You Say Puglia, I Say Apulia

City of Polignano a Mare in southeastern Italy. I love
how it’s built up above the craggy limestone
to overlook the sea. (Image by: Idéfix)

My deepest apologies, dear readers, for not posting last week--and for my late posting this week. I was immersed in a super cool travel writing project with a tight deadline. When my project coincided with three weekend-long family commitments in a row, well…let’s just say I lost several workdays and was really sweatin’ it towards the end! But I’ve finished and was quite pleased with the results. Now, of course, all I feel like doing is lying around reading, watching movies and catching up on all the Dancing With the Stars episodes I missed!

My writing project involved investigating a specific region of southeastern Italy known as Puglia (a.k.a. Apulia), right on the glittering Adriatic Sea. For a little switch from my usual type of post, I thought I’d share three of the more interesting things I uncovered in my research.

The first thing I’d like to show you are Italy’s most unusual homes, known as trulli. They are found nowhere else in the world, and their origins remain a mystery, with theories linking them to ancient Greece, as well as their creation as 15th-century tax dodges due to the fact that each dwelling could be demolished and reconstructed within a matter of hours.

The greatest concentration of trulli is in the city of Alberobello, where more than 1,000 of them cluster along the narrow cobblestone streets. Trulli are pieced together without mortar from thick slabs of the area’s limestone. They are whitewashed and their conical fieldstone roofs are decorated with primitive symbols blending Christian, pagan and erotic love icons.

In the city of Matera, I found the sassi even more intriguing.

Matera is located in the easterly province of Basilicata. These rock-hewn dwellings known as sassi, were originally gouged out from the malleable tufa rock by troglodytic nomads. In later centuries, blocks were cut and used to add rooms and create elaborate façades for these cave homes. Each roof served as the foundation to the level above. The sassi contain more than 120 rock churches carved by monks between the 8th and 13th centuries (one church is still in use!) and they are decorated with beautiful frescoes.

What I found most interesting is that the people of Matera lived in these dwellings until the 1950s! At this point, the population was rehoused by the Italian government. In the 1980s, however, people began returning and the sassi are in use today.

Another interesting fact: Because of the city’s resemblance to ancient Jerusalem, Mel Gibson chose this location to film his movie, The Passion of the Christ.

And last but not least--guess when this castle was built?

Did you guess the 13th century? I know! Bizarre, right? This is the Castel del Monte which was built between 1240 and 1250. It’s in the town of Andria and was commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick II. (I could spend an entire blog post on just him, but don’t worry, I won’t!)

Frederick II had extensive intellectual interests and a love of mathematics, and this castle is a geometric study of the number eight. Currently pictured on the one-cent Italian coin, this octagonal bastion is considered one of the most sophisticated secular buildings of the medieval era. It was constructed from huge blocks of limestone loaded with quartz and is an exact octagon—a shape which symbolized the transitional stage between Earth and the heavens in medieval times. The castle is full of strange symmetries and pre-Christian astrological meaning. Each floor contains eight rooms of equal size, and eight austere towers overlook acres of beautiful olive groves and vineyards.

Thanks for travelling with me. I hope you enjoyed these highlights of southeastern Italy!

Spero che abbiate gradito il viaggio!

Quote of the Week

"Adversity is another way to measure
the greatness of individuals.
I never had a crisis
that didn't make me stronger."

~ Lou Holtz ~

Image by: The National Guard

Mother’s Day Getaway

In the past, I’ve shared my Mother's Day protests. But this year marks the first time since my boy started playing club soccer that I celebrated Mother’s Day on Mother’s Day and did not spend it on a cold soccer field. Now, he did actually have a game on Mother’s Day as usual, but I—bad mommy that I am—blew it off (*shocked gasp*) and instead celebrated this year by spending an entire Mother’s Day weekend with my sister and my mom! Yeah, baby!

We road-tripped to Holland, Michigan for their annual Tulip Festival!
We started out cruising through the arts & crafts show, then took a tour aboard the Tulip Time Bus. Here’s our knowledgeable tour guide:

We viewed some of Holland’s historical sites and areas of particular beauty, and learned some interesting facts. For example did you know that Holland, Michigan is the second happiest city in the nation?
The only bummer was that because of the cold spring we’ve been having so far, many of the tulips and flowering trees hadn’t bloomed yet. But we still managed to see some beautiful blossoms…

After hitting the festival, we drove to our hotel. We’d booked a spa package at the J.W. Marriott. While I got a massage, my sister had a pedicure and we gave mom a manicure. Side Note: The masseuse told me I was carrying a LOT of tension in my neck and upper back and should really consider having massages a couple of times a week until all the knots are worked out. (Uh…hubs, are you reading this?)


After our spa treatments, we got all dolled up for an awesome dinner at Holland’s Alpen Rose restaurant. After completing my recent travel writing project on Austria, it was so cool to get to eat real Austrian cuisine made by an Austrian chef from Austria. Like this dish of fresh handmade spaetzle dumplings sautéed with cherrywood smoked bacon, spinach and Swiss cheese. Yum!

After dinner we attended a performance of Cheating Cheaters at the Holland Civic Theatre. It was a cute performance, but I think we were all a little wiped out from our busy day and I noticed mom kept “resting her eyes” during the performance. Ha, ha!

We headed back to the hotel and had a glass of wine in our room. We turned off all the lights to enjoy our lovely view of Grand Rapids’ by night.

After sleeping in and enjoying a delicious Mother’s Day, we road-tripped back home. Thanks mom and sis for a FABULOUS Mother’s Day!

And a Happy Belated Mother’s Day to all the other Moms out there!

All photographs © Holly Bowne with the exception of the following:

DeZwaan Windmill Image by: Becky Anne
Dutch Dancer Images by: Benimoto
Welcome to Holland Image by: Bazooka Joe

Spring Break Adventure - The Final Chapter

(If you missed the start of this adventure, click HERE for Part I and HERE for Part II.)

We eventually reached a point where we could no longer continue sideways along the ravine.

“The original trail must be up there,” Chris said. I followed the line of his finger pointing back up the 75° slope we were standing on, and promptly sat down, folding my arms.

“What are you doing?” he said.

“I’m not going.” I said flatly. “I’m staying here.

He smiled tolerantly at me. “Holly, you can’t say here.”

“Just go get the minivan then come back to get me.”

“We’re not leaving you.”

I exploded. “What part of ‘I don’t want to do what we did yesterday’ did you NOT understand! I am NOT hiking up another stupid ravine! I’m not!!”

Then Chris just gave me “the look.”

And I knew I had no choice. I knew the big, clunky mom-mobile minivan wouldn’t make it five feet into this stupid forest. I stomped to my feet, muttering under my breath the entire time and began scaling the cliff with the boys. And oh mama, it was so much worse than the hike of the previous day! We slipped on mud and wet clumps of leaves. Vines we grasped to haul ourselves up came out of the ground in our hands, and the saplings we clutched in desperation, bent dangerously with our weight. Several times I thought we’d reached the top, only to discover we had further to go. Once again I was trapped in sweat-soaked gear.

Finally, Josh called down from above, “I see a house!”

A what?

Daron gallantly offered me his assistance as I struggled up the final bit, “Here, Mrs. Bowne, just take my hand.”

“BACK OFF!” I growled, most ungraciously, clawing at dirt and tree roots to heave myself up the remainder of the sharp incline.

“Oookkkaaay,” he cautiously withdrew his helping hand.

Sure enough, at the top we found ourselves in some random person’s backyard.

Chris lifted his Indiana Jones hat, and scratched his head. “Hmmm. I had no idea we’d come this far.”

“Uh, exactly how far are we from the car?” I asked.

“About a mile and a half.”

Ready to collapse, I muttered even louder as we cut through the yard and began trekking the mile and a half (which for some absurd reason started out uphill) along the road. Now, one thing I’d noticed when we’d been driving around earlier was that everybody in this particular area of West Virginia had at least two dogs. Unleashed dogs. Ferociously barking dogs. Dogs who did not like strangers walking past their yards. One dog charged towards us, barking and following us up the road. Chris was shouting (bramble-hacking knife still out), while I repeated a “Go home!” mantra in as soothing a tone as I could muster.

Are we having fun yet?

Eventually, we made it back to the car. Alive. And cleaned up as much as we could before driving four rainy hours back home. It was during the drive, that I finally calmed down and had a moment of enlightenment.

I thought I loved hiking. And I do. It’s just that I love “regular” hiking. “Inside the box” hiking as opposed to “boy” hiking. I like to know I’m on a legitimate trail. One that somebody has walked before me. One that has a definite starting and ending point. Life itself is enough of a “boy” hike for me: Beating my way through an unknown wilderness with no knowledge of what lies ahead, or how steep the next ravine will be. That’s life. I don’t need to deal with this stuff on my vacations, too.

So I’ve informed the men of my family that next time they won’t have to deal with my whining-grumbling-grouchy-panicked self. Next time, I’ll take a good book and if it’s not raining or hailing, I’ll just spread a blanket beside the rushing river, lie down and read. Maybe even take a little nap, while the boys hack their way through the wilderness to their hearts’ content. Yessiree. No more boy hikes for me!

Epilogue: A few days later…
“Hey Josh, you don’t think I scared Daron, do you?”
“Probably. You were pretty scary, mom.”
“Do you think he could tell I was annoyed during the hikes?”
“Uh, yeah, mom. We could ALL tell.”
“Really? And I thought I hid my emotions so well.”
*Dramatic sigh accompanied by HUGE eye roll*

Photographs © Holly & Chris Bowne