We were in Ostuni yesterday having coffee with Roberta as I mentioned. It was the first time I had been to Ostuni for a long time. In fact we stopped there on our first tour around Puglia looking for places to house hunt and never went back. I guess that probably says it all ! We were unfortunately royally ripped off in a coffee bar who demanded €3.50 for a cappuccino , then in a restaurant that added both a cover charge and a 15% tip and finally in a bar charging a ludicrous amount for a draught beer. It was cheaper in The Savoy Hotel in London ! Now normally I am a most forgiving man as Geraldine will testify ! But I am of the school three strikes and you’re out so Ostuni was filed away and forgotten. To be fair yesterday the cappuccino was €1.50 and whilst we didn’t eat there the restaurants all had set menus though all were in English. They are always amusing. Spaghetti con Polpette was described as Spaghetti with White Balls.
Those are polpette which go into a tomato sauce to mix with the spaghetti so I guess they meant the pasta is white. The national dish of Puglia is Orecchiette Con La Crime di Rape. Crime di Rape is the green head leaves of the turnip plant and it is a lovely dish. The restaurant had translated this as Ears of pasta with turnips. Now I don’t know about you but reading that in my minds eye I would see a pile of odd shaped pasta with a couple of white round turnips on the top and would give it a miss.
Ostuni is however a picturesque town . It is perched on the hill overlooking the Adriatic Sea. In fact if you have been to Mykinos in the Greek Islands it is very similar in the fact that it is all painted white !
Above is one of the many streets in Ostuni that lead up into the historical area. It is very full of tourists and especially seems a centre for Americans . visiting the area so you will bump into them in most bars and restaurants.
The last time i came across so many Americans in one place ( apart from the 15 happy years I spent working in North America ) was in Florence but they were priests . I had been asked by a friend who runs an excellent business called Specialists on Call in the USA to check out a company that was looking to use their internet technology that by video places a hugely experienced Cardiologist at the bedside of a newly admitted heart attack or stroke victim hundreds of miles away. The company were based in Florence so like a shot I was in the car and away with Geraldine as my eager navigator. We stayed at the Hotel Ville sull’Arno and it is a great hotel with good rates and being a 10 minute walk from the centre along the Arno river is more Italian than tourist in clientel . I had the meeting and that evening asked the front desk young guy where he would go for a pizza nearby, hoping he would give me a good steer to a cheap local place. He drew a map and off we set to the other side of the river. The pizzeria when we arrived looked good but was one of those where you went to a desk and were then led around a corner into the dining room. This we did and to our surprise we were greeted by a sea of cassocks. Had we been able to look in we would have fled but being English we now felt compelled to sit down. The table alongside us consisted of four priests busy tucking into pizza and ordering their fourth bottle of wine. They were American as was the priest opposite dining with a ” civilian” in normal clothes and along side them was another American and his wife. Now this story is better told than written but suffice to say all but the woman and us were gay. Very very gay. Three of the four priests alongside us were from the Midwest of the USA and were over doing a tour that they were then selling to their flock back home to see the Turin Shroud . The fourth was a Vatican based priest who ordered the wine and would ask first if the parishioners would mind the expensive bottle as they were paying and then toasting their health with each glass. Soon his attention was drawn to the two guys opposite and he asked the priest which order and the guy replied. His companion he went on to say was a protestant priest and clearly a very good friend, a very good friend ! The two tables had some banter about hands across religions and then we were included for a time in the conversation. However we were clearly not of interest so the other American couple were asked what they were doing in Florence. On their honeymoon they said. How lovely we all replied. Yes he said, we were both priests but my now wife had a sex change and we both left the order. Well you could have heard a pin drop and the Italian waiter who spoke excellent English definitely started making plans to change religions. An evening never to forget.
The Vatican priest however did put me onto not only an excellent Grappa that we all enjoyed that evening but the website www.monasterystays.com . Now I haven’t tried it yet but apparently the rooms are both reasonable and well equiped. I had visions of a cell with a crucifix but he assured me he would never stay in place like that !! His en-suite room in Florence was half what we were paying and he was right in the middle of the historic area.