Rome for a day 

It’s an overnight stay. The fast train from Lecce to Rome was just that. The monitor clocking it at 233km/hr once passed a few major towns on the way picking up passengers. Eventually it was apparent that the train was full. I had no sense of speed. For a first class seat I was offered at times liquid refreshments. A battered trolley reminiscent of a pensioned off airline equivalent, offered Coke, coffee or Aqua. The coffee was so predictable that I still can’t explain why I habitually ask for it! It dribbles out of one of those vacuum flask dispensers into a cardboard cup that makes a thimble, jereobom like. The coffee is black, warm and as bitter as Tony Abbott last week. Two cellophane wrapped articles are included in this free offering. The first contains two small almond biscotti that are so hard as to run the risk of a stress fracture of my upper left molar crown. The second a moist towelette. The repast has been devoid of dribbles let alone crumbs, so I rip it open and vigorously disinfect my iPhone. I have an overpowering sense that I need to utilise all of these Trentitalia freebies simply because they are just that.

This first class Italian train journey compares unfavourably to the Spanish trip three years ago when it was indeed almost airplane business class standard with a tray of food that was equal to boot.

The hotel Alexandra was constructed in the late 19th century and an historical plaque explains that it has remained in the same family since 1910. It also boasts ‘Still today the hotel is characterised by a glamour of tradition left unchanged…but the careful restoration works have left unchanged the refined style… Even if enriched with all modern amenities.’

This almost breathless fevour reminds me of the Lord’s Prayer confession ‘I have left undone those things which I should have done and I have done those things that should not have done. This is the best and most succinct summary of the Hotel Alexandra and it’s restoration and modernisation. 

As a nostalgic aside I remember when studying the catechism prior to confirmation, wrestling with the grammar of this seemingly convoluted prayer of double negatives, or were they? 

As at Lecce, I am eagerly informed that I have been upgraded to a deluxe room with King Size bed, non smoking at the back of the hotel. Why a solo traveller would benefit from a half acre bed is beyond me. It is very quiet the receptionist explains. Indeed the trip to my back room involves traversing several flights of stairs that ascend, then descend, cross landings with uneven steps and with every turn the floor covering changes from garish carpet to marble, to polished wood and back to garish carpet.

The room is reasonable, the half acre bed taking pride of place and space. Stained oak furniture so beloved of Country Life magazines attempts to give the ambience of faux antiqueness. However it is the separate bathroom that wins out by a country mile. It is a big room of white and black marble. The hand basin is marble and big enough to almost sit in, if that were your want. Sadly what I suspect may have been a sarcophagus sized marble bathtub has been replaced by plastic. ‘The enriching modern amenities’ obviously dictated a plastic bathtub which had 4 spa like nozzles ar one end. 

   
 

I an not sure where and how to begin to describe this establishment. When built I know it would have been the epitome of excellence and style. One could imagine Hercules Piroit staying here and solving a murder. The room had tea making facilities which I feel sure reflects that this is a basic hotel now at 3 stars, located in the heart of ancient Rome and whose clientele are overseas visitors including Australians who demand tea making facilities.

 But herein lies the rub because finding a power point to plug in the kettle is an exercise that ultimately defeated me. 

I have established that the Hotel Alexandra is over 100 years old so whilst our fictitious detective may have had access to Edison electric light bulbs to shed light on his mysteries, he may also have waxed his moustache by gaslight, but as to powerpoints my suspicion is none. Hence this hotel driven to ‘enrich with all modern amenities’ it’s facilities called in the local electrician around about 1957 I would guess and chased the necessary cables down the walls. And in 1956 the requirements were for at least one and perhaps two outlets. 

 

My task was to find them in room 212 of the hotel Alexandra. The first was hidden behind the bed head. Eventually there was a second revealed by crawling on hands and knees having heaved the lounge 4 feet across and 2 feet out from the wall. By now I had worked up a sweat and a well deserved cuppa was a just reward. But eternal frustration as the kettle 2-pin plug did not fit into the power point – either one. It was the same old story trying to put 2 large prongs into 2 small holes. European power points frighten me as there is no on-off button. Plug it in and it’s active. As well most seem to be rather loose and a fatal electrocution waiting to eventuate and for Monsieur Piroit to solve the riddle. 

 

I have an early breakfast in the delightful lead light garden glass house then head off to the ancient Roman ruins and Colosseum before pick-up service to Rome airport. Even by 8am the archaeological sites are being overrun by tourists. Yes I am one!… Why must Japanese tourists invariably take a Selfie with a star jump or a Churchillian V sign? 

I finished this latest blog at 39000ft in an Emirates 380 heading to Dubai. It is a full flight.
     

 

  
 

Lecce last day 

No matter where I am in any city or village around the world, I have the urge to move on after about 3 days and Lecce for all its appeal has been intimately explored every church, monastery, Basilica and museum entered and as is my want, photographed and notes for possible mention in my blog. 

The day excursion to Gallipoli was worthwhile both for the means of travel there and the medieval township and fort. It is a fishing village but there was not much in terms of natural beauty.

Today Thursday there was quite a bit of thunder and rain which cleared by early afternoon. It was only the second occasion in all the time I have been away, the first being late at night whilst I waited to board the ferry at Igoumenitsa. Indeed the gods have been kind to me weather wise this last month especially the swim trek week when it was perfect! 

Tomorrow I take the high speed train to Rome and perhaps some shopping before I head home on Saturday. 
As it was wet weather I stayed for the most part at La Fiermontina my decadent “urban resort” reading, swimming in their pool and practicing the Recorder.
I mentioned the slow disintegration of many of the limestone buildings. Pictures to illustrate the issue!

  
  

I stumbled into the vestibule of what seemed to be going government offices. An imposing limestone edifice and to my amazement saw this freize around one of the windows . It looked very very old yet no attempt to protect or preserve it!

  

Gallipoli

Having taken in the fascinating baroque architectural limestone edifices that make up historical Lecce over the past few days, I embark on a journey to Gallipoli! Italian Gallipoli not the famous Turkish destination. It is a seaside town about 40km to the south west of Lecce. It takes a little more than a hour by slow, local, single carriage diesel train.

  

The train is filled to capacity,if not illegally over the limit. I reassure myself that local creaky trains overcrowded and slow, are much less likely to tip over in high winds and kill most on board. Half way to Gallipoli the majority of passengers disembark and every one now is able to grab a seat. Moreover it seems to me the train actually picks up speed. 

There are a disproportionate number of African refugees on board as black as an Abbott open cut coal mine. They seem to randomly alight at various stops along the way. Some travel all the way to Gallipoli and I subsequently see them on the seashore selling trinkets and umbrellas. I suspect they travel this journey every day for the sake of a few Euro – and they need at least 6 to cover the return ticket. Surely depressing and degrading yet I also assume that they have escaped an even more futile existence in Africa.

The ancient walled city of Gallipoli was built on an island reached by a 17th century bridge. At the bridge head is a huge fortress and Castle whilst the old city expands behind it. A pleasant walk around the perimeter and then exploring the maze of narrow cobblestone streets. Other than a small rather sandy beach the sea laps against the battlements and rocks. 

  

The waters are deep blue and crystal clear. Indeed so transparent that the rubbish carelessly and thoughtlessly discarded paints a depressing watercolour of polystyrene, plastic and rubber on the seabed. It would be criminal if indeed not a mortal sin to even contemplate stripping off and taking a swim after my last week in the Ionan Sea.

  
The civic museum of Gallipoli is housed in what I suspect was the original library. The huge square room with a domed ceiling has 3 levels of landings filled with stacks of sweet musty smelling leather bound volumes. The vast interior ground floor is also lined with antique wooden glass fronted cabinets. The curator of this municipal menagerie has I calculate managed to acquire and display at least one item from the beginning of creation with geological rock and mineral specimens then trending to ancient Roman artefacts, stuffed and mounted birds, specimens in perspex formalin filled jars. On the floor is amongst other things an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus, a rusty German sea-mine from WWII, whilst pride of place in the centre, is a whale skeleton. Every inch of the glass cabinet shelves is occupied by something that is either stuffed, preserved, mounted on a pedestal or pined to a board. So enthusiastic has been this curator with his hoarding it has seen him throw in the towel and somewhere around 1958 I suspect he gave up any pretence of attempting to label each item in the display cabinets. All is not chaos as thoughtfully everything in perspex, everything stuffed, everything pinned or everything made of mineral is lumped together.

  
The local train has so much graffiti that the windows are opaque with painted tags. So I spend the train trip back writing this blog.
A few pictures of the Gallipoli Castle and fort 

   

 
 

inside of the knave and altar of the Basilica on Gallipoli – panorama shot

 

Lecce Tuesday 

I watched the movie ‘Mine Vaganti’ on a plane to Europe several years ago. It was a delightful Italian production about a wealthy Italian family who owned a pasta business in the southern city of Lecce in the Puglia region. It has a gay sub-plot. I brought the DVD and have watched it many times since, needing little excuse should friends suggest a movie at home!The title roughly translates into ‘Loose Cannon’.

Lecce, as many such Italian towns have, has a distinct historical centre often traced back to Roman times. Lecce is famous for its sandstone which when analysed is more than 60% lime.

Consequently the medieval buildings are wonderful baroque creations out of this limestone – richly ornate and with white marble cobbled streets. Again pictures will demonstrate this more eloquently than words.

however the most frightening characteristic of this soft sandstone is that it is easily degraded by moisture and do i suspect that the acid rain of our polluted society is provoking a sort of rapid crumbling ‘rising damp’.

   
    
    
 

Medieval Lecce 

I shall blog a little more in the next few days in the knowledge that this time next week I will be back at work.

But here are some pictures which I hope will tantalise and impress you to visit this limestone baroque city.

   

  
  
 

La Fiermontina 

Have just booked into La Fiermontina Urban Resort in Lecce. Upgraded to Room 14 I was informed as we walked the marbled grass edge path. This is Dr Kiley grade prime accommodation that would make an accountant blush. 

As I sat at the reception table the articulate womn discussed by phone a potential booking for a family of 4 plus Nanny. As the children were aged 1 and 4, the Nanny was in my silent eavesdropping opinion mandatory.  Various options for accommodation were canvassed from a family suite or adjoining suites with Nanny  and infants in various combinations. The cost varied, naturally, between 400 to 800 Euro a night and this was for July 2016.