Lecce: A Baroque city with a long past

Puglia plaza
Piazza del Duomo

Dating from the time of Jesus, Lecce features extensive baroque architecture, uniformly made with Lecce stone. Lecce stone is a kind if limestone, still a main export because it is easily worked.

lecce church2
Chiesa San Matteo
lecce church
lecce gate
Main gate of Lecce

Like so many locations in Italy, Lecce sits on a treasure trove of artifacts, which Museo Faggiano clearly illustrates. The museum is located in a house owned by the Faggiano family. We were met at the door by the oldest son Andrea. His father Luciano bought it in 2000 for the purpose of opening a trattoria. Following reports of a leak he looked for a broken sewer line. Down he dug until he began to unearth pottery, coins, toys, a bishop’s ring and other artifacts from the middle ages back to prehistoric times.

He hid his activity from his wife, not wanting her to know that he was lowering his then 12 year old son deep into pits to dig. The dirty clothes eventually gave him away. They carted off the dirt by surreptitiously putting it in their car and hauling it to their farm. Neighbors eventually noticed, and reported the activity to the city government. The family spent the next 10 years uncovering artifacts and structures under the supervision of the town’s archaeologists, whom they’d been unable to avoid, humorously portrayed a Andrea as “you work, you pay, we just watch and take what you find.” The discoveries are now in the local museum, largely still in boxes.

We learned from that in the 14th to the 15th centuries the building was a Franciscan convent, inhabited in the middle of the 12th century by a Templar community as they prepared to invade the Middle East. The structures we see to this day were built on foundations from the Messapic (pre-Roman) era. We know little about these presumably indigenous peoples.

faggiano 1

The house is now attractively arranged with multiple livable rooms. On the roof there are views of the surrounding buildings, flat roofs with sharp angles, tubes for this and that, and jutting trees.

faggiano 1
View from the roof of the museum

Afterwards we had lunch at a delightful by the slice place. You pay by the weight, not yours, but that of the pizza. There is a price list on the wall. You pay more for more expensive toppings. There is beer and wine. The crust is light and crunchy., a real pleasure of a place in a hole in the wall joint with wooden chairs and tables, and a pleasant woman deftly slicing pizza with scissors.

lecce pizza 2
Pizza by the slice

As you walk from one area in town to another you find art treasures as well as more architectural gems. These metal sculptures are among my favorites.

lecce scultp 2
lecce sculpt jazz band
lecce sculpt

That night we found another trattoria, sampling more local specialties, the best of this place being the bread crumb stuffed mussels.

stuffed mussels
Stuffed mussels

Puglia: Italian cuisine you’ve never met

After a visit to the grotte (caves) in Castellana Grotte we wiggled the car through the narrow narrow streets of the town to find Trattoria Arco Persi. https://www.trattoriaarcopersio.it/men%C3%B9 A trattoria is so named because it’s supposed to feature local cuisine. This place lived up to its title.

We ordered antipasto. Out came seafood risotto, a baked breaded mozzarella slice with parmigiano in a sauce, seafood in a vinaigrette, bruschetta with tomato and basil, buratta (like a fresh mozzarella but with cream), breaded cheese croquettes, roasted artichoke halves, shrimp vinaigrette, breaded zucchini, octopus salad and more. It was enough for lunch and everything was tasty and well presented.

Baked mozzarella

Not knowing how much food would be coming as antipasto, I’d ordered fave e cicorie, white beans and cicoria, a bitter green. When we lived in Rome I learned a Roman dish called pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) so I assumed fave e cicore would be a pasta dish. It is not. I also assumed the beans would be whole. They are not, as you can see. Not just the beans are blended, the cicorie is as well.

fave e cicoria
Fave e cicorie (white broad beans and cicorie, a bitter green)

It’s not all that pretty but I think it’s a great combination. See a recipe at https://www.greatitalianchefs.com/recipes/fave-e-cicoria-recipe-fava-bean-dip. The people at this website label the dish as a dip. It is not. It is included among the primi piati, “first plates” literally, but “first course” is a better translation. All pasta dishes are listed in this section of Italian menus, called ‘cartas’ in Italian (and thence we get the term “a la carte.”) The cicorie they use for this dish is a wild form. This leaf is not jagged while the Roman is, and it does not seem to be as bitter, unless the chef changed the cooking water several times before adding the greens to the beans.

I could not eat it all so they made a to go package. We’d stopped earlier in Alberobello. There we ordered a panino de porchetta (panini is the plural of panino). Porchetta is a roast baby pig stuffed with garlic and herbs. I’d only had it previously in and around Rome, it being a specialty of Aricia, a small town in the Albani Hills just outside the city. I was thinking I was about to try a Puglian variation. I asked the guy behind the counter if it was a local version. No, he said, it is not different from the one you find in Aricia, in fact, he said, what he serves comes from there. I was disappointed in not finding a new version, but it was excellent, and we are while looking at the Trulli houses lining the piazza. Even though I only ate half of the bread of the panino I was still not terribly hungry for lunch three hours later.

I’ll report on more of the local cuisine as we proceed. I can tell you right now, however, that orecchiette (little ears) is THE pasta shape of the region.

Alberobello, Ostuni, Polignano a Mare, and Volare

From the airport in Bari, in the heel of the boot of Italy in the region called Puglia, we zoomed in our rented hybrid to Ostuni. We stopped in Polignano a Mare, whose gorgeous cliffs look across the Adriatic at an Albania lost in the curvature of the earth. It is the beginning of our 10 day jaunt through a region inhabited since a time long lost in the mist of epochs, but new to us, and much less visited by tourists, foreign and domestic alike.

Polignano a Mare, Puglia, Italy
Polignano a Mare, Puglia, Italy, watercolor

Polignano a Mare was an important city in Roman times, remaining in the Eastern Roman Empire – the Byzantine – until circa 1050. Today it’s known for its beautiful cliffs and as the birth place of the famous “Volare” recorded by Domenico Modugno and written by him and Franco Migliacci,  but not for its ancient past. The song I heard endlessly as a child was also recorded by Bobby Rydell, Dean Martin, Al Martino, Jerry Vale, David Bowie, Cliff Richard, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Dalida, Gipsy Kings, Chico & the Gypsies, Deana Martin and Barry White. Near us a group of teenagers sang it, and did so rather well in the breezy air of the sea.

Domenico Modugno singing Volare
The lyrics of Volare
I think, that dream does not come back ever again.
I painted my face and hands blue.
Then suddenly I was being kidnapped by the wind.
And I began to fly in the endless sky.4
Flying, oh, oh!
Singing, oh, oh, oh, oh!
In the blue painted blue.
Happy to be up there.
And I flew, I flew happily to the heights of the sun.
As the world slowly disappeared out there,
A soft music was playing just for me.
Flying, oh, oh!
Singing, oh, oh, oh, oh!
In the blue painted blue.
Happy to be up there.
In the blue painted blue.
Happy to be up there.



You walk along the cliffs. On the pleasant Saturday that we happen to be here the crowds fill the bars and line up at the gelato shops. Less famous warblers stroll about hoping for coins, others are set up to draw in customers who might sip an Aperol, an orange flavored alcohol that has flown to popularity over the last decade.

more cliffs
Polignano a Mare
cliff 2

We’d easily and surprisingly so found a place for the car, and even found it when we were ready to leave so we drove to Ostini, having to skip a visit to Monopoli, another coastal village, as we could not find parking after driving around in search of one. We are staying two nights there, a town with narrow streets and alleys along the steep hillsides. We had dinner at a Tavola Calda, literally Hot Table. These eateries feature displayed dishes. Typically you go to the counter to make your choices. This place also had table service and served pizza as well, hot from the oven. We all ordered one though most people could share.

Ostini. We had a late and light snack after a walk from here to the top

The next day, our first full day of 10 in this region, we set out for Alberobello, famous for its mortar free stone houses with cone shaped stone roofs, a World Heritage site since 1996. It was first occupied early in the sixteenth century so of recent origin by comparison.  Count Giangirolamo II (1600–1665) bulit these houses, called Trulli. They did not use mortar to allow easy disassembly in case the Spanish viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples discovered them and then applied the taxes due on dwellings. Near the end of the 18th century Alberobello became a city, no longer controlled by feudal regime. It is the only place on earth whose housing is entirely of the Trulli style.

Alberobello, Puglia, Italy
Alberobello, Puglia, Italy watercolor
Trulli houses in Alberobello
Trulli houses in Alberobello

Mascleta 2023

The Mascleta is a daily fireworks event during Fallas, starting on March 1 and ending on March 19. These occur at 2 PM. You can not see fireworks very well during the day so what’s the deal? These fireworks are made to be felt and heard rather than seen. The percussion from the explosions makes a strong impression. You have to be close enough for the explosions to have their intended impact.

The event is initiated by the Fallera Mayor and the Fallera Infantil. These two are dressed in their traditional outfits. Each day they signal the people in charge of the display that it’s time to begin.

Fallas ’23- construction begins!

Walking around Valencia on the 10th and 11th of March we came across some of the fallas construction activities. They use cranes and cherry pickers to move pieces into place. The pieces are set about the designated lot. The deliveries take place at night to avoid traffic. Street food vendors start to arrive in numbers and the bars fill with onlookers. At our corner the churros stand is back, open 24/7 starting March 1 and ending on the 19th, with the end of the festival.

The drawing of the fallas at Plaza Pilar



In The Flood, in the Winter

Often in the winter I go north to check on our boat. I look for leaks, make sure the batteries are being charged properly and the like. This year I flew into Eindhoven, a mid-sized airport in the southern part of the Netherlands. After completing the car rental paperwork and the steeple-chase effort to find the car lot, I put the phone on the seat with the route entered and set off. In about 90 minutes and an equal number of roundabouts I came to the marina, along the way piercing through the sub-freezing clouds. Once on the boat I switched on the diesel heater as well as the small electric one, and set about the few tasks I had in mind.

That night I slept under the duvet. The Dutch generally turn their heat way down at night as these duvets are more than adequate. I left the small electric heater on and woke up nearly sweating, getting up to move the heater to the cold salon. It was just 10c/50f inside the boat when I awoke, but it warms up quickly with the gas burners used to make breakfast.

So there I was, standing on the dock looking in disbelief. Then I realized I was in a jam. I was way out of sight of the office. They knew I was there as I had emailed them weeks before and the day before I talked to the woman in the office about getting water. It was she who told water valves on the dock are always removed in the cold weather.

maas river flood dock underwater

There was a dinghy tied to the dock but there was no paddle. I called the office- luckily I had a signal. The woman I spoke to in English the day before was not in. The man on the other end spoke no English, just Dutch and German! I sent him an email so he could translate it, then thought of calling Kees in Haarlem. He roared with laughter when I told him what happened, then he called the office. Within about twenty minutes I was shoving off towards land, just 10 meters away, retrieving the paddle the man heaved to me. My only problem was the water in the dinghy. It had been hidden below the folds. Once I slid into the boat, staying low to avoid capsizing, so I was quite surprised when the icy water rushed out from the sides, covering my legs to the knees.

Mass river flood

Before getting drinking water I went back to the boat to change into my sloppy old sweat pants and the inexpensive but terribly comfortable clogs. You’d think that the clogs were from the Netherlands. No. I bought them in Spain, after looking for them all over Netherlands without success. I made my way to land in the dinghy and filled the jugs.

After another day doing a few additional chores I drove to Haarlem to visit with our friends. It took about three hours. I wasted a good part of one hour as I’d put in the right street and number but the wrong city into Google maps.

Their daughter came for dinner that night. I met her and her husband in 2000 when we had our first Dutch boat. A few months before we met Kees and Ada on the River Eem near Amersfoort. We arranged then to meet them all in their home harbor in July to see the fireworks in Amsterdam harbor in connection with the Tall Ships. This is an annual event where large 3-5 mast sailing vessels travel to various ports in Europe. In the Netherlands during this event there are thousands of boats on the huge North Sea Canal that the ships use to get to Amsterdam.

Ada put on a fine meal that night and I slept in a warm house. The next day came the news. A big snow storm was coming, to be particularly heavy in the area where the boat is. I would not only be driving in the snow on Friday to return to the boat, where I had to prepare the boat for the rest of winter, I would be getting up on Saturday morning with snow on the docks in the pitch black, to slide on the docks to get into a small dinghy with my luggage and row to shore, hoping then to get out of the boat without stepping into the water, soaking my shoes. I had to make an early flight.

Friday dawned. It began to snow on the way to Almere, where I had to drop off some canvases for repair. These I had removed in the frigid weather, which makes canvas stiff and hard to handle. Then I had to carry the large stiff pieces down the dock and into the dingy. By the time I arrived at at the sail maker’s shop the snow flakes were huge, coming down in quantity, and building up on the roads. I did not have snow tires on this car. I grew up in New York and lived for 12 years in Colorado so I do know how to drive in the snow, but that was years ago now.

After another stop in Almere Poort (as it is spelled in Dutch) for a solar panel, I started south. Almere and the Poort are near Amsterdam so I found a fair amount of traffic on the highway. There was a slushy build up on the road, especially between the lanes. I crossed two bridges before leaving the area, leaving extra room between cars as bridges ice up sooner. The snow abated and within an hour disappeared. I was not yet out of the woods, of course. The worse was yet to come, per the forecasts.

I had lunch in a roadside Eet Cafe. Eet means Eat. These are home cooking places. They offer basic cooking and normally are very good. I ordered a kip sate. Kip is chicken, sate is a peanut sauce. This is a typical Dutch menu item, coming from its one time colonial occupation of Indonesia. The offering in this charming place was mediocre, with just ordinary grocery store bread and without the excellent fries that accompany most Dutch meals.

I stopped by the office to let them know I was leaving in the unlikely event they’d worry about me. The man who does not speak English told me in English I could drive the car to the far end, much nearer the boat, a big help since the canvases are both heavy and bulky, and there are two of them, so I would have to make two trips. Then he asked me if I would be taking the dingy back to the boat for the rest of the winter. Apparently he thought the dinghy was mine! So someone left a dinghy there. It was just a matter of my good luck, not planning by the marina.

As I drove towards the boats I came to the small road along the water. It had been underwater but was now open. The river level had dropped. I was able to walk onto the dock as the land end was no longer submerged. I cleaned and winterized the boat, then headed for a small town close to Eindhoven. I’d booked one night in a hotel to avoid the risk of getting off the boat in the dark, in the snow, and then rowing to shore.

The hotel is located in the middle of a pedestrian zone in a small town so I had one more hoop to jump through- parking. It is a hassle in this country. I learned from one of the locals where I stopped to try to pay for a space with my US credit card that there are parking spots everywhere but they require special cards which only locals can buy. Each town has its own card or set of cards you can use in the machines. So if you can not find the rare free spot, probably on the far edge of town, then you have to find the rare and expensive parking lot or garage. This is what I ended up doing, at a hotel, not mine, but another about a dozen blocks away. I did not know it was a hotel when I pulled in. As I parked I realized that there might be just a pay station that won’t accept cash or my American credit cards. I wondered how I would be able to get through the gate. Seeing then that I seemed to be in a hotel’s parking lot, I went into the lobby to find out how to pay, assuming the machine they had outdoors would not work. The clerk assured me I could pay there in the morning.

I spent the night wondering if this was true. I allowed extra time in the morning just in case. It went smoothly, fortunately. I walked out to the car and drove through the gate. Surprisingly it was wide open so I needn’t have worried. I would not even have had to pay. But at least I was not drowning in the icy waters of the Maas, and in a few hours I was back in sunny Spain, happy to leave the stressful journey behind.

Tuna group sings and plays at the Ateneo

In Spain, Portugal and some Latin American groups there are traditional singing groups called ” tuna” who are historically were university students who played on the streets to earn money. Starting in the 13th century, they dressed in university dress akin to what you see i the video. They play guitars, lutes and similar instruments, and groups might include an accorrdian player. They sing a variety of serenades in the style you hear here.  traditional university dress who play traditional instruments and sing serenades. We have seen a group playing on the streets of Valencia, younger than the group we see in this video. A senior member of a tuna is a “tunante” or “tuno”. New members are called “caloiros”, “novatos” or “pardillos.”

In an earlier piece there was a “cajon,” which translates as ‘box.’ It is played as a drum.

I recorded this video at the Ateneo in Valencia, December 11, 2022