Both J and I were rather disgruntled this morning, but after our pack up (during which the girls proved how little kids need to entertain them!) we enjoyed a lovely outing to Castellana Grotte, the nearby caves. Discovered early last century, they have quickly become a tourist trap (although a deserted one at this time of year) with the accompanying big carparks, multilingual road signs and souvenir shops. The grotto is most famous for it's 'white' cave, which is at the end of the longer 2 hr guided tour. Obviously, with our minors, we had to do the shorter 1 hr tour, which was still impressive. We bought tickets for the Italian tour as there wasn't an English one until the afternoon. Unfortunately for our knowledgeable guide, we were the only people on the tour and her English was as limited as our Italian! It made for a reasonably quiet tour. She would occasionally try to point things out, and I would try to decipher the meaning and concur "Si, si" with much enthusiasm. There were a lot of aptly named naturally occurring sculptures. Stalactites and stalagmites that looked like Neptune, an owl and a snake to name a few. The tites and mites were composed of calcium carbonate so the further underground we got, the cleaner and whiter they became, looking like surreal spikes of alabaster. Rocks closer to the opening were exposed to more air and were thus decorated, if not covered with moss and algae. The lightwell created by the large circular opening in the earth above was rendered almost ineffectual by the blackness of the rocks below. The caves were enjoyed by all though, and it was a fun learning experience for the girls. Em kept pretending to be scared.
A lift brought us out into sunshine again, and the lure of shops selling ice cream, magnets and plastic toys. Something for everyone! Jason, the eternal pessimist, can only see a pile of breakages and injuries when mixing children and shops so does not make for a relaxing or fun companion. Regardless, the kids and I managed to pick up some delicious crispy lemon biscuits, and were talked into some orriechette and locally made tomato sauce for our dinner tonight by the homely proprietor of one shop. She even gave out some fresh basil from her pot along with instructions on how to cook it!
We set off enthusiastically for the Gargano peninsula and a beach holiday dream that didn't eventuate. Lured by pictures of turquoise water with rocky grottos, we drove out through the Gargano national park and after a few hours were indeed rewarded with a beautiful coastline and winding road with incredible views.
We had picked a campsite that sounded good both in the lonely planet and on the net. Driving up to Vieste, the road was literally lined with campsite after campsite, empty and desolate. Although we could imagine the chaos and feel of summertime, it was like driving through a camping graveyard. When we reached the named site, it too was closed for winter. That meant frantic looking and phonecalls to find anywhere open. There was a sole campsite open which we had to backtrack to reach, but it was like a concentration camping site surrounded by wire fences, barren sandy soil and the most basic holes in the ground lucky to be given the title 'toilet'. We stayed long enough to decide not to stay, and drove off to enjoy the peninsula in the dark. Less views and more difficult driving on the narrow and winding roads. We ended up in a bed and breakfast in Rodi Garganico on the north of the peninsula. This time it was Jason's turn to be unhappy with the accommodation, which was not his idea of a simple beach holiday for the kids. It was a rather stormy evening that included overcooked orrechiette and Jason being in charge of finding the next destination.