Monday, January 24, 2011


After a relaxing 2 days in Lecce I caught a local train to Bari where I met up with my next couch host Nunzio who took me to a couch surfing 'function' that was happening that night in a local bar. The party mostly consisted of hosts from around the area, a couple of fellow surfers and a few random guests that had no idea what couch surfing was. I met heaps of like minded people and had a great night chatting and exchanging stories and experiences. The organiser, Simone, also organises another meet up they have in June in Calabria, where last year they had around 80 members come together for one big party on the beach over 3 days including rafting, hang gliding and lots of other activities. The couch surfing world is bigger than you think and is rapidly expanding!

Despite meeting in Bari, my couch was actually situated about 40minutes south west of Bari in a small town called Matera. If you have seen “The Passion of the Christ” you will have seen Matera. They used the old town and the mountain in front of the town as the set of Jerusalem in the movie. It is a really incredible town perched on the side of a mountain overlooking a valley and the river bellow. The 'old city' is comprised of small cave like houses excavated from the stone where up until the 50s, when they were forced to move out by the government, were still inhabited by locals like Nunzios family! The small caves were often home to as many as 2 adults and 6-8 children as well as the family horse, sheep, chickens and any other animals they had at the time! Impossible to imagine!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fateful events.

A turn of events saw my Brisbane friend leaving Lecce to head to Sicily early Wednesday morning without me, leaving me to re-plan my next few days. I accidentally left my power adapter in Rome and after a few hours in the hostel lobby searching possible couches in the Puglia region both my phone and my computer were out of battery. So the next 2 hours after that were spent wandering around Lecce in search of a new adapter, which obviously Italians don't need, and therefore don't sell. When I did finally find one I think the shop owner got a bit of a shock when I practically kissed him I was so excited.

New adapter in hand I found myself a cafe, ordered a double espresso and some pizza, charged my phone and waited in hope for my couch request to be accepted. Luckily for me it was. After a second coffee I left the cafe with new hope and a very high blood caffeine level, in search of celebratory gelato. The sun had come out, I had found a couch and I was having a love affair with my gelato, life was great.

My new couch turned out to be a bed and breakfast shut for the winter about 4km outside of Lecce, with citrus trees and a small olive grove it was just the slice of country I was in need of. I spent 2 nights there and only ventured out of the boundary for a couple of hours to get beer and visit some of Lecce's churches before making my way back to the warmth of the B&B.
My hosts Andrea and Angela were lovely and I felt so welcome from the moment I walked in. Angela even confirmed the cliche Italian diet by cooking risotto, pasta and pizza in the time I was there, it was fantastic!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Italy's Heel... Puglia

In Bari, after I had left Daniella's beautiful house, I made my way to the ferry terminal to meet up with a friend from Brisbane on his way over from Greece. Being a Sunday almost everything was shut, so we spent the day wandering Bari's deserted alleyways and devouring it's delicious gelati. By night fall the main street had picked up the pace a little so we took it upon ourselves to sample the local wines and a few of the local bars.

The next day we took the local train around 120km south of Bari, to Lecce which has been named the "Florence" of Puglia. Although I wouldn't go quite that far, I'm finding a certain charm to the quiet narrow streets riddled with churches and very few tourists, and surprisingly the Puglian gelati far surpasses that of Florence!

We also took a “day” trip to Gallipoli which is a small fishing town on the west cost of Puglia, and like a lot of Italian cities, is broken into the old and the new towns. Unfortunately our trip there was a bit of an after thought and in order to get the last train back to Lecce we only had an hour and a half to see Gallipoli... in the dark. Having said that we managed to work our way through the old city taking plenty of photos and even try some unbelievably fresh oysters, mussels and prawns from one of the many fish stands there.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

“Helpless Tourist”

I'm pretty sure I have “Helpless Tourist” written on my face... or maybe it's the backpack and the map standing on a corner looking lost... that might be it. Either way I think I am the luckiest person I know!
I got into Bari at around 7pm from Rome and as I hadn't made any arrangements for accomodation I headed to the information desk to get directions to a hostel... the vague directions and points on the map didn't quite work for this map illiterate tourist and I spent an hour wandering around in circles until I bumped into 3 middle aged Italians and their 2 dogs. “Can I 'elp you?” Ummmm... YES!! I explained what I was looking for and they explained I would probably need to get a bus there because it's quite a walk. I think they saw the disappointment on my face and after a quick conversation in Italian, the lady said “Ok, well we 'ave a very nice place close 'ere, we go to theatre and come back about 11pm, but my friend Stephano is at 'ome, 'e 'as 17 years and 'e study animation. I go now pick up pizza and take to 'im before go theatre... If you want, I pick up 2 pizza and you come meet Stephano and you can stay at our 'ome... If you want. Or you can get bus to 'ostel... My name is Daniella.” I weighed up my options and decided it was probably just as risky wandering around on my own in Bari as it was to go with what seemed like perfectally normal people to their place.
Daniella didn't lie when she said she had a very nice place close by. The 3rd story, super modern apartment was huge and just around the corner. My room (yes my own room) had a king sized bed, en-suit and fresh towels handed to me when I walked in the door. After the 3 of them went to the theatre, Stephano and I ate pizza and he taught me to play Slaughter House... yes, Slaughter House. It was awful. Games like this along with comic books are where Stephano learnt most of his english, so needless to say he had perfected his english profanities very well!
Before I left the next day Daniella gave me her number and email address with the instruction to call her for anything I need at all while I'm in Bari. “You say- Haallo Daniellaaaa, I'm in Bariiii, I need dot dot dot- ok?!”.
I am once again touched and amazed by the generosity and kindness of strangers...

P.S. Sorry for the sudden bulk upload of posts, I haven't had regular internet for a while!

When in Rome- Stay with a Roman

In 2009 I went to Barcelona and did a 3 day stint in a restaurant there called ABaC where I worked with some very talented chefs, one of whom I kept in contact with.
Fabrizio was the pastry chef at ABaC and now that he's back home in Rome I was lucky enough to catch up with him and stay with him and his family in one of the outer suburbs of Rome. Apart from all the usual tourist sites to see in Rome (and yes, there are hundreds) I was also introduced to some of the best gelati, bars, restaurants and home cooked meals made by Fab's mum!
Grazie mille Daaaaaling!

The High-life of Rome

My arrival to Rome was met with class and a tuxedo wearing porter. A reception not quite fit for a hungover, sleep deprived couch surfer fresh from Florence. Though I certainly was not complaining. I was in heaven!
I had been invited to “bunk” with a friend from Brisbane, Bill, and his son Angus for the few days they would be travelling in Rome. I was speechless however when I was shown to my own room in The Hotel Eden, a 5 star hotel where you get a weather report and chocolates on your pillow when they turn down your bed at night, and from the breakfast room there are views over the entire city of Rome.
Unfortunately for around half of the time I spent with Bill and Angus I was feeling somewhat under the weather and stayed in bed (my big fluffy queen sized bed) feeling sorry for myself. The other half of the time was spent seeing a few of the sites of Rome and eating and drinking like royalty!
Thank you so much to Bill and Angus for an amazing start to Rome!

P.S. Sorry for making you sick Bill- what a way to repay you!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Becoming a Florentine

For my third couch surfing experience I decided to throw caution to the wind and request a couch from 3 Italian guys for a couple of nights in Florence. My confidence in this decision was being quickly drained after 2 dirty old Italian wankers on the train and my host being 30 minutes late to meet me at the station. But luck took my side and I had the most amazing stay.
My hosts Alexandro, Marco and Lorenzo- 2 engineers and a journalist- had a really nice new apartment close to the centre of town and befriended me instantly inviting me out to dinner at their friend's bar.
Lorenzo had a few days off work and was able to show me (according to Florentines) the best city in the world. He took me around to all the main monuments, introduced me to a traditional lunch of Florentines (Lamprodotto : tripe burger) and took me out for apperativo every night, in return I introduced them to Pavlova! Fair trade right...

I ended up extending my stay with them to 4 nights and can safely say that my relaxing, tame travel with my parents is over... I don't think I was in bed before 2.30 any of my nights in Florence and drank more wine than I have in a long time!... I couldn't have asked for anything more.
On my second night there, after arriving home at around 2am, the boys decided they were hungry and proceeded to cook up a batch of spaghetti with parmesan and black pepper and pork chops... How many Aussie boys do you know of whose after-party food consists of any thought and effort like that?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How did you spend YOUR new years?

This years new years was somewhat different to previous festivities for my family. We were given the option by Marla and Fabrizzio to go with them to a local “party” where there would be lots of dancing and a buffet at midnight. They didn't mention that there would be next to nobody there under the age of 50, the first drink of the night is generally a glass of bubbly to welcome in the new year (aka midnight) and all of the dances would be structured folk dances that we wouldn't have a hope of joining in! Having said that it was a very interesting night with traditional music played by a local band and lots of 'people watching' on our part. My brothers girlfriend was picked out by a friend of Fabrizzio and dragged onto the dance floor, explaining in rapid italian how to do the dance! She did really well considering she speaks very little Italian... we were all just glad it was her and not us!! Thanks for taking one for the team!!

Bella Baita

After a 6 hour trip in Gus the Party Bus, including a stop off in Switzerland to see some friends for breakfast, we arrived in Italy where we had booked out a B&B up the mountain from a small town called Panasca, which is near Turino in the North West of Italy. After finally getting up the ice covered mountain (without chains on the tires because the rental company gave us the wrong size!) we were greeted by Fabrizzio, the crazy and extremely entertaining Italian half of Bella Baita (our home for the week).
Luckily for us we just missed the snow storm and we had a sunny and beautiful view of the surrounding mountains all week. We all spent a very relaxing week eating, visiting nearby towns, doing an Italian cooking class, playing cards and drinking copious amounts of local wine. And while everyone else was reading I was able to pick Marla (the more mature and very knowledgeable American half of Bella Baita)'s brain on bakery and working as a patissiere all over Europe.