When you run out of things to say to someone, the inevitable question is always, “so where are you headed for the summer holidays?”. However, I swear, if I do ask you that question, I’ve NOT run out of things to say to you! I’m genuinely interested. Because I really need to steal all your holiday ideas and research! I’m lazy that way. This year, my answer was Puglia… and the follow-up question always seemed to be “where’s that?” (Note: if the answer to the holiday question isn’t Tuscany, the Lakes, Sardinia or Sorrento, city escapes or fashionable spots to visit, the response tends to be a disinterested stare.)
Puglia, where’s that?
This year, when asked, I responded Puglia and was met with very puzzled looks. It was as if I was pronouncing something completely wrong in my very Australian accent… or they thought I was speaking Aussie slang again (usually the case with my Dutch friends).
I wasn’t, and yes, that is how it is pronounced (poo-lee-ah). I even have my ‘Italian hands’ waving when I say it, thank you very muchly. Ok, so Puglia is not very well known in the scheme of traditional European summer spots to visit for English-speaking folks. I’m quite aware of that, and I have to say, it felt kinda nice. Puglia is at the heel of Italy, by the way.
The region of Puglia produces much of Italy’s wine and olive oil. Most of the hard durum wheat used to make pasta is grown there. As I’m all about food, it’s orecchiette (a type of pasta), friselle (rusk bread), taralli (olive oil crackers) and burrata country – no need to say any more! We were headed for “trulli country”!
Truly, a trullo
What’s a trullo or trulli, in the plural, I hear you ask. According to Oxford Dictionary, it’s a “small round stone house with a conical roof”. My take on the official description is, a hobbit-like stone structure with pointy roofs, but above ground. Honestly, it’s ever so cute and very unique to this region of Italy!
But this article is not about my summer adventures. It is about our driving misadventures in Puglia. For the purposes of not receiving unverified charges on our credit card, we shall simply call the car rental company, “The Car Rental Place”. The Aussie in me feels I’d be making grandiose gestures if I was to rename it something else. For example, the mountains that receive a bit of snowfall in Eastern Australia are called the Snowy Mountains and the desert in the middle of Australia is known as The Great Sandy Desert. So The Car Rental Place, it shall be named.
Misadventure 1 – a manual car
We had not even left Brindisi airport in our hired car when, holy batman, we’d already caused traffic chaos and a near accident in the carpark of The Car Rental Place. Keep in mind, The Man has not driven stick in nearly 20 years. Hell, we’d not even driven in nearly 20 years, having lived in cities with the best public transport, and cities where you could walk nearly everywhere. Then, to drive stick and on the wrong side of the road!
We became unstuck when we needed to get the car into reverse. Twenty years ago, when the Man owned and drove a manual car, there was only one way to get into reverse gear (well in Australia anyway). However, I was told by my European friends that there are now FIVE possible ways you could potentially use to find reverse gear – not verified by the way. Anyway, every move The Man made, the car lurched further forward, as opposed to reversing. Right into a parked car at The Car Rental Place! “Reverse! Reverse!” I kept screaming – because screaming always helps stressful situations.
My very unflappable Man actually uttered a swear word, a couple of swear words actually. The kids in the back have never been so quiet in their entire lives! Whilst I ran into The Car Rental Place to let them know they’d provided us with a lemon of a brand new car, a very kind man (or an impatient man, who knows) showed The Man how to get the gear into reverse.
Apparently, all you need to do is lift up the stick then move it into reverse, as opposed to the one method The Man knew. Well, I never!
Misadventure 2 – the accident
We had made a de-stress and dinner stop between the airport and our trullo, at a restaurant by a petrol station just off the motorway. My goodness me, if this was just a taste of the insanely good food this region had to offer, I was in heaven! In a petrol station’s restaurant too!
When we finally exited the motorway towards our home for the next two weeks, we suddenly found ourselves on a typical Italian countryside road. I was told that it was typical – typical being:
- Approximately as wide as The Man could stretch his arms out.
- Surrounded by low, dangerous-looking, accident-waiting-to-happen stone walls.
- No street lights and no houses even remotely close to the road to illuminate the roads. Pitch blackness.
You know why the Italian cars are always small, zippy and full of dents….well, this is why! Should’ve taken out that extra insurance at The Car Rental Place.
We did finally make it to our trullo. By driving very slowly in pitch blackness, down a foreign road with no signs and no house numbers that were discernable in the dark of night. However, not before, in a moment of insanity, we decided to do a 20-point turn. This was because we felt we must have missed our trullo since we seemed to be driving even further into the abyss. When we heard the inevitable crunch of stone wall meeting metal, well, we took it in our stride. It happened. We had done the car and now we could relax!
Misadventure 3 – the chase
Another story I need to share with you is one of a little Italian man and a car chase. It was on a Sunday morning after we’d deposited our garbage (in this area of Puglia, rubbish is taken out and deposited into bins by the main road) and on our merry way into town for coffee. Without warning, we were slightly horrified and a teeny bit amused to find one very angry little old Italian man chasing us in his car, beeping his horn incessantly and waving his arms wildly.
He followed us for a good 2km before tooting at us angrily, pumping his fists in fury and then, finally, turning off at the roundabout. To this day, we have no clue why we were chased! I do wonder how he happened to have that much time on his hands to follow us for 2km on a lovely Sunday morning. And what he thought he’d do if he had caught us and was confronted by a very tall man with his formidable, but height challenged wife?
Bravery is needed
It didn’t take us as long as I thought it would to get used to these insanely narrow roads, thank goodness. I still couldn’t help sucking my stomach in every time we spied a car coming towards us! I’m not sure what sucking my tummy in would do in that situation, but I did anyway, just in case!
We even ventured out in the pitch black for dinner in town – gosh I felt brave the first night we did that. And I wasn’t even driving!
All I can say is that our family trip to Puglia was worth each and every misadventure we endured. So be brave! If you’re planning your summer holidays in advance, take a risk and head out to that beautiful part of Italy that not many people talk about. You will find incredible meals, gelato til you’re crazy sick of it (as if that would ever happen!) and beautiful landscapes to fulfil your every Italian dream.
Also, readers, just in case you were worried, The Car Rental Place didn’t even bat an eyelid when we returned a slightly battered car to them. They didn’t even bother checking!
Images by Sabina Spiteri and @dgspiteri.