Tag Archives: Bari

Italy and Puglia, Alberobello to Ostuni to Bari

Puglia T Towel Map

On Saturday we woke early, packed our bags, went for a final breakfast at the Trulli Holidays reception room, checked out and promised them a maximum ten points assessment on the booking.com website and then transferred the luggage to the car and left.  We had enjoyed Alberobello and when I returned home I was true to my word and gave the accommodation top marks.

It was only a short drive to Ostuni and when we arrived there I was really, really glad to be able to return the car.  The man at the hire car desk silently checked the documents and then looked up and with just a momentary look of threat and anticipation in his eyes asked one simple question “what damage to car?” as though this was surely inevitable.  I told him that I was absolutely certain that there was none and he looked at me as though I was the World’s biggest liar and came round from behind the desk and went off to check.  He inspected both inside and out and then had to concede that there was no damage and then, with a look that had turned from anticipation to disappointment, almost reluctantly it seemed to me, signed off the hire release papers.

Because we had enjoyed our first night there and one morning had simply not been long enough we were now moving back to Bari and this meant going back to the trains for transportation and I was relieved and delighted in equal measures that someone else would now be doing the driving and so while we waited for the Trenitalia train to arrive we sat in the sun at the station bar and had a couple of beers.

I had found a good bargain at a Spa hotel a little way out of the city so when we arrived at Bari station, being unsure of the location, we broke a golden holiday rule and hailed a taxi.

Bari Puglia Italy

I am not happy about breaking this rule especially when the fare came to €10, bust the daily budget and nearly broke my heart but I was mighty glad that we hadn’t attempted to walk it!  The hotel, a once grand mansion on the edge of the city, was quite a lot further out of town than I had imagined it would be and as the taxi continued to drive further and further away from the centre it became quite clear that there was absolutely no chance of walking back into Bari for evening meal but never mind we thought that we might eat at the hotel instead.

It was a lovely hotel with a very good room but when I enquired about the restaurant I was informed that it had closed down for the season a few days previously.  Oh dear it was beginning to look like more taxi fares again later.  Once again, never mind, this afternoon we would use the Spa facilities while we considered our options.  Not a chance because these were closed as well with conflicting stories from the staff about break downs and/or refurbishment depending upon who was making the excuses.

I was annoyed by this and tried to cancel the third night but the hotel staff were reluctant to allow this and I couldn’t find a suitable alternative anyway within our skinflint price budget and so we had to resign ourselves to three nights marooned miles from anywhere on the edge of the city.

Never mind, we would now use the outside pool facilities and have a lunch time snack but once again not a chance of that either because the pool side snack bar was closed and everything was packed and locked away and for certain would be staying that way for at least nine months.  I complained again but it made no difference and all I got was more apologies.

So, we had to take a taxi back into the city and going back was even more expensive at €15.  Actually it could have been even worse because when the metre hit €15 I told the driver to stop and we got out, paid and walked the rest of the way to the old town.

Before dining we walked around the city walls for a while and then choose a pizzeria and trying to compensate for the cost of the taxi fare choose a very cheap meal and a pizza between us which seemed to surprise the staff.  I really hate taxis, they are such robbers and all that they achieve is to suck money from the local economy because if I hadn’t spent so much on fares then it is certain that I would have spent more in the restaurant but later we did find enough loose change in the bottoms of our pockets to splash out on an ice cream in a gelataria in the main square.

The main square was just as busy as our first night in Bari with a tsunami of people coming in waves into the old town and then just walking backwards and forwards like an Atlantic tide. This was the  passeggiata where local people descend on the town at dusk and just walk and sometimes stop to talk. Some people had bought fold up garden chairs and were just sitting and chatting, others were playing cards, some were hanging around the bars but mostly they were just walking up and down and around and around and they were still coming in as we battled against the flow and then returned to the hotel rather earlier than normal.

This cost another whopping €12 so when I totted it all up that was €37 in one day on taxi fares – more than I would normally spend in a full year, more than the cost of the fuel for four days car hire!  I needed a lie down and a couple of large amarettos!

Bari Night time Puglia Italy

Italy and Puglia, Speedos and Siestas

Polignano a Mare Puglia Italy

Close by to the statue of Domenigo Modungo we passed the iconic and most photogenic beach of Polignano, a small cove carved out of the rocks with a part sand, part stony approach to a sheltered bay, just perfect for swimming and sunbathing but we didn’t stop there but continued our stroll along the coast to a small beach where fishing boats were drawn up onto the grit and sand and where Italian holidaymakers were enjoying the sunshine and men were strutting around looking for a mirror to admire themselves in and women were working on impossibly deep summer-long mahogany tans.

Interestingly, regardless of shape, most of the men were wearing Speedo swimming trunks.  These are generally associated with energy and fitness, speed and grace, but are not entirely suitable for less athletic body types that include those that are overweight, those that are wrinkling or sunburnt or those in the throes of a mid-life crisis.

On the other hand for those of us like me that are in peak physical condition they are perfect for the beach and that’s why I like to wear them when going on holiday or visiting the pool.

The fashionability of Speedos varies greatly in different parts of the world.  They are commonly worn by men of all ages in Asia, Australia, South America and mainland Europe and in China and Japan men almost exclusively wear them as swimwear.  In some countries, Speedo-style briefs are often compulsory in public or resort swimming pools, in France for example it is common to see “slip de bain obligatoire, shorts interdits” or “swimming briefs required, no shorts allowed” because this is considered to be a matter of hygiene and public health, as shorts which might have been worn as street wear prior to entering the pool may be dirty and pollute the water.

It’s a strange thing that the French, who as a Nation are unlikely to win any prizes for personal hygiene get almost hysterical about observing excessive standards at the lido.  The Los Angeles Times once reported the shocking results of a series of polls and studies that over 50% of French men and women do not take a bath or shower daily and 40% of men and 25% of women don’t change their underwear daily.

To be honest I think I could happily live in France!

Polignano a Mare Puglia Italy

After a quick paddle in the sea we retired to the back of the beach and to a seafront pizzeria and bar and we sat in the shade for a while with a couple of Peronis and some plates of grilled fish and local pasta and then we made our way back the way that we had come towards the old town.

It was hot now and the time was approaching the afternoon siesta as we returned to the hotel through curiously deserted streets as though someone had declared a national emergency and everyone had left town.  The concept of an afternoon siesta is not something that I am unfamiliar with but I think that I can say that I have never before seen it so rigidly observed; not in Spain, France or even Greece but here in Polignano and all across Puglia the whole place closed and nailed itself down for the afternoon.

Across the streets abandoned laundry remained hanging on overloaded balcony rails, starched and bleached by the sun, occasionally a loose shutter kissed a window frame and a whispering pigeon looked for a shaded spot to spend the afternoon.  Sitting on the balcony it was so quiet that I could hear the paint lifting and splitting on the wooden doors, the gentle creaking of rusty shutter hinges, the squeaking complaints of rattan as sleeping residents shifted a little in their balcony chairs and the faint crack of seed pods in the flower planters.  It was hot under the full glare of the sun and breathless too, without any sort of breeze as we sweltered away  in pizza oven temperatures of mid afternoon.  Luckily I had a good supply of cold Peroni in the room fridge!

After a couple of hours of shutdown and inactivity life started to slowly return to normal and the little town began to stir into life once more.  Shutters rattled open, washing lines were cranked inside, car ignitions began to chatter, Lambretta scooters croaked into action and sleepy people began to reappear from their front doors.  The hotel reception opened for business, shops began to open and within a short time normality was fully restored.

Later in the evening we returned to the old town for the last time because we would be leaving in the morning and then we ate at a restaurant of Kim’s choice and had a posher, more up-market and more expensive evening meal than I am generally comfortable with.  There was no street entertainment tonight but there were a lot of young people hanging around the streets outside our accommodation making a lot of noise and we were glad of the fact that our room was on the back and not affected by the noise of the street chatter and the revving engines of the scooters.

 

Italy and Puglia, Polignano a Mare

Polignano a Mare Puglia Italy

“There can’t be too many prettier seaside towns in Italy than Polignano a Mare. Its medieval old town features houses built into limestone cliffs and caves high above the deep blue waters of the Adriatic…. Don’t leave it all to the Italians – go now!”  Richard Field – WordPress Blogger

As soon as we arrived at the old town we understood our mistake – we had walked towards the sea when we should have walked away from it and if we had gone in the right direction then our accommodation was no more than one hundred metres or so from the centro storico but we had enjoyed the walk and at least it had given the town time to start waking and opening up.

Through the main gate was a different world from the Polignano of residential apartments and rows of parked cars as we entered a pedestrianised old town of sun-bleached, weather-splintered walls, flowers spilling down over balconies and shining limestone pavements worn down by the passage of travellers over hundreds of years. Narrow alleys looped around the town which sometimes took us to a new discovery and at others simply returned us to somewhere familiar.  It was only small of course so within half an hour or so we had walked virtually every street and agreed it was time for a break.

We selected a place with gently rippling parasol shade overlooking the Adriatic Sea called the Balconette and ordered wine and beer.  We were sat close to the door of the restaurant and there sat an evil looking chap with bad feet and crutches who was clearly the owner and who was barking out orders and keep a tally of orders, payments and tips.  He was an objectionable man who we both took a disliking to and a combination of this and the fact that I am certain that we were overcharged  we vowed not to return despite the excellent view

Polignano a Mare Puglia Italy

On the way back we dropped into the church which was mostly unremarkable but traditional – except the candles!  Traditionally a votive candle is lit in memory of someone and I have always thought there is something special about lighting a beeswax candle, or even a tea light and standing back and saying a little prayer or dragging up a memory or two.  I was often in the habit of lighting a candle for my dad.  Sadly these little candles seem to be increasingly replaced with a box full of flickering bulbs that, having paid your money, remain lit for a while and then after a pre-determined time simply switch off. 

A few years ago I remember going into Florence Cathedral and the heat from the thousands of candles was completely overpowering and I am sure that a little accident could easily have led to a raging inferno so I expect that this has something to do with health and safety.  I decided to find out and although I couldn’t find anything specifically relating to Italy or the Catholic Church I did find a UK website providing ecclesiastical insurance advice that advised against unsupervised candle burning so I am guessing that I am correct in my suspicions.  Alternatively, maybe it just saves on redecorating costs because all of that smoke must make a mess of the ceilings and they are going to be a real chore to repaint every few years!

Earlier on during the siesta we had found a supermarket that had been closed of course so while Kim returned to the balcony of the room it was my job now to find it again and bring back some appropriate supplies.  This was easier said than done because it was quite a bit further away than I normally like to walk for a supermarket and I had no idea of the most direct route and it took several attempts to find the right street and the shop.

After an hour or two on the balcony soaking up the late afternoon sunshine we returned to the old town in the evening and walked around the streets once more this time under the waxy glow of the street lights rather than the full glare of the sun and we took a while to agree on somewhere suitable to eat and eventually decided upon a traditional but untidy little trattoria with outside tables where we enjoyed a very reasonably priced meal of salad and pizza and a jug of house red wine.

Although it was getting quite late there was a lot of activity in the Piazza Aldo Moro (named after an ex Prime Minister of Italy) where there was music and a crowd of people.  It turned out that this was a sort of junior dancing festival so we wandered across to join in.  I would have liked to have seen a demonstration of the tarantella which originates from this region of Italy but instead we got young children performing dances from the movie ‘Grease’ which I have to confess was rather good and I suppose there is a tenuous Italian connection through John Travolta.

One thing though I did find perplexing; it was close to midnight and some of these children were no more than eight to ten years old!  I remember when I was a boy of that age being sent to bed by no later than eight o’clock and I wondered at what time are Italian children sent packing to their bedrooms with the lights out?  But then again I suppose they had been sleeping most of the afternoon during the siesta so even at midnight they were still full of energy.  It was certainly getting late for us so we walked back to the hotel and spent the last half an hour of our day on the balcony with a generous glass of amaretto. 

Polignano a Mare Puglia Italy

Italy and Puglia, Bari to Polignano a Mare

Bari Fisherman and Net Puglia Italy

The sun was shining when we woke early on our first full day in Italy so we dressed quickly and made our way onto the streets of Bari where the city was beginning to stir into life especially along the Corso Cavour where the roads on either side were like deep shaded ravines and uniformly straight as though cut with the precision of a cheese wire.

We swiftly bypassed the modern streets of the new town and made our way back to the old town, Bari Vecchia,  home to many of the city’s churches and historic buildings but an area which until recently had a somewhat dubious reputation among the locals and was even considered a no-go area due to high levels of street robberies and petty crime.  However, a concerted effort by the city to attract tourism has led to a clean up and improvement and we didn’t feel threatened at all.

Early morning was a good time to be visiting Bari Vecchia where the residents of the crooked streets were preparing for the day ahead.  Washing lines were being loaded and cranked into position high up across the alleys and lanes and strung outside windows like bunting as though in anticipation of a parade or a carnival, stretching across the streets, smelling sweetly of soap powder, dripping indiscriminately and swaying gently backwards and forwards above the secret doorways and back alleys.

If there was a crime problem here then it didn’t seem to concern the locals who clearly live by an open door code of neighbourliness. Elsewhere there were steps and pavements to be swept, food to be prepared and shopkeepers were arranging their pavement displays, women were shopping to be sure of the freshest produce and old men were selecting shady corners in which to pitch a chair for the remainder of the day and everywhere motor scooters zipped past, engines cracking like machine gun fire, making deliveries regardless of any pedestrian right of way.

Bari Italy Puglia Street Sweeping

At the harbour someone had done a lot of clearing up and all of the debris from the previous night had been removed and now in place of the beer vendors there were marble slabs alive with fresh fish pulled only recently out of the sea and on the quayside a man pulverising an octopus to break down the skeleton and to tenderise it.

Unfortunately we didn’t have a map and Bari old town has a reputation of being a place where it is easy to get disorientated and very soon we lost our bearings and we groping our way around the back streets, which was a bit of a concern because I didn’t really wasn’t to miss breakfast.  We stumbled along and peered down untidy narrow streets searching for an exit, all of them care worn but with brightly colour-washed buildings with ancient coats of paint which have blotched and been blurred by successive harsh summers resulting in a glorious wash resembling water colours in the rain, everything running, leaking and fusing together. 

Puglia only manages 2% of total annual tourism in Italy and Bari was clearly not a tourist city but instead a traditional Italian living and working city with shabby narrow streets, brightly colour washed buildings with little shops and small bars. 

 

Eventually, with probably more luck than we were entitled to, we found our way out of the labyrinth of narrow streets and on to a main street that we thought we recognised and shortly we were back at the hotel for late breakfast and then for checkout.

Leaving the hotel we walked to the central station which seemed much closer now that we were absolutely certain where we were but when we got there was a ninety minute wait and Kim reminded me that I should have checked the timetable in advance and there was no arguing with that so we walked back into the parks and fountains of the university district, found a bar and just waited.

After a couple of beers it was time to go back to the station and after the inevitable uncertainty of platform location and  eventual reassurance that we were catching the right train we boarded the green and cream Trenitalia carriage with worn out and tired blue plastic seats and began our journey south and east.

Puglia one of the most fertile regions of Italy produces more olive oil than the rest of the country combined, most of its fish, 80% of Europe’s pasta and more wine than the whole of Germany.  It is an agricultural region and once out of the sprawling environs of Bari we were soon passing through fields of grape vines all sweating away under swathes of plastic sheeting that was rippling gently with the slight breeze and the thermals.  But more than grapes there were olive trees, hectares and hectares of olive trees, which shouldn’t have been surprising because after Spain, Italy is the World’s largest producer of the olive and accounts for 16%  of global production (just for the record – Spain provides 40% and Greece is third with 10%).

Because of this fertility and associated wealth the region has historically attracted attention from a host of envious invaders throughout history, all of them leaving indelible footprints in the soil and it is this which shapes modern Puglia and makes it delightfully different from the rest of Italy. Colonised by the ancient Greeks in the eighth century BC, then came the Romans and then the Byzantines swiftly followed by the Saracens, the Normans, the Spanish and the Bourbons until it finally became part of modern Italy as recently as 1861.

After twenty-five minutes or so we arrived in Polignano a Mare just after midday and we took the short walk from the station to our booked accommodation only to find the door locked, reception closed and a sign saying that it would open again at four o’clock.  That was three hours away and we really didn’t want to be wandering about with our bags all of that time so ignoring the code of the siesta I phoned the hotel number and made contact with the owner who was slightly (well, very actually) grumpy about being disturbed from their afternoon rest but eventually reluctantly agreed to come back, open up and book us in and we were grateful for that.

After we had approved of and settled into our top floor room with a large balcony in the blistering afternoon sun we left the hotel and walked in the direction of the sea.  This turned out to be a mistake because we had gone in completely the wrong direction and fairly soon we were in the middle of the residential area where everything was eerily quiet as the people of Polignano had locked themselves away behind closed doors for the afternoon.

I had read about this but wasn’t sure that I believed it until now; everywhere was closed and bolted down.  From behind the doors and shutters we could hear the clatter of cutlery and the popping of corks as families sat down together for their midday meals but on the streets there was not a soul to be seen. 

Eventually we found a pavilion bar in a park where the owners were enjoying a family meal but broke off to serve us a beer and give us directions and eventually by an energy sapping circuitous route we found our way back to the hotel and to the old town only a short distance from our accommodation but in exactly the opposite direction to that which we had taken an hour or so earlier.

Hardware Shopping Polignano a Mare Puglia Italy

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Italy and Puglia, Arrival in Bari

Puglia Map

“A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority.” – Samuel Johnson

Every September since 2004 our late Summer travelling has been to the Greek Islands and it hadn’t really occurred to me that that we would break that habit and that 2013 would be the tenth year in a row, after all there are roughly one thousand four hundred of them and I have only been to about twenty-five so there are still a lot left to visit.

We were persuaded to make a change to our normal September routine when the Ryanair website offered return flights to Bari in Southern Italy for the bargain price of only £70 each (no hold luggage, no priority boarding, no pre-booked seats obviously) so we snapped them up and started to plot our way around the Italian Region of Puglia one of the least visited by tourists and most traditional areas of the country.  We have travelled to Italy several times but mostly to the north and certainly never to this part of the boot.

It was an early evening flight to Palese Airport in Bari so as we weren’t arriving until quite late there was no real option but to stay close by in the city.  Ordinarily this wouldn’t have been an issue but some of the guidebooks are rather quite unkind about Bari with some less than flattering reviews. 

I was also put off by fellow Blogger Richard Field who had this to say:  

“But first things first, Bari. Guidebooks describe it as the kind of place you might not want to hang around in – and they’re probably right. To be fair, we only had four hours there, it was raining and we were tired, but it looked the kind of place even the staunchest Italophile would struggle to say anything positive about.

So taking all of this into consideration at the planning stage we didn’t consider staying for more than one night and planned an early departure the next day.

After passing through immigration control the first issue was how to get into the city because being a natural travel skinflint I really didn’t want a taxi which I had read can cost up to €50 for the fifteen kilometre ride!  My alternative idea was to try and find a bus but was then delighted to find directions to a railway station and I was surprised by this because my research had suggested that there was no rail link to the city centre.

Bari Airport Railway Metro

It turned out that this railway line was only opened six weeks earlier on 1st August and was so new that there were still staff on hand to help people with the ticket purchase procedure at the automatic machines.  The journey took no longer than fifteen minutes and outside the station we emerged into the balmy night air of Bari and being fairly confident of the location of the hotel we strode past the taxi rank, ignoring the various offers of a lift and walked in the direction of the old town.

It was busy at the railway station but the hustle and bustle soon evaporated as we walked towards Corso Cavour into a common feature of railway stations – grime and general untidiness and the unfavourable city reviews started to come back to mind and the fact that not so long ago Bari was identified as the second most dangerous city in Italy, after Naples, for petty crime.  There were dark shadows in every doorway and down the narrow alleys that leaked away from the road and I imagined a cut throat or a brigand with a deadly stiletto lurking in each one.

Gradually the pavements became incrementally busier and it began to feel safer but after a while I became concerned that we had walked too far and missed the hotel and yes, as it turned out we had.  Directions from the locals and the shopkeepers were generally unhelpful and soon we arrived in the old town where at least there was a tourist information booth where staff knew exactly where the hotel was and sent us back down the road that we had just walked along and then with the mistake rectified we thankfully booked into the four star Hotel Oriente.

After settling down and making ourselves comfortable we walked back to the old town which we found to be unusually busy for a Tuesday night where the pavements were flowing with people like lava spilling from a volcano, the piazzas were packed, the pizzerias overflowing and the gelaterias noisy with babbling chatter.  Eventually we found a trattoria with a vacant table and enjoyed a first simple but excellent meal and then walked it off with a stroll around the moody streets of the old town lined with bars and restaurants and late night diners lingering over a final espresso.

In the main square there was a gelateria with an eye popping, mouth watering range of ice creams that we were unable to resist and with a cone stacked high with hazelnut, chocolate and pistachio we walked around the harbour area with moonbeams dancing on the water  and into what was obviously a fish market by day but late at night was a massive alfresco youth club with hundreds of noisy young people all of them at least forty years younger than the two of us. 

There was no one else of our generation here and I wondered if we would be there at all but no one seemed to mind the intrusion but, out of our comfort zone, with no one else remotely in our age group anywhere in sight and with the last of the ice cream leaking from the bottoms of the biscuit cones we left the busy harbour and returned to the hotel.

Actually, I was beginning to like Bari, I was challenging the guide book descriptions and Richard’s assessment and was already beginning to think about changing our plans and staying there a little longer than originally planned the next morning and then coming back this way later in the fortnight and I was certain that those unfavourable guide book descriptions need to be reviewed.