The girl of your dreams. Your first date. Maybe it took you a while to get to this point, maybe not. But the important thing here – is to not blow it! You want your first date to lead to a second and a third and hopefully reach the point where you’re no longer even thinking in terms of “going out on a date” with this girl because you’ve both reached the conclusion that the chemistry is right.
Which brings me to my adopted hometown of Brindisi, located on the Adriatic coast in Southern Italy. Brindisi is indicative of a lot of small Italian towns, where eons ago, if someone wanted to go out on a “date” you went downtown for a walk. How ever many years have passed since that designated time of “eons ago”, couples young and old are STILL going downtown for a walk and a café on their first date. Some things never change, especially when they’re good things.
Just to prove a point I did a little research not too long ago. Remembering that when I met my wife (obviously at the time we hadn’t yet walked down the aisle) I wanted to compare what was popular about 20 years ago with want kids are doing today.
Long before psychologists were dissecting every conceivable emotion and every little thing that makes a person tick, I had already come to some simple yet logical conclusions:
– Take the first date somewhere out in the open, in public, where there are people around and where both individuals will be feel at ease.
– Try to do something fun.
– Don’t spend a lot of money.
Fortunately for me, Italy is one huge social outlet. There are always people somewhere. People are always outside, hanging around the town square talking, and even the most trivial pastime can be fun or at least looks like fun. Which leads to me to…
Date Number One:
I decided to stick to what I knew best. Go downtown, take the ferryboat across the bay, have an ice cream cone and go for a walk. End of date. Simple. Public. Cheap.
On paper this looks like a big deal. But let’s break this down. Downtown Brindisi is about as big as my living room. The Ferry boat is really a small tug boat that goes back and forth across the Pigonati Channel to the small town of Casale’ which sit across the bay. Casale’ is famous for the “Monument of the Fallen Mariners”: a ships rudder that stands 54 meters tall and looks over the bay of Brindisi. Surrounding the monument is a cool park, a great ice cream parlor (Bar Betty, Brindisi, Viale’ Regina, 6) and a boardwalk that frames this side of the bay. As far as I can remember we had a great time. (heck, we’ve been married 20 years, so something must have clicked). I believe I also brought along my English-Italian dictionary, because at the time my Italian was not that good.
That first date segued into…
Date Number Two:
Take the train from the Brindisi train station to the city of Lecce. (cost: 4 euro per person round trip. Departure on the hour). Lecce: the Pearl of the South. Baroque architecture. Winding cobblestone streets. A veritable postcard. I’ve written quite a few stories about the city of Lecce and I think I just realized why it has such a special place in my heart. It was the site of my second date with my soon-to-be-wife (I want to go on record as saying I knew the minute we met she was the one. She insists it took a while before she was convinced. At least a couple of dates anyway).
So on our second keep-it-simple-keep-it-in-public-keep-it-cheap date we took the train to the big city. More time to talk…walk…window shop…and…was there ice cream involved this time? I think so. I finally afforded myself a chance to look at the big picture when my wife suggested what we should do “the next time we go out”. Which leads me to …
Date number three….
Lunch in Porto Cesareo, near the city of Taranto. But not just any old lunch. Porto Cesareo is famous for its “ricci”or Adriatic sea urchins that litter the sea floor and are a pain in the…foot if you happen to step on one and need to extract the spine from your skin. But if you open one up you’ll find a small sliver of meat inside that that is oh-so-delicious if eaten with a piece of bread and a glass of white wine. You don’t eat these in a restaurant. There are vendors right at the port that have their wagon full of these little guys. They crack open a dozen or so for while you wait. So you stop, eat, enjoy. Lunch on the cheap. I tell ya, life doesn’t get much better than this.
Which brings me back to the present. 20 years later the Brindisi “ferryboats” still operate. They chug back and forth across the bay all day long – every half hour – until 11:30 pm. Price is 1 euro each way. Ice cream is still served at the “Bar Betty”. This bar has grown over the years. Now they do everything. Ice cream, pizza, dinner on their patio facing the bay. And they still have some of the best ice cream in town.
The city of Lecce. Read any of the half-dozen stories I’ve written and judge for yourself. If you ever make it to Italy, trust me. Take a side trip south and see for yourself. And if you’re feeling romantic, take the train.
And Porto Cesareo? Still the best place to eat “ricci”. Five euro will get you a plate full, a chunk of bread and a glass of wine. Although now they serve ricci in Brindisi as well.
The other day my nephew was stressing about wanting to take his new girlfriend out somewhere and really impress her. So I pulled my sister-in-law’s son over to one side. Let me tell you what worked for your uncle….