Italy (region of Puglia)

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In June 2013, I spent ten days in a region of Italy that I had wanted to explore for a long time. Puglia is located in the heel of Italy’s boot and now easily accessible thanks to the two low-cost European airlines, Ryanair and Easyjet. I paid 30 euros for a flight from Paris to Brindisi. Brindisi is an old, rundown but interesting port city (watch out for pickpockets and don’t wander around at night.)

The region is not one of Italy’s traditional tourist destinations, but is becoming increasingly popular as travellers discover the area’s varied charms: baroque towns, white-washed trullo houses, olive groves and orchards, blue sea and beaches, plenty of sunshine and excellent cuisine.

The people of Puglia are lovely – authentic, generous and happy to be of service. The tourist industry is crucial to the economy of this once very poor agricultural region. Arriving at Brindisi train station and unsure of the location of my hotel, I asked one person for directions. Within 10 minutes a small crowd had gathered. Even though every person gave a different direction and, in the end, they were all wrong, I was touched by their solicitousness.  Below are my travel posts from June 2013.

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Off to Italy…..ci vediamo dopo!

I’m disconnecting from the internet and escaping to Italy. To the south. To a region I’ve never visited, but have always wanted to explore. Deep in the heel of Italy, to the region of Puglia.

I’m travelling light: a few books, my camera, sunscreen, light clothes and a writing pad. No phone, no laptop, no tablet. Just like the old days. Remember those days? Those carefree, uncluttered days? The idea is to work on my book project, but also to sightsee. And eat. And drink many caffès. And wander. And visit old churches and cathedrals. Of which there are many.

First stop: a secluded hotel among olive groves, near a coastal town called Otranto and the Adriatic Sea. And then onwards to Lecce, capital city known as the “Florence of the south” before meandering up the coast to Polignano a Mare.

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Here’s Luigi who, on my third day at the countryside hotel where I was staying, picked me up and drove me to nearby Otranto.

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Half a day will suffice in this windswept small town. Just time enough for a brisk walk along the seafront (if you peer across the Adriatic Sea, you can see Albania on the other side), a seafood lunch and a visit to the old church to gaze at the spectacular and beautifully preserved mosaic floor depicting the Tree of Life. Crafted between 1163 and 1165, it’s the largest in Europe and almost intact.

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On Day 4, I took a taxi from my countryside hotel to the capital city of Lecce, pronounced Lechay (the “ch” pronounced like “church”). Someone has (incorrectly) coined the phrase “Florence of the south” for this city and I wonder why.  Lecce is a Baroque city whereas Florence is a Renaissance city with a wealth of Renaissance art and architecture. (Lecce has few art galleries and museums.)  As I walked, the words that came to mind to describe this place were “le bijou baroque du sud” (Baroque jewel of the south). 

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As soon as I arrived, I had a good feeling about this sun-baked, southern city despite it being 2 pm and everything shut up tight for siesta. Even the big fountain in the town square had been turned off.  Even the animals were napping!  My hotel also being closed (because I didn’t inform them of my arrival time), I strolled the deserted streets, wheeling my suitcase along the soft, porous cobblestones. Lecce stone is remarkable – white, smooth and composed of limestone and granite.

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There are churches galore here – lavishly and exuberantly decorated. One guidebook describes the city as “a riot of cherubs”.

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Click on this link below to keep travelling –

https://julietinparis.net/2014/06/10/exploring-lecce/

24 hours in Bruges

Highlights were the boat trip on the canal, chocolate shops at every turning, the cobblestoned streets and lovely boutiques, the compact size of the inner city and the pedestrian zones, the horse and buggies clip-clopping by every 10 minutes, and the general tranquility of the place. We were only there for 24 hours. I’ll have to go back for more. Click on photos.

4 pm on a Sunday afternoon

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I usually resist the temptation to run to the boulangerie at the end of my street to buy myself a French pastry.  Because I’m exercising something called willpower.  “Juliet” my voice of conscience gently admonishes, “you don’t need a pastry.” But I know that the boulangerie-patisserie at the end of my road is open on Sunday afternoons. And they make the most delectable little cakes, eclairs and cream puffs.  This knowledge weakens my resolve.  And besides, this isn’t a question of need. I want a French pastry at 4 p.m. on a dull, gray Sunday afternoon.  And why shouldn’t I have one?  I’m a good girl. I deserve it.

So out I ran, amidst gently falling snowflakes, clad in sweatpants and an old sweater, hair unkempt and no makeup (oh, the shame!  Quelle honte !) No time for lipstick. Making up for my negligence, I threw on my Tibetan woolly bonnet purchased last month in Brussels and my Montreal mink. (Yes, all you PETA supporters, I unapologetically purchased a long raincoat lined with mink ten years ago in Montreal when the temperature was minus 30 degrees celsius outside.)  It has a mink-lined hood, called a capuche in French, that is particularly stylish.

I knew exactly what I wanted: a pistachio-flavoured mille-feuille. I’d had one before from this boulangerie and it was divine.

Bonjour, Madame“, I said, running into the shop as if on an urgent mission. “Je voudrais une mille-feuille pistache, s’il vous plaît.”

“Il n’en reste plus.” the woman replied.

Huh?  None left?  I stood in my mink, my fluorescent pink and green running shoes, and my Tibetan woolly hat feeling bereft.  Don’t you hate it when you’ve got your mind fixed on one thing and then you learn that it’s unavailable?  I gazed wildly at the other pastries in the display case. “Errrrr…..well, OK, I guess I’ll have a religieuse then. One chocolate and one coffee. Please.”  When studying French at Paul Valéry University in Montpellier a hundred years ago, I was obsessed with these eclair-like cakes. The name, religieuse, means “nun” and the pastry is supposed to represent a tubby nun in a habit.

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Scampering back up the street, I returned to my warm and cozy flat to make tea.  The best accompaniment to French pastry, in my opinion, is jasmine or rose petal tea.

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