After breakfast in the immaculate conservatory of the hotel dining room we prepared ourselves for a day stranded on the equivalent of Robinson Crusoe’s desert island in a hotel miles out of the city and with nothing of any interest remotely close by. Our plan then was to spend the morning in the garden and around the pool and then in the afternoon take a taxi into Bari.
When I say nothing of interest I forgot about the petrol station and shop that we had spotted about five hundred metres away back down the main road so I thought that it would be a good idea to walk there and buy some alcohol supplies for the room. The desk clerk was reluctant to let me out of the gates onto the busy main road because he said that it was dangerous but I promised to be careful and negotiated a pass and then began the adventure.
In the last few days I had already risked life and limb on the Italian roads but this time I was doing it as a pedestrian on a main highway full of blood-lust motorists and no pavements and to make matters worse when I got there it was closed on account of this being Sunday and so I had to walk all the way back empty handed.
So we spent our morning in the sunshine around the pool dividing our time up between reading, walking around the gardens, exploring other parts of the hotel and, as the temperature began to rise occasionally swimming to cool down and to optimistically work off some of the extra calories that we had added to our waistlines in the past twelve days. I for one was feeling completely piled up on account of all the pasta, pizza, peroni and pistachio ice cream that I had over indulged in over the past few days.
In the mid afternoon we took a taxi into the city which cost a massive €17 this time and the price of the fare was going up faster than the Italian rate of inflation and I really begrudged handing over all of this cash.
My friend Dai Woosnam 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 the Lecce hotel !! It is such contradictions that make people interesting!” Well, here is my rationale: A fifteen minute, €17 taxi ride costs €1.13 a minute, a €120 hotel room for twenty-four hours costs .08 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 €1,627.20!
We walked towards the old town looking for a shop or a mini-market without any success, which shouldn’t have been that surprising given that this was right bang in the middle of the siesta period and was also Sunday afternoon and when we arrived in the old town it was desolate and quiet.
Actually we rather liked it that way because it meant that we had the tiny streets to ourselves as we followed a tourist route through the middle of the centro storico. We started at the Cathedral or the Basilica of St Nicholas.
Saint Nicholas was a fourth century Greek Saint who had a reputation for giving secret gifts, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for our Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, which is itself a corruption of the transliteration of ‘Saint Nikolaos’. In 1087, part of the relics (about half of his bones) were stolen from a site in Turkey and relocated in Bari and I am now able to tell my grandchildren that although they think Santa Claus lives at the North Pole I know where he really is. Bari may not be Florence, Rome,Venice or even Lecce but it does have Father Christmas.
Once again I was forced to concede that the Cathedral wasn’t especially thrilling but there was an interesting service taking place in the crypt where people of Bari seemed to be presenting elderly and sick to be blessed by a priest who was strategically positioned in front of the casket of bones, laying on hands and praying for a miracle or two. We felt rather like intruders at this point so we quickly left and returned to the sunshine and walked to the seafront and the castle of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. It was closed.
From there we walked the walls and investigated the nooks and crannies of old Bari and then disaster struck. Kim declared herself to be hungry. Kim’s requirement for food goes through a number of well defined stages, first she describes herself as peckish, then hungry, then starving and finally progressing to ravenous. It doesn’t take very long at all to progress through these various stages and with all the eating places now closed I knew that I was in for a couple of tricky hours until they opened again.
I tried to distract her by going for a long walk along the seafront but she wasn’t enjoying that because the weather had turned from good to bad and it was getting rather chilly, then a stop in a bar and then a walk around the port area which I promised her would be interesting but sadly she didn’t agree.
Eventually the hands of the clock ticked around towards seven o’clock and the pizzeria where we had dined on the first night opened for business and we sat down to a starter of Puglian meat and cheeses, a large bowl of salad and a perfect thin crust pizza.
When we had finished it was still quite early so we decided to go back to the hotel and if necessary use the mini-bar as a last resort but on the way back to the railway station Kim spotted an Asian mini-market and we were able to buy beer and wine to take back to the room – what a relief!
Time for a taxi again and this time 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.
It was quite an exciting roller-coaster ride through the streets of Bari which was only finally spoilt by the demand for a €15 fare. I needed more Amaretto!