Owen in China 23: Of Veneto, Puglia and home (October 7th, 2016)
Hi everyone, this is Owen and this is my podcast for Friday 7th October, 2016. My long holiday in Europe has come to an end and I'm back in Kunming. I didn't think it was possible to become tired of holidays. I was away for so long, though, that by the end I almost got a bit sick of it. I was really looking forward to getting home to my flat, my own bed and a steady routine. No more packing, sleeping in different beds and eating and drinking far too much. I gained so much weight that for the first time in my life I've had to put myself on a diet. But maybe that's the sign of a good holiday? I really can't complain. I had a wonderful time.
Today, I'll be talking about the two regions Vittoria and I visited in Italy and my return to Kunming.
After my time in Wales, I flew from Manchester to Venice. It was an early morning flight and the weather across the Alps and northern Italy was fabulous. I was asleep for the first half of the flight but when I woke up I had a beautifully clear view of the Alps. It was so incredibly clear I was almost sure that I could see individual people hiking up the mountains. We flew straight across Lake Garda and then turned east towards Venice airport. Vittoria was there to pick me up and we then drove to where her family is from, just outside Verona. The whole region is famous for its wine. From their house you get a great view of all the vineyards in the valley and up into the hills. Every bit of spare land has grapes growing on it. I love the geometric patterns of vineyards covering the countryside. We naturally got to enjoy lots of the local wine whilst we were there. The first weekend we were there, we travelled south to Ferrara. For a week the city was hosting a buskers festival. Buskers are street musicians and performers. On all the street corners of the old town, which of course is absolutely stunning, there were different buskers from all over the world playing. It was good fun and a nice way to explore the city. The following weekend, however, was the main reason we were in Italy. We were there to celebrate Vittoria's mother's 60th birthday. Vittoria has a brother, who lives in Chile with his family, and a sister, who lives in Ecuador with her family, so they don't all get to see each other very often. Vittoria's sister and her family spent the whole summer in Italy but Vittoria's brother and his family only arrived on the actual day. Vittoria's mother, Bianca, had no idea they were coming, so it was a big surprise. We were about to sit down for the big birthday lunch when the doorbell rang. Bianca went to open the door and there was her son and his family. It took her a moment to realise what was happening and then she almost fainted.
After our time with my family in Wales and Vittoria's family in Veneto, we were looking forward to some alone time. Just the two of us on a beach somewhere enjoying the sun and the sea. With that in mind, we headed south to Salento in Puglia. It was the first time I've been to the south of Italy. We flew to Brindisi where we rented a new Fiat Cinquecento. We spent our first night in a hotel in Ostuni which is known as the white town. It lies on top of a little hill. As we were approaching in our car we got a beautiful view of all the white buildings and church towers against the blue sky. Inside the old town we panicked a little when Google Maps guided us along some incredibly narrow lanes with very sharp turns. Luckily, though, the Cinquecento was made for driving around old Italian towns.
On our second day we actually drove out of Puglia and into Basilicata to visit the historical city of Matera. The idea was to do a bit of sightseeing before we headed to the beaches. And Matera was perfect for sightseeing. It's incredibly beautiful and without a doubt one of the most amazing places I have ever visited. It lies at the top of a small canyon. There are small caves everywhere that were carved into the canyon. People used to live in their individual caves. Over time they added external structures to the caves but the caves are still there. So, for example, we stayed in a house with a bedroom that was actually a small cave. The old town consists of all these buildings that are made from the same material, a light sand coloured stone. There are narrow steps in between the buildings that lead up to a square and a cathedral at the top. When you look at the old town from the other side of the canyon, it looks like a giant sandcastle. Matera will be joint European Capital of Culture in 2019, so now is probably a good time to visit. Compared to other places we visited there weren't that many tourists. After our stop in Matera it was time for the famous beaches of Salento. Salento lies at the southern end of Puglia and the southern tip is sometimes called the Maldives of Salento. Unfortunately though, at this stage of our trip, the weather took a turn for the worse. It started to rain and it didn't stop much for a whole seven days. We stayed on the west coast for a couple of days, in and around Gallipoli, hoping the weather would improve. Then we gave up and drove to the city of Lecce. Because there wasn't much else we could do, our main focus on those rainy days was the food. Of course being in Italy that was a good idea. The food in Puglia is quite heavy, not much meat traditionally, but lots of fried food. My favourite was a deep-fried calzone. I also enjoyed the local coffee, which is a shot of iced espresso with almond syrup. Delicious! We were happy to spend our days just sitting on a piazza enjoying the architecture. Italy, whether you are in the north or the south, is a joy for the eye. We don't get enough of that sort of beauty in Kunming. In the end we did get two nice afternoons. So we drove to the most southern tip of Salento and swam in the crystal clear Mediterranean Sea.
Returning to Kunming after such a long time in Europe with family and friends was not easy. But being away from Kunming for so long there were also things I missed. Also, my liver and my belly were longing for a timeout. I've never eaten or drunk so much in my life. Not only did I put on a lot of weight, but I also felt quite unwell by the end. My diet is very different in China. There are many things I'm not used to eating anymore. Dairy products such as cheese, butter and yoghurt are not part of my diet here. And I rarely eat bread here. By the end of the holiday, I couldn't wait to eat Chinese food again - plain white rice and stir-fried vegetables and tofu. There are so many good places to eat here and it doesn't cost a lot of money. Something I found a bit hard to get used to in Europe, in Italy in particular, are opening hours. Shops, restaurants and offices have quite limited opening hours. Here, I've become so used to the round-the-clock convenience, the 24-hour service culture. Something is always open if you're hungry or thirsty. I don't have to plan ahead too much, I don't have to follow office workers' hours. And Sunday is like any other day. It makes me feel a little freer if that makes any sense.
That's all from me for this month. Gerry will be back in two weeks' time. My next podcast will be on November the 4th. As always you can find all the podcasts on our website podclub.ch or by downloading our app. Don't forget our vocabulary trainer and look for us on Instagram using the hashtags #podclubowen and #oweninchina. Until next time, I wish you all a great month. Bye!
 to get sick of sth.: to get annoyed about or bored with sth.
 steady: here: not changing
 to gain weight: to put on weight
 to complain: to express dissatisfaction
 vineyard: rows of grapevines for growing grapes to produce wine
 spare: here: unused
 to host: here: to organize and hold (an event)
 stunning: extremely impressive or beautiful
 to faint: to lose consciousness for a short time
 to approach: here: to get closer
 canyon: a long deep valley with steep sides made of rock
 cave: a space or hole in a hill or a cliff
 to carve: to cut into
 to consist of: to be made up of
 sandcastle: a model of a castle made of sand, typically by children on a beach
 joint: here: together with others
 to take a turn for the worse: to start to get worse
 main focus: the most important centre of interest
 to long: to have a strong wish or desire