Here we are, in the coldest time of the year, and I ran for the first time this year yesterday. The morning was quite chilly with -13 Centigrade and the temperature didn’t rise significantly by the afternoon. Still, I chose running instead of skiing as day’s main activity. For a seasoned runner I consider myself to be the cold isn’t believed a hindrance. And one warms up running much more than skiing.
It’s one thing to be running and listening to music, but it’s entirely something else to be running and listening to spoken word in podcasts. I find that way, to simplify, the whole body is employed: the limbs and the mind. Sometimes I find myself so absorbed in the listening that I either run too fast or too slow. A human mind is a fantastic space. Especially the aspect of telling and listening to stories, which in a broader sense of all beings only humans are capable of, and I mean not only pure (fictional) stories but the act of being able to transform the heard word, the text listened to, to images in one’s mind is fantastic, isn’t it? It’s a complex activity of our brain: making up stories, storytelling, listening to stories and visualising them simultaneously. It is magic. I find it truly overwhelming.
So, where did this ability take me to yesterday on the coolest of afternoons? Sicily. There I was among the heaps of immense heads of green cauliflower in the Palermo’s market. I attended the lavish banquets together with the noblemen of the 19th century Sicily. I watched Garibaldi’s ships land at Marsala. I entered the not-so-secret-anymore chocolate making shops of Modica. Quite a journey. Just before arriving back home I noticed nasty cool wind picked up sometime during my run and if it hadn’t been for somewhat numb fingers I wouldn’t have noticed it at all. I wondered if and how these polar winter conditions are manifested in Sicily. From the warmth of our home it seems quite romantic. Deceitfully so, I know.
My closest friends know how much I resented running as a sport when I was growing up. The annual 600m run for a final mark in high school felt like a death sentence. At that time I excelled at short runs though. My marks at physical education (we used to call it gym class which is apparently obsolete) were improved by decent results in 60m and 100m runs. My man says this is typical of people with no endurance.
Still, someone at my primary school (way before the hated 600m) was brave enough to sent me to represent our school in district competition. Me of all pupils. Even though that was more than 30 years ago I still remember the utter exhaustion I felt when I finished that horror 2400m run (I was too ashamed to quit). Talk about sensible teachers.
Anyway, I love to run now. I find it uncomplicated since no prep is needed. I change to my running gear (a sophisticated expression for a tee, shorts and sneakers) in the comfort of my home and I’m ready to run. Off the threshold. If packing and driving to a destination for the sole purpose of exercise aren’t your things then you might consider running for the simplicity of it. Warming up and stretching can both be done along the way. No equipment needed for that.
The greatest upside of running for me is being outdoors. I run year-round. When it’s cold, when it’s warm, when it’s foggy, when it’s sunny, come winter or summer, in October as well as in March, when in a good mood, or when blue. Only two conditions stop me from running: when pavements and paths are black iced and during downpour. The rest is a bunch of excuses. I try to avoid finding one.
Some jolly nice and unexpected situations have occurred during my runs, as well as nothing at all. I notice the colours in the woods as seasons change. Or, I see a couple in a loving embrace, or a handful of playful dogs in the meadow. I might notice other runners and feel envious of their stamina. On most days I don’t care about that at all. Occasionally, I meet a lovely fellow like this one:
My runs have proved to be good time spent with myself. I have never returned from a run in worse shape or mood than upon start. Selectively, I compose a playlist of my favourite songs for my run. When I don’t feel like listening to music, there are many interesting podcasts to listen to during running. All available online in a matter of seconds. Sometimes, I get carried away in my thoughts during a run and when I finish I realize I’ve used my exercise time to plan a meal, for instance. Every now and again, I plainly accept the void. At times, I need a change of route to keep me motivated. Simply starting a run in the other direction can make wonders.
I’m not hiding there come the days I’m dragging my legs behind as if they weighed a ton each, or am in a nagging mood, or am just too lazy to go out. But I remind myself how good a feeling it is afterwards so I try to keep to my steady two runs a week. If I do one more, or something extra like occasional cycling trip or hiking, the better.
Considering there are years of work and pleasure before me I’d rather be in good shape to grasp it all if I can help it.
I went for a run yesterday. Only my third after the holiday, and after initial lack of will and motivation I can proclaim I’m back in the saddle: it felt good again. Sadly, I noticed the more than slight change en route. The leaves on the trees are beginning to wither. The shadows are becoming longer and darker as the days shorten and the cyclamen are here again. Their bewitching scent was a nice company although it meant the autumn was just around the corner. A perfect moment then to recollect the summer holiday memories and order them up.
Colours, tastes, scent, delights for eyes and mind – all is there, making you healthily aware of your senses and feelings. I guess it’s what biology, history and sociology of a place fuse into within an attention-paying mind. A deep and long-lasting satisfaction is almost palpable.
When we entered the crypt of Otranto duomo perching above a coastal town I did expect to see a ‘forest of columns’ (as described in one of the guides) but nothing could actually prepare me for the real thing. It’s simply amazing. Not two columns seem to be alike and there are more than seventy.
Striking as it is, the main sight awaits you upstairs though: the grand Tree-of-Life mosaic. The mosaic itself is quite basic in terms of execution and it appears a bit naive to the untrained eye but it’s its size and age that humble you immediately. The 12th century masterpiece namely covers the entire floor of the cathedral. By all means brace yourselves for sighting of relics of Martyrs of Otranto that are housed in the glass cabinets in the cathedral. Shocking.
De-stress outside on the public beach – it couldn’t be any closer, just steps from the old town.
The Apulian Adriatic coast is like that: turquoise waters and alternating sandy stretches and sensational cliffs and rocky bays.
Fantastic scenery of a coastal road leading from Otranto to Leuca is interspersed occasionally by little and large man-made wonders. Palazzo Sticchi in Santa Cesarea Terme evokes the fantasy of One Thousand and One Nights. There may not be another reason for visiting this fairly unattractive little coastal and thermal town but marvelling at this Moorish palace in its commanding position on a hot summer’s day in the south of Italy is a joy.
While we were down there, only a couple of dozens kilometres away from the south-easternmost point of Italy and definitely the southernmost point of its heel, it would’ve been regretful not to dip into the Adriatic at Bagnisco. Or any other bay or beach – there are plenty but from the road mostly accessible on foot. In July you can expect them to be relatively peaceful and not too crowded. August is another matter altogether being a “holy” holiday month for most Italians.
The Ionian coast of Apulia is heavenly, too. The sand is golden and macchia smells divinely.
The tourist Mecca of Gallipoli, an ancient town on the costa ionica, with monumental fortified walls, has retained its own golden beach just behind the old town looking out towards the distant Calabria. Spreading out of town on both sides there are countless miles of party and family beaches. Be warned.
The modern part of town is dominated by a long wide avenue of sorts, which ends at the foot of the bridge connecting it to the old town. The old town is lovely, reminiscent of Dalmatian flair: local ladies cooling off in the gentle breeze seated by the wide open door leading from the street directly into the kitchen. Men are playing cards or watching television. From time to time, during roaming the labyrinth of narrow semi-deserted streets, a nice smell sneaked out from within of a simmering broth or something equally appealing.
Under the bridge, there are stalls abound with freshest from Gallipoli.
If you have the nerve, the top specialty (ask any Italian if you don’t believe me) is ricci di mare, thankyouverymuch.
In Manduria I had freshly squeezed pomegranate juice with my cappuccino.
I don’t know why the culture of spremuta hasn’t spread out of Italy. It doesn’t seem to bother any Italian bartender to prepare it either with agrumi (there goes my little obsession with citrus again) or even pomegranate as was the case in Apulia. A welcome and refreshing change.
The prevalence of gold and leisurely is pushed aside in the northwest of Salento where the dominating citta bianche rule the hills. Ostuni’s patron is St. Oronzo, apparently a very busy man taking care of Lecce as well.
Ostuni is chic and stylish not least because it’s so very photogenic. One could easily imagine to be in another place altogether (Oia on Greek Santorini comes to one’s mind) or maybe in one of the charming places up on Amalfi coast.
The white town offers splendid views down the plains full of olive trees (all that green between the houses and the sea on the photo below are olive trees) to the intensively blue Adriatic. Consider it a must-see.
The best thing in Apulia is you can eat really well. Furthermore, you can enjoy a nice view at the same time. One day we stopped for lunch in Torre Santa Sabina. True, we decided for Ristorante Miramare because of Rowley Leigh’s article published in Financial Times a few years ago, so we had some idea what we can expect. It was good, I can tell you that.
Locorotondo felt dearest to my heart in that part of Apulia. Expect narrow spiralling streets, tiny and more roomy piazze full of flowering pots, the all-over white carefully embellished with romantic patterns of vivid colours. Everything is so clean and tidy one would nearly want to change to slippers before stepping in.
After these boutique-like towns, Martina Franca feels like stepping back into reality again: it’s grandiose and impressive. Its elegance oozes down the lanes packed with proper townhouses. No matter how narrow the roads of the centro storico the traffic within is surprisingly lively yet smooth. The piazze are spacious and the churches loom large over them.
The Val d’Itria is not only home to these remarkable white towns (and many others), it is an extraordinary place in its own right.
The countryside looks manicured to the last metre, the fields and the vineyards may remind you of Tuscany but with one pronounced distinction: trulli.
And then, you enter the fairy-tale-ish Alberobello. Only this is not Las Vegas or Disneyland, it’s incredibly genuine. Once we approached the viewing point on the opposite side my jaw dropped approximately two storeys below.
There are masses of intertwined trulli, mortarless (at least used to be mortarless) stone constructions, that are still populated. It’s Unesco World Heritage site and it’s very popular with tourists but I wouldn’t want to miss it.
As much as I love walking down memory lane of our albeit recent summer holiday I have to tell you it’s been an exhausting one (indulging in memories not the holiday). That’s why I’m saving the jewel of this trip, Lecce, for another time (there are some appetizers in my previous post as well). Stay tuned.
Nevertheless, just a tiny glimpse of what’s cooking:
It’s odd how we all wait rather impatiently for springtime year in, year out although, when it finally arrives, it’s not as pleasant a time as it seems when we’re knee deep in bleakness and greyness and darkness of autumn and winter that seem to last forever.
First, you’re hit by summer time. Over night, you’re left bereft of one whole hour of sleep.
Then, there’s the spring fever that translates into unexpected loss of energy. Everything around you bursts to life again, revived and all, whereas you couldn’t feel more oxymoronic about it.
And, if you’re lucky, there’s more: a seasonal allergy. (I refuse to refer to it as hay fever: it’s months to the stage of hay.) It’s been a real pain in the arse – for the lack of a more illustrative word, and it’s been my first one, too, so I can’t really imagine how other people cope with it for a lifetime. There’s no other way, I know, but to endure.
In spite of all that, I force myself to go running. Thankfully, I’m grown up enough to appreciate the fact that once I’m out there it’s all good, it’s just the initial push that makes it so hard.
I drag my legs behind me as if they were made of stone. I’m as slow as a snail but I do carry on with it. Kilometre after kilometre. As much as I’m looking forward to finish it off, truth be told, it’s not only torturous. I tend to look out for nice things along the way too. I’m in utter awe, for example, at Mrs Nature’s and her daughter Miss Flora’s capabilities to provide wonders day by day.
I stop to smell this beauty. Pure essence of spring. Makes me feel a tad bit more energetic.
When I return home I make myself a nice nourishing bowl of yoghurt to replenish. It is not only good for me, my body, it’s a delight for the eye as well.
This little meal is all I need after a run and it’s easy to prepare. Basically, I add a couple of spoonfuls of yoghurt to a couple of spoonfuls of ricotta and top it up with a spoonful of homemade preserved cranberries. I always have a jar of preserved wild cranberries at hand. I simply love them. I guess it’s a combination of sweet and sour and a hint of tart that makes the preserve special. Apart from the fact that I make it myself. I buy them fresh in late summer when they’re available at our local market. Some are cooked to a preserve immediately, some are frozen and used up throughout the winter and spring when needed.
Depending on the mood (and the amount of hunger) I might add some rolled oats and/or linseed. Since I’m crazy about lemons right now I add a couple of strings of lemon zest. More colour and more aroma. Yum.
After this I just might feel more in favour of spring.
What’s there not to be optimistic about? It’s almost the end of winter, people. One can already notice how the days become visibly longer. And this is good news, right? A minute at a time, true, but noticeably longer.
I’m lucky enough to get off work relatively early so I decide to make a good use of this wonderful winter afternoon. I go for a run. Not that I avoid running altogether when it’s dark and cold but the spirit is higher with a prospect of a daylight run. It’s also warmed up a bit in the last few days, it’s clear with an occasional foamy cloud here and there. The sun being low – it’s wintertime after all – it casts a magical colouring scheme over the snow-capped mountains. Really, what’s not to be good-spirited about?
I decide to put some music on. During December it’s been all about Christmas chimes (I can’t help it, I love good old-fashioned Christmas songs) and festive podcasts. This time I choose an almost forgotten playlist that’s been collecting dust in my iTunes library and with every step I get reminded what a great decision I’ve made. Who could resist this? Or this? I hate to repeat myself but what’s there not to be optimistic about?
By now I have already passed the ski jump facility where young athletes are training hard. There’s lots of them, some still little children but all fearless with gleaming eyes and everyone hoping to become the next Peter Prevc. Good for them!
There are more runners out here than usual. What a great feeling! The paths through the woods are dry and dusty, only a slight puddle every now and then. More a result of hidden streams meandering downhill between the trees and bushes than anything else for the rain has been absent for more than a month now and there’s been no decent snowfall whatsoever yet. Hope it snows soon.
I meet families on the way as well. Children in colourful outfits are bursting within the greys and browns of the winter forest and their parents treading along in a slow pace. Some people never seem to hurry, bless them.
I see people walking their dogs. I see people enjoying the last sunbeams of the day. I see people having a smoke, outdoors being the only resort for their vice. Nowadays I only notice the smokers outdoors: on the streets, in the park, in front of the bars, even on bikes and some behind the wheel of the car or in the old movies and TV series – they’re a rare sight actually.
When I pass the rose garden on my way back home it’s almost dark. The sky is still light blue when I look up and the clouds are a bright pink colour but the dusk spreads all around and tows the murkiness along. There’s a cloud floating above me, a classic funnel-like shape as if the storm might be approaching which seems quite strange on this calmest of days. On the other hand, if I take another look it reminds me of a soft ice-cream fallen from the hands of a clumsy child.