The FLIX Bus is a great way to transition from the west coast of Italy to its East. A simple stroll from our Salerno downtown apartment and after an engaging chat with a homeless German young man and his dogs, our bus pulled up, and off we went. The countryside changes from volcanic plugs poking from the landscape to gently rolling hills and then plains. The vegetation transforms from broad-leafed, semi-tropical plants into groves of olive trees and wine vineyards. There were some vistas where the cloudy skies reach a distant the earth.
We dragged our noisy bags from the train/bus station along the main boulevard leading into the old town. Bari, like many of its sister cities, has a major promenade splitting the width of its communities. The walking street is lined with Guccis, and Colors of Bennington and many more shops of greater distinction that are all foreign to my simple Amazon or Fred Myers purchasing ways. You would think the city is populated exclusively with ‘Dandies’ all dressed up in in the latest high-end fashion as every third shop is a chic or vogue clothing store, and the fourth sells the inimitable Italian leather shoe! Again, much like its sister cities, Bari is populated with fit, trim, and stylish residents that move with a purpose…except for the old men that congregate near the benches and street corners with cafes. I guess this is where the fashionable retirees hang out.
I’ve read in historical novels that ancient seaside villages and towns would purposefully design small, meandering streets and ally’s in complex patterns as a matter of public defense. The idea was that when they were raided by pirates or pillaging army’s, the enemy forces would get disoriented and stymied as they plundered through the streets. Invaders would be mystified by the subtly changing directions and find they were rampaging to back where they started….or in some complete random bearing. The home defenders would have the advantage with intimate familiarity with the winding and convoluted ally’s and streets. This must have been the founders’ idea when they built the old town of Bari. Even with Google Maps in hand, I’ve lost myself at least a dozen times. I pride myself on excellent map reading and ‘pathfinding’ skills. But, I have to admit, these streets have bewildered my keen sense of direction on several occasions. The longer we’re here, and with the more confidence, I build, thinking I know where I am, the more I’m wrong. This is very unsettling! On one such event, I swore that the GPS satellite must have been off-line because I was on the eastern side of town when I knew damned well that I was on the western. Again, I was wrong! Sometimes you just have to admit that you messed up and don’t know your head from a hole in the ground. Did I tell you that the meandering streets are confusing?
Old town Bari is pretty cool. You all can read up on its history and notable sites, I won’t recount them here as a tour-guide other than the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas (yeah, the Christmas guy). Apparently, some of his relics were secretly taken from the church at Myra (in modern-day Turkey) after Muslim invaders conquered the Byzantine landmass. In the eleventh century, they moved the relics to Bari and built a cathedral around where they rested. Since then, It’s been an important pilgrimage site for Eastern Orthodox Catholics. It’s an interesting site.
We found the old town to be incredibly clean, it’s almost Germanic in that sense. In the rest of Italy, trash and grime and decrepit buildings are the norm. Not here, there is rarely a speck of debris nor dirt anywhere, it’s immaculate. Much like in Germany, you see the old ladies in the alleys literally swabbing them down with mops. The streets are all made up of white rock that looks like soapstone but is much harder. Stone streets and walls with clay roof shingles above. It’s a hard place, except that there are small trees, bushes, and flowers line the alleys and hanging from all the iron balcony railing. In some areas, the vegetation is so thick it’s reminding of a small jungle.
Our apartment is literally around the corner from one of the major churches (Basilica Cathedral of Sant Sabine). There’s a pizzeria next to our front door. This is cool, we’re in the seat of Italian humanity. The flip side is the alleyway is busy, and these guys never, ever seem to go to sleep. And because it’s a stone alley, the sounds reverberate like the inside of a drum. There is no such thing as silence or quiet. The residents love to talk and talk in a thunderous voice. Whether that be conversing on the phone, chatting with a friend, yelling at noisy kids, they’re loud! I can’t tell if they’re arguing or being playful. But they seem not to have a care if you share in all their private conversations. If they did, there’s nothing you can do about it because you’re going to hear everything anyway. The first night in our room, I was fit to kill. Murder was on my mind as I peered at the youth across the ally loudly BSing with his friends at 0130 in the morning. But it’s their country and their ways. I can sleep when I die!
This apartment has a terrace on top of the building. It’s pretty cool, but the most interesting site is the forest of TV antennas that sprout from every roof and the steadying guy lines that criss-cross like a spider’s web.
Bari is an exciting town that takes about two full days to visit; one leisure day to investigate all the sites, and a second to shop the modern stores. We planned for four days here, two too many. But, there’s an absolute hedonistic pleasure idly strolling the streets of a foreign city without a care in the world. Our over planning seems to be a bit serendipitous as my hip and back pains are on the verge of being debilitating, and Ursula has picked up a cold that’s slowed her down. It’s good to have had a few leisure’ Health Days.’ Our next destination is even further South and into the heel of the Italian Boot – Lecce. Cheers.