“I’m going upstairs tonight,” I called to them over my shoulder as I shimmied up the L-shaped staircase and pushed on the metal door.
“Do you have a blanket at least?” Kaley called back to me. It was March, and though we were down in one of the most southern parts of Italy, the chill was still there, rising off the ocean and up over the sea of white stone that is Ostuni. We had decided to travel on our spring break, but because my friends were visiting from the University of New Hampshire, I thought it foolish to spend extra on a guided tour and airfare for a trip to Greece. Instead of following my roommates to the Pink Palace, we found our one white one - a summer house of a local Italian woman. She has a shop across from Café Pretoriana, the bar we frequented, and was friends with the owners, who told us about the opportunity. The little store was filled with ceramic art. Plates and dishes, cups and ladles, basins and tables, all painted beautiful blues and oranges, yellows and greens. She was a true artist, and she was proud of it. She grabbed my hand and pulled me around the store, showing me a painted rooster on a vase, and a plate with a pattern so intricate, it was almost impossible it was completed by hand. She spoke to my Italian friend, Shereen, about the property and Shereen relayed it back to us. It was inexpensive because of the off season; the artist thought us crazy to go down there so early.
“Siete pazza!” She said as she threw up her hands, almost knocking over one of her masterpieces. But she was grateful for the use of her little home away from home, and so were we.
After a five hour train ride, we pulled into the Ostuni station in Puglia, Italy. It was dark, but light shone down from the hilltop, the town bathed in a golden light that embellished the white walls of the structures.
Once we reached our door, it opened to a small, almost cave-like dwelling. The inside is much like the outside, with the white walls gracing the hallways and rooms. But the difference, was that this woman had brought her artistic style here as well. The ground floor bedroom was painted with tall reeds and sand dunes with furniture to match. Upstairs, painted vines scaled the walls and bricks were revealed beneath the white for a truly decorative touch. She painted curtains on the walls and rocks upon the floor. And the silhouette of the buildings right outside her home were decorating the inside above the bed upstairs. We had a painted Ostuni skyline to take hold of our dreams.
But it was when we discovered the rooftop that I knew a piece of my heart would remain within this city. As we climbed the last few, almost hidden, steps and pushed open the metal door, it screeched on rusty hinges and revealed a panoramic view out to the ocean. There was more of the woman’s artwork even here – a painted sun right below where the sun sets on the horizon. We ate and drank there. We were suddenly disinterested in the house, and spent hours reading in the warmth of the March sunshine, and gazing out from our perch atop the city. But the most precious find was mine. As the others walked down into the city to buy bread from the local baker, and the ancient olive oil from the farms of the ancient olive trees that line the city, I explored, and found a closet full of summer accessories. And behind the plastic lounge chairs and the drying racks, a hammock unraveled into my arms. Embellished with shells on the fringe, it was the perfect piece to my furniture puzzle on the small little roof. I strung it up and poured myself a glass of wine. La vita e bella. Life is, and was, good.
That night I ventured up the stairs again as my friends settled into their beds. I brought along my blanket and as I pushed that squeaky door, the sky unfolded through the crack into a spread of stars like I have never seen. I listened as abandoned wind chimes rang out among the other rooftops stacked below mine. I imagined all of these houses full in the summer months – with wine glasses clinking upon some and laughter dancing up from other rooftops. I settled into the hammock and the southern Italian wind rocked me back and forth as I gazed up into the inky black sky; not a sound but those bells and the wind.
Sometimes, the most popular places to visit are not the best. Finding that diamond in the rough is simple when traveling; you just need to have the courage to take chances to find it. As I stepped into Ostuni, I had barely researched, but it ended up being one of my most memorable experiences. Though the town was under populated, though it was chilly, I found the solitude inviting and the landscape gorgeous. Dare to take the chances that may lead to mental serenity or adventure. Your most memorable travel experience may be hiding in a diamond in the rough.