The demon barber of Corse Carmelo Barbato

Another large city offset by a village along the way sounded like a fine activity for a rainy day. Main target was Foggia, which is a large city in Puglia, not too far from where we camped last year – of course those who know me realize that ‘camped’ is merely a turn of phrase – canvas and me do not go together.

Searching for a route on Google Maps, we encountered Sant’Agata di Puglia, which seemed like a postcardy kind of place to break our journey. An hour out of Calitri, we spied it on the horizon – a little grey town perched on the top of a bump in the landscape. The bump turned out to be 813m high and was accessed by kilometers of zig-zagging roads. As you drive into the town you are surprised by a traffic light (very unusual in these tiny towns) and a road that forbids vehicles wider than 1.8m wide from entering. This is because the road snakes through the village and is one way dependent upon whether the light is green or red. There are no footpaths, so folk are likely to step out of their houses into the path of a car (or indeed the little bus that scrapes through as well). We had to go round and out and come back again to park near the traffic light and walk back up.

But what a delightfully beautiful place. Views from every break in the walls out over the plains below; terracotta tiled roofs in every direction; geraniums in planters; all the men of the village hanging in the square outside the social democrats party office; cute little shops … Like something out of a tourism brochure, except it was rainy and bitterly cold. I’d been keeping an eye out for a barber with a view to a shave and, as luck would have it, Pip spotted one in a dark shop that looked like it hadn’t had new stock since 1950. A single chair and a tiny old man with shaky hands and a penchant for painting the foam all over your face for what seemed far too long – seriously, he was daubing like Brett Whitely until my face was completely white with no breaks. He had shaky hands (did I mention that?) as he brought the cutthroat razor down and made that scratchy sound you hear in the westerns. Got a great shave and a poor beard trim in only half an hour and for the princely sum of 5 Euros.

Back on the road and up a couple of impossibly narrow tracks toward the Castello at the top and then back down and on to Foggia. The drive to Foggia was through forests of wind turbines of the kind our government is afraid of. This must be a terribly sick part of Italy.

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… part of the forest

Foggia is a bigger city than those we have visited this time and getting in a out and parking is always a challenge, except this day. We found a handy park and headed off in to the old part of the city after stopping for a three course lunch at a tiny place we found along the way. Had a great walk around the old city, all tiny alleys and closed churches, and weren’t particularly bothered by the light rain. Pip tracked down some street art and before too long, we needed to scoot back to Campania and home to Calitri, where it was still raining quite heavily.

We decided to head off to Sorrento for a couple of nights and so spent the evening searching for accommodation and figured out how to catch a ferry from Sorrento to Napoli on Friday. Pip cooked the lemon tagliatelle we bought in Avellino, with some speck, peas, artichokes and capers. We were happy.

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Bond villains and lemon juice

Avellino, the main town of this Provence and an hour and a half’s drive over some of the most spectacularly high bridges we’ve ever been on. Down valleys with ridiculously perched villages high on every second mountain (or so it seems).

Avellino is between Calitri and Napoli and is a reasonable sized city of just over 50,000 and has a large pedestrian only centre. This meant that after securing a street park and dropping breadcrumbs behind us, we could have a decent walk right up through the centre of the town. As it happened, we parked near a symbol of the city, a baroque clock tower, which was helpful as a very large breadcrumb when we needed to find our Panda again.

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Preparing the breadcrumbs, Avellino

Avellino seems like a well to do town, the people in the street looked well dressed and… well, let’s face it, put on a big black coat and some cool sunglasses and you’re looking pretty good. (There were a number of men who looked a bit like Bond villains, but they’re rich too, eh?) Pip was lured into a sock and tights shop, of the type that there are hundreds of in Italy but very few of at home and was quickly attracted to a ‘buy 5 pairs and pay for 4’ offer. Me? Not so taken with the socks, but I’m sufficiently amazed by the concept.

Found a gorgeous grocery shop called Latticini from where we purchased some lemon pasta, eggs and a tiny bottle of mandarin yoghurt. Could have bought more stuff than we either eat or carry, but we are the souls of restraint.

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Latticini, Avellino

So with socks and pasta, we headed back to find the car with only a slight sidetrack into cafe where I thought I ordered lemonade, only to have the juice of 5 squeezed lemons and a sugar bowl delivered to the table – even though whistling was out of the question for the next hour or so, I do like lemon juice and it’s got to be healthy, right?

Zoomed home to arrive right on dusk (phew!) and booked to hit the town’s German beer house for dinner. Double Jack’s Gasthaus sits on the northern edge of town in a double story, pink place. It’s all woody and cosy German inside with many biers and sausages on the menu. It also has pizza on the menu, and chips, and for Monday night, things were rockin’ by about 9pm. Double Jack is actually Mario and he and a young girl serve (or try to) the whole place, consequently, it’s a bit of a shemozzle. It’s good pub food, but they’re so run-off their feet they can’t clear or be distracted by such frippery as wanting an extra drink or the dessert menu. Still we had fun watching the locals down pizza by the cubic meter.

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Double Jack’s Gasthaus, Calitri

Out by the old, overgrown, boarded-up private beach resort …

An early start and a dash for the coast were our best intentions for the day. Our best intentions didn’t count on the shutters being closed, which meant our best intentions didn’t rouse us till the time we’d hoped to be near the coast. So off we headed at the crack of 10:30am with Salerno via Battipaglia displayed on our destination boards.

We flew off into the country on another B road, winding around the mountains and dropping down through forested valleys, past herds of cattle and finally, about an hour in, onto an autostrada. Battipaglia was on Pip’s “street art to see” list as a result of some spectacular works by European street artists, El niño de las pinturas, Millo and Luispak. Our challenge would be to find their pieces in a medium sized city with no internet clues. As luck would have it, an extremely hung-over bar man (remember, this was New Year’s Day) peered at some of the pictures on Pip’s phone and knew where one was – and it was at the school around the corner. A second piece was nearby and we found some other interesting bits at the local football stadium. Battipaglia success!

Not so success, was the time. Our main aim (apart from finding food on a well observed public holiday) was to get home before dark – those mountainy roads are bad enough in the daytime. We abandoned (deferred) our Salerno run and instead headed out to the coast off Battipaglia – my thinking was seaside – people – fish. No sirree! My actual was boarded-up-for-the-winter private beach resorts, piles and piles of roadside rubbish, no people, no fish. I should have recalled similar times in Puglia last year. Heading south toward Paestum, we eventually peeled off to Eboli and the road back to Calitri – time was being called and darkness approach-ed. Our hunger was sated by an Autogrill sandwich and we raced the GPS clock (arrival time was s’posed to right on dusk at 5pm). One missed turn had us backtracking on a goat track, but that strangely bought us time, and we arrived back in Calitri, just as the lights were coming on.

As we had wisely stocked up on food prior to the public holiday – Pip’s pork chops with melanzane, potato, tomato and fior di latte stacks were fabby!

Who let the dogs out?

After being surprised while dressing by a buzz at the door and a couple of Italians with a Torre di Guardia (they have Jehovah’s Witnesses here too – Watchtower), we set off on a jaunt around the neighbourhood. Such jaunts start with the road described by our host as the zig zag road, which heads south from Calitri and drops several hundred meters from the start to the finish – going up is a Panda-liscious festival of gear changing from 1st to 2nd and back again. Coming down is lock-to-lock fun.

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1st target for New Year’s Eve was the small hamlet of Pescopagano, considerably higher than Calitri and reached by a narrow road through forests and across mountains – this is one of the towns we can see from our bedroom lit up at night. Still a light spattering of snow along the edges of the roads. Yet another pretty little hilltop town and cold and, thankfully unlike other pretty little hilltop towns, Mariah Carey Christmas Tunes being piped through the town on tinny civic speakers. After Mariah drove us out of town, we steered past the ancient fort (apparently from something or other BC, not AD) and up into the snowy hills. Next town was ridiculously steep – Castelgrande – with an enormous quarry on the next hill.

No stopping at Castelgrande – we motored on to Bella. Quite a cross-country, windy, b-road traverse, guided by our masochistic GPS which delights in sending us down dark tracks into forests and single lane paths. We emerged from a overgrown track into what appeared to be the back end of a bunch of shops, and after an hour of white-knuckle rallycross, we weren’t hard to convince that coffee would be a good idea. Coffee was a good idea, but as every good traveler in rural Italy knows, cafes have other facilities equally as important. 60-80 euro cents for a macchiato is a wee price to pay. Like all these towns, Bella had an old part with narrow streets heading up the hill towards a castle. I drove part way up, but chickened out as the road tipped up to 45 degrees and became wide enough for two bicycles to pass if the riders hunched their shoulders. Chickening out in these situations is not the easy option – an eight point turn on a steep slope in a laneway barely wider than the car was long was a test for both driver and clutch.

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View from Pescopagano

Back into the forest and headed via cow tracks to San Fele. These are extremely high and bucolic parts and every so often we’re surprised by extremely large dogs darting out and chasing the car – just like dogs used to do at home in the 60s and 70s. The dogs are either Italian shepherds, like dark, large Alsations, or small horse-sized Retriever looking things that should be tending flocks rather than chasing Pandas. While the roads we’re directed along are filled with unexpected subsidences and wheel-sized holes, the country is spectacular and high. Rocky mountains with enormous cliffs, views for miles, a mix of crazy and spectacular buildings, snow, villages on every hilltop and the ever-present wind turbines – hundreds of them. San Fele sits in a rocky cradle between two peaks.

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San Fele

A few more hills and a couple more tracks brought us past Rapone and back to the zig zag road and home in time to contemplate a venue for NYE dinner. After a quick trip to the supermercato to stock up for the New Year’s Day closures, and trying to get into a couple of restaurants, we finally found a place at the bottom of the borgo in the strangely named, Golden Mill – a spaghetteria of some renown locally.

Slip slidin’ away

Really re-getting the hang of this Italian driving . Headed to Melfi first up today, in the neighbouring region of Basilicata – not sure why we chose to go that way, we just did. This was largely the result of reading a couple of brochures we found in our digs while we were internet deprived. Melfi is an attractive small town with an 11th century bell tower provided by a King Roger (Woger?). It’s also famous for a Norman castle and a baroque cathedral. Modern Melfi is home to a Fiat factory.

We took a stroll around the narrow streets and entirely out of character, stopped for a quick coffee before heading back on the road, aiming south and for Potenza, one of the largest towns in the area. The outside temperature reading on the dash was hovering around 1 – 2C as we headed toward snowy hills, and through through snowy hills to into actual snow. The roads were good – no ice. It took about an hour to reach Potenza which had been slugged with heavy snow overnight. Parked cars were caked in the stuff, but the roads were still good. Then, we took a wrong turn and Daniel (the voice of our GPS) sent up a tiny side street that was quite steep and that was OK till we nearly reached the top … and the ice. It took all the ice driving experience I had gained in years of driving in Brisbane to figure out how to halt the majestic backwards slide we had begun. Naturally, that wealth of experience meant we continued sliding backwards. Brakes not working that well and using the front wheels as a kind of rudder to avoid the deep ditch on one side of the road and the stone wall on the other – all this while cursing Daniel with the kind of language one would expect to heard streaming from a backwards sliding hire car. Managed to find a driveway to rudder into and change direction to downwards frontwards, which was entirely better.

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Antico Osteria Marconi

Further into Potenza and the traffic thickened. The Police had cordoned off the area we were trying get to – the Centro Storico. Potenza is set on an incredibly steep hill and is also called the city of a thousand steps. We snaked our way around the centre and out the other side unable to find a place to park or a likely venue for lunch, until eagle-eyed Pip spotted a parking bay reserved for the restaurant it was next to. We agreed that the restaurant it was next to would provide our lunch. The good old Antico Osteria Marconi, complete with white table cloths and black & white waiters. They had a special working lunch (colazione di lavore) with a choice of 3 pastas, 3 mains and 3 desserts. Perfect. Lovely local food and wine to prepare us for a snowy dash home to Calitri. We did find out that Potenza was closed because the city had been chosen as the venue for the national broadcaster’s NYE celebrations and fireworks and there were preparations underway.

At home was the plumber and the satellite guys and our contact, Emma. We now have heat in the bedroom, internet in the home and several TV channels to watch.

The mongers all

Rumour has it there’s a market in town on Thursdays. We’ll take our Italian language skills on a field trip and see if we can avoid coming home with half a buffalo and a gallon of lard. We stopped for a quick coffee at the little bar on the piazza where we park – the owner knew we were ‘the Australians’ he had heard were coming. Due cappuccini down the hatch and on to the car…

From the terrace of our place


Geez! It’s bloody cold though – ice on the car and a wind that cuts through the many layers we’re wearing. There’s also snow on them there hills. Nothing above 3 degrees today. We found the market down a side street near the top of town and after minor parking and manoeuvring debacles, we descended, with burning cheeks, into the clothing stalls  and worked our way up to the food stalls, stopping only long enough for Pip to purchase a thermal undershirt from a bloke with a few tables of underwear and a cheeky smile.

Foodwise we started with a cheesemonger and tasted a few cheeses before a settling on a picante caciocavallo and a bag of fennel tarralle. Our biggest challenge, which Pip lunged headfirst into, was the fruitmonger, who spoke a dialect and worked at 100 mph. Still, we managed to obtain bewdiful little tomatoes on the vine, continental (!) parsley (which the fruit guy inexplicably bundled with half a stick of celery), spuds, eggplants, onions and the free gift of a lemon. We didn’t join the thronging masses walking away with bags of clementines and pears, but might hit those next time.

The supermarket was next on visit list and it lives in a shed off the main road out by the edge of town. It provided us with the rest of the essentials – milk, grated parmigiana, etc (where etc = wine and aperol spritz in tiny bottles). This would set us up for general life.

Our front door is on the left under the awning

You need to take account the fact that whatever we purchase we have to lug 500m up from the piazza where we park, so our excitement for new things is tempered by the reality of the walk at the end. 

Part of the path from our place to the piazza

 

After a tomatoey, cheesey lunch we snoozed a while (which is quite easy in 1 degree temperatures if you take the IKEA chair by the radiator) and took a turn around the village at dusk (round 5pm) before we headed home and Pip cooked up a delicious pasta with some of our hard won produce from this morning. We have noticed that the locals are very friendly – everyone offers a polite buona sera as you pass them and greets you in stores as they enter and leave. Nice.
Tonight we will offer up a silent prayer for the heating and internet to be fixed (well, I would if that was a thing I did). Tomorrow we plan to go for a drive to Melfi and possibly Potenza, snow on the roads permitting.

Cinderella Rockefeller 

Time to rekindle something else – that old driving on the right thing. 

We fuelled ourselves with the Amelindo’s continental buffet (I hope you read that with the voice of Hyacinth Bucket), though we were restrained and well mannered and did not stuff our pockets with ham and cheese as we left. Bussed it back the airport and followed the slightly hard to follow trail to the Europcar desk. Rejected their upgrade offers and made for the carpark and our blue Fiat Panda. Now with the GPS from Australia, you need to find somewhere with a view of the sky for the little Garmin to find its satellites – not an easy task in the highly regulated airport roadways but an absolute necessity to find your way out of the airport maze.

Eventually we just stopped at a tiny siding long enough for the Garmin to do its thing and for us to program it to lead us to Calitri. We were soon on the autostrada and heading south, managing to stay out of the way of the fast cars and the slow trucks and making our first stop at an Autogrill for coffee. It took about 5 hours and 23 euros in tolls to make Calitri after traversing country with groves of giant wind turbines. 

Roadhouse coffee - Italian style

Roadhouse coffee – Italian style


We met our contact, Emma, in the Piazza della Replublica and lugged our bags about 500m to the Casa de Feritoia, our digs for the next couple of weeks. Superb views and a cute little house. The main bedroom is particularly nice. Right now we’re waiting for the electrician to come and look at the heater in the main room and the internet (and the television). Then we’ll head out into the chilly darkness to find a restaurant. It’s market day tomorrow. 

Our little Panda in the Piazza

UPDATE: The restaurant we found was a keeper. La Gatta di Cenerentola (Cinderella Cat for those playing at home) a ten minute walk from our place and a twenty minute walk back – that’s a downhill / uphill thing – and our first experience with a restaurant with no menu. It’s a gorgeous little place with two small rooms (one in a cave at the back) and slick modern decor in a restored ancient building. We plunged in, prepared to take the unknown prices on the chin. Pip asked for local food and Antonella, told us her Aunty would just bring us the food. We were offered two primas and opted for Canozza in a vealy, red sauce cooked for 5 hours we were assured. While we waited for that, some savoury pastries appeared (for a second) and some of the local bread – they’re known for a wholemeal style. We also went local with the wine – Aglianico del Vulture, a robust red.

The cave out the back …

The canozza was perfect, and far too much for a prima. Involtini came next with potatoes in a chilli oil, eggplant, capsicum and zucchini. It was all we could do to share a Tira Mi Su, which was so amazingly good and more like a coffee zabaglione. We held our joint breath as we asked for the bill (our guess was that it would hit the 75 euros). Imagine our surprise at 39!

We rugged up and headed out into the borgo, light rain which turned to snow flurries falling. 

OTHER UPDATE: Turns out the radiator needs a part from the plumber and the internet needs the satellite guy to come. Cut off from the world we are – there’s no mobile data we can access in this area either! Pip’s worried she’s trapped in an episode of Survivor: Campania!