We arrived in Lecce after a 5+ hour train ride from Rome. Why does train travel feel so much better than air? Our route took us through Caserta, Foggia, to Bari and Brindisi. The last two hours or so of the trip was along the coast and we had nice views of the Adriatic Sea.
From Bari and southward, we kept our eyes peeled for the Trulli, which are beehive shaped structures made from large rocks and stones. In this part of Puglia, they are small and tend to be used for farm storage, or a place for field workers to get out of the heat during the summer. In places like Alberbello in Puglia, the Trulli are larger, or may be clustered together, and can be used as homes.
When we arrived at the train station in Lecce, we were met by our friendly and super helpful “landlord” for the week, Maurizio. He drove us from the new city and through the gates to the “old city,” a maze of buildings, churches, small piazzas and monuments.
Lecce is known for its Baroque architecture. Buildings are made from a pale yellow stone and can be highly decorated. Everything sort of glows with a very soft golden light.
Maurizio gave a brief history lesson of the town. And then we arrived at our apartment, met his lovely wife Paola and their 16-year old daughter, Cecilia. They are all very charming.
Our flat is immaculate. Very recently renovated, its ceilings feature star vaults, exposed marble and limestone, and all new appliances — a great mix of old architecture and modern conveniences. It is absolutely fabulous and we are very centrally located in the heart of historic Lecce.
We unpacked and settled in before heading out to explore our neighborhood. It’s easy to get lost in the twisty streets. We popped into a few churches, and came across at least two excavation sites of Roman ruins. On Wednesday, we get an historical tour of the city, so more to come on that front.
Finally, at 7 pm, we met up with our classmates at a pre-arranged spot in the main square, the Piazza di Sant’Ornzo, at the statue of, you guessed it, Sant’Ornzo. A bit of trivia for you, this statue marks the end of the Southern route of the Appian way.
Our class consists of all women, except for Scott, the husband of our classmate Santina. They are from Southern New Jersey, and Scott makes great one-liners and off color remarks. We like him a lot.
Everyone else is very nice. All Americans — from Minneapolis, Williamsburg, and Washington state. A little after 7 our “teacher”, Silvestro, arrived. He was actually born and raised in America, but has been living here since he was 16. He gave a little chat about Lecce and its history, and then he guided us to the school, which is about 10 minutes from our apartment.
After leading us from the square down narrow streets, we arrived at the school, which is located in an enormous palazzo. First, we encountered a massive front door, through which, a hundred years ago or more, horse-drawn carriages would have entered into an enclosed courtyard. We passed through a smaller door, built into the big door, and were met by the rest of the staff, Giuseppe and Giorgio, along with two Aussie guest chefs, with dubious latin roots.
The school occupies about one third of the Palazzo’s ground floor and consists of several (we’re not sure how many) interconnected rooms, with tall, arched ceilings, and walls painted in jewel colors. Ceramics and culinary-related items cover almost all of the available surfaces. Dozens of candles provided most of the light. These boys know how to style a room, let me tell you.
We were immediately seated around a large table (there were 12 of us) in a room lit entirely with candles. Our welcome dinner spanned several hours, as we got to know our classmates and Silvestro oriented us to our week-long schedule.
Our dinner featured many local dishes and wines. Our antipasti included:
- Grilled eggplant with chili pepper
- Grilled zucchini and parsley;
- Several cheeses, including fior di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella), buffalo ricotta, and a smoked soft cheese (okay, I forget what kind it was)
- Pickled hyacinth bulbs (that’s not a typo)
Our wine was a negroamora from the Salento.
For our first course, we had two pastas: orecchiette with prosciutto and capaletti mexicani (pasta shaped like little mexican hats) with tomatoes, arugula and cacioricotta (made from sheep’s milk).
The pasta here is made with semolina and barley flour, which gives it an almost nutty flavor and a grainy texture. You can definitely sink your teeth into it.
Our main course, or “secondo” was, if you believe it or not, Italian meatloaf, or Polpettone (not sure if that’s the right spelling). It was the ultimate comfort food after a long day of travel.
Upon arriving home some time after 11 pm, Anne and I agreed this will be an unforgettable week. Intriguing classmates, great food, unique and beautiful setting, and an introduction to an entirely different type of Italian cuisine and wine will make for a great experience.
A few pictures for you to enjoy follow.
Ciao e Buona Notte!