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September 22-28
Written September 24-28 and Oct 7
Dear Family and Friends,
Drive down and Day One
We left the Masseria Selvaggi planning less than a couple of hours driving to Lecce.  Unlike our normal trips, that proved reasonably accurate as we managed to use decent roads, both two-lane and a "super strada", an autostrada without the tolls.  Here are charts of where we drove and where this now places us in Italy:
The hard part was finding our apartment and determining how we could possibly park nearby.  Our vacation apartment (see description below) is conveniently located for walks in the old town, but appeared very daunting for the drive in.  We initially solved this by parking outside the old area and walking in.  We found the apartment address and called the manager's phone number, since all we could see was a large, locked door.  Fifteen-minutes later, Giovanni came, gave us our keys, made us feel welcome, and provided a parking pass for the inner city.  He pointed out several wide spots in the small streets where we were now allowed to park, assuring us it was safe to do so.

d120923_06_Day1_walk.jpg With some amount of misgiving, Marianne and I went out, got the car, and entered the rat-maze of old city streets.  Miracle of miracles, we found our way back and parked in the same parking place Giovanni had used.  Our car remained stationary since then, as generally had the cars on the left and right of us.  Giovanni was right, parking was not the dilemma I initially anticipated.

Business done, we moved on to lunch and walking around.  Those impressions are reported below.

Our stay in Lecce will be a relatively long one, six days.  Making diaries for such a stay requires a choice between describing each day, a traditional "diary", or a record of subjects such as streets, museums, tours, churches, meals, etc.  In the end, I opted for a "subject" approach, but this ended up much harder than I thought and it took two weeks to finish.  Lesson learned.

Warning:  We now walk around with two or three cameras at all times and Lecce turns out to be a city that called out for pictures, too many pictures, mostly of the surrounding buildings.  I'm not sure what it is, whether it is the underlying interesting design from the architects 500 years ago or the clear evidence of age or just that, as Americans, even as Americans living in Europe, old cities are fascinating.  Whatever.  Just glance at pictures that might interest you and skip the rest!

Overall, we did not expect to take any daytime drives out to the countryside.  It was just too hard to get out of the old town and then, at the end of the drive, back into a decent parking place.  This sedentary plan also allowed us to have a fairly simple and predictable daily schedule: breakfast at home or in a local bar/cafe, a late-morning excursion of some sort, lunch, after-lunch siesta, an evening stroll and shopping, and a late evening snack.  It's not a hard routine to get into and seems to match the local practice.

Street Scenes

Lecce is considered the southern center of baroque Italian architecture and staying in the old center meant we were completely surrounded with wonderful examples of buildings from the last 400 or 500 years. Generally, most buildings have not been "restored", but rather just "maintained", using even that term loosely.  For old-house nuts like us, it's fun.  I'll put some pictures here, but only a fraction of the number we took and kept for our own memories.
City Houses - A combination of restored (a few) and maintained (many) and derelict.  I could show hundreds and hundreds of these pictures, but I won't.
The other part of "street scenes" is just about folks walking though the old, narrow, meandering streets, alleys, and paths.  In early morning, there is a quiet peace; in mid-morning a reasonable assortment of shoppers and workers going about business; in the afternoon, quiet largely returns as everyone goes indoors to avoid the hot sun, even in September.  In the evening, however, everyone comes back out to shop, to stroll, to chat, and to generally enjoy themselves.  I tried to capture the feel in pictures, but it's hard.  You'll have to come here yourself.
First Evening
Streets are empty or full, but always narrow.
Lecce is famous for "Cartapesta" or paper mache figures.

Museums and Tours
We really did not see much.  Tuesday evening we stumbled into a display of local artists that was set up in the fortress of Carlos V.  The art was OK, but the setting was wonderful.
There are two Roman sites in our part of town that we did not tour, but that I photographed a few times.  Consequently, pictures without story.
Main amphitheater and Appian Way column
Smaller theater

On Wednesday, we had a two-hour guided tour of the city from, Simone, a guide recommended by travelers we met at the Masserai Selvaggi.  She does this tour for both large groups and for individuals such as us.  We started down by the Saint Oronzo tower, one of the original obelisks from the Appian Way.  From here, we visited a few churches and various old streets of Lecce.  Simone is a native of the Lecce old town and her enthusiasm was infective.  I'll try to annotate here and elsewhere with her comments and information.
On Friday, we visited the Archaeological Museum.  Some tour books call this a "hidden gem", but I have to admit it was a yawner for me.  It probably was the largest collection of old shards we have yet seen in Europe, and there is no question that we are staying in an ancient place, but the displays were sterile and with little explanation, even in Italian, let alone English.  We had the museum to ourselves, however, and that's always pleasant and the glass display cases tested my photography skills.  Good exercise for that anyway.

Lecce required a "church" category all by itself because the place is filled with them, 43 by one account.  Most were built between the 16th and 18th centuries and served a city of 15,000 people, about a third of whom were priests, nuns, seminarians, bishops, abbots, brothers, and other religious.  In 1810 Napoleon abolished organized church orders and confiscated church property, turning seminaries and convents into government office buildings, the role they still serve in Lecce.  Today, the churches are the available public window into life over the last centuries since the government offices and the noble houses are, generally, off-limits to us tourists. I tried to provide just a sampling of the churches for the pictures, but the temptation is to overdo -- again.
Our first stop was naturally the Duomo or Cathedral.  It is quite near our apartment and even early in the week we have passed by and through a number of times.  Built on a site of Christian churches from the sixth century or earlier, the Duomo was built in the 12th and 13th centuries and then rebuilt in the 17th century.  It faces a large square that itself is bordered by  other buildings from the period, including the large church tower, separate as is the custom in Italy.  The story I have heard is that the tower is over the baptistery and, since only baptized persons were allowed in the churches, the baptistery had to be separate.

Inside and out, the Duomo is as elaborate as one  would expect for a baroque cathedral, but we would learn that is is not the most elaborately decorated church in town.
Cathedral, outside and inside, night and day
Pan of cathedral square.
Santa Croce or Holy Spirit
Our guide considered this the finest of the Lecce churches.  It was built in the 16th and 17th centuries and has to be among the most elaborate we have seen in Europe. Currently, the front facade is marred by scaffolding, but the overall impression is still there and most of the details remain visible.
Church of Good Counsel
This 16th century church was built on the site of an earlier Greek Orthodox church.  It was originally a Jesuit church, but one that was never quite finished (note the empty niches on the face of the church).  I liked it because its single large room was somewhat simpler than other baroque-era churches..
Church of Saint Irene
This church in honor of Lecce's original patron saint was started in the 16th century.  Again, I offer this as my last diary example, just because one tires of ornate churches.  Believe me, we have pictures of several more in Lecce.  The interesting phenomenon was that each church seemed to have a different interior feel.

Apartment and Meals
We are staying at the Corte dei Memoli, a four-apartment vacation house right in the center of the old town.  Our ground-floor apartment is a large room with separated areas for bedroom, kitchen, and living room. The ceilings are all stone vaults,  peaking probably 15 feet (4 meters) above our heads.  It's a wonderful, quiet, space.  Giovanni, the owner, has been very willing to help, and the language difficulty is solved by pantomime (or "talking by hand and foot", as our German friends say.)  Even "street parking" has been OK.  "Breakfast" for this B&B consists of a voucher for use at a couple of local "bars", a novel system for us but one that worked well enough.
Meals, so far (Tuesday morning) have been OK, but not outstanding, other than our "home cooked" light evening snacks.  We'll see if we turn up anything reportable.

Even by Friday at lunch time, I'll have to admit that dining has not been a highlight.  Nevertheless, possible recommendations:
 -- Volo Restaurant:  Thursday dinner.  Nice menu, including variations of the traditional recipes of the area.  Service was pleasant and our wine (almost two bottles!) was a good merlot, a bit different from the normal local reds.
-- Nonna Tete:  Friday lunch.  More local traditions.  Service improved as the restaurant got busier, so go on a crowded day.
-- Syr Bar: We had one breakfast here and one evening wine & snack.  What we had was good and the service both times was friendly.  (By the way, I included a link to their website, but it is in Italian and almost empty.  Don't worry, the bar is fine.)

There were places we did not like as well, but our practice is to NOT call them out, as it is always possible to have an off day.

Conclusion for Lecce:  We spent almost a week in a town where the few tourists who go here might spend a day or two.  Partially, this is because we are lazy travelers and do not want to fill our days very full, but we also wanted enough time to get the feel of the place.  We did, I think.  Lecce, the old city at least, is a living museum for 16th and 17th century Italian city buildings.  Most streets are filled with 500-year-old history and a few even show history from 1500 years before that.

At the same time, the focus of the town seemed to be families and residents, not tourists particularly.  People, young and old, chatted in the streets and church visitors brought prayers more often than cameras.  Maybe this is an "old Italy" that we hadn't noticed in Tuscany.  I don't think we've visited any place that felt so old and yet felt "normal" at the same time.  Definitely worth the long visit.


John and Marianne


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