Changing channel…

On the 9th August, my sister and I will be starting our travels in Singapore. You can follow our new blog ‘The Rook Book’ by following this link >>> therookbook.wordpress.com

Tune in if you fancy following our travels in:

  • Singapore
  • Bali, Lombok and the Gilis
  • Cambodia
  • Vietnam
  • Laos
  • Thailand
  • Sri Lanka
  • India

For some out-of-this-world pics, you can find us on Insta too @therookbook

See you on the other side xxx

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The Ferryman @ The Gielgud Theatre

**Warning: a couple of minor spoilers below**

Lovers of Butterworth’s hit play Jerusalem will not be disappointed by his most recent West End success, The Ferryman. With about as much profanity and all of the mastery we have come to expect, Butterworth delights his audience with over three hours (and trust me, it does not drag) of unparalleled storytelling. We are introduced to the Carneys: a fractured family damaged by the political instability in Northern Ireland. Set in the family home during harvest time, the dichotomy between their public and private worlds starts to collapse as ghosts of the past return to remind them of their Troubles.

As with many gripping plays, there is a complex love triangle at the heart of The Ferryman. After the disappearance of her husband ten years prior to the start of the play, Caitlin Carney (Laura Donnelly) and her son Oisin (Rob Malone) are taken in by her brother in law Quinn (Paddy Considine) and his frail wife Mary (Genevieve O’Reilly).  Confined to her bed for most of the play, Mary’s role in the play borders on the inconsequential. It is the relationship between Caitlin and Quinn which demands our attention. As the play opens on the family home, Caitlin and Quinn are found sitting around the family table by candlelight, playing a game of Connect 4.  Blind folding each other in a challenge to see who can win without sight they then dance together like teenagers in the opening throes of love.  We are tricked into believing we are watching husband and wife. Only when Quinn removes his blindfold and silently watches Caitlin dancing freely, arms in the air, do we get our first sense of the longing he is unable to act upon.  Aunt Pat (Dearbhla Molloy) voices this for us when the three women cluster around this same table and she insensitively remarks how Caitlin is mistook for Quinn’s wife at a local party, making her “mouth water just to recall it”. The silence on stage is palpable as the audience squirms with the scene’s dramatic irony.

The hubbub of family life is captured brilliantly by the seemingly never ending stream of children who fly into view from all parts of the stage. From baby to teen, and everything in between, the audience has quite a job remembering their Michael (Fra Fee) from their JJ (Niall Wright), their Honor (Sophia Ally) from their Mercy (Meibh Campbell). This is not to diminish the great talent of these young actors, however.  When little Honor comes running on stage with her arts and crafts crown, demanding she be addressed as Cleopatra and spouting a shocking tale involving her brother’s exposed bum crack, we are utterly captivated. Every curse word the girls utter in their broad Irish accent, as they enjoy half a thimble of Irish whiskey, only serves to further endear them to their audience.  Taking a look at their elders immediately shows us where they have picked up such bad habits. Alcoholic Uncle Pat (Des MacNeill), partial to one too many snifters, and his cantankerous sister Aunt Pat, are a fabulous duo, their endless slanging match indicating a stifling, shared history.

Butterworth is a master of introducing classical, literary and modern references in his works. From sources as disparate as William Blake and Girls Aloud in Jerusalem, he introduces similar mixing in The Ferryman.  Most striking is in the play’s title, which references Virgil’s The Aeneid and thus captures the sense of loss, ambiguity and restlessness which defines this play. Also of interest is Butterworth’s characterisation of Tom Kettle (John Hodgkinson). Plodding onto the stage dressed in a dirty overcoat and sporting a wiry, unkempt beard, he is a character whom we can only half laugh at. He kindly interacts with the children, producing not one, not two, but several apples from his deep coat pockets, finally presenting a live rabbit as a last gift (and as we learn, quite a regular one). He has a gentle way about him, reciting poetry in a strangely lucid, inspired moment and producing a bouquet of roses when he attempts to secure Caitlin’s hand. He is reminiscent of John Steinbeck’s Lenny in more ways than one. From his connection to the play’s rabbits and his giant, gentle demeanour to his role in an accidental murder during the play’s tragic denouement, he follows a very similar character arc. Even Muldoon (Stuart Graham), IRA leader and bearer of bad news, could be seen as a forbidding Inspector Goole figure, darkening the doorway of the Carney family home.

Perhaps a little overdone is the final scene, which sees several characters lying dead in a typical Shakespearean tragic finish. What saves it, is the careful use of lighting to remind us of the play’s eerie title. Old Aunt Maggie Faraway (Bríd Brennan) slowly stumbles to the window, which casts a pale blue light over the depressing scene. Her voice quakes as she cries out that the banshees are coming, those lying dead on stage waiting to join the restless souls.

Five stars!

Twelfth Night @ The National Theatre

Time and again, I have heard more than one Shakespeare sceptic question whether the bard’s work is relevant in modern society and culture. The playwright’s supporters all hastily run to his defence, crying out about his powerful themes and incisive understanding of human nature. A better answer, I feel, would be to have those same cynics sit through the latest adaptation of his much loved comedy of reversals, Twelfth Night. Similarly to the National Theatre’s 2011 production of A Comedy of Errors, where the Dromio twins sported Arsenal shirts and Adriana became a stiletto strutting wag, Simon Godwin’s Twelfth Night is full of modern twists. True to form, the National again challenges our expectations with its fresh take on a play concerned with shifting sexuality and fluid gender identities.

On a stage which saw men dressed as women masquerading as men, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night boldly intimates the complexity of gender and sexual identity.  In Godwin’s 2017 production of the same play, a daring choice has been made to extend this discourse with the introduction of ‘Malvolia’.  Tamsin Greig’s female interpretation is seamless; she wonderfully reincarnates this much performed character without losing sight of Malvolio’s crucial role in the play. With a pinched face faintly redolent of a much peeved Severus Snape, and a rather severe cropped black bob, Greig maintains the air of austerity which defines the character. Having seen Stephen Fry’s 2012 performance, however, Greig’s Malvolia seems to undergo a much more interesting character development. In this incredibly light-hearted play, there are a number of more sinister moments. After Maria (Niki Wardley) is found cavorting with Sir Toby and his crew she is pulled aside by Malvolia and upbraided for her disorderly conduct. The revelry is ended, despite Maria facing the audience like a naughty child with a marker pen moustache. Malvolia grabs her knot of hair and wrenches her neck backwards, like some kind of back alley thug, as a warning to get back in line.

Malvolia’s transformation, cross-gartered in yellow stockings, is all the more shocking as she becomes a gushing, thrusting cabaret figure, complete with novelty nipple tassels. She struts onto the set wearing a Pierrot shirt, intimating that she is regarded as little more than a pantomime figure. While productions sometimes brush over Malvolio’s cruel embarrassment at the end of the play with a traditional Shakespearean jig and much merriment, Godwin’s adaptation takes pains to show how the outsider is left damaged by their abuse. Malvolia removes her wig as if to unveil her true self and in a desperate final scene stumbles up the steps of a large staircase, still wearing her dirtied yellow leotard (tassels having mysteriously disappeared) like a burning scarlet letter betraying her humiliation. While the ingenious rotating stage shows the characters pairing off, getting married and moving forward, Malvolia is left standing alone in the rain.

The ambiguity of Viola’s (Tamara Lawrance) gender identity is also interesting. At times she embraces her masculine persona, comically pretending to take another man from behind in a show of laddish banter and quite literally sweeping Olivia (Phoebe Fox) off her feet like Prince Charming. However, her timidity in the organised duel with Sir Andrew (Daniel Rigby) and self-conscious touching of knees with Orsino (Oliver Chris) remind us that she is unable to hide her female self. Her costume is perhaps the greatest indicator of this collision of identities. Dressed for most of the play in a long white tunic with black ankle length trousers, her image is a decidedly androgynous 21st century look. This styling serves to remind us that it would be naïve to fall into the trap of accepting the play’s heteronormative ending.

These modern references in clothing are continued by other characters with comedic effect. When Cesario visits Olivia’s house she dons her ‘veil’, aka a pair of black sunglasses, posing with her posse of ladies in waiting like Victoria Beckham ready for the paps. Sir Andrew’s self-conscious fiddling of his edgy top knot similarly triggered a few more audience laughs (perhaps as they touched their own top knots) when he asked of Sir Toby ‘But it becomes me well enough, does’t not?’ Michael Billington has argued that the flagrant sexuality of gay bar the Elephant Inn is a touch excessive, as leather clad men with dog leads around their necks rub each other suggestively and a drag queen stands centre stage, belting out a tune. However, in a production which also sees Sir Toby and his crew of degenerates dancing to rave music and Tamsin Greig strutting about with nipple tassels, it seems strangely fitting.

5 stars.

The Glass Menagerie @ Duke of York’s Theatre

Nominated for a string of Olivier Awards and guided by the sensitive direction of John Tiffany, this latest adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ memory play is a triumph in more ways than one. Set in 1930s America, on a stage saturated with images of reflection, The Glass Menagerie is a breeding ground of unfulfilled hopes and restless anxieties. We are introduced to the world of the play by its discontented narrator, Tom Wingfield (Michael Esper), a young man bound by inherited duty to his interfering mother Amanda (Cherry Jones) and crippled sister, Laura (Kate O’Flynn).  Concerned that Laura’s prospects of finding a male suitor are inhibited by her ‘difference’ from other girls, Amanda makes it her aim to secure a gentleman caller. With the addition of this fourth character, however, the characters’ futile hopes of a happier future are laid bare. Caught between memories and broken dreams, Tiffany has ensured that this adaptation remains very much of the play’s period.

Tiffany, however, is not the only director to take on this play in recent months. Last year, I saw another adaptation at Nottingham Playhouse under the guidance of creative director Giles Croft. Although, ostensibly, the productions shared several key similarities – in costume, set design and loyalty to the period – a striking difference revealed itself in the depiction of Laura. Modelled on Williams’ own mentally ill sister, the scope for interpretation of her character is clear in the directors’ alternative approaches. Croft’s Laura (Amy Trigg) was wheelchair bound throughout the performance, exaggerating the physical implications of her identity as a ‘cripple’. Whilst the presentation of Laura’s disability was arguably a little heavy handed, it added to the play’s feeling of entrapment: not only imprisoned in its single setting, Laura is also confined to her chair. Kate O’Flynn in the more recent production, however, is allowed her moment of blissful escapism. Swept off her feet – quite literally – by Jim (Brian J. Smith) in an endearing puppy dog love scene, the audience temporarily forgets the limp which has haunted her since high school. Insecurities are banished as she is held in a lover’s embrace. And perhaps this is why Tiffany’s direction of this scene is so striking. He builds up our expectations and encourages us to temporarily forget the fears and anxieties which characterise this play. With the brutal revelation that Jim is promised to another, the reality of Laura’s bleak situation is impressed ever more deeply upon the audience. The decision to reduce Laura’s glass menagerie to a single lone unicorn in this production is yet another indication of the isolation which makes it impossible for the characters to see beyond their own private worlds.

Despite the vein of tragedy which runs throughout this play, the actors cleverly negotiate a number of comedic moments. On most occasions, this is expertly led by Cherry Jones, her perfect caricature of the faded southern belle (complete with trembling southern lilt) offsetting much of the tension on stage. When the family receive Laura’s gentleman caller, she makes a grandiose entrance, posturing and displaying her new threads for her on-stage audience. Dressed head to toe in ruffles, with baby blue silk clinching her waist and a tiny blue bow delicately wrapped around her wrist, Amanda’s visible attempts at reviving her youth are made all the more ludicrous by her comparison with Laura. Had she been holding a staff and sporting a bonnet, you would have been forgiven for believing Little Bo Peep had walked on stage.  Yet, it would be a mistake to underestimate the value of Amanda’s character as simply comedic relief. Tom himself appears to learn this lesson when he cruelly imitates his mother’s wistful reminiscences, childishly mocking her ‘Blue Mountain Blue Mountain’. Silence descends upon the stage. The audience quickly abandons its laughter. Amanda stands stock still: the play’s garrulous entertainer shocked into silence, wounded by her son’s cruel taunts.

The stage itself appears to be suspended in space. Sounds of outside life are audible from the railings beyond the Wingfield home and the fire escape leads into the sky indefinitely, like some kind of stairway to heaven. Characters are constantly catching their own reflection; in the mirroring of movements and, more overtly, when Laura peers over the edge of the stage, beyond the restrictive parameters of her home, and is confronted by her watery reflection in a midnight pool. Nico Muhly’s nostalgic score and Natasha Katz’s cool blue lighting, which envelopes characters lost in recollection, serve to heighten this tension between reality and memory. In the closing scene, however, the stage is reduced to the light of a burning candle as Tom recites his final monologue. The characters withdraw to the corners of the stage and like some kind of contortionist creature, Laura squeezes her body into the crevice between the cushions of the sofa, escaping reality and returning to the comfortable darkness.

Six months on…

Riding on the wave of post deadline euphoria, most third year university students have one thing in mind: alcohol, and lots of it. A string of trashy nights in packed clubs, with equally inebriated friends, is all that’s listed on the agenda for the next two months. The promise of real life, with all its responsibilities, is held at arm’s length. Six months on, and with my uni days swiftly becoming distant memories, I’ve learned a great deal taking those oh so important steps into my [insert unemployed/frightening/what the f*** am I going to do!?] adult existence. For those of you embarking on those very same steps, my following list of life experiences may reassure you that you are not alone out there in the big bad world. For those of you yet to graduate, I strongly urge you to buy yourself some time and submit that master’s application before it’s too late.

  1. The unpaid internship

We were all warned it would be tough; eager students lapping up the advice of industry professionals during a journalism talk. “There are 100 media graduates to every one entry-level media job”, lecturers from Trent reminded us, their eyes boring into our souls to see if we were cut out for the brutal world of journalism. Someone gulped.  Another person coughed awkwardly.

Scrolling through the pages of Gorkana and Mediargh can be pretty disheartening as a graduate. In almost every job description, you will be asked for at least two year’s paid experience with a commercial publication. And for those that don’t, you can bet that the pool of hungry recent graduates will be fighting over the remaining jobs like animals over a carcass. Sounds extreme? I wish I was exaggerating. For those of us who don’t have links on the inside, a famous celebrity relative or exceptional bribery skills, the common way in is the dreaded unpaid internship. With expenses sometimes covered by a compassionate employer, the unpaid internship is the deceptive tool used by companies to convince you they are accelerating your career. Meanwhile, you’re picking up skinny lattes, avocado toast and the ed-in-chief’s repaired iPhone before noon.

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  1. Pulling pints

Saving a small fortune for train fares and overpriced Costa lunches requires part-time work. Therefore, living in a historic town, known for its collection of pubs, my choice seemed obvious when I signed up for work with my local boozer. Five months of conversations with families enjoying a Sunday lunch, visitors from across the pond admiring the ‘quaint, old-fashioned beams’ (yes, the pub really was built in the 16th century), and regulars, who call in like clockwork at 8pm every Thursday, teaches you a lot about the diversity of human life. I now understand that there is a certain nobility in working as a barmaid, having spent countless hours providing a free counselling service for a number of customers: soothing broken hearts, chatting about job concerns and discussing the problems with our Conservative government. In spending more hours working than socialising, I have come to view the half-cut punter as a kind of friend.

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  1. Moving back in with the rents

Recently talking on the phone with a friend still at university, she asked about my plans for Friday night. A beat. Mind racing, I try and think of something other than the sad truth. “Umm, I might be going for a drink” I reply, heart thumping, mouth dry, all the while knowing my Friday night was unlikely to move beyond the sofa, watching a rom com with my two cats. A pause on the other end of the phone, a sigh: “Liv, you’re not going to sit and watch TV with the cats again are you?” Admitting my lie, I soon learned there was no point trying to disguise my new, prematurely middle aged existence. Returning home to a ghost town, with friends scattered around the globe and a bunch of 60 plus year old’s as my only evidence of new friendship can be a pretty tough burden to bear.

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  1. The dating pool

This brings me to the dating pool. That ever-shrinking, tiny, muddy puddle, which seemed like an oasis of hope while you were at university. I once wrote an article condemning apps like Tinder, believing them to be the antithesis of romance. I criticised their role in making all singletons walking, talking ‘swipers’, at risk of developing early arthritis from the movement. With romantic opportunities on the downturn, however, I decided to challenge my inner cynic and embraced the apps. I laboured over which profile pictures to use and consulted with my Tinder Management Team (aka other fellow singleton friends) about the best openers and where to draw the line on sexting. A couple of months in and I’m relieved to say I haven’t been catfished. The jury’s still out on this one.

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  1. Letting go

Relaxing in the Gili Islands, kayaking along Ha Long Bay and visiting the old tea plantations in Sri Lanka are some of the next big adventures on my list. Although I fully expect to come up against a number of challenges (sunburn is a definite and being scammed probable), I’m hoping to come back enlightened, cultured and maybe sporting a slight tan if I’m lucky.

Returning to Nottingham at the end of this week signals a brief homecoming to my favourite city in England. So many memories, from university balls and society events, to graduation with my best friends, were created here. This time, however, I am returning as a graduate and fully fledged adult. Well, perhaps the last part isn’t exactly true.  But I’m working on it.

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Gallivanting around Gallipoli

Despite a passionate love of good red wine and a fondness for seafood, I have to admit that I didn’t choose this year’s summer destination based on my taste buds.  Quite shamefully (and I’m sure my judgement will now be thrown into question) I recently developed a guilty pleasure involving popular music from the 1980s and a whole lot of cheese.  The 2014 film Walking on Sunshine is set in the Salento region of Puglia, known for its beautiful Baroque architecture, wines and, in my mind, Giulio Berruti walking topless along the coast.  Although I sadly did not encounter Berruti as I traversed the area’s much-famed beaches, I did discover that there is much to be said for this rustic alternative to Italy’s tourist hot-spots.

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I was overwhelmed by choice for places to stay, from Lecce – Salento’s unofficial capital – to Otranto in the west and Santa Maria di Leuca in the south, known for its beautiful caves and cliffs.  Hoping for a bit of hustle and bustle along with our daily dose of Italian culture, we opted for Gallipoli’s old town, an area which marks the beginning of a stretch known as Salento’s Maldives.  The small, and very compact, town sits next to Gallipoli’s longest beach, Baia Verde, which is characterised by all the clichés used to describe a holiday in the Caribbean.  Transparent waters, in every hue of blue and shallow several metres out to sea (making the waters safe for young families) are beaten only by the softest of sand.  Dotted along the waterfront are a variety of beach bars (with costly loungers rivalling prices you would find in exclusive locations such as St Tropez or Nice) which pump out house music and summer beats, something which I appreciate appeals to a 21 year old, but not every holiday-maker.  The sheer length of the beach, however, makes it possible for families and partiers alike to enjoy the area, provided you pitch your parasol in the right place.  For those hoping to show off their tan and take the perfectly enviable Instagram shot, Samsara beach club hosts DJs touting the rich kids lifestyle, as they blast foghorns and send shoots of smoke into the air.  Further along the coast, our host Giorgio recommended a beach called Punta della Suina as a calmer alternative to Baia Verde.  With the crowds descending upon Puglia in high season, however, della Suina appeared to be just as busy as its neighbouring beach and when we left nearing 6 in the evening the small beach hut, dishing out cocktails in watermelon shells, had cranked up the volume on its sound system.  To escape all sounds but the sea, we found that the little bay within the old town – Spiaggia della Purita – was the perfect option.  Despite a slightly more hazardous entry to the water, with sharp stones and seaweed at the water’s edge, this small beach, nestled away from the crowds, was great for a final dip before evening.

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With the old town being so compact, our accommodation was only a very short walk from della Purita.  B&B Punta Cutieri is locally owned by Giorgio, who has been highly praised on sites such as Trip Advisor for his kind, warm manner and his desire to help all visitors.  During our time in Puglia, Giorgio helped us on a number of occasions, whether this be in understanding bus timetables, organising our bike hire or recommending different restaurants in the area.  On our penultimate day, he even bought my sister flowers for her birthday.  His accommodation is also of a very high standard, with original frescos preserved on some of the walls and even an underground passageway beneath glass adding quirky touches to the room.  The views during breakfast are perhaps the most idyllic part of this seaside retreat, as Giorgio’s rooftop terrace looks out across the bay, providing the perfect spot to watch the sun rise or set.

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A few days in we braced ourselves for a boat trip that took us around Isola S. Andrea, just off the coast of Gallipoli.  On more than one occasion on the way there I considered throwing myself overboard, believing I would find more relief going solo in the rough waters than I would on the boat which was persistently on the verge of capsizing.  Once we anchored in the middle of the sea and were allowed to jump off the boat into the icy waters, conditions immediately improved.  A wholesome lunch of seafood linguine in tomato sauce was served and the journey back was comparatively gentle, the sun beating down on the deck immediately drying our skin.

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Gallipoli is known for its seafood, a fact which is drummed into all of its visitors by the constant smell of recently caught fish and the sight of fisherman sat on their boats, freeing a rogue crab from their nets as they collect mussels for evening service.  With most restaurants competing for customers using very similar menus, recommendations will take you far in the old town.  L’Angolo Blu seems to be the best for purely seafood and is the most obvious example of fine dining, with a clean cut white interior, softened by atmospheric blue lighting reminiscent of the sea.  Their seafood risotto for two, with clams, mussels and squid, was the most flavoursome and moist I tried during my stay.  One of the only restaurants we returned to twice, Osteria Briganti, is known all over Trip Advisor, and indeed in Gallipoli, as the town’s best.  This was clear in the difficulty to make a reservation, although on one occasion, the waiter organised a whole new outside table for us.  Tucked away in one of the town’s narrow streets, this was quite an experience as scooters and tut tuts raced passed us and, on more than one occasion, just missed knocking our table.  Their sea bass in a potato crust was tenderly cooked and accompanied with a delicious balsamic glaze and caramelised onion relish.  I even tried my first white oyster in the restaurant – after holding it in my mouth for nearing 15 minutes however, I decided that it would probably be my first and last.  Special mention must be given to the wine bar La Spingula, situated right next to Giorgio’s B&B.  Old wine barrels line the street, overlooking the curve of Baia Verde, and at night low lighting and a carefully selected playlist help to create a very romantic atmosphere.  Azzuro is the experienced front of house and practises the art of sabrage almost every five minutes, deftly slicing off the tops of prosecco bottles.  His characteristic expression, “It’s for the fish”, rings out just as frequently as he airs the wine glasses before filling them for customers.  Dining here is a theatrical experience but be warned, the waiters certainly have their favourites.  Just down the street is shisha and cocktail bar Santavè Lounge, which hosts traditional Salento dancing on Wednesday evenings and Salsa on Fridays, both of which feel a million miles away from the throbbing music of Samsara beach club.  On the Wednesday, you could not have a clearer sense of being in the heart of Italy as couples and friends artfully negotiate dance steps together, totally unknown to the English traveller.  It is advisable to stick to the wine, as Puglia clearly still has a thing or two to learn about cocktails.

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We decided on a day trip to Lecce, having heard a great deal about the incomparable displays of Baroque architecture.  We experimented with the local transport system and took the bus which is approximately an hour long journey.  Journeying like the Italians meant that we had to adapt to their sense of time and we were left waiting an hour longer than anticipated because one bus failed ever to arrive.  Despite the wasted morning, when we arrived the Duomo did not disappoint and drew in packs of tourists wielding their selfie sticks high above their heads.  This became a bit of a problem in the tightly packed streets as we moved as one impenetrable mass, desperately scanning the area for the next open space.  Seeking sanctuary in a restaurant called Re Mida, we hoped that we might have a brief reprieve from the sense of being part of a faceless crowd.  However, after eventually communicating that we wanted a seat to the waiter, he then left us unattended for the next hour.  Frustrated and losing all patience, we went up to the self-service counter for a pucce (a kind of Italian sandwich), ate and left, never to return.  Although Lecce has some beautiful sites, it’s a shame we were unable to see many of them through the throng of tourists.

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Puglia may still be waiting to attain the popularity of Lake Garda and the Amalfi coast, yet my little holiday in the sun has proved that this is a destination with potential.  With headline acts such as Sean Paul and David Guetta performing at Parco Gondar this summer, Puglia is making a name for itself on the international stage.  For a holiday which invites you to try delicious cuisines, watch beautiful sunsets and relax with strolls along the promenade, beach breaks don’t get much better than Gallipoli.