Oh, Puglia. What a fantastically beautiful place. It’s sandwiched in between two glorious seas (the Ionian and the Adriatic), and is filled with olive groves and vineyards in the middle. And there are remarkably few tourists here. I’ve spent most of my time in Lecce (pronounced like the Spanish word for milk, “leche”, hence this post’s title).
Lecce has a lot of nicknames (“Florence of the South”, “Italy’s baroque pearl”), but to me, Lecce is the city of light and dark, hot and cold. In the historic center (centro storico), the streets are as narrow as alleyways and weave around white stone buildings set with flowered terraces before opening up into piazzas. These buildings, however beautiful, cast thick shadows. I often feel like Goldilocks walking down the street here. One minute, I’m trapped beneath a shadow, shivering, and the next, I’ve been spit out onto a sweltering piazza, heated up like a pizza stone. It’s tricky to find the spot that’s just right. Luckily, jackets can come off as easily as they go on.
I spent a decent amount of time lost here, too. The streets curl around tightly, so you’re never sure if you’ve walked into a dead end until you’ve nearly hit the wall. On several occasions, I’ve wandered around helplessly while trying to find my way back to the flat, eyes glued on the blue dot in Google Maps. Usually, I’m just meters from my front door. I’ve accepted how silly I look. No one has offered to help me, at least.
I can’t speak much about the food in Lecce. I haven’t actually gone out to eat here, besides having a couple of kebab sandwiches. I haven’t had a kitchen in a while–and won’t have one again anytime soon–so I’ve been taking advantage of being able to cook for myself (and by cook, I mean boil amazing pasta and make caprese salads). My landlady did bring me a Salento specialty for breakfast, though, and it blew my mind.
It’s called fruttone (thanks, Google!), which is a small, oval cake topped with dark chocolate and filled with almond paste and fruit jam (I think mine had figs in it). The crust, which is made with lard, reminded me of what shortbread would taste like if it were chewy, soft and delicious. Fruttone is technically a variation of pasticciotto, which is only topped with egg white (to help it brown) and is filled with custard. I wish I could buy hundreds to send home to you all. I am about to run over to the Cin Cin Bar to buy myself one or two as souvenirs (if they last beyond breakfast tomorrow).
I haven’t done as much traveling around Puglia as I would have liked. I blame Rick Steves’ absence (there’s no Puglia section in his guidebook) and my shyness when it comes to asking for help. I did get out yesterday, though. I took the local train service (Ferrovie del Sud Est) to Gallipoli, which is a city on Puglia’s Ionian coast.
The train ride alone was worth the €8.50. I saw huge olive trees, with thick, gnalry trunks, and vineyards full of floppy-eared vines. And there were silvery fields dusted with yellow and purple wildflowers, and abandoned stone buildings surrounded by crowds of red poppies. I wanted to jump out of the train (which looked like this, by the way) and pick all the poppies I could hold, walk under the dappled shade of the olive trees and feel the crunch of the Pugliese dirt under my shoes. But I didn’t–mostly because trespassing is illegal.
Gallipoli itself was meh. The sea was gorgeous – you could see clear to the bottom, and I saw lots of fish. But the city itself was merely a tourist trap with not much to do other than walk around the old part of the city. Admittedly, I went during siesta, but still. I stayed long enough to walk around the perimeter of the old city before dashing back to the train station.
If I had another day in town, I’d travel to Otranto–I probably should have gone there instead of Gallipoli, but I was spooked by the number of train transfers. I do hope to come back to Puglia one day, and Otranto will definitely be on my list. Why Otranto? I think this video says it all.
What else happened in Lecce? When I get back to the States, I’ll tell you about how my first Airbnb flat was a total disaster, and about how a drunk guy harassed me in Italian throughout my entire donner kebab purchase (a long process because they have to shave the meat off the spit, let it sizzle on the griddle, toast the bread, add toppings, etc.). on my first night in Lecce. I won’t go into those things here, because they’re still too annoying to think about. Let’s let them age into funny stories.
Tomorrow, I’m heading back to Sorrento to see the Amalfi Coast and tour Pompeii. After four nights there, I’ll triumphantly return to Rome for two nights before picking up Jared Castello, my husband, from FCO, with great relief. I cannot wait to share Italy with him!
Ciao for now!