Tag Archives: Italian Taxi Drivers

A Postcard From Puglia

Postcard From Puglia

“Evidently, the God of the Jews didn’t know Puglia, otherwise he wouldn’t have given his people Palestine as the Promised Land.”  –  Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Puglia (1194 to 1250 AD).

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Naples, A City of Danger?

Naples and Vesuvius

“See Naples and die. Well, I do not know that one would necessarily die after merely seeing it, but to attempt to live there might turn out a little differently”, Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad

A few weeks ago I suggested to some regular travelling pals that we should go to Naples in Italy for a few days.  They were horrified by the suggestion because of the city’s reputation as being quite dangerous.  They said that they would prefer to go to Barcelona in Spain even though I pointed out that the Spanish city is the pickpocket capital of Europe.

So we made plans to visit Naples, the third largest city in Italy (after Rome and Milan) by ourselves.

Italy Postcard

In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting. I started as usual with the Human Development Index which ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed amongst other criteria from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income.  Italy is ranked twenty-seventh which is quite low, especially for Europe but it is improving and is up two places from the previous year.

The European economic crisis has had a negative effect on Italy’s position in the Europe Happiness Index and it is rated at only twentieth out of thirty which is some way behind the United Kingdom at thirteenth.  Finland is the happiest and Albania the least jolly.

Not surprisingly Italy is the country with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites; it has fifty-three, seven more than Spain which has the second most sites in Europe.  I have visited half of the sites in Spain but when I reviewed the Italy list I was disappointed to find that I have been to less than a quarter.  The historical centre of Naples is on the list and although I have been there before it was a long time before it was added to the list.

Italy has a lot of coastline which stretch for four and a half thousand miles and along this coastline are three hundred and forty-two Blue Flag Beaches which is the fifth highest amongst participating countries.  The Bay of Naples is not very famous for beaches and there are none at all along this particular stretch of coastline.

Volare Domenigo Modungo Polignano a Mare

My next measure is always the Eurovision Song Contest and Italy has participated in the annual contest forty-three times since its debut in the very first contest in 1956. They have won the contest twice but the most famous Italian entry made only third place in 1958.  “Nel blu dipinto di blu” or most popularly known as “Volare”  by Domenico Modungo.

Despite its success the entry surprisingly only came third in the 1958 competition after France and Switzerland but was later translated into several languages and was covered by a wide range of international performers including Al Martino, David Bowie, Cliff Richard, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Luciano Pavarotti, The Gipsy Kings and my personal favourite Dean Martin.  I might be wrong here but I don’t think any of these musical giants ever recorded cover versions of ‘Waterloo’?

Flying even short distances can be a tedious business, not much to see or do but there are one or two exceptions and flying south across the Alps is one of them.  The aircraft seems to come across them so suddenly and even flying at thirty-seven thousand feet, the earth suddenly gets an awful lot closer and suddenly you are only twenty-thousand feet high. And the snow covered black granite peaks rise like soft meringue peaks below.  It is a wonderful sight and I never tire of it but it doesn’t last long and just as dramatically as they rise in southern France they fall away rapidly in Northern Italy.

I always enjoy flying over the Alps, it reminds me of my very first flight and continental holiday in 1976 when I visited Sorrento just south of Naples.

Centro Storico Naples

We arrived in Naples around mid-morning and the only sensible way to reach the city and the hotel was by taxi.  I hate taxis, I am a very nervous taxi passenger, I am petrified of the metre which seems to rack up charges at an alarming rate and I spend any taxi journey fixated upon the clock.  I am almost as afraid of taxi drivers as I am of dogs, but that is another story.

My friend Dai Woosnam once challenged me on this point when he commented: “… there is a contradiction between someone who avoids taxis like the plague, but is happy to spend £100+ a night on a hotel !!   It is such contradictions that make people interesting!”  Well, here is my rationale:  A fifteen minute, €30 taxi ride costs  €2.25 a minute, a  €120 hotel room for twenty-four hours costs .10 cents per minute so it is a simple question of economics and value for money.  If I hired the taxi for twenty-four hours at these rates it would cost me €3,300!

I loathe spending money on taxis especially when the flight here cost only £20. Kim tells me that I should look at it in a different way – because we got the flight so cheap then we can easily afford a taxi.

As usual in Italy we managed to get a driver who looked like and drove like Bruce Willis in an action movie car chase, the type where the cars scatter dustbins and demolish vegetable stalls, and he rattled through the streets at break neck speed, occasionally using his mobile phone and cursing any two second hold up or inconvenient red light and I was thankful when the journey finally ended.

Gulf of Naples Postcard

Weekly Photo Challenge: Street Life

Bari Night time Puglia Italy

The main square was  busy 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 unfamiliar as we were with the pavement protocol.

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Italy and Puglia, Assessment and Review

Puglia Map

“Evidently, the God of the Jews didn’t know Puglia, otherwise he wouldn’t have given his people Palestine as the Promised Land.”                                            Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Puglia (1194 to 1250 AD).

As we waited at Bari Palese airport for the Ryanair flight home we began to review the holiday to Puglia and to come to some sort of agreed assessment.

Puglia Map

We had travelled to Italy before, to Pisa and Tuscany, Naples and Sorrento, the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, Rome of course, to Venice and the Veneto and the EPCOT World Showcase, but we had never before visited the far south east, the heel of the boot.

Despite almost being put off by the guide books we liked the city of Bari with its mazy old town and eclectic night life and one thing I would say to anyone thinking of going to Puglia then do not miss out the capital city of the region and don’t be scared off by the reviews.

The food was wonderful and although we didn’t have time to try all of the two hundred varieties of pasta I am certain that they would all be just as delicious as those that we managed to sample – the sea food pastas were especially good.  We also liked the pizzas and I have to confess that my favourite meal was the horse meat stew in Lecce but please do not tell my granddaughters.

Our accommodation was generally good – all booked in advance through www.booking.com my favourite hotel booking website.  The exception was the awful dump where we stayed in Ostuni, the Nonna Isa bed and breakfast and the best was probably the Grand Hotel in Lecce but that is a tough decision to make.

Along the coast we liked Polignano a Mare and Molfetta but we didn’t care that much for Monopoli but that might be unfair because neither of us were at our best that day on account of the stress of driving in Italy which wasn’t a great deal of fun and one thing for sure is that I won’t be doing that again in a hurry!

Polignano a Mare Puglia Italy

Although we didn’t like driving we did like travelling by train and Trenitalia was generally efficient, value for money and on time as we used the railway to travel from Bari to Polignano, to Lecce, Ostuni and then back to Bari with one final excursion to Molfetta.

Lecce was a revelation and the ‘Florence of the South’ did not disappoint us with a wonderful Baroque old town, good restaurants and a vibrant night life and we both agreed that we would really have liked a little extra time in that wonderful city.

We didn’t like the taxis because generally I resent paying the exorbitant fares but we had no real choice for our last three days in Bari because I had chosen a hotel that was some way out of the city.  But it was a nice hotel and they gave me a discount on the final bill and that was enough to cover the cost of the taxi fares so I shouldn’t complain.

La Città Bianca, the White Cities, were a bit of a mixed bag.  Ostuni was lovely but busy, Locorotondo was probably the best of them all (in our opinion) because it was less touristy and had a delightful centro storico.  The one that we liked least was Martina Franca but once again this might be unfair, it was another day where we were stressed from driving, the weather was quite poor and we arrived in the middle of the afternoon siesta.

Ostunia Puglia Italy

And we didn’t like the siesta period very much because every day the towns and villages just put up a collective closed sign, locked the doors and the people retreated to their bedrooms.  We have come across the siesta before of course but never as rigidly and as complete as in Puglia.

The highlight of the fortnight was rather predictably the tourist town of Alberobello and our four night stay in a traditional whitewashed, stone-capped Trulli house.  Four nights was probably one too many because there are only so many times that you can walk around the same streets but one thing you can do over and again is go to the same restaurant and we thoroughly enjoyed our four meals at the Foggia trattoria where the chef obligingly gave me some important tips on making a perfect risotto.

Other things we liked were the Peroni beer, the ice cream and the Amaretto.

So that is our short assessment of Puglia and as we pulled our list together we both came to the same conclusion.  We had enjoyed ourselves but this sort of vacation didn’t really suit our travelling style.  For us Italy is a great place for a short weekend break to one of the famous cities but not for driving or beaches so the next time we go to Italy it will be for just a couple of nights or so and we will most likely return to Greece again next year for our main late summer holiday.

If you have been to Puglia and agree or disagree with us then please leave your views and comments.

Trulli House, Puglia Italy, Alberobello

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Italy and Puglia, Bari and the Mafia

Bari Puglia Italy

The Hotel Terranobile Metaresort was practically empty this morning and we shared the whispering breakfast room with just two German backpackers.  It was our final day and with a late evening flight home there was a full day to plan ahead for.  We thought we might spend the morning at the hotel and then the final afternoon in Bari with a last meal in Bari Vecchia.

Shortly after breakfast the Germans checked out and left on their way to Polignano and except for the two of us the garden and swimming pool was completely deserted.  I had arranged with the hotel that we could stay a couple of hours beyond check-out time but the place became so quiet and seemingly abandoned I became concerned that the staff had locked up and gone home and that we were stranded here.  So I went to check – every half an hour!

Finally it was time to go and after we had packed I went to reception to check out and was presented with a bill for a three night stay which I was prepared to pay but cheekily asked if there was a discount on account of the fact that all of the advertised facilities were closed. 

The desk clerk told me to wait while he disappeared into an adjacent office and came back with the good news that the hotel director had agreed that we should only pay for two nights and that was a lot more generous than I was expecting and I was especially pleased about that because the reduction in hotel cost was going to cover all of the taxi fares.  In two minutes the hotel just secured themselves a review score of 10!

While we took the taxi ride into the city the thought still nagged away in my brain that  €15 seemed rather expensive to go three kilometres compared to the €50 airline flight to go two thousand.  To put that into perspective I calculate that if we were going to the moon it would cost €3,000,000 by Bari Taxi but only €10,000 by Ryanair.

Bari Puglia Italy

The taxi driver dropped us at the edge of the old town and looking at out bulging bags took our fare and told us to be careful.  It was that threat of crime thing again and I remembered this bit of scaremongering advice from one of the travel websites: “The city of Bari, is a great place to visit, however, it can be quite a disaster if you don’t plan ahead. Bari is a city with lots of pickpockets. If you find yourself in a bad area, with a purse or valuables, such as watches, prepare to lose them.” 

Now, I have been robbed in Barcelona and a pick-pocket helped himself to Kim’s camera on the Athens metro but I have to say that never at any time did I feel uncomfortable or threatened in Bari or anywhere else in Puglia for that matter and the only robbers that we came across were the taxi drivers.

I wondered where all of these crime stories came from and it seems that is linked to Mafia style crime syndicates that operate across all of southern Italy.  Sicily has the Cosa Nostra, Naples the Camorra, Calabria, the toe of Italy, has the ‘Ndrangheta and Puglia has the Sacre Corona which allegedly has control of the criminal underworld in Bari and elsewhere.

Molfetta Godfathers

With only an afternoon to go and by now an empty wallet I was going to concern myself too much about that right now so we walked along the main street and sat in a leafy university park for a while and then made our way to our favourite trattoria in the old town, L’Osteria del Borgo Antico and took a table in the shade.

It is said that there are as many as two hundred different styles of pasta in Puglia but it is most famous for a regional variety called oriecchiette which translates as ‘small ear’ on account of the fact that the shape resembles that facial feature so as this was the last day I decided that it was time to try it.  I know that pasta is supposed to be different shapes for different sauces but to be honest it all tastes the same to me and oriecchiette was no exception to this but it did come with an exceptionally fine sauce and I was happy to declare it a very good choice.

The clock was ticking now and after stretching out lunch as long as we could and as the trattoria started to close down for the siesta we left Bari old town and wheeled our luggage back towards the central station where we caught the metro to the airport and checked in with plenty of time to spare and we used that time to review our time in Southern Italy and to make our final assessments. 

I will tell you about that in the final Puglia post next time.

Oriecchette pasta Bari Puglia Italy

Pisa, Sleepless Nights at Hotel Royal Victoria

Because Ryanair had recently introduced charges for travelling with hold luggage this was our first attempt at restricting luggage to cabin baggage only.  At the airport I checked in but things became a little difficult when the security checks identified the corkscrew that we had concealed in the middle of a bag.

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