good coffee.  Never mind it is at least wet!

The return rail journey allows the usual opportunity for a snooze – well we saw the scenery on the outward journey.

 

 

Puglia Days 1/2

Mother Church of San Giorgio Martire

Mother Church of San Giorgio Martire

Saturday / Sunday 13/14.4.24

This trip is badged “Rail Discoveries” which is a junior brand to “Great Rail” with whom we have travelled a number of times.  Much of the paperwork issued says Great Rail and our guide works for both.  The major difference is that RD tends to have larger groups – we are 37 and should have been 39 but illness struck preventing one couple travelling.

The flight is British Airways and it is sad to reflect that this former national symbol of an airline is now such a poor reflection of the nation and competence.  They seem unable to manage a full trolley service and there is little available for diabetics – plus the staff just do not appear to want to care for passengers.  Downgrade your staff and service and yet the prices continue.

Our destination by plane is Bari and once there we gather until the party has assembled and we have a waiting coach to take us to a hotel a couple of miles outside Polignano a Mare at the Pietrablu Resort.  Apparently the resort only re-opened a couple of days ago and at the moment we make up the majority of guests, although more arrive as the week progresses.  The rooms are spacious – we have a bedroom and another room, plus two bathrooms.

Locortondo

Locortondo

Come Sunday morning we are soon on the road with two small hill towns being our destinations today.  First Locorotondo where we have a little walk into the town centre and we take a slightly devious route around this somewhat charming town with some marvellous views over the valley towards  another town – Alberobello – with huge numbers of Trulli houses which we shall visit later in the week.  There are one or two quirky aspects of Locorotondo – so a few photos to show window displays and a bicycle!

Locortondo

Locortondo

In the valley between the two towns is a railway which runs between Bari and Taranto and I see a train pass by whilst looking at the view.

The second town visited is the slightly smaller Martina Franca which is slightly south of Locorotondo.  We walk into the town square and it is pleasant enough – but very warm today, probably warmer than we were expecting.

So it is time to contemplate a sit down and a cup of coffee and perhaps an ice cream.  Italians as ever seem to dislike us more than the French.  We wanted a cup of coffee and did not want to walk all the way back out of the town but all of the places in the square that had chairs available out of a very hot sun did not want to serve just a coffee.  We do eventually find a place but choosing a coffee proves difficult.

We return to the hotel for a surprisingly excellent lunch – surprising in that it is a full meal and not just some light pickings or similar – one lunch later in the week has a full roast beef.

We decide not to join the trip to the local town of Pogliano a Mere – there will be opportunities later in the week but given that there is currently sunshine and a pool (which inevitably is cold) lying in the sun seems far more welcome than more walking.  Well until such time as the hotel team note that it is too quiet and that some amplified music would improve matters!  Never mind I am sure it is more appropriate later in the season!

 

 

Amberley / Arundel Castles

Tulips Arundel Castle

Tulips Arundel Castle

Sussex Castles 9 & 10 April 2024

The prime reason for this expedition was to see the tulips at Arundel Castle where for some years they have been holding a tulip festival to show off the grounds where they have planted huge numbers of the said flowers and have been producing a riot of colour.

A secondary reason is that following write-ups some years ago staying at Amberley Castle has long been something we have wanted to do.  And the two castles are within about 5 miles of each other – so it is possible to cover two targets with a single return journey over some very potholed roads.  One of the latter was so large in Petworth that if the car had gone into it the TT would have vanished.  It is round a corner so is not visible – but it is very deep.  I also found out about some others not so deep –  but still capable of shaking the car badly.

it is not quite warm enough to have the top down but it is a pleasant drive down to West Sussex and the TT’s satnav takes us along a narrow village road before delivering us to the first castle at Amberley.  Originally the Palace of the Bishop of Chichester there has been an excellent conversion to a hotel and our room was well appointed but oddly (as far as I could find) lacking a ‘fridge.  However we can for once sit down and catch up on some reading and the wifi certainly seems to be working.

Drinks before dinner are slightly marred by the waiter slipping in some way and covering his lovely bright blue suit with sherry and probably some beer.  Not a great start to the evening.  The menu looked interesting but for reasons best known to others there was a distinct lack of taste.  On departing for our room Jackie was asked for feedback and the following morning the Restaurant Manager came to see us at reception, acknowledged her concerns and indicated that steps were underway to change the menu and the offering with improvement being the aim.  The surroundings are superb and at the time we both felt that the food did not match, so hopefully it soon will.  Breakfast is excellent.

Fitzalan Chapel Arundel Castle

Fitzalan Chapel Arundel Castle

Our destination is soon reached and we park across the road from the entrance to Arundel Castle.  The secret for people of our age is to take the golf buggy to the gardens which are at the highest point (apart from the historic Castle Keep) and to go around the gardens and then slowly descend visiting the other parts of the castle as you walk back down the hill.  Of course we only find out about this service as the buggies descend the hill whilst we walk up it!

Tulip display Arundel

Tulip display Arundel

The beds and displays are simply magnificent.  The festival dates are always slightly variable and we had booked on guesswork that by now they would be in bloom – the commencement date this year was 1 April and it runs for around three weeks – so it would have been disappointing if it was not happening now.

Private Chapel Arundel Castle

Private Chapel Arundel Castle

Once we have walked around the gardens we start back down the path and into the main house.  To my memory despite it not being that far from home I do not think that I have ever visited the Castle and we do the complete tour – including the Keep and the bedrooms.  The Dukes of Norfolk have for a very long time been important in the Royal Court and the current Duke was deeply involved in planning the King’s Coronation.

I had not perhaps realised how magnificent Arundel Castle is – it is on a par with Castle Howard in many respects and that comes as a little of a surprise to me as I had assumed Howard stood alone – but seemingly not.