16 June 2013 Bari . . . Don’t ask
On our arrival in Bari from the rail station and entrance into our (comparative) dump of a room in Bari we were not impressed, so we got out and walked the streets heading for the sea. Then we were impressed. It appears there was some sort of fiesta on last night as well as the local Paseo (the same as in Spain) during which all the young and old stroll about the streets, piazas and (here) Corso – a wide, paved area that follows the contours of the seafront and allows for pedestrians only – stopping here and there for a drink or a bite to eat and (for the young) to flash their style and impress the girls/guys. It is really fun to watch, and this we did over a drink and a prawn salad at a bar by the water served by the owner – a hefty butch woman with multiple tattoos one of which on her left calf, upon my recognising it and questioning her, was of a Maori design. She had a good geek at my Samoan one. Bingo. Rachel also had the dubious honour of having an itinerant vocalist with guitar serenade her at our table. He had a good voice too. Further in, retreating from the crowds along the Corso we came across a street jazz performance consisting of (once again) saxophones, bass and side drum and a Euphonium (big bass sound). These guys weren’t reading any scores but were incredibly competent musically. Not only that, but they had a sort of energetic dance routine that went with it. What an experience. We did photograph it so at some time you will all, hopefully, see some of this but you missed the music and the balmy hot night and the atmosphere. It’s a tough haul, but someone has to do it for you.
Further down, in another of the piazas there was a more formal event going on with big screen and hundreds of people seated watching the stage where something local was going down with some (as I interpreted it) former athlete/beauty queen who ended up singing some number with considerable skill and volume. Then it switched to a video of the Papa (the Pope) making some speech and we lost interest. It was hellishly warm (I think the Pope would approve of that description).
We indulged ourselves in an excellent restaurant specialising in local seafood where the seasoned waiter took great pleasure in presenting us with every little delectable local antipasto before, during and after our two course meal which consisted of a mixed seafood pasta (we chose the little shell shaped pasta) followed by grilled fish which we personally chose from the display. From the bread to the pastries, their fillings, the pasta, the rum soaked sponges . . . all were exquisite, of outstanding quality; light and fresh. We washed this all down with a litre of house white and water and finished the spectacular with short espresso coffees. We were replete. All this, including the great attentiveness of the waiter who was pleased to practise his English, for 61 Euros.
And not an hour before finding this restaurant we had been down at the seafood market by the seaside where the fishermen sell their catch of the day. In this odorous, ancient flag-stoned area of not more than 400 sq metres I have never seen so many bottles of beer (Peroni, ‘Italy’s No1 Birra:) being consumed. These fishermen were thirsty – they would have been there at the crack of dawn and drinking, this was mid day and the pace showed no sign of slackening. They were boisterous but without any hint of aggression or nastiness, and the numerous bottle bins took their fill of empties. We quickly found the little bar at the end which provided for all this and, politely elbowing our way in, we ordered some breakfast of (for me) Peronis, and Rachel some local white wine of questionable quality but we certainly couldn’t quibble about the price – 1 Euro each. Before the words una Birra (my Italian is a little slow) were out of my mouth, my beer was opened and slid along the bar from a fridge on our side by one of the helpers. I tell you, when it comes to food and drink, the service over here is second to none!
We took a side trip by rail further down the coast to an amazingly appealing place called Polignano a Mare (please google it for pics). Ancient, gnarled and twisted peasants lined the fields to left and right – No. Hang on, they were olive trees. Ho ho ho. But, matching the great age of these trees are old and tumbled-down conical shaped stone buildings which, I was told, were built as both housing and shelters for the field workers – of olde. Ah, hell, this land has been settled and fought over for thousands of years and stone was the obvious material to build with I guess. Thanks to our longer-than-expected lunch we had allowed ourselves little time (3 hours) before the last return train to Bari, but had a good stroll through the narrow streets and cliff tops and once again there was a bloody fiesta (do they ever NOT have fiestas in Italy?;). While the town was packed and exciting (lots of roadside stalls with different, interesting stuff – many black African traders too), the elderly residents of those narrow back streets stoically sat outside their doorsteps in the cool looking so . . . Mediterranean. And in the main square there were musicians warming up with a mound of speakers and equipment for some famous Italian pop singer who was to appear at . . . 10pm – about the time when our last train rolled into Bari so we missed that part.
Mundane day today with a bit of retail therapy thrown in – oh my god the clothing styles here – and we train out tomorrow morning for Matera in the hills for a couple of days. No further plans.