The European Caper

Alistair, at our apartment,
Giovinazzo, Puglia, Italy.

Our first 3 weeks

Somehow almost 3 weeks have passed in Puglia and we head off later today to spend a week at an Agriturismo property near Salerno. I gather the whole Agriturismo thing is very popular here, and we get to spend a week living on a farming property. It will be interesting to see how things differ from our own semi-rural home. Of even more interest will be a couple of tourist trips we're planning to nearby Pompeii and Herculaneum. Although, I'm probably most looking forward to the weather, which seems to average several degrees cooler than here.

We'll be staying with my in-laws and some friends of theirs, so that will also be interesting! The 5 minutes walk between our current accommodations has been suiting my anti-social personality reasonably well. ;-)

Life has finally been settling down here. My initial culture shock has passed and I'm becoming less critical of... well all the stuff that is entirely different to the way I usually like things, I guess.

Some weekends back, we were driven out for a family lunch at an olive grove owned by one of the family members. The venerable olive orchards in the area no longer seem to be commercially viable, and they have been sold off as small allotments. Some of the olive trees (presumably the ones that have died) have been replaced with fig trees, and eating the perfectly ripe figs was one of the main reasons for the trip. (Killjoy me doesn't like figs, but my fellow visitors all love them.)

A long collection of tables, including a very nice portable home-crafted wooden one that had been brought along for the occasion, were set up and covered with checked table cloths - just like you see in all those foodie TV programmes that are set in this area. Lots of courses of food were presented over a long afternoon, all washed down with beer and wine. By 7pm I was ready to go home, so we were given a lift back, while the others lunched-on. (No prizes for guessing the local approach to DUI rules, assuming there are any.)

A photo from our trip
Off to pick some figs.
A photo from our trip
A little nap under a fig tree, beside an olive grove.
A photo from our trip
Lunch in the country.

Most drivers here have little regard for pedestrian crossings, and most pedestrians seem to fearfully wait at them until there are no cars. This is kind of funny, because everyone seems more than happy to j-walk, so it appears that the only place people don't just walk out onto the road is at the pedestrian crossings (kind of the opposite of what is intended, you would think).

My style of aggressively approaching pedestrian crossings works well at home, but here, where lane markings mean little and stopping is something to be avoided at all costs, it has been less successful. Driver's certainly choose not to hit me (presumably fearing car damage or possibly legal ramifications), but as often as not their solution is to just drive around me (regardless of oncoming traffic), rather than come to a stop. The one time we made a point of stopping was when a police car happily drove through a crossing, centimetres in front of us and Eleanor's stroller.

Speaking of which, I should note that one of the relatives has been kind enough to lend us a stroller, for those times when Eleanor is going to need a rest. However, with the rough cobble stone footpaths, that often shrink to 30cm width or nothing at all, and generally have a curb for every driveway down the street, the stroller is already bent and twisted, and in no condition to be returned. Those footpaths are no doubt the reason why, despite the high number of retirees in the area, you don't see any wheelchairs or walking frames.

A photo from our trip
People drive to these spring outlets to fill bottles with water. Eleanor has a more direct approach.

Another curious thing is the Italian approach to drinking water. Everything I have read suggests that the tap water is perfectly fine, but people go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it. All restaurants supply bottled water by default (although unlike Australia, it is at least very cheap) and people love the water from the spring fountains that appear regularly throughout this and most other Italian towns and cities. I gather that these were once permanently flowing ornate fountains, but they have now been capped with large taps, to stop them from running dry. People queue up to fill manky old bottles with water from these spring outlets. There are often cars pulled up in the middle of the roundabout near our place, with people pulling out big bottles to fill. I'm pretty certain there is nothing wrong with the water from the household taps, and so this fetish for spring water seems to be a cultural thing. Normally I hold with the idea that when in a foreign land, it's wise to do as the locals do (eg. go to the food stalls where the locals go). But I'm happier believing that the council's regulated water supply (with all EU bureaucratic boxes ticked) is safer than the rusty old street taps. (A little Google'ing assured me that both the public water supply and the old springs are required to be monitored, however, there have been a couple of cities with excessive lead measured in their spring outlets.)

A photo from our trip
Why get water from a tap in your house, when you can fill a bottle in the middle of a roundabout?

Speaking of roundabouts, for the first week I kept thinking that people were going around our local roundabout in the wrong direction. Eventually I realised that I wasn't confused because people drive on the other side of the road to us, and that in fact drivers really do go around our roundabout in whatever direction suits them. On bigger roads, everyone goes in the same direction, but any assumption that those already on the roundabout should have right of way would be reckless.

A photo from our trip
The main Piazza on a quiet night.

Visiting the piazza most nights is unexpectedly pleasant. It reminds me of my clubbing days, where you'd spend the night drifting from one group of friends or acquaintances to the next, exchanging a few pleasantries and moving on. There are quite often festivals on as well, and stalls and a raised platform are set up in the piazza. Other times it is just adults socialising and children running around happily (although few as excitedly as Eleanor).

A photo from our trip
The shoreline in the evening, looking back to the harbour. On the weekends, these rocks are covered with people bathing and sunning themselves.

Walking along the shoreline in the evening is also very nice, with the days heat dissipating and a lovely sunset showing across the Mediterranean. So long as there aren't mosquitoes out and you don't manage to step on any of the dog droppings or other substances of undiscernible origin, it makes for a lovely evening. It's also a good way of filling in the time before the restaurants open at 8pm. Follow that will some superb gelato, and its time to head home and try to get our overtired little girl to sleep.

Anyway, next stop Campania...