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Road Trip Southern Italy Part 2 Lecce to Ostuni

Lecce is in the heel of Italy’s boot, with olive trees as far as the eye can see. It is called the Florence of the South because of its baroque architecture. As we found in Bari the shops close from 1-3 for siesta! I don’t remember them doing this in other parts of Italy I have visited. And it might just be in the old part of town that this happens.

While the history of Lecce goes way back the period Lecce is most famous for is the 17th century when the Palaces and churches were built in the Baroque style out of soft local limestone. The Basilica di Santa Croce is the focal point of the old city with its amazing facade. But there are many other fabulously decorated churches in this small space.


You can still see ruins of a Roman amphitheatre which is at the dividing line of the old and new city. The amphitheatre is surrounded by buildings put up by Batista – Fascist architecture – which we saw a lot of in Napoli. It is partly buried because other ancient building were built on top of it. In its day it would hold 20,000. It is still used today for concerts and celebrations. Only the lower tier of seats remain. Near the square theatre there is a pre-Roman necropolis where Messapian inscriptions have been found.

There are a lot of beautiful shops with local art. I don’t recall seeing the pumi before. Pumi are decorative elements in a form recalling a bud that is going to bloom. Symbolizing prosperity and fertility, in the folk culture of the Southern Italy they defend from evil. Deeply rooted in the traditional culture of the ‘heel of the boot’, Pumi are very popular in Puglia, decorating magnificent palaces as well as simple balconies. I could do without the fertility but had to have one to take home.

We had a great time shopping in Lecce, both Bobbi and I met artists and purchased there work. We saw a lot of earthenware sculpture with a white glaze – love it.

This region is also famous for its papier mâché.

Scenes from Lecce.

We went to Otranto for a quick visit, and had a wonderful farm to table meal and wine tasting close by.

We left Lecce the next day and drove to Ostuni – the White City on the top of a hill. Ostuni is located in a region that has been inhabited since the stone age. It is believed to have to been founded by the Messapii, destroyed by the armies of Hannibal during the Punic Wars and then re-built by the Greeks – hence the Ostuni name meaning “new town.”

Its whitewashed defensive walls and houses in the old town with many winding streets, steps and beautifully decorated, colorful window frames can make you think you’re somewhere in Greece. Ostuni’s history is shown predominately within it’s architecture; with many buildings still standing dating back as far as 990 AD when the city was sacked by the Normans and added to it’s own county. The majority of buildings date from 1300 to 1463.

Our guides recipe for limoncello
Translation 1 litre grain alcohol 96 proof
8 organic lemons
1 1/2 pounds sugar
1 litre water
Peel the lemons (use none of the white)
soak the peels in the alcohol for 2 weeks in a dry dark place
strain through a fine linen cloth
make a syrup with the sugar and 1 litre water
———-
for Christmas he adds a cinnamon stick and 16 cloves
strains again
and salute!
It must be drunk very cold – put it in the freezer and drink it from there.
Our lunch spot in Ostuni

As I discovered the last time I was in Italy the further south I got the more I liked the food and the fewer people there were – well once you get away from Napoli.

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Road Trip Brussels Gent Luxembourg Maastricht Trier Bastonge then home

Road Trip Brussels – all I can say is WOW. I didn’t know what to expect and never expected Brussels to be so beautiful with so many vibrant neighborhoods. And the most beautiful square I have ever been in. It beats Paris, Rome, Venice, London, NY, Florence – its called La Grand Place. My pictures just don’t do it justice so you can see more at this link from UNESCO – a video. It was truly breathtaking. A lot of the ornamentation is covered in gold so the whole square looks like a jewel.
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In a walkway just off La Grand Place is the 1902 statue of local hero Everard ‘tSerclaes. Rubbing the statute is said to bring you a year of good luck (hope it works even though this is a reproduction of the original) and a guarantee you will return to Brussels. Everard was Lord of Kruikenburg and was killed during the fifteenth century when he was defending Brussels.

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Brussels is a city of great contrasts. It is the headquarters of the European Union with a section of the city devoted to that with high rises and lots of new buildings. It makes you wonder what was taken down to build the new.

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The population of the city is over a million with 2 million in the metropolitan area, and there are traces of civilization that go back to the stone age, the Romans were here and the original settlement that was to become Brussels was begun around 580 AD.

You see buildings that span the centuries with a building from 1600 next to one built in 2018 and any of them might have a comic strip mural painted on their side.

There are many, many parks and lots of green spaces, refreshing compared to many large cities. My favorite park was The Petit Sablon Square, just a few blocks from our hotel.  The park is surrounded by statues depicting medieval professions.

There is a lot of public art including…

You can’t talk about Brussels without the Manneken Pis being brought up. The statute was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder  and put in place around 1618. It was replaced by the current statute in 1965. They make a big deal out of him, he has hundreds of costumes (like 1000 or so!) and his clothes are changed several times a week and a ceremony is held each time – go figure.

Belgium has more comic strip artists per capita than any other country. There are at least 50 murals and many statutes devoted to the art all over the city. Some of the popular strips born here are TinTin, the Smurfs, and Lucky Luke to name a few. To see more and read more about them follow this link.

One of the things we saw throughout Belgium was the Espalier and Pollarded trees.
I’ve talked about Espalier before but Pollarded is a new word for me.

A tree that has been pollarded (pruned) means the upper branches are trimmed to control the height of the tree. Because we were there early spring the new growth had barely started. After years of being trimmed back the tree develops these “knots”. They say this way of trimming actually extends the life of the tree.

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If I knew it, I had forgotten it (sorry Father VanHorn),  that Brussels is the world capital of Art Nouveau. There are over 300 Art Nouveau buildings there and probably hundreds if not thousands of buildings with Art Nouveau tiles on their facades. Victor Horta is the most well known, and his home is open to tour.

 

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A couple fun shots followed by signs…

 

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There were two walls built around ancient Brussels, the Halle Gate is the last remnant of the second walls of Brussels. The first wall was built in the 13th century, the 2nd in the 14th century. The Aneessens Tower is a remnant of the first wall.

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At the cities edge is the Atomium. It has nine steel spheres that form the shape of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. It was built for Expo ’58, the 1958 World’s Fair. Five of the nine spheres, including the very top sphere are open to the public. The spheres house an exhibit of dedicated to Expo ’58, a restaurant, and a snack bar. It is GIANT!! 334 feet tall.

Reminecant of Paris’s Arc de Triomphe Brussels’ Triumphal Arc was built for the 50th Anniversary of the founding of Belgium.
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And yes, that is a giant carton of fries on the right. Everywhere in Belgium promotes their fries, but don’t ever say French fries!

There are a lot of beautiful churches and monumental buildings in the city.

After Brussels we visited Ghent, or Gent, which has a beautiful medieval city center, Trier the oldest city in Germany, Bastogne to see a WWII museum and a quick fly by of Antwerp.

Road trip Luxembourg Maastricht Trier – On our way to Luxembourg we stopped at the town of Maastricht. It’s the shopping mecca for miles around, designer clothes and lots of other high end shops.
The one I was interested in was the bookstore. Probably the most beautiful bookstore in the world in an old cathedral.

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Maastricht became well-known through the Maastricht Treaty and as the birthplace of the euro.     Maastricht has 1677 national heritage buildings . It was part of the Roman Empire, they don’t know when the Romans arrived but it is known they built a bridge over the river here in the 1st century AD.We went on to Luxembourg, and stayed in Luxembourg City.

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Luxembourg City

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I was embarrassed to learn how much I did not know about the role of this city in the history of the world. There have been inhabitants here for 35,000 years, since the Stone Age!  Today there are many offices of the EU here.

Outside of Luxembourg is the Luxembourg American Cemetery where more than 5000 American soldiers are buried along side General George Patton. The Battle of the Bulge took place here and over 90,000 allied troops lost their lives but won the war.
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It was very sobering.

We then travelled to the oldest city in Germany, Trier. It was inhabited by the Celts in the 4th century BC and the Romans conquered in the 1st century BC. It is home to some major Roman ruins.

The Gate The Porta Nigra, remains from the Romans as does the Basilica which was part of a large castle built by Emperor Constantine.
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In another part of town there are remains of the largest Roman Bath outside of Rome.

Other spots around town.

The next day we started making our way toward Brussels. On the road to Bastogne we saw these markers every kilometer. Liberty Road marks the route the 3rd US Army of General Patton and the French 2nd DB (armored division) followed in 1944 during the Operation Cobra.
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We stopped at Bastogne and visited the Bastogne War Museum. It was an amazing and sobering experience. I’d like to know if our government officials who have never gone to war no less served in the military, have visited some of these museums to be reminded of the devastation, and yes what happens if you don’t fight when necessary.
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The museum was very well done and the 3 theaters were actually movie sets that you were sitting in.
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The Belgium countryside was beautiful and every once in a while you’d see a castle or large chateau.
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Gent or Ghent is another city with a beautiful medieval city center.

Some people say Ghent is the place to go rather than Bruges. But I fell in love with Bruges, it seemed more intimate to me, yes there are probably more tourists there but I loved it!!

These disks measured about 4 inches across and there were dozens of them in the street, don’t know why but there they were.

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Everywhere you turn in Belgium they are selling chocolates, beer, fries, and waffles!

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A few signs…

Odds and ends around town.

 Met and amazing sculptor working in bronze,  Jurga.

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Whew! What an amazing trip. Had to end it with a nice glass of Kriek.
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Next Road Trip England, London and the Cotswolds to visit gardens!

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Road Trip – Havana

My sister and I just got back from a cruise, the highlight was Havana. It was overcast while we were there so my photos aren’t as bright as I would like them to be.

We learned a lot about the country, the people were very friendly and caring.  And like us, they don’t always agree with the priorities of their government.

I would have liked to get outside of the city – next time.

The American cars were great! Most of them are used as taxis, there are other cars and newer cars they just aren’t American cars, a lot of the newer cars are Russian.

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cuba15We heard that the economic situation for the people is somewhat better since Americans have been going – one reason is that Americans tip while Europeans generally don’t, and the people we encountered all spoke English, and it was very obvious that most of the population is poor. They do have a good education system (98 percent literacy rate) and healthcare. We were shocked to hear that their infant mortality is lower than in the US.

The city must have been stunning before the revolution, now a lot of it is in ruins, the government is slowly renovating buildings, the government buildings first, then the historic buildings, then last the family homes, and very few of them have been done and  the citizenry just doesn’t have the money to do it themselves.

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The guide said people own their homes, they have been passed down generation to generation, and usually 3 or 4 generations are living together, and generally a working person might make 20-30 dollars US a month.

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Part of Havana is a UNESCO site and receives help to restore buildings. There is a section of Old Havana that has been restored. The section contains churches and historical sites.

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I saw this factory that was open to the street.

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Under Raul Castro people are able to own certain businesses, the taxes paid to the government on their earnings are high (we heard many times – the government always wins) like here. So for some people things have improved.

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The building in the background was built to resemble our capital, once renovations are completed it will once again hold Cubas general assembly.

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Next trip, Florida Panhandle and Key West!