Our Italian Adventure: Using Puglia as a Base
PART 48: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.
We live in Puglia in the summer and then back again in the winter.
Step 1: When we decided to start living in Italy, it was also with the idea that we would explore Europe, using Puglia as our base. So far, we have taken several such trips in the summer and winter months.
Step 2: Why?
We travel to grow in understanding, seek new perspectives and enlarge our horizons.
When we first came up with the idea of living in Italy, besides the beautiful life waiting for us in this country, the travel possibilities drew us. My partner and I are curious about other cultures, languages, history, architecture, and people. Being based in Europe facilitates visiting other EU countries, and we wanted to take full advantage of this.
From Puglia, we have taken several trips inside and out of Italy. I will share a few things about these adventures.
Step 3: How?
Getting there: Budget airlines, trains, and driving.
Budget airlines: Many of us have experienced budget airlines in Europe, whether Ryanair, Wizzair, Easyjet, etc.
We recently took Wizzair to Hungary; our experience was alright. The plane left on time, we paid a little extra to book a seat, and the flight was only slightly over an hour from Bari airport. On the way back, however, I was stopped and told that my carry-on bag was over the allowed dimensions and I would have to pay 40 euros to bring it on board. When I said, "But in Italy, I didn't have to pay," their response was, "This is Hungary." So I paid the fee.
I've had mixed experiences with Ryanair; you get what you pay for. On one flight, the attendants constantly tried to sell us stuff, like raffle tickets, perfumes, and other worthless junk. But it was cheap and acceptable for short flights.
Trains: We have had great experiences with trains within Italy and beyond. We always take the fast trains (Frecce) and, if booked in advance, a first-class ticket becomes ridiculously cheap. What I love about the train is that we get to skip the whole airport scene, get up and walk around, and enjoy the sights swirling by. Despite some minor delays, the experience has been overwhelmingly positive.
I use the Italian trains app on my phone to book my tickets.
Driving. Sometimes we want to travel to a place that doesn't have a convenient flight connection, or the train schedule doesn't work for our plans. So we take matters into our own hands, jump in the car, and drive.
I used to be afraid to drive in Italy since it seemed more challenging than what I was used to in California. Plus, driving a stick shift intimidated me.
Finally, after years of being held back by fear, I rented a car on my own and drove around Italy for a week. It didn't take long to realize that it was no big deal. The different driving styles become second nature quickly, as does the stick shift.
So far, our longer road trips from Lecce include the Dolomites (far!) and the Amalfi coast.
Sharing costs helps since the cost of tolls and fuel adds up quickly.
Step 4: Sights. Some details of our trips.
Budapest: We live outside of Lecce, close to Nardo', and our two airports are Brindisi (45 minutes) and Bari (2 hours). We found that Bari has many more international flights which fit our weekend travel schedule.
When our friends invited us to visit them in Budapest, we found a convenient Wizzair flight from Bari, which only took about an hour to arrive in Hungary. We were surprised at how easy it was.
We booked an Airbnb for Budapest, one of the best apartments we've ever stayed in! The parliament building was right outside our window, as was the Danube. Among hits and misses with AirBnB, this was a hit!
Traveling from Puglia to Budapest gave me a weird feeling that we just stepped onto a different planet. It was so different from where we were an hour beforehand!
We arrived on a Friday and had to leave on a Monday; could we see the city in that limited time?
We certainly didn't see and do everything that Budapest offers, but with the help of local friends, we got a good experience of the city. We were amazed by its history, culture, elegance, and panoramas. We also gained some understanding of the evolution of the political situation, which I will not go into here.
This trip from Puglia was terrific, and we were struck by how easy it was. Puglia is a great base.
Dolomites: Our local Puglian friends invited us on a road trip to the Dolomites during the summer, and we jumped on it. Since it is about a 13-hour drive, we decided to break it into two days.
Our first night was in Verona.
We learned from this trip that driving 10+ hours to Verona included a positive and a negative. The positive: Verona is a beautiful and incredible city that merits more time. The negative: we should have calculated better where to stop that first night since we were on the road for about ten hours; by the time we got to Verona, we were spent.
The next time we try to drive from Lecce to the Dolomites, Loreto (6 hours) would be a better stop, breaking the drive into two even days of driving. We are still in our driving learning curve.
Impressions: I have to say that driving from the beaches of Salento to the dramatic Dolomite mountains was similar to our Budapest trip in that it felt like we got on a spaceship and landed on another planet! So much was different that it was hard to digest: the weather, vistas, people, food, habits, churches, architecture; I would go on and on.
We are so happy that we traveled from Salento to the Dolomites because it imparted an experience of the diversity of this beautiful country that offers so much for those willing to seek it.
Insights: Using Puglia as a base, whether in Lecce or Alberobello, is entirely doable. One's understanding of the world and one's place in it can increase by stepping out of one's area, perspective, and point of view and walking down the paths, streets, and boulevards of another.
My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Stories-Puglia-Californians-Southern-Italy/dp/1913680649.
And also, on Amazon Italy:
More next time.