Posts tagged Architecture
We have arrived in the Algarve, only a month late but never mind! Almaco de Pera is a holiday town we have visited before in the winter. Its beach is dotted with fishing boats and the local restaurants offer massive portions of the local catch for lunch. We chose a little shack-like place on the beach and enjoyed ‘sardinas’ in the sunshine. The weather has been incredible since we arrived in Portugal and was baking hot for February. On our walk we discovered a fabulous wild camping parking area on the cliffs overlooking the sea and the western end of town. There were at least 15 campers dotted along the cliffs, but a hefty fine of up to 30k can be levied if you get too near the edge!
It was then time for a bit of culture and history, something we have been missing for the last few weeks as we have mostly been at the sea. We made our way to Silves, a Moorish hill top town an impressive clay coloured castle that dominates the skyline. There is a massive parking area and a huge motorhome community, we counted over 65 vans camped next to the river. We explored the deserted cobble streets by moonlight and only encountered an occasional doggie, of which there seem to be many in Portugal. Silves in the brilliant sunshine was another kettle of fish, the castle and cathedral were our first stops. The castle is laid out with a Moorish garden and you enjoy wonderful views of the town from the ramparts. The cistern is supposedly haunted by a Moorish maiden but all we heard were some brilliant acoustics that David was hugely excited by and he even threatened to come back and sample the sound patterns.
The monthly market was in full swing and we managed to purchase a new grill for fish for our bbq and peruse the local tat. We also caught a virtuoso performance of doughut frying by one of the local vendors and enjoyed a delicious ‘fratera’, a long, thin, crinkle shaped doughut dusted in cinnamon sugar.
We have been dying to see flamingos close up. The Carmague region is famous for them and so we decided to trek further south in search of these elusive pink birds. The Carmague is like the last frontier, it is full of wide open plains and stark skies. There are numerous marshes and canals that make it perfect for rice growing and its proximity to the sea allows for the farming of salt. The salt pans vary in colour from white to a pinky purple hue. We visited the towns of St Gilles, Grand du Roi on the Rhone river and Aigues Mortes.
Aigues Mortes, a town as famous as it is picturesque, is fortified and surrounded by canals. We arrived on the last day of their end-of-season bull festival. The French towns in this region often have bull rings, demonstrating the strong link they have to the Catalonians just across the border. In contrast to the Spanish version, the bulls are not killed, instead the bull fighter has to show his skill by plucking a ribbon (or two if he is lucky) off his angry nemesis. The end of festival party included lots of drinking and dancing in the streets. Even a heavy storm did not manage to dampen the locals’ celebrations, but it did send me into a panic as the puddle under our van steadily grew bigger and bigger. I began to think we may be washed along the canal and David had to reassure me that our van could cope with this sudden onset of water. Eventually, the rain dwindled and I managed to get to sleep. The puddle the next morning was still rather large though, and we had to drive out to avoid very wet shoes.
We had decided to put Italy behind us as quickly as possible and, with this in mind, set our minds to driving through the night back into France. On route however I spotted signs for Pisa and, having read stories and looked at pictures of the leaning tower as a child, couldn’t resist a diversion into the famous town to take in the sights.
Having spent all day on the lurking in the back of the van Odie was dying for a walk so we decided to take him around the block. It turned out that our motorhome stop was practically in view of the leaning tower. A glimpse of the rooftop stirred in me such desire to see the famous monument that I rushed back to the van, fetched my camera and tripod, and dragged Chris and Odie at a fast pace into the walls of the old town.
Although I’d seen drawings and photographs of the tower in books, the actual building took me quite by surprise. It is incredible – beautiful and delicate in a way that no picture can possibly capture. I could have spent hours photographing it from different angles but, with a cold wind biting like an annoying insect, and a shivering and complaining wife, I had to make do with just a few quick snaps.
The next morning we decided to visit the same sights in the light of day. What had been a tranquil and moving view by night was quite a different experience in the sun. Hoards of tourists arrived by the busload, and within a couple of hours we were elbowing and cursing our way through noisy crowds. As always though, the masses were only interested in the main attractions. A short walk took us way from the throngs of happy-snappers into the heart of the town where many beautiful sights could be seen without hundreds of people posing in front of them.
Pisa’s tower is famous for leaning, but many other attractions of less repute follow suite. Walking along the river you can see buildings from houses to banks tipping over, as their foundations slowly sink into soft soil below them. You could really call it the leaning town of Pisa.
We’ve come to accept the incredibly commercial aspect of any tourist site in Italy (little wonder as it’s the fifth most visited country in the world) and were unsurprised to find stalls selling various spirits in leaning bottles and leaning tower shaped pasta. As you can see from the photo though leaning towers don’t always have to be buildings … 😀
The Basilicata region is known throughout Italy as being poor and rather downtrodden. The city of Matera is no exception. As late as the 1950s many people were living here in caves, without running water or sewage removal. It has managed to turn its fortunes around somewhat in the last few decades, attracting tourists to see the caves that housed so many residents. When housing was eventually built for them they shunned the cushy life of indoor plumbing and stubbornly refused to leave their holes. They were finally flushed out by force! The town has also gained some fame by providing the backdrop for the film ‘The Passion of the Christ‘.
We drove into the town and followed the signs for motorhome parking. Unfortunately there was a festival of some sort going on and our designated motorhome parking area was now the party headquarters, although to look at the ankle deep pile of litter in the car park you’d think it had become the designated town dump. We circled round and round on the narrow streets looking for a space that could accommodate our van. Sadly, with cars triple parked and delivery vans thrust into every available crevice, we stood less chance than a fat tourist trying to squeeze into Italian designer wear . That put a swift end to our sightseeing for the day. Sometimes life in a motorhome is difficult!
Lecce, in the deep south of Puglia, Italy is a town that overloads the senses. It has over 40 churches and just as many squares. The heavenly architecture which dots the town reaches a crescendo at the Basilica di Santa Croce. My guide book declares that he stone masons must have been hallucinating when they created this masterpiece. I concur, for this fresco contains all manner of creatures including, believe it or not, dodos! It is rather overwhelming and we had to take refuge inside the church to recover. The interior is rather more sedate although still beautiful in its own right. The rest of this city follows the Baroque trend and also has not one, but two Roman theaters. This cultural overload contrasts with the abundance of crude graffiti scrawled over the ancient walls.
We made our way into the city via bus from our area di sosta (camperstop) 6km out of Lecce. We knew we’d found the bus stop when we noticed a little piece of cardboard tied to a road sign with the words “fermata bus” scrawled on it. While the bus stop might have been very third world, bus driver wasn’t, and surprised us by being perfectly on time both on the way there and back. Odie, was in luck. Instead of being relegated to the luggage compartment (as he was in Spain), he was able to ride in style with us! Bus tickets came in at a trifling €0.80 and were available from the camperstop.
After a welcome break in our nomadic lifestyle we uprooted once again and pottered down the Adriatic coast to Alberobello, Puglia. This town is famous for trulli – the round, dry walled, white washed houses that dot the landscape. Some say that they were built as an early form of tax evasion. Being made without mortar they could be dismantled every time a royal tax inspection was carried out.
We stopped in a lovely olive plantation, now an area di sosta (camperstop), in the heart of Alberobello. Little did we know that we were adjacent to the Trulli neighbourhood. In our search for groceries, we bypassed this area and looped all round the town only seeing a few Trulli as we marched ever onwards. However, we weren’t disappointed as the town is beautiful in its own right and we were lucky enough to be about during the Italian passegiata, or evening stroll. The next morning we stumbled over the Trulli neighbourhood. There are two main Trulli areas, one full of shops selling trulli tacky touritst tat, and another where people still live in these hobbity homes.
A short hop took us to Locorotondo, a hilltop town in Puglia with a beautiful historical centre. The old town has narrow lanes that all lead to the church. Most buildings are cream or white and this colour contrasts beautifully with the red geranium-filled window boxes. After a rejuvenating gelati we continued on to Lecce, right in the heel of the Italian boot.
We started our regional itinerary of Abruzzo in Sulmona. The town is famous for its sugared almonds that are traditionally given to guests at weddings. The Sulmona area di sosta (camperstop) was overgrown, weeds crowding the entrance and had no services available. We parked up near this almost derelict spot and saw signs for an ‘elevator’ to take us up to the ‘centrico’. The ‘elevator’ turned out to be barricaded shut and some rather seedy stairs led us to our destination.
The town was pleasing enough, but I fear we have become desensitised as we have seen so many beautiful Italian towns. Unfortunately Sulmona did not leave us with a very favourable impression. The only saving grace was the weekly market. There we managed to purchase some delicious grapes, prickly pears and other succulent treats.
We decided to push on and found an idyllic wild camping spot in the nearby Parco Nazionale della Majella, overlooking a vast valley. The National Park is home to wolves, bears and rare species of deer but only a few local mushroom pickers made an appearance. We did get to see another pretty sunrise though; that’s twice in two days. 🙂
We are always interested in trying new foods and Ascoli Piceno had something unique on offer – olives stuffed with veal and then deep fried. A cardiologist’s worst nightmare but a delight for tourists’ tummies! This town in the Le Marche region of Italy has plenty of interesting sights, beautiful squares and pretty architecture. Its tourist appeal is readily evident with the numerous American and English voices that can be heard echoing off the Roman monuments.
A quick descent out of the mountainous region of Monti Sibillini National Park lead us to the Adriatic sea. Beautiful blue skies and abundant sunshine, combined with a powder blue sea should result in hordes of sun worshippers … or this is what we thought. The only sight that met us on the beach in Porto d’Ascoli were endless rows of sun loungers and parasols. It looked like a holiday ghost town. If only the English knew about this September paradise. I’m sure many would love a cheap holiday in the Italian ‘off’ season. We eventually located a wild camping spot right next to the sea, and were rewarded with a pretty sunrise the following morning.
Assisi was our next stop. After staying in the ACSI campsite near to the town we caught an early shuttle bus in to visit the sights. The town has many churches, the most impressive being the Basilica. We arrived just in time to observe the somber experience of morning mass. Christine had to hire a shawl to cover her outrageously naked shoulders!
Assisi is bizarre. One the one hand it is very spiritual and focused on relinquishing personal belongings. On the other it is packed with shops trying to sell you tacky religious paraphernalia. It’s fascinating to see Jesus salad tongs, cathedral shaped pasta and mini crossbows, all for sale under the same roof.
Italy is a land of crazy drivers and our taxi driver was no exception. You’d think it impossible to gesticulate madly at passing cars with one arm, while the other flits constantly from hooter to radio to mobile phone, all the while constantly ignoring the steering wheel, but somehow our driver made the impossible a jaw-clenching reality.
We made a quick pit stop on our way to the Valnerina, in Norcia. This town is famous for its salami (apparently the best in Italy) and truffles. Wild boar heads stare out at you from the numerous butchers on the main drag, an unsubtle reminder of what the sausages are made from. We bought both and were not disappointed. Boar and truffles squashed into cylinders is a most delicious treat!
Perugia, a hill top town in Umbria, Italy was our destination for the day. Much to my dismay I was unable to organise a tour of the local chocolate factory. Such factories should be open 24 hours per day by law! I had to console myself with a delicious organic lunch of freshly made pasta and wild boar sauce. We made an effort to work off our indulgent lunch by marching up and down the many Perugian staircases, some of which ultimately lead to nowhere. The town has many pretty sights and plenty of photographic opportunities.
After our feet could take no more traipsing around we made a quick detour to Deruta, also in Umbria. This little town is famous for its handmade ceramics. The main street is riddled with shops selling their wares. Many allow you to observe the artists as they create their beautiful ceramics, but photography is strictly forbidden so the only shots Dave came away with was of tiles laid into the pavement.