We were busy in July with friends and trips, starting with Mark’s friend, also Mark, and his brother Ralph, who added a few days in Puglia to the end of their trip to Istanbul and Greece. We followed the news closely, worrying about them and the threatening “Grexit”. They were in Athens during the Greek referendum. Remember the news reports of chaos, demonstrations and ATM lines? They had no problems at all.
We took them on the usual whirlwind tour of Puglia, starting with golf at Torre Maizza (it was incredibly hot) with Ellen, then an afternoon swim at Lido Ghiacciolo, followed by pizza deep in Bari Old Town (which, it was agreed, was a cultural activity, as much as it was dinner). We drove through the Valle D’Itria the next day, saw the caves of Castellana, stopped in Alberobello to see the trulli and in Locorotondo for aperitivo, where my timing was off and the kitchen was closed. Apparently, it takes a chef to slice meat and cheese. Therefore, our waitress announced, we could have only olives with our wine. Taralli? Nope. Potato chips? No way, are you kidding? I said the kitchen is closed. Finally, she took pity on us and gave us some foccacia. We spent the passeggiata in Polignano, and ended with dinner in Monopoli at our favorite fish restaurant. We had, among other things, the most delicious pasta dish: with a white sauce of fresh, tiny clams and crunchy-fried zucchini flowers on top. Our last day, we went on the rickshaw tour of Bari Old Town (which they’d been resisting as “too touristy” since I’d proposed it a month earlier – they loved it), followed that evening with a drive to and tour of Matera. We had dinner in a restaurant cut into the “sassi” caves, then headed home to pack for Rome. We took the train in and spent the last day (again in unbearable heat, mainly moving from one bar to another for the next icy Spritz!) with them before they left for the USA.
In the middle of July, we rented the little boat out of Monopoli and spent the day with Ellen, Gary and Damiano. We had lunch onboard, which I’d prepared in advance, and visited lots of little coves and beaches for swimming and snorkeling. It’s a nice way to spend a day in Puglia – boating isn’t as common here as in Florida and not many know how to drive a pleasure boat. Of course there are captains of the bigger fishing boats, but all the individual old fishermen use tiny boats that they row.
Alberobello had their annual festival of beer and lights, where they project patterns and pictures on the iconic trulli tops. This year our talented friend Matthew Watkins and another digital artist created and projected their work in real time to a cool soundtrack (highlight of the festival, for sure).
After that was our foray into Greece, to meet Joe and Jill, our Florida neighbors. We spent two days in Athens (again, no lines at ATMs, no problems), and toured the must-see sights. We ate really well in Athens, two nights in a row at a lovely place called Strofi, on a terrace with views of the Parthenon lit up at night. Mark and Joe couldn’t get enough of the octopus appetizer. We had zucchini fritters with yogurt sauce, salads, tomato fritters, and cheeses. They ate meat platters and goat kid in parchment. We had baklava and something delicious called “milk pie” for dessert. We were given shots to drink before and after dinner. The second, the waiter said “is like medicine”, which was good, because after the first one, I needed some medicine.
The second morning, we caught a ferry to Mykonos. Last year, Mark and I were in Mykonos at the end of June and loved it. Not so in July: what a difference three weeks makes. It was absolutely packed full of “party people”, and I was so glad we’d planned activities that kept us out of the town. Some were better than others – the morning we kayaked, it was so foggy, we had to paddle an extra kilometer to cross the boat channel at the narrowest point to avoid being killed by boaters driving like maniacs in near-zero visibility. We had lunch on an uninhabited island – uninhabited except for something that apparently eats small birds and mammals. We called it the ‘killing fields.’ Trudging uphill through the feather and bone remains of something else’s many, many lunches is not the most pleasant way to prepare for your own. The highlight was the day we’d booked spots on a sailboat out of Agios Ioannis – it was supposed to be for eight people, but the other four didn’t show, so we had it to ourselves. The captain (Artemis) and his first mate (Harriett) were characters, and we swam, snorkeled and had a huge freshly-prepared lunch – and then we swam and snorkeled again, without *gasp* waiting 30 minutes after eating. The Italians say you have to wait two hours. I think it’s all a ruse so that the grown-ups can finish their lunch in peace before someone has to go watch the kids in the water. Come on, fess up…Dad? Mom? Isn’t that true? We also spent a day on the beach in Ornos, with a festive 3-bottle lunch at the same place we ate last year. It was a real treat, especially the huge crab we decided on for our pasta course – you probably saw the picture on Facebook but I’m posting it again anyway, because I love it. It was even tastier than it looks. On our last night walking back to the hotel, we saw a guy roll his ATV 20 feet from us. He popped up apparently unhurt, but his flip-flops were ruined, and I guarantee he lost his deposit, as he left both side mirrors in little pieces on the road.
After four days in Mykonos, we moved onto Santorini, which was such a relief. The clientele is different there, and the views, of course, are spectacular. I didn’t want to leave our pool, and its views, and the nice young man, Zort, who keep the vodka-lemon slushes coming. Joe had booked a jeep though, so one day we went to the black sand beaches, and drove up the hair-raising, 21-switchback road to the ancient town of Thira. It was my fault, I spotted it from the beach. I was sorry I did, because it scared the heck out of me. It was officially “two-way”, but more realistically would accommodate 1.5 vehicles, there were no shoulders, and a little way up, they abandoned even guardrails, suggesting, to me at least, “there’s no point from here on, if you slide off, let’s be honest: you’re dead, guardrails won’t help you.”
At the top, I got an iced coffee from a tiny, derelict shack, where the proprietor took my money, scooped out the ice, made my coffee and touched my straw with the same ungloved, unwashed hand. If I had been in my right mind (rather than half-delusional from the heat, and scared half-to-death by the trip up and (worse) the prospect of the coming trip down), I would have taken the drink and dropped it directly into the garbage. I’m still waiting for some horrible disease to manifest itself. I’m sure it will. On the plus side, I got a 40 euro cent discount because I didn’t have the proper change. So that’s something positive.
After making it (barely) back down, we all needed a little something to calm our nerves, so Joe solved the problem by stopping at the first winery we saw, where we tasted the best whites we had all trip, and a really nice Vin Santo (which they served with a fantastic plate of excellent Greek yogurt, honey and semi-dried grapes, a taste revelation for me).
We took a catamaran sailboat out for a sunset cruise one afternoon as well. I booked it thinking it was the same one we took last year, which was so much fun. I couldn’t remember the name, so I looked it up – it was voted #1 on TripAdvisor, a red and white boat…how could it not be the same? I sent them an email “You were on our semi-private sunset cruise,” they responded, confirming, I thought, that I was inquiring with the right company. Mark knew immediately when he saw the boat, noticing details that weren’t the same – I argued it was impossible. But as soon as they started the safety briefing, I worried he was right. There were way too many rules…it didn’t bode well. Then, even worse, we discovered the white wine was undrinkable. Mark was right. We passed five hours in subdued obedience. The views, swimming, food and sunset were all lovely…but the experience wasn’t the same.
We’ll try to do better in August.