Tuesday, February 17, 2015

If the Boot Fits, Wear it.

Another perfect day shopping in Florence. Who doesn't love this country?
Italy is my favorite country. There, I've said it. Everyone asks me that question and I have skirted the answer in the same way I avoid naming my favorite child. After all, we've spent time in 28 countries and each one has very special qualities. Besides, who doesn't love Italy? People should get to know Slovenia - she's a sassy little country. Or if you prefer a no-nonsense, tell it like it is country spend some time with Denmark. France? Too easy - she's like your best wine-bar friend. If you like a more mysterious but satisfying encounter, then Morocco is the friend for you. And don't forget those crazy Baltics - they were a good time. But in the end, truly - I am in love with Italy.

Michelangelo's family and the Campbell's attended this same church
In our eighteen months of travel (and going back to previous trips to Europe) I think we've covered most of this fascinating boot shaped country. And every time we visit we look at each other and say "we could live here!" Now that we have this Senior Nomad experience underway, with no permanent home in mind at the finish line, the fantasy inches closer to reality. We could live amongst passionate, eccentric, happy Italian people quite easily.We could even take up smoking, skip breakfast for espresso shots, take long lunches, work - or not. Support the local football team. And shop for food. Eat food. Dream about food. And use passionate hand gestures while doing all of the above.

Italian ingredients are so fabulous you can't create a bad meal - this was my favorite.
On this chilly February morning I am sitting outside on our rooftop deck in Lecce in the heel of the boot. The morning sun is still weak, but I am outside, and it isn't raining - and according to our trusty  app "Weatherbug" there is a full week of warmer weather in our future! I can see church towers in all directions and I can also peer into dozens of neighboring terraces. There is laundry strung on most of them (ours included), lots of potted succulents (which means it must get really warm here eventually), many fat cats stretching and preening as they start their day, and hundreds of TV antennas! Obviously you can't chunk up thousand year old streets to lay cable, so it's all satellite dishes and spindly sticks in the air up here. Here's the link to our wonderful place in Lecce: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1374534

A sunny morning on our deck - a perfect place to blog!
We have enjoyed a leisurely exploration of southern Italy. Most tourists don't get down this far - Naples, maybe, but if you only have a short time in Italy the itinerary is usually focused on Rome, Florence, Tuscany and Venice - for good reasons!

Sometimes we just stay in and enjoy everyday life. Especially when it's raining!
We enjoyed a wet ten days in Naples - and had a couple of great day trips including a visit to Pompeii - a very eerie place. It is hard to fathom the swift destruction of a thriving city by eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. Especially when you learn about the sophisticated infrastructure, the social aspects - from brothels to Bacchanals (and the legal system to help you out of scrapes with either), and the incredible architecture. I was particularly fascinated by the intricate mosaics that were salvaged and are on display at the National Archaeological Museum -so much talent!

One of my favorite mosaics discovered in the ruins of Pompeii
A warehouse of goods found in the ruins - and a plaster body cast of a victim.
Michael was able to attend a football match - and his blog post about that memorable night has been posted. It's a good story. I also posted a blog about cooking in our various kitchens, and, although Naples was one of my favorite places to cook, it was also where I finally had a melt down. And I don't mean chocolate. Our apartment in Naples was great: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4469870

Michael being looked after at the Naples football match by new friends Ricki and Antonella
Branching out - snails for dinner, at least for me. Michael played it safe with pasta.
After a week in Naples, we climbed aboard a bus to Bari in Puglia on the Adriatic Sea. We caught a few more days of rain and some of the coldest temperatures locals could recall! Lucky us. But really...lucky us! Because Bari was a very cool town in more than temperature, and it doesn't get it's share of glory. Our apartment was in a very authentic neighborhood and we really felt we were living like locals, especially with our host Enzo's help. Here's the link: https://www.airbnb.com.mt/rooms/1291786

Michael getting the scoop on Bari from our host Enzo
We found a great tour guide named Giuseppe who was just starting his free walking tour career. He took just the two of us around town as good practice for the upcoming tourist season. He beamed like a proud papa as he showed us his city even in the rain and wind. As we toured the old town, he knocked on the front door of a friend's home to introduce "his Americans"! The extended family was sitting around the table while their Nonna made pasta. I was treated to an impromptu orecchiette making lesson! These "little ears" are the famed local pasta. This woman is renowned for her skill and was happy to share the technique with me. She had a good laugh at my attempts to roll and flip the little darlings with my dinner knife. This was a Top 10 Nomad moment for me.

My impromptu orecchietti lesson in Bari. This Nonna is a renowned master!
Our guide Giuseppe admiring a good night's work of handmade pasta
We took two day trips out of Bari. Our favorite was a short run by train to Alberobello to see the famous Trulli houses. Most of the town is taken up by hillsides covered in small conical shaped homes with distinctive dome roofs. Apparently these were constructed to be easily dismantled as marauding invaders (including tax collectors) swooped down on the villages. Two days later we headed to Matera where most of the city is made up of ancient cave dwellings turned into housing ... a long story, and an interesting day out.

The unique rooftops of the Trulli houses
Michael among the Trullis
The rambling hillsides full of cave houses in Matera
Lecce, where we are now, is often referred to as the "Florence" of southern Italy. And I can see some similarities. But really, this city is a Diva on her own merits. We are in the old town - a first choice when choosing our airbnb apartments, and although that often means a lot of narrow, ancient and  uneven stairs (inside and out), it's been worth it every time.

Lecce's famous Basilica di Santa Croce has literally left no stone  unadorned
The terrace of our Lecce apartment. The stairs were worth the climb.
Ruined umbrellas stuffed in bins are definitely keeping the 'brolly' street vendors of Italy in business.
Our attempts to stay warm in southern Europe and Morocco didn't really pan out. We have plans to move towards Eastern Europe, but as I mentioned in an earlier blog, countries ending in 'ia' (you know Albania, Romania, Bulgaria ... ) are better in summer when gray skies are banished like the oppression. 
Travel planning Breakfast of Champions! Cookies and Diet Coke.
Heading into our tiny "door in the wall" in Lecce. No real need to let carriages in these days.
In the meantime, we leave blustery, rainy, but much loved Italy behind this weekend. Coming up we've got exciting plans that include stops in Malta, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, and then on to the Holy Land! But I am sure we will be back to Italy because this boot fits really, really well.

Thanks for following along,

Debbie and Michael
Senior Nomads in Europe






9 comments :

  1. Just a quick hello and congratulations on your successful adventuring. My partner and I have been planning exactly this lifestyle for nearly two years. We retire November, 2015 and the next chapter in life begins January, '16. We've been dreaming, planning and plotting and for all the exotic corners of the world, Europe keeps bubbling back to the top, as far as we are concerned. From House Hunters International to Senior Nomads such as yourselves, it seems that securing visas are never an issue, as if the doors magically open. Yet it seems that the US government goes out of its way to make visiting difficult for international travellers. Have you ever encountered similar problems abroad? Probably my biggest concern is to be able to stay in the EU on a long term basis or will I be required to leave. Anyway, congrats on the NY Times article. Wishing you many more happy and healthy years ahead. Ciao.

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  3. Wow on your NYT article. We started exchanging our cabin in Colorado in 1996 through HomeLink as a way to take my mother, cousin and the Aunt from Hell to England for 2 weeks. 12 years later we laid off for a couple of years and then discovered Airbnb a year after it opened. We have been hosting for 3 years in Colorado 4 months in the summer and love, love it. Have not had a bad experience although I think we dodged a bullet when 12 people from Texas canceled because they didn't understand the word "Fire Ban" in a forest. Look forward to your posts. Judy (Annie)

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  4. Found you through the NYT article. What an awesome adventure. I'd love to do this! We visited Italy in 2010 and would love to go back. And you're right about the very southern part - seems people don't really visit there much. I've had an internet friend for about 6 years now who lives in Calabria. Check out her blog here: www.bleedingespresso.com She moved there 12 years ago from Pennsylvania and hasn't been back. Looking forward to delving into your archives!

    ~ Salena Lettera (www.salenalettera.com)

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  5. As with many of the others I too found you through a NYT link. When I first saw the article synopsis I thought it was about our retirement adventures as you have had many of the same adventures. We stopped being wage slaves in 2010, took Italian language lessons, then set off for our second trip to Italy but this time for 90 days. We were able to include Malta and Marseilles as well as Sardegna in our free wheeling travels. Like you we do not rent cars but rely on trains, planes, taxis, buses, and ferries. We also agree that when we stay someplace for more than a week we like to rent apartments and they sure do come in all different styles.

    Not to stop the fun when we returned we then took our RV for a tour of the Western States came home and packed for another trip but this time for Spain and Portugal.

    I was then seduced by a 6 month contract in Amsterdam and returned for my son's wedding (hmm seems rather familiar) before we packed the RV for a trip to the Arctic Ocean. Unfortunately a dental emergency had us cut that trip short but we did drive on the Dempster Highway in the Yukon.

    We just finished an extended trip to Italy, Spain, Istanbul, Morocco, and Paris. Our next trip will be a RTW but only countries below the Equator.

    I must agree that Italy is my fondest country to visit. Love the people and the food!

    Safe travels and who knows we may even meet up in Italy.

    Ciao presto!!

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  6. I caught up with you at last and what a ride it's been. I read about you on Ronni Bennett's blog "Time Goes By". I agree with you about Italy and wished we'd chosen that when we retired to Spain.

    Go well on the next legs of your journey. I'm looking forward to your Greek visit - another beautiful country and islands. I'll be tuning in regularly.

    Pamela xxx

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  7. Can you give your readers an idea of how much to budget for travel a la Senior Nomads--would love to do what you're doing, but have no idea if it's finacially feasible. Love your blog!

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