Day 58 Lecce, Puglia

The day started with a hot shower in our lovely warm private bathroom, in the middle of a farm, next to an avenue of fig trees. Before leaving for Lecce, the farmer’s daughter came over to speak with us, and asked if we would like to sample her home made organic produce when we got back later. How could we refuse?!
We set of for Lecce, listening to music, and the strangely good Italian accent that Boris has developed. Howard is convinced that our shuffle selection of music is positively favouring Ed Sheehan – if only he could sing like Ed! We managed to negotiate the city centre without incident, and found a good spot to leave Oscar. Whilst sourcing parking spaces, I commented to Howard about a car I saw parking on a zebra crossing. ‘Surely they wont allow that?’ To which Howard, rather dryly replied – ‘Heather, they build small houses on pedestrian crossings here in Italy, and no-one seems to bat an eye-lid’. I suspect Howard is now getting the measure of the way things work in Italy. Certainly, anyone crossing a pedestrian crossing on a green light seems to be considered fair game in these parts. We are becoming very adept at sprinting to the other side of the road as quickly as possible, even if it is our turn to cross.
After a false start, when Google maps apparently went wrong (I’m not saying anything incriminatory here!), we then found the old historical centre of this lovely city. It is a university town, and has that easy-going up-beat feel about itself. The historical centre is renowned for it’s extravagant baroque architecture, which is why it is often compared to Florence. Most of the buildings are a splendid white limestone, which sit around elegant squares. As in other towns and cities along in this part of Puglia, the squares are joined by a labyrinth of narrow paved streets, with overhanging balconies with balustrades. It is all rather charming. When we turned a corner and found ourselves in one of the main highlights of this city, the Piazza del Duomo, with it’s gorgeous 12th century white cathedral, we had to double-take. There was not a singe person in this huge square – it felt quite unreal. We wandered around and took in the splendid cathedral, with it’s impressive tower. Eventually another couple and a women walking her dog did appear to join us, but for at least ten minutes, we had this wonderful place to ourselves. Apparently in times of invasion, the inhabitants of Lecce would barricade themselves into the square, which has conveniently narrow entrances. In the cathedral, there are a series of papier-mâché statues, which is something unique to Lecce, we learned. Just as we were leaving, a well dressed, elderly gentleman came over to us, and started explaining the history of the cathedral. We listened politely for a few moments, helping him translate the words he didn’t know, but then, to our disappointment, at the end of his quite informative explanation he asked us for money. Howard handed him a Euro – at least it was better than just begging for money, I suppose. We have been approached on many occasions for money since we arrived in Italy – the beggars seem to take a more direct approach here than the UK. Interestingly, we cannot recall any beggars in Spain or Portugal, just a series of very talented buskers, whom we would happily offer a few coins. Next we walked across to the Basilica di Santa Croce, which is billed as being constructed by ‘hallucinating stonemasons’ – with sheep, dodos, cherubs and all sorts of beasts adorning the facade. Sadly, a lot of the front facade was undergoing conservation work, but we did get a sense of the the rather over-the-top stonework. I did not dislike it, but one Marchese Grimaldi apparently commented that it made him think that a ‘lunatic was having a nightmare’.
All in all, I think that both Howard and I warmed to the place. It is somewhere where you can comfortably spend a day exploring it’s walkways and piazzas, and I would also recommend the coffee shops – molto bene!
Arriving back at our campsite, we had our pre-arranged appointment with the farmer’s daughter. She had laid out a table of wares in the bar, which included organic wine from the farm’s own wines (20 euros for 5 litres!) hand pressed last year, olive oil – ditto, and a selection of toiletries, which included a foul smelling St. John’s Wort night cream (which I declined), and a citronella spray for repelling mosquitos (which I purchased). Howard duly bought two bottles of wine and some olive oil. At the end of the transaction, the girl presented me with the night cream, as a ‘complimentary gift’. I guess she was having problems shifting her stock of that one!
So a good relaxing day. Tomorrow we head towards Gallipoli, around the very heel of Italy.

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