This weekend I had the privilege to travel to Puglia and Basilicata, two southern regions in Italy, with Duquesne! We explored the small towns of Polignano, Lecce, Alberobello, and Matera. It was a fantastic weekend!
On Thursday, we left Rome after lunch to bus down to Polignano. It took about six hours to drive there. When we arrived, we checked in to a beautiful hotel. Polignano is right on the Adriatic Sea, and we had a view of the water from our room! It was so amazing. Soon, we went to find a place to eat dinner. My friends and I stumbled upon a great seafood restaurant and had a delicious meal! After that, we walked around the main piazza of the town and looked out over the sea at night. Then, we went back to the hotel to get some sleep for the big day ahead.
The next morning, we got up and went to breakfast at the hotel. After that, we walked down to a beachy area by the water. It was so beautiful! The water was freezing cold, but we put our feet in anyway, which was so much fun. We walked through a small cave tunnel in the surrounding rock to see the water from a different angle. After that, we climbed up a small rock cliff to look out at the sea from there. It was so relaxing to take it all in. After that, the whole group met up under the statue of a famous singer from Polignano. He is the singer who originally wrote and performed the song Volare (which I know from the Lizzie McGuire movie). Our director, Michael, had printed out lyric sheets for us for this song, and he had us all try to sing the song in Italian under the statue. It was really funny! Then, we got on our bus to head to Lecce for the day.
When we got to Lecce, we had some free time to get lunch, and my friends and I got some sandwiches and gelato. Then, we came back together as a group to go on a walking tour of the town. On the tour, we saw many beautiful Baroque churches, a papier-mache workshop, and an ancient Roman amphitheater. After the tour, we got back on the bus to go back to Polignano for dinner. I had amazing seafood pasta and gelato, of course.
On Saturday, we had another yummy breakfast at the hotel before we went to Le Grotte di Castellana, which means the Castellana Caverns. The caverns are a long stretch of caves underneath Castellana. We got to go splunking in the caves! It was so beautiful. We had a tour guide to take us through the caves and point out interesting rock formations and types of stalactites and stalagmites. This caving experience was so different from caving in Budapest. In the Castellana Caverns, there were paths for us to walk on, and the caves were artificially lit. We did not every have to squeeze through small spaces and could walk normally the whole time. In the Budapest caves, we were typically crawling or scaling something and the caves were not lit. Besides these differences in activity level, the biggest difference was the type of caves. In Budapest, it was mostly just rock, but in the Castellana Caverns, there were many stunningly beautiful formations. I was really glad to have experienced both types of caving experience while studying abroad.
After caving, we got on the bus to drive to Alberobello! Alberobello is a beautiful tiny town that is famous for it’s Trulli houses, which are commonly compared to Smurf houses. When we first arrived, we had a great group lunch in a Trullo restaurant. Then, we had free time to explore. Most of the houses we saw were used as stores today, but many houses are still residential! Many of the houses have symbols painted on the roof. These symbols can have many different meanings and they reflect the family who lived in the house. Many of the Trullo house stores had panoramic rooftop lookouts that you could go up to to look at the surrounding Trulli houses below. The houses were so fascinating and different from anything I had ever seen before. We even saw a Trullo church (the only one in the world!).
Soon, we were back on the bus heading to Matera! Matera is known for it’s Sassi District. The Sassi District is a series of cave houses that people lived in until about the 1960’s. Today, it is a UNESCO world heritage site. When we arrived, we checked in to our hotel, Hotel Sant’ Angelo, which is a cave hotel. Our room was absolutely stunning! (We actually think it was probably the honeymoon suite!) The whole room was a beautiful, white cave. Soon, we got ready for dinner, which was a group dinner at the Sant’ Angelo Cave Restaurant! We had a delicious four course meal and wine tasting. It was a great end to an amazing day!
The next morning, we got up and had breakfast at the cave restaurant. Then, we went on a walking tour of Matera! We saw inside a cave house, toured a cave church, and enjoyed the beautiful gorge. Then, we got sandwiches at a small shop in the town before getting back on the bus to go back to Rome, ending an amazing weekend in southern Italy!
One moment that stuck out to me in particular was touring a cave house in the Sassi District. The cave house that we saw was decorated to look as it did when people lived there. The house was one small room that typically would house families of seven to eleven people. The family’s animals also lived with them inside the cave houses, so there would typically be a donkey and chickens, among other animals, living in the cave house. The quarters were very tight and not very sanitary since they were living with their animals and they did not have running water. For a while, the cave houses were known as the “shame” of Italy. The people were forced to move out of their houses because of the unsanitary living conditions in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Since then, the attitude toward these cave houses has totally changed. They have been renovated, and are even a UNESCO world heritage site. I found it amazing that people were living in the houses until so recently in history! Additionally, I though it was interesting how quickly the public opinion of the cave houses has changed. Seeing these houses taught me to appreciate the living conditions that I am so lucky to have, even when it is a cramped dorm room!