It was only a short walk from the Garibaldi monument to the seafront and we emerged from the tangle of streets onto a sweeping crescent of shingle and blue sea that was being softly caressed by a gentle breeze and Kim spotted a bar and as her hunger register was moving from peckish to hungry it seemed prudent to walk in that general direction. It was siesta time of course and the kitchen was closed but the helpful staff provided us with little bowls of what you might call Italian tapas.
After the emergency snack break we walked towards the old town where there was a lot of activity erecting scaffolding and electric lights in preparation for an important forthcoming anniversary. It might have been fifty years, it might have been five hundred years but it really didn’t matter to us because the celebrations were planned for a week or two after we will have left and returned home.
At the end of the street was a paved square and a statue of Giuseppe Mazzini, another hero of Italian Unification and in this square old men sat and chatted and played cards outside a sort of Italian equivalent of a British Legion museum with some interesting artefacts from the two World wars of the twentieth century.
As we drew closer to the harbour where fishing boats were tied up against the harbour wall and fishermen were carrying out recently returned to port chores there was a lot of elbow pushing activity at a wood and glass fronted building close by. This turned out to be the fish market and ragged lines of people were beginning to form in anticipation of bagging a bargain after the afternoon opening of the doors.
Fishermen continued to deliver boxes of fresh fish and inside we could hear the auctioneers fixing the prices and eventually the doors were opened and people were pushing and shoving their way inside. Inside there were slabs and slabs of fresh fish and on closer examination of the produce it soon becomes clear why we have to put up with stock shortages whilst the Italians, and most of the rest of Europe as well, have such an abundance of choice – we are just far too fussy and our preference for fish is restricted to two or three species that we have fished into a crisis of extinction whilst the Europeans will eat a much greater variety of sea food. We like to buy our fish in little blue polystyrene trays, trimmed and gutted and without heads or tails and ready for the grill or the oven but here the slabs were brimming with fish so fresh some of it was still alive and flapping about and winking at us as we inspected it.
Excuse me a recollection here but this illustrates my point perfectly; once on holiday with my mother and presented with a menu that included a cod dish she actually asked the waiter if it was served with its head still attached! These things can be two metres long for goodness sake!
There were crabs still frothing at the mouth and octopus with tentacles still writhing and with an eye open daring anyone to buy it and take it home and tackle preparation for cooking. The colours were eye-catching too, sparkling silver, gleaming green, radiant reds, blushing blues and trays and trays of vivid orange scampi and other intriguing and colourful crustaceans.
We couldn’t buy any of course but it was fun to watch the transactions and the negotiations but as the slabs quickly emptied and were reduced to empty cracked porcelain we left the market and made our way around the harbour walls where weary fishermen were taking a well earned rest before they set out to sea again later. I liked Molfetta, it was a working fishing port and the harbour wasn’t clogged up with expensive yachts and leisure boats.
After the harbour we explored the streets of the old town and into the back streets were local people were just wasting away the end of the afternoon, housewives were preparing evening meal and children were playing football in the alleys and lanes. We were really looking for somewhere to eat and a reason to stay longer but we could find anywhere that we really liked, it was that time of the day when restaurants are closed and seemingly camouflaged but you just know that they will spring back into life a little later, so we strolled back to the railway station and took the local train back to Bari where we arrived at about seven o’clock.
We thought that we might walk back to the old town to the same trattoria but on the way we spotted a traditional sort of pizzeria that we tend to like and dawdling around the front door and the menu too long we were spotted by the owner and invited to come inside and eat (actually, I think we were physically dragged in). We were the only customers and he made a real fuss of us as he patiently took our orders and then provided a starter of salad and muscles and then a pasta main course and a tiramisu to finish. It was a good meal and relatively inexpensive so we left an appropriate tip but I think we both instinctively knew that we wouldn’t be taking up his insistent invitation to return the following day.
Leaving the restaurant we made our way back to the central station and then in a moment of panic realised that I hadn’t bought with us the details of the hotel and neither of us could remember what it was called. Bugger! Luckily the Tourist Information Office was still open but they struggled to help and I could see us spending a night on a park bench until we suddenly recognised a street name and the concerned staff were able to identify the hotel for us. We found a taxi and I was so relieved I cannot even remember how much it cost to take us back home.