In Italy…

Bari

Because of the “Greek Fiasco” due to the air traffic controllers’ strike, we didn’t get to visit Malta, which meant more days in Italy.

We visited Italy four years ago: Rome, Sorrento, Amalfi, Venice, Milan and Florence. This time around, we wanted to visit the other side of Italy: the heel area. Our plan was Bari, Lecce and Matera with a side trip to Naples and Sorrento. A word about the photography: Italy was mostly an exercise in chiaroscuro.

In Bari and its surrounding areas, wifi and cellular data was hard to come by. Luckily, I had downloaded area maps into Google Maps for offline use. It worked perfectly! Our first stay was in a small fishing village on the city outskirt. Nothing much to see and do. We did, however, had a very nice late lunch at a cafe by the sea which served only appetizers in the afternoon. Our meal was all raw and consisted of vegetables and seafood. In the morning, we headed out to Sorrento.

Sorrento

The drive to Sorrento was beautiful: green hills and wind mills line the autostrada on both sides. We stopped to take one picture. I wish I had taken more. As we approached Sorrento, traffic became chaotic, but we made our way to the hotel which was near the hotel we stayed in four years ago, but closer to the action. In fact, it turned out that the hotel was next door the restaurant we had lunch in last time we were here.

Windmills along Autostrada A14
Windmills along Autostrada A14

The first thing we had planned was visiting Naples followed by a climb up Mt. Vesuvius, but a quick stop at a tour shop added a trip to Capri and the blue grotto, the next day. We walked to the train station to take the Circumvesuviana train to Naples. On our way, we decided to stop at Pompeii to see if could do the Vesuvius climb instead. At the ticket counter (and I’m only telling this story for ironic impact), the sales person ask us if we want to visit Capri on Tuesday (it was a Saturday) since he looked at the weather for Sunday and it wasn’t favorable. We told him we already had tickets for Sunday and that we were told the weather would be fine. In any case, we bought tickets for Vesuvius.

The weather was bad for Vesuvius. There was literally a cloud covering the last 1000 meters of the volcano. Our visibility was about 20 feet in front of us.

Climbing Mt. Vesuvius - Carline climbing ahead of me. This was the actual visibility.
Climbing Mt. Vesuvius – Carline climbing ahead of me. This was the actual visibility.

Carline and I were dead-tired climbing the active volcano. We finally reached the crater only to find…a bar. Yep. A bar on the edge of the crater of an active volcano. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. Needless to say, we couldn’t see the crater, so we headed back down, then back to Sorrento where we had dinner and then called it a night. Next morning, Capri was cancelled due to weather, so we decided to head to Naples and eat pizza.

Naples

We took the Circumvesuviana to Naples Garibaldi Train Station: a hustling, bustling place with shops eateries and, of course, trains to far away destinations. We thought Athens was chaotic; Naples takes it to a whole new level with its street vendors and dense neighborhoods. We walk a good bit of the city only because we were trying to find a recommended place to eat pizza. Many places were closed, but we were able to find one (with the help from locals) that served President Clinton (the first one). I neglected to write down the name of the place.

Mt. Vesuvius looming over Naples and the Naples Central Train Station
Mt. Vesuvius looming over Naples near the Naples Garibaldi Train Station

The Naples visit wasn’t as “exciting” as we would have liked it to be. We didn’t visit anything “historic” nor did we visit any of the museums.  Naples was interesting, to say the least, and it merits spending a little more time.

Matera

Matera was a key location for our trip and it was the reason (or one of the major reasons) we had switched from exploring Southeast Asia to more of Mediterranean Europe. We started quite early from Sorrento. Carline drove through most of it while I slept, which was unfortunate since the scenary was quite beautiful, according to Carline.

Our main objective in Matera was to see Sassi di Matera (“The Stone City of Matera”). We rode a tour bus which took us through the current city of Matera. Our tour guide had a VERY thick accent, but we were able to understand her. Then the bus took us to the pièce de résistance, the Sassi di Matera. Actually, we were across the canyon from the Sassi where I shot the featured image you see at the top of this post. It wasn’t a particularly easy shot to take as I had to climb down the side of the canyon and stand on the edge of a ledge, hoping that vertigo didn’t set in make me take a step in the wrong direction. I shot two frames and quickly climbed back up. After walking through the old city and visiting the cathedra at the top, we set out to Lecce.

Matera Cathedral
Matera Cathedral

Lecce

Lecce was another one of those sleepy towns where tourists gravitate towards the historic center. We only saw two tourist buses during breakfast, so it wasn’t that bad.

Carline eating a pastacciotto for breakfast, which is the iconic pastry of Lecce.
Carline eating a pastacciotto, which is the iconic pastry of Lecce.

We were there, primarily, for the pastacciotto: the iconic Lecce pastry. Though tasty, it is not something to write home about…..like I’m doing now. I think it would taste even better as an after dinner dessert soaked in limoncello, but that’s just me.

Historic Lecce is quite small and the most to do is shopping and eating. I guess you could pretty much say the same about the other places we visited, but for some reason, it’s super-exemplified here.

We drove north towards Bari, stopping at Arborobello and Monopoli. The drive to Bari was the most fun I’ve ever had on the road in the thirty-two years of driving.

Bari. Again.

This time we stayed in “Bari proper”. Our hotel was quite posh. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking for the orecchiette women. These women make orecchiette pasta from the homes and leaving them out to dry outside their doors.

Orecchiette drying outside
Orecchiette drying outside

That evening, we actually had fresh orecchiette prepared by the hotel chef. The four course dinner was fantastic and the intimate setting made for a perfect evening.

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