Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

For some inexplicable reason, I had long wanted to visit the region of Puglia, Italy. Sometimes I can trace my chosen destinations to a travel article, a recommendation from a fellow traveler, or even to an overheard comment, but in this case, I have no idea why the heel of Italy’s “boot” held such fascination for me. Perhaps what drew me was my eternal search for places that have not yet been ruined by tourism. Puglia qualifies in that regard, as it is little known in travel circles outside of Italy. Certainly, I knew next to nothing about it. I pictured rainbow-hued houses cascading down high rocky cliffs and pocket beaches where brilliant white sand beaches cozied up to turquoise seas. The reality was not quite what I had envisioned.

My journey began in Split, Croatia, where I hopped aboard a Blue Line Ferry for the overnight sail to Italy. Twelve hours later, having suffered a sleepless night in a cabin that reeked of sewer gasses, I disembarked in Ancona, located midway down Italy’s east coast. A short walk took me to the train station, where I hopped aboard Italy’s famed Adriatic Railroad. Within minutes of pulling out of the station we were rolling alongside the sea, with only a few feet separating our track from the water.

Town after town flew by, each less interesting than the one before it. With their unadorned facades, flat-roofs, and dull colors, the houses and apartment buildings reminded me of the Soviet architectural style referred to as brutalism. Many appeared to be vacant, as if they had been put up in haste during boom times and left to decay during the ensuing bust years. Beyond the towns, not even a molehill interrupted my view over an endless baked plain dotted with cactus.

Saint Oronzo Piazza on a grey and rainy day in Lecce, Italy

Saint Oronzo Piazza on a grey and rainy day in Lecce, Italy

A few hours into the ride, the train crossed into Puglia and veered inland to skirt the city of Bari, considered to be the gateway to Puglia. By the time I arrived in Lecce, thunderheads were threatening a deluge. I raced through the ancient stone streets, stopping every few blocks to check my GPS, hoping I would find my hostel before the storm let loose. Exhausted from 36 hours of continuous travel, I collapsed into bed without so much as a stroll around Lecce’s Piazza Saint Oronzo, heart of the city known as “Florence of the South.” Read More

Local men gather to share the day's news in the historic center of Gallipoii, Italy, visited during my Flavours Holidays cooking holiday

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: Local men gather to share the day’s news in the historic center of Gallipoli, Italy. Visited during my Flavours Holidays cooking holiday.

The waterfront in Otranto, Italy, another of the southern Puglia towns we visited during my week long Flavours Holidays cooking vacation

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: The waterfront in Otranto, Italy, another of the southern Puglia towns we visited during my week long Flavours Holidays cooking vacation.

Lighthouse overlooks the harbor in Leuca, Italy, visited during my Flavours Holidays cooking vacation in far south Puglia, the heel of Italy's boot

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: Lighthouse overlooks the harbor in Leuca, Italy. Visited during my Flavours Holidays cooking vacation in far south Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot.

I cannot cook. More accurately, I don’t cook. As a full-time traveler with no home, cooking skills are rarely necessary. However, with my nine year anniversary of being on the road fast approaching, I’ve been toying with the idea of settling down again, of renting an apartment somewhere in Europe or Asia where I could take a break between extended trips. A place where I could cook a meal instead of eating in restaurants every night. So when Flavours Holidays invited me to experience one of their custom cooking, painting, or Pilates holidays in Italy, I chose cooking in Puglia, the southern region of Italy otherwise known as the “heel of the boot.”

Frisa, a bagel-like roll made from flour, sugar and water, is allowed to dry to rock hardness, then stored. It lasts for months or even years. When eaten, it is split in half and dipped in warm water, before being topped with sun dried tomatoes or marinated onions. Once considered only suitable for peasants, it has now become popular across Puglia.

Frisa, a bagel-like roll made from flour, sugar and water, is allowed to dry to rock hardness, then stored. It lasts for months or even years. When eaten, it is split in half and dipped in warm water, before being topped with sun dried tomatoes or marinated onions. Once considered only suitable for peasants, it has now become popular across Puglia.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into. Cooking, you see, has always been a chore for me. Not only do I find prepping food to be tedious, I seem to be incapable of following a recipe. Recently, a friend who has attended cooking school suggested I try my hand at soups, as they all start with a simple stock made from celery, onions, and carrots. Last December, during my annual holiday visit with family, I took his advice. Five hours after chopping the first onion I ladled out a surprisingly edible bowl of split pea soup.

Encouraged, a few days later I attempted butternut squash soup. My online search for a recipe turned up nary a one that called for a stock made with onions, celery, and carrots. In my infinite wisdom, I assumed all the recipes were wrong and made the stock as before. Into it I tossed smallish chunks of the squash and set it to simmer. Eight hours later, the squash had finally reduced enough resemble soup, but it tasted truly horrible. I threw it down the disposal and gave up. Read More

Ruins of a Roman Amphitheatre in Oronzo Piazza in Lecce, Italy, visited during my week-long cooking vacation in Puglia, Italy with Flavours Holidays

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: Ruins of a Roman Amphitheater in Oronzo Piazza in Lecce, Italy. Visited during my week-long cooking vacation in Puglia, Italy with Flavours Holidays