Bari was warm and sunny. It was so nice to take off my shoes, and let my feet finally breathe after being covered up in socks all this time... and to feel the welcoming sea wash over my skin, wave after wave... I was in a bit of a trance for a while, watching my bare feet in the sand....
The beach was quite empty for such a warm and sunny day. I couldn't believe it really. Where were all the people? In the Netherlands, the beach would be absolutely packed on a Sunday like this.
We walked along the coast for a while and met our couchsurfing host, on a patio in the center. Of course a pitstop for gelato was mandatory: I had a taste of the heavenly tiramisu flavour in my mouth while sitting on a bench by the sea. Our host was very kind, and took us to the old center where we ate a delicious pizza, and drank some local beer. He also invited us to stay again on our last night in Bari before our flight home the following Sunday.
Monday was already the start of the work meeting, and we ventured with our rented Lancia into Basilicata, to near-coastal town Policoro.
One side note about driving in (or out) of Bari: get insurance. There are no rules, or at least very few followed any from what I could tell... No mind for stop lights, road markings or even direction of traffic; from my perspective, rules are: Just don't hit anyone. Driving there was very stressful. Anyway, we made it to Policoro without hitting anyone, and walked around in a very sleepy town. Very few shops or restaurants were open, and even then, were not ready to much at all. We were clearly not around in the tourist season.
Near the end of the meeting, we were taken to Tursi for a meal together, through a route with many fruit farms. We saw oranges, pears, peaches... and then ended up in this gorgeous spot, at the top of the old town, overlooking a valley and beautiful rugged country.
After the meeting, Joost and I took off to Matera, of which the old town "Sassi di Matera" is famed for being a prehistoric settlement, some 9000 years old... Where people dwell (still do!) in these caves dug out from calcareous rocks. Mostly they are restaurants and bed and breakfasts now... It was very damp inside these caves, it started raining in the evening and I noticed a slight itch in my throat the next day....
Well worth the amazing view though. Here you can see how the city perches on the edge of a canyon, where the ravine "la Gravina" runs through...
We also visited Lecce, a relatively big town in the heal of the Italian boot, which hosts a couple beautifully preserved roman Amphitheatres.
We ended up in Gallipoli however, a very cute fishing village on a little island off the ionian coast. There is a bridge leading cars onto the old island, onto a one-way route around the old town.
We had a really hard time finding any open campsites anywhere in Puglia- apparently we were really too early to camp in Southern Italy, to our surprise, even in the 25 degree sunny weather... So we ended up the only guests (REALLY, the ONLY ONES!) at a hotel in Rivabella, on the beachside north of Gallipoli.
The beach was a two minute walk from the hotel. And it was nearly empty too. We walked for a while in the warm sun, barefoot on the soft sand, letting the waves wash over our footsteps as we wandered on. It was beautiful... but became slightly eerie when we walked into a village after walking 45 minutes along the empty beach. We were looking for some lunch, and every shop and restaurant we saw was closed! Never thought I would say it, but I really missed the tourists. It seemed like we were in the apocalypse!
Luckily, there we found culinary relief at the Maruzzella restaurant (apparently the only open public establishment around). We were so hungry, most of our food was gone before I managed to snap a picture. But the seafood was fresh, and delicious and mixed with garlicky olive-oily pasta. I had spagetti with mussels, but they were eaten too fast, so here's the remains of Joost's dish, with a blurred moving fork seen attacking the perfectly cooked penne...
On the way back we found a sanctuary in the shade to have a nap. It was gorgeous, just to lay there, in the warm. We swam in the salty sea, and dried off in the sun.
The sea was perfect for swimming. Water might have been 18 or 19 degrees. No critters or jellyfish or anything in sight. Except for this one cute little guy, or lady, I'm not sure how to tell. Anyway it was so cute, about the diameter of an espresso cup (we're in italy, gotta stay relative).
The blue was everywhere.
In the evening we drove into Gallipoli old town for some more seafood, and snapped a photo of the sunset on the way.
We returned to Bari on Saturday night and walked around the old town again with our host and his friends. It was "open-doors" night in Bari. We took a tour of the medieval castle (cause of cause every old-town has one of those!), enjoyed a photo exhibit at a cloister while listening to a string concerto, ate gelato, and observed the amazing night-life culture of Bari. One notable cultural difference, which stood out above the rest was that, even late at night, everyone was out on their street with their whole family! Babies in strollers, toddlers and pre-teens, everyone was out and about, even past 11pm! I was getting very sleepy, but the children were chasing each other around on the cobblestones, and little girls were still devouring their panzarotti!
Somehow in the center of Bari on Saturday night, it there was definitely no apocalypse. What a huge leap from a day ago on the other coast!
Before we knew it, the holiday was over and we were back in the Netherlands.
We landed in Maastricht-Aachen airport, and what a relief to pick up and drive again in a country which has observed traffic regulations....
However, we returned on Pentecost Sunday, meaning the grocery stores in Utrecht were all closed, and would be all day Monday as well...
That is, all except one....
Which we escaped with groceries in hand just before the bouncer (YES, the Albert Heijn Bouncer) started controlling the massive inflow of traffic into the supermarket.
Felt like we escaped the tourist "apocalypse" just as the Netherlands was stocking up for it!