We had six days. Val had arrived the previous day and settled in. It was wonderful having company and conversation and making plans for exploring.
I can’t remember what time we woke up but I’m really glad we did. We were exhausted. It wasn’t just the driving but the stress and anxiety of uncertainty. We decided to lay low. Val was happy too. Roca Vecchia is not really a town. It’s a collection of houses on the coast between two very small towns, San Foca and Torre dell’Orso. It had a restaurant, a convenience store and a bar/café. Very close by is an archaeological site, by the same name. The site has produced impressive architecture and artefacts from the Bronze Age – four thousand years ago.
Mondays the markets set up in the little square outside our accommodation, Villa Lina, with stalls selling an eclectic mix of items from pots and pans, fruit and veg, linen, toys and electrical adaptors, toiletries – a veritable mobile supermarket. Val and I did lose our heads a bit. It was hard to resist five kilos of amazing tomatoes for two euros or two aubergines, three capsicum and zucchini all for 50 eurocents!!! We bought way too much! I also bought an adapter for my laptop and a tablecloth…they were only two euro each!!! Regardless, we were well stocked for the next week or so. We had a car after all. The only thing missing was protein and vino. Then we found Eurospin.
Because I absolutely had to have new sims for the phones, we had to drive to the nearest town, Melendungo. That’s when Val pointed out the supermarket, Eurospin. Well-cheap wine, fabulous cheese, olives and snacks, we were covered. Next …explore!
Prioritising is essential. We were only thirty-five minutes from the ancient city of Lecce, deemed a minor masterpiece of Baroque architecture. Val had been to the city before, but it had been a while. She told us of how her and Ross had parked the car, wandered through the labyrinthine streets, were spat out at a completely different gate and serendipitously found their car. We all laughed then took photos of the car, the street, the surrounding shops, the parking signs and headed off. We were taking no chances.
The decision to indulge in coffee and cake was unanimous. We had reached Piazza Sant’Oronzo and stumbled into a delightful café with an impressive array of cakes and pastries. It was hot so we decided to sit inside. John was delighted with his iced coffee and Val recommended the Pasticciotto, the typical cake of Lecce- a cake-like pastry filled with custard. Delicious! Caffe Alvino was a find.
We wandered through the square past the sunken Roman amphitheatre and column, among the beautiful limestone buildings to the Cattedrale di Lecce where after much vacillating, we purchased tickets and visited the crypt and seminary as well.
We had had a good day and decided to head back to the Villa Lina where we indulged in another wonderful meal and made plans for the following day.
Otranto was a surprise. Initially it was raining, and we sought shelter in a lovely restaurant overlooking the bay and settled in for a long lunch. This town dates to the time of the ancient Greeks. One of the saddest incidents took place in the late 1400s when 800 citizens where beheaded because they refused to surrender and convert to Islam. They became known as the Martyrs of Otranto. The old city was small very manageable and filled with interesting shops and stalls selling ceramics and plenty of local and hand made products.
On our return to Villa Lina, we walked just a few hundred metres to the Grotto di Poesia, a spectacular natural cavity in the limestone once used for cult practices writing ancient dedications and now a fabulous swimming hole. The place was crowded with onlookers of all ages and swimmers and divers of mainly the younger variety. We were entertained by those brave enough to climb to the edge jump and return via the steps carved into the wall of the cave. These were mainly locals enjoying the last few days of the summer holidays. The evening light in Puglia is magical and people in this area like to be outside at this time indulging in passeggiata, a leisurley stroll especially meant for socializing. A slow and wonderful pace of life. We were beginning to fall under its spell.