A Sneaky Peek into Puglia: February 2016

Written by guest blogger Richard Watkins.

Wow, so much has happened in February to share with you. The highlights being: participating in the Venice Carnival, 25 year reunion with Amex colleagues and attending 6 Nations Rugby match in Rome. OK, so this blog isn’t much about Puglia this month but sometime we do venture ‘fuori Puglia’ outside Puglia!

We flew to Treviso on the 6th and checked in at a hotel in the centre of this sophisticated town. Of course, lunch at a local trattoria and some sightseeing just to limber-up for what was to follow.

The ladies in our party of six had spent weeks crafting costumes for most of us. In true Brit fashion, using curtain material and other inexpensive materials to create magnificent outfits, fit for any want-to-be Venetian photo stars. Our trip to stardom started with a luxury 30 minute taxi ride to Venice station; which must have seem to on-lookers like the transport of elaborate costumes, with an occasional hand or head coming up for air.

Upon arrival, and the proper adjustment of the very complex outfits, we became the subject matter of hoards of photographers (mostly Japanese and German). We stopped at the first of many bridges for our own photo shoot, and, again, were politely asked in many languages if our photo could be taken, usually with an excited friend or partner of the photographer – fame at last! However, masks, make-up, skill, showmanship and costumes, ensured that nobody could recognize six Brits and metres of curtain material.

Our stroll to our destination, the main square, Piazza San Marco, was made more difficult by lack of signage, the occasional loss of our ladies to the energetic amateur photographers; window shopping; taking wrong routes; enormous, slow moving crowds of tourists; the formal bowing, etc when encountering other costumed visitors and, of course, posing for our own photo shoots.

That day was all about being seen, coping with layers of costume (including for me, the battle with tights when nature called, a first, and last, for me!), sitting awkwardly in a small crowded cafe attempting to eat and drink. Finally, a scenic ride back to the station on a typical river taxi (filled with tired, costumed visitors and the ever-enthusiastic photographers), passing brilliantly lit churches, villas, museums and river traffic (gondolas, speedboat-looking taxis, working barges, etc).

Sunday the weather changed and rain set-in for the day. No matter, back into ‘civvies’ and out into the centre of Venice for a day of culture and an opportunity to top-up our photo libraries. An unforgettable visit to the museums around San Marco. One amazing museum Palazzo Ducale was breathtaking. Adorned in the Venetian arts on one side of a canal, and then the stark prisons complex on the other side, separated by the Bridge of Sighs. No words could do justice to the experience. You need to go there, or, at least, do some internet browsing. Our tickets allowed us to visit several museums in the area but we ran out of time and energy. Next time!!

My next adventure was to take me and 3 Brit friends to Rome to watch the Italy v England rugby game. My friends had previously done the tourist visit to Rome so I had spent some time (with a lot of help from friends in Rome ) preparing an outline programme which included, eating, drinking, culture, sightseeing, meeting dear Amex friends and, of course, the BIG game ( 6 Nations at Stadio Olimpico!!!).

Again, I would need to write a book to justly describe the adventure, the emotion and the fun that we shared. Photos played an important part in helping to record the experience.

We stayed in wonderful apartments at the top of Trastevere, in a super smart area, shared by various embassies buildings. We decided to walk everywhere when possible (so averaged 14km each day!). The way down to Trastevere was by using stairs which, over half a kilometre in distance, took us from 50 meters above sea level to ‘at’ sea level. Trastevere is all about eating, quirky shops, and ‘old Rome’ ambience. Our tourist stroll took us past; Teatro Argentina, Piazza Venezia, the (newly restored) Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Popolo and back along the Tevere.

Saturday was culture day: Galleria Borghese; Monument Victor Emmanuel (elevator ride onto the roof for fantastic panoramic views);  Palazzo Valentini (the basement of which is Roman ruins of a multiple villa complex, discovered less than 10 years ago, now re-enacted with multiple coloured laser lights to show the building as it was in Roman times). The evening was really special as 15 of my Amex ex-colleagues met with us for dinner and a good catch-up. I hadn’t been in contact with these wonderful people for 25 years, yet, it seemed like we were all close friends and so the evening was absolutely perfect.

Sunday was match day! We had a leisurely stroll into the centre, coffee in Piazza Navona, more looking upwards to take-in the breathtaking architecture. We mingled with the, mainly, England supporters enjoying a local speciality snack and then a stroll to the very impressive Olympic stadium. Various security checks but nothing too onerous. I felt proud to be English, as we joined the hordes of supporters taking their seats, in the impressive stadium. This was my first attendance at an International Rugby match. Italy were at least as good as England for the first half hour. A silly mistake by one of the Italian ‘full backs’ allowed England to score, then the flood gates opened. Final score 9-40 to England!!! Magnificent atmosphere during the game, then the long walk back along via Flaminia into the centre with the really great English supporters. Next, dinner, this time at one of the oldest restaurants in Rome (Da Meo Pattaca), listening to music from a group who have been together for 30 years and even having a quick dance with the charming (lady) singer (and, of course, our gratuity of 10 euros!); magic!!!

Monday was the chilling day. Coffee at Campo di Fiori, (with its fresh food market), where we met another friend of a friend, who kindly spent the rest of the day driving us around other interesting places, including La Bocca della Verita (the mouth of truth), Giardini degli Aranci (The Orange Grove) in Aventini, (where there is a keyhole strategically located in a villa entrance door which, if you look through it, you see a spectacular view of St. Peter’s – truly unique) and, finally, Terme di Caracalla. Yummy lunch, again in Trastevere, onward to Fiumicino airport then back to Puglia .

We are so lucky to be living here and having such leisure possibilities close at hand. Until next month!

Credit goes to a fellow twitter member @mbbloem for the ‘Through the keyhole photo of St Peter’s’ (this was far better than the photo taken by Richard!)

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