Helen Papachristos


Helen Papachristos

When I told my fellow Ramblers in Puglia that I was writing a blog for the Ramblers Worldwide Holidays website, it became a much-revisited topic of conversation as to what the subject of said blog should be. Each new experience prompted helpful suggestions from them. Should it, for example, be the amazing Trulli dwellings, which are characteristic of the region, each with different symbols on the strange, circular-shaped roofs? Or perhaps the glorious Baroque architecture, evident in all the towns we visited (not my own personal favourite style but nevertheless impressive).

Indeed, one of the highlights of the holiday for me took place when we were visiting the seriously Baroque cathedral in Ostuni (the ‘White City’) and a man in red was so transported by his surroundings that he launched into a perfect Gregorian chant, standing in the pews with theatrical manner and wonderful baritone voice. It later transpired that he was not, in fact, a priest of the diocese but one of a party of German tourists who was visiting at that time!

Or maybe the wonderful Puglian food that we partook of on more than one occasion merited pride of place? Puglia is famous above all for its olives – but the antipasti that kept coming, and coming, and coming had us groaning by the end – only for us to find at one restaurant that there were still two pasta dishes to enjoy! (This was the day when the rain was unremitting – we were glad to escape and steam off behind a laden table).

Mention would have to be made here of the local shops selling the most delicious orange or lemon balsamic vinegar, which provided a tasting session for tourists – including taralli (a local snack), sugared nuts, and other delights. In fact, the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar were offered to us neat, such was the delicacy of their flavour.

Or the wine that the region produces and which we sampled in the Wine Museum on our last day? The red had too much of a kick in it for me, but the white and the rosé were very drinkable.

Or even the flowers and blossoms which were so much a feature of our walks in the countryside – would that I could name more than just a few (though I think some of my party could have had a better shot at it than me).

Or the carnival which had been rained off in February and then took place during our enforced extension (courtesy of the Icelandic volcanic eruption), when the little local children were dressed as chickens and ladybirds and oh-so-sweet!Or the local market where the produce was fresh, local and seasonal: fruit, vegetables, olives, nuts, seeds, dried fruits – and shoes, leather goods, flower and vegetable seeds etc etc etc!And so it was that on every walk, someone would sidle up to me and enquire, ever so nicely, whether I had yet found the definitive subject for my blog and, on receiving a negative response, would helpfully suggest something.

However, the one which kept recurring was inspired by a visit to Locorotondo on only our second day: ‘Toilets I Have Known.’ We approached this lovely town high on a hill from down below, and Brian, our guide, had ‘warned’ us to look out for a man on the road in who would try to entice us into his toilet. Sure enough, the man appeared; but we all smiled politely and promised to go back later …….

Having finished the tour of the town and rounded it off with tea/ice cream/beer (though not all at once) in a very hospitable café, the need became greater and several of us sloped off down the hill to pay 50 cents for a visit to ‘The Toilet.’ This fee did seem a bit steep – until we had entered and received the benefit of the man’s charm and almost obsequious service, and seen not only the flowers and various lotions in the toilets – but also, in at least one very large one, a TV set! People here obviously have more time to while away at their ablutions …..

But the pièce de resistance came when we stepped out of the toilet: we received chocolates, postcards, brochures – and Brian, even a bottle of wine! What a wonderful example of Italian hospitality! And the custodian even agreed to have his photo taken! Che bella esperienza!

To conclude, I haven’t even mentioned the rain which accompanied us on many of our walks but didn’t really put a dampener on the proceedings – nor the two and a half extra days we were treated to, courtesy of the Icelandic volcano. But, to return to my original quest, it would seem as if the topic of my blog has to be the topic itself – too many to choose from!