I am writing from the steps of a beautiful church in the city of Lecce. It has a creamy limestone exterior, a painted wooden celieng, and both stone and paper machie statues decorating the inside. It’s quite spectacular and sitting in the shade of the big doors, it’s a comfortable place to write.
June 8th I left my house in San Francisco for London then Bologna then Brindisi in the region of Puglia in Italy. I left to lead an 11 day bike tour through the farmland, coast and olive orchards of this vibrant region. It’s been a very full month since then. So full, in fact, that I feel like I’ve been gone for two.
The bike trip was incredible. When I think of the trip, my thoughts come in images: colorful, vivid, intense; and in feelings: of optimism, excitement and freedom. We stayed in five different towns/settings, and had five sets of hosts, each one gave us a different experience.
We began the trip in Lecce, the biggeset town on the Salento peninsula (which is the southern tip of the whole region of Puglia). Lecce, known as the “Florence of the South” called the “crowning jewel” or the “pearl” in a tour of Puglia, is built out of creamy white sandstone which dazzles in the day and glows at night.
The baroque exploded here after the city pulled out of the a period of brutal rulers and intense poverty. Out of those dark times, the city found new optimism and began to carve EVERYTHING. Alters, churches, lamps, figurines, magnets, tables, doorways. So Lecce is a beautiful city full of history, art and pleasant architecture. We spent our first few days exploring the city and its surroundings, and the garden balcony of our apartment. It’s shaded from the summer sun, with white and gray stone walls and overflowing with purple and red flowers and lush greenery. It was the prefect place for morning breakfast, for a simple lunch (fresh mozzarellas, wild arugula, sweet cherry tomatoes right off the vine), for a chilled glass of rose or the evening pizza dinner that our host Chiara and her daughter Maddalena (who’s like 8!) generously prepared for us.