Saturday, September 8, 2012

Lecce, the Florence of the South

After a wonderful night in Brindisi, and with some new ideas of places to visit in Italy, I decided to take a short train ride south to the city of Lecce the following day. I had heard raving reviews from my new friend and was sure it would not disappoint. My first train ride since arriving in Europe and I could not have been more excited since traveling by train is my favorite. However my European train adventure did not go ask successfully as I hoped. Arriving at the train station with only a few minutes to spare I quickly became frustrated with the self-service ticket kiosks. Some did not work, others only wanted to take my card, and finally I heard one from across the station helping a traveling couple in English. I rushed over and put in my information, watching my watch frantically. When the machine reminded me that my train was leaving in less than 2 minutes and asked if I was really sure that I wanted to buy this ticket, I almost screamed. Finally, ticket in hand, I checked the board for the platform number and rushed to meet the train. I confirmed with a kind man that I was at the correct platform and that the next train would take me to Lecce, and he even showed me how to valid my ticket to avoid a fee. When the next train arrived on the opposite platform I stayed put, feeling confidante that this train was not mine, because it was not on the correct platform. I sat idly by and watched passengers shuffle in and out of the doorways before the train took off again. 10 minutes later I began to wonder where my train was. As the next train arrived on my platform, I quickly asked a fellow passenger boarding the train if this was heading in the direction of Lecce. “No no, Bari,” he responded and then pointed to the platform that the previous train had passed through he said, “Lecce train is there.” Damn. Realizing my mistake, I sat down on the bench, defeated and waited for the next train to Lecce. The departure time of the next train happened to be 2 hours later, but it did give me a chance to run into a couple of Canadian girls from the Pink Palace, chat with a priest from Papua New Guinea, and catch up on some reading in my travel book.

Arriving in Lecce, I checked myself into a B&B a few hundred meters from the train station and was elated about the chance to have my own room for a couple days. I grabbed a map from the reception desk, and took off into the historic part of the city. Following the advice of my new friend, I tried to use my map minimally as I allowed myself to get lost in the alleys of this magnificent town. Around every corner there was a new Cathedral, Monastery, Church, Statue, Theatre, or Duomo to be admired. I wandered around for hours, stopping only to enjoy some delicious Italian cuisine and to take in the views for as long as possible. I stumbled upon one church that had its doors open to the public, and I wandered inside to find a group of nuns reciting scripture and singing hymns. I sat down and listened to the conclusion of their session, and was amazed by the structural artwork and designs hidden within the church.  After a long day in the sun I headed back to my room, but in the evening I ventured back out because I could not resist the chance to visit the Cathedral square at night, lit up in all its glory. I was of course not disappointed. There is really not a picture that can capture how magical the bell tower overlooking the Cathedral is at night, lit up so perfectly. 

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