Hi, everyone! We have officially returned from our vacation in Puglia a little older, a little wiser (about the history of Puglia), and a little tanner, too. The second part of the program is in full swing, but before I get to that, let me tell you about all of the amazing things we did and saw during our trip.
The last Thursday I posted was overall a travel day. We had lunch, traveled to the Pisa airport, and took a plane to Bari before going to sleep to rest up for the next day of exploration. We took advantage of every minute of our vacation to visit various important locations, and our first day was no exception! We hit the ground running on Friday in Bari by visiting la Cattedrale di San Sabino, la Basilica San Nicola, Castello Normanno Svevo, and Palazzo Fizzarotti. Some highlights of the day included seeing a real Italian wedding during our time at Basilica San Nicola. Pictured below is the inside of this church, and if you look to the bottom of the image, you can see the bride and groom facing the altar.
We watched not only the religious ceremony but also the post-wedding tradition of throwing rice and flower petals at the newlyweds as well as the release of several doves. It was an absolutely gorgeous day to have a wedding (which we soon discovered as we walked along "il lungomare" or boardwalk of Bari to find lunch), and Yasmin even gave her best wishes to the couple!
Saturday we rented a mini-bus just for us and traveled first to Castel del Monte. This castle was part of a movie, "Il Racconto dei Racconti," that we watched based on a literary story we discussed. The view was absolutely breathtaking! After that, we drove in our bus to Alberobello to spend part of the afternoon. There we discovered houses called "i trulli," historic houses that were built completely of rock in a circular formation. The residents of Alberobello built their houses to avoid heavy taxation; because trulli were originally made of only stone and did not include any cement in their construction, the residents avoided taxation. Many of them now have plaster to complete the construction as well as symbols on the roofs, and people still own, live in, and run businesses in them today! Here is a picture of trulli:
Before heading back to our hotel in Bari, we stopped outside of Polignano a Mare to walk along the beautiful water and look at the cliffs. It was a wonderful spontaneous excursion that everyone enjoyed!
On Sunday morning, we packed up our things and headed to Lecce, another city in Puglia. After we arrived and dropped our luggage off at the hotel, we walked around Lecce and visited several important sites. We started off with Basilica di Santa Croce, a large, beautiful church that featured fourteen different chapels as well as a crypt, Palazzo del Governo, a building attached to that of Santa Croce and that led us to the public gardens, and finally Piazza del Duomo and the Duomo of Lecce. The image below shows the Duomo of Otranto.
Monday was a day we had all been waiting for as it was finally the day we got to go to the beach! Before anything, we sang "Happy Birthday" to Cristina as it was her 20th birthday! We then took a bus trip to Otranto, and after I bought a new pair of shoes (because mine sadly broke on our way to the bus station), we visited la Chiesa di San Pietro, la Cattedrale of Otranto, and last but not least, Castello Aragonese di Otranto in the morning. Neisis and Yasmin were so impressed with Castello Aragonese that they, in fact, claimed it for their own, so now the rest of us have a place to stay right by the sea ;) After lunch, the professors surprised us with an amazing three-hour boat excursion in which we sailed beside the coastline, stopping a couple of times to swim and explore grottos in the cliffs. We also had an aperitivo after our second stop and sang once again to Cristina. In honor of her birthday, after we had returned to Lecce slightly tired but happy, we got gelato as a group and sang once again. Monday was definitely one of the best days of the trip. Here's a photo Professor Lerner took of all of us swimming during our first boat stop!
Before leaving Lecce on Tuesday, we explored Castello di Carlo V. We celebrated yet another exciting birthday - Alessandra turned 21!! After visiting the castle, we returned to Bari to catch a late flight to Pisa, and while we were waiting for taxis to take us to our hotel in Pisa, we sang "Happy Birthday" to Alessandra just before the clock struck midnight on the day after! Everyone went to bed right after we got to the hotel, however, because we were all tired and wanted to save our energy to explore Pisa the next morning. We got to spend the morning walking through Piazza dei Miracoli where we not only took pictures of the Leaning Tower but also visited "Camposanto Monumentale," a cemetery built for influential people in the history of Pisa. Inside, there's a small garden, as pictured below:
During the afternoon, we traveled back to Vicchio before having our first dinner with our new professor, Professor Castelli. For the rest of the week, we started the second part of the program: "Paesaggio a Mugello," in which we're going to learn about the geographic region of the Mugello Valley (where Vicchio is located). We started off by talking about the famous painter Giotto who was born in Vicchio, and we got to visit his house. Below is a picture of one of the rooms where they keep the paint for current students taking art classes (the colors in the jars are materials they use for painting).
As you can see, we've been quite busy, but the program isn't over yet! We still have several excursions around Mugello to experience, so I'll be sure to keep you updated.