A Travellerspoint blog

June 2012


Lifestyles of the rich, famous and the Happells

Sadly saying arrivederci to Otranto, we commenced the eight hour trip to Positano (could have traversed a few small Euro countries in that time). The trip was well planned down to the last minute thanks to efficient Dan. A 6am taxi to the Lecce train station, followed by a train to Brindisi, leaving 9 minutes to hightail it to the adjoining platform for the Taranto train (where upon arrival we would have time for a coffee and lunch. then train to Salerno and ferry to Positano). Easy so the script went ... we could relax on the trains, read and send a few blogs.

Not to be. Aaaah thought the train driver ... might hangout in Lecce for a quick coffee and pastry. Good for the driver ... not so good for the Happells ... our 9 minutes to hightail it disappeared into thin air en-route, and our Taranto train pulled away as we scurried onto the platform, throwing all plans into disarray. Much swearing, bag kicking, transport abusing later it was decided a taxi at 130 euro would have to be caught. But would we make it ... "E possibla" mentioned our non English speaking taxi driver. All I could think was thank god for 180 speed limits ... drive like Fangio my son.

We arrived with 9 minutes to spare after poor Gabi was sick in his cab. The four hour furnace train ride with only chips and pistacchios for breakfast and lunch saw us arrive in Salerno in find the poorly signed ferry stop and arrive in Positano. Hot, grubby, bad tempered and 130 euro poorer we trudged through the hoards of tourists banging our bags into unexpected ankles to find the bus stop.

The queue represented peak hour at a city train station. In true Italian style we pushed and elbowed our way on. The 20 seater bus crammed with 40 plus sweating tourists and locals. The bus wound its way up the narrow road and finally spat us out somewhere hopefully near our piccolo apartment. Finally after much discussion we found the 30 steps to lug our bags, sticky and smelly selves up. A shower, cheap wine and takeaway pizza for 2.50 per head and all was well with the world.

Our Apartment View


An Outdoor Shower


A long way down


Posted by happellfamily12 09:00 Comments (0)

8 things we loved about Otranto

A blissful two weeks in Puglia

sunny 30 °C

  • Even though it is essentially a seaside tourist town, it retains many fascinating characteristics of its colourful past, including a beautiful old town centre (centro storico).



  • The only language you will hear in the streets and alleyways is Italian. Nary a whisper of German, French, English, and American!
  • The locals are very friendly, and lack that rapacious edge so common in resort towns. Fare una passeggiata (the evening stroll) was an especially pleasant time to see all generations out and about, enjoying the balmy climate and the bella vista.

our landlord Pino, one of many friendly locals

our landlord Pino, one of many friendly locals

  • There is a beach for every day of the month ... perhaps a slight exaggeration, but within an 8 minute walk of the apartment we could reach sandy, rocky, breezy, protected, busy and quiet beaches.
  • The rocky beaches allowed the opportunity for the inner-child to briefly emerge (for the adults), and for the real kids to strut their stuff!



  • Situated on the northern promontory, our apartment was quite close to the piccolo lighthouse, allowing the sailors' warning light to flash across our terrazzo as the evening light slowly faded away, and Lisa started to disassemble me at backgammon.

siesta time for the boss

siesta time for the boss

  • Puglia is the food basket of Italy. Olives, tomatoes, cherries, and of course pesce (fish) of the highest quality was plentiful and cheap.


  • Otranto is the obvious starting point for a very scenic drive south right down to the tip of Italy's heel - Capo Santa Maria Di Leuca. Despite the somewhat erratic driving from the newbie (Papa), we had a great day on the road, with the highlight being a swim at the spectacular Grotta Zinzulusa.

looking out from Grotta Zinzulusa

looking out from Grotta Zinzulusa

Posted by happellfamily12 09:42 Archived in Italy Tagged beaches locals driving foods puglia otranto Comments (0)

Driving in Italy (un esercizio di terrore)

(an occasional exercise in terror)

sunny 30 °C

Twelve months without setting foot on pedal seemed excessive, not to mention slightly cowardly, so we set about to hire a car in Otranto for five days to tour the (widespread) sites.

The charming and ever-patient Ivana duly signed me up for the only rental car in town ... a 3 day wait was required for the Fiat Punto ... henceforth nicknamed the Drop Punto. Nightmares and cold sweats followed as I waited for the fateful day. Would I remember to drive on the right hand side? Do you use your right foot for the accelerator in left hand drives? What were those roundabout rules again? Was the reputation of Italian drivers deserved?

Once Ivana had explained (via Google Translate) that the petrol gauge had an alarming tendency to swing from full to empty for no apparent reason, she handed over the keys and we were off! One amusing online site had suggested the best way to confuse local drivers was to use your indicators, as they are essentially redundant tools for the average driver. Disregarding this advice, I indicated at every opportunity, and snail-like returned to the apartment to pick up the three excited passengers.

The Drop Punto and Crew


Without going into laborious detail about the ensuing four days, we would make the following observations : Italians are generally highly skilled drivers. They drive too fast, and recklessly, but they are totally focused on what they are doing, and know exactly what is going on around them. For this reason, you never feel unsafe when they charge up behind you, tailgate, then overtake at the first (half) opportunity. Likewise, their ability to navigate the ridiculously narrow streets is unparalleled.

Our problems stemmed from the road signage. Suffice to say it varied from inadequate to downright confusing. We would enter a small town with a fairly clear idea of the place/s we were trying to get to on the other side, but despite four sets of attentive eyes, we were regularly beaten by obfuscation and one-way signs cleverly placed by the local authorities to frazzle hapless tourists. In the end we opted for the autostrada, where the entertainment derived from counting how many seconds it took the spec in the rear view mirror to become a large Mercedes travelling in excess of 180 kms/hour.

The Drop Punto was returned intact, and the passengers were happy for the experience, but equally happy to return to our transport staple of buses, trains, and ferries. For those interested, the price per litre at the moment is around $2.25

Some photos of our car travels.


Posted by happellfamily12 09:14 Archived in Italy Tagged cars driving navigation Comments (0)


Are we drowning in it?

Remember travels of old when technology was limited to a reverse charge phone call? Travelling in the early 90's : oh the excitement when you received those aerogram letters; the thrill of working out the complex phone system and dialing home to chat for 10 minutes reverse charge (only to be hit with a bill amounting to the debt of a small euro nation when you got home); the colourful postcards sent to family and friends that graced the fridge and often arrived a month after you had returned home. I remember thinking we were very sophisticated when we sent messages on cassette tapes.

In 2000 things had improved and one could excitedly search out the Internet cafes to read up on hotmail for a $1/3 a minute. Today we have enough technology to set up an electronic shop. Communication is instant; blogs, emails, iBooks, phones, ipads, pods, Skype, stalkbook. Cables sneaking across the apartment as we charge up using the only euro adapter. Aaaah, perhaps a return to the old days is a good idea at least it would give you dear readers a break from the Happell blog ...


Posted by happellfamily12 11:10 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

La Scuola della Casa

Home Schooling

sunny 29 °C

Gabi is now in her fourth week of home schooling. Materials (enough to fill a suitcase) kindly supplied by Sydney Distance Education. In true Govt fashion the material is not exactly clearly set out. The aim is to complete four hours a day but we have managed to whittle this down to about three - hopefully I am not limiting her university opportunities! Anyway I am sure she is learning from the school of life (she is certainly honing her swimming technique).

The other day I had to explain punctuation and adverbs - bit of a struggle given I was never taught grammar properly. Current science unit on bones with a timely excursion to Otranto Cathedral supplying a real view of many bones. The Turks beheaded the martyrs of Otranto here and the skulls and bones of the martyrs are arranged in neat patterns in seven tall glass cases. Bit ghoulish but perfect for our science unit. Fortunately it is nearly school holidays ... might also have to stage a few teachers strikes.

La scuola della Casa

La scuola della Casa

Posted by happellfamily12 11:07 Archived in Italy Tagged otranto Comments (0)

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