To escape the arctic winds blowing in Martina Franca the other day we headed down to Taranto to shop at Lidl.  A year ago Lidl was a store you went to to meet other ex pats with maybe just a smattering of local Italians present. The Crisi ( crisis) was in fill swing but saving money hadn’t seemed to have permeated down to the people especially here in Puglia.

They were still shopping at the local stores and moaning about the price of everything. Wow how things have changed. The car park at Lidl was almost full and the aisles overflowing with local Italians buying anything and everything.  Their carts were full and the Lidl staff, used to a far quieter existence, look frazzled and unhappy. Meanwhile the large Auchan supermarket nearby was almost empty .

Lidl seem to have made some concession to the locals need to buy Italian produce whereas before the store basically was the same as say the one in Munich. Now most shelves had Italian flags on them and lots of stuff with produced in Italy on them. These were flying off the shelves. The Italian shopper especially the Pugliese is very suspicious of ” foreign” food. What surprised me was Italian produced milk on the shelves costing far more than the German import and with a shorter shelf life. There has recently been lots of newspaper reports of contaminated milk in this area around Taranto and you would have expected to see it sitting in Lidl  untouched but no the italians were grabbing it and ignoring the Lidl brand from South Bavaria. Odd in some ways as one of the fiddles that was agreed to allow Italy into the Euro was that she should buy most of her milk from South Bavaria !

Taranto has been getting an appalling press for sometime now and not just because of a few infected cows. The pollution scandals involving the huge steel works and the belching Oil Refinery continue to make headlines and with cancer rates soaring it is not top of anyones lists of must see places ( sensitively you notice I omitted “before you die” from must see list ).

It is a shame in some ways because the place is steeped in history. The original town Taras was founded by the Spartans in 780 B.C. and named after the Greek god Taras son of Poseidon and who can forget the movie

I didn’t see many Spartans in it though I read it was made by the same guy that made Troy. Not that that says much, what an awful movie Troy was.

The Romans then built a road from Rome to what they then called Tarentem and then on to Brindisi.

Quite when it became Taranto I’m not sure but I first came across it when attending my Naval School at Pangbourne where our navigation teacher used to tell us tales of daring do about the Battle of Taranto in 1940 when aircraft from the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious  bombed the Italian fleet in Taranto harbour. They flew very old Fairey Swordfish ( no american airman would ever have flown a Fairey aircraft I fear ) and the old things flew so slowly that the up to date Italian guns couldn’t shoot anything that slow out of the sky.

I therefore arrived still calling it TArantoe with the emphasis on the first “a” and an “o’ like in so . It has taken me lots of time and lots of ribbing from Italians to try to get to mumbling the first “a” then emphasising the second “a” and using an “o” sound like  the “o” in sock .

As I say Taranto seems to be a place most tourists avoid and a quick look at the various travel forums especially in the USA bear this out. Fodors often has people advising would be travellers to give it a miss. True it bears all the scars of a Naval port and has some appalling East German style blocks of apartments on the outskirts as well as those polluting monstrosities on the dockside but it does boast a superb Archaeological Museum and young Horace who got a honourable mention in an earlier post even wrote an ode about Taranto which starts with ” this corner of the world smile at me more than the others ” yes I know not great English but hey it wasn’t his first language and admittedly it was before anyone dreamt of building a steel works here.

They are still digging stuff up as well nearby . A couple of months ago they found this baby bottle in a tomb that was unearthed


It is believed to be from the 4th century B.C. and the piggy’s nose is thought to be a comforter as well. The tomb contained 50 funeral artefacts and two adult bodies. Of the artefacts  there were three gutti one of which was this little piggy .


Now you will notice that there is no ring on the end of the pig’s nose. Could it have been sold to an owl do you think ?

Maybe not, but I have always loved the poem and wanted to get it into a post somehow.

Anyway if you are heading this way during the summer please don’t just drive past Taranto there really are things to see and the Centro Storico is well worth an hour of your time and indeed I’m told there are some excellent and reasonably priced seafood restaurants there as well.

Edward Lear was famous for making up words and a “runcible” spoon is one of them in this poem by the way.



About hereinpuglia

Retired to Puglia after some 40 years in the travel industry working for P&O Lines, British Airways, Alamo rent-a-car,Abercrombie&Kent, owner of Quest Tours and Travel and finally with Thomas Cook North America. Married to Geraldine we now have a small house with too much land near the town of Martina Franca in Puglia. Two kids one married and living in Hong Kong and the other single and living in London. No dogs, no cats no animals.
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