Bari was the most unusual part of our Grand Eurotrip.
The initial purpose of our trip was to visit the beautiful Basilica of Saint Nicholas.
However, to my delight and to my surprise, things turned out much more interesting: 3 days, packed to bursting with individualized excursions (complete with Italian-speaking guide), visits to nearby cities, a random soccer match, and oh, yes, the Basilica of Saint Nicholas. All of the components of our trip worked together like cogs in a highly functioning machine, producing greater results than we had previously imagined.
For this trip, we kept our hotel requirements simple: double bed, breakfast, WiFi, and…the lowest price possible. Shockingly, there weren’t many cheap hotels to choose from. We went with the cheapest hotel available, Bed and Breakfast Diana.
Located on the outskirts of Bari (but only a 5 minute walk to a bus that went to the city center), B&B Diana was not quite a hotel; it was actually a few rooms in the house of a host. The host was a charismatic Italian named Vito, who was accompanied by the administrator, a talkative Italian named Jack (aka Giacomino), who had lived most of his life in the United States.
Different from many hotel experiences, there were no “snow-white” tiles in the bathroom. Instead, the interior looked much more like a cute little country house, and the breakfast was served to us as if we were old, cherished friends that had stopped by for a visit. The most important aspect of this place, however, was the wonderful and unique opportunity to get acquainted with locals of Bari and really feel at home.
Our 1st day:
The miracles of Italian hospitality took me by surprise from the very beginning.
Vito accompanied us by giving us a free ride around the city, treating us with focaccia (a delicious Italian specialty), and in the evening, he even took us to a soccer match at a stadium that was within walking distance of our place.
The soccer match was a great example of why staying on the outskirts of town can be a really good thing: while most people were hectically trying to park and maneuver the parking lot, we were casually and calmly walking around having an enjoyable conversation in broken Italian. I must admit, though, that despite the fact that I watch soccer games on TV quite often and have a love for the sport, this was only my second time visiting a stadium. My first experience, in Nicosia, Cyprus, was a bit odd. However, Bari was a much different experience; I will remember the atmosphere of the stadium for a long, long time- the Italians sure do love soccer, there is no doubt about that!
Our 2nd day:
This was the most interesting day of our visit.
Vito had suggested to us to take a ride around the surrounding neighborhoods.
He suggested that we do this by either:
A.) Renting a car.
B.) Paying him 100 euros to drive, guide, and be an Italian language teacher.
Well, after a couple years of living in Cyprus, we have gotten quite unaccustomed to right-hand traffic. As well, we had already noticed drivers “hustling” and driving crazy on their questionable roads, and, to top it off, it was raining. For all of those acceptable reasons, we chose option B.
What is a tour of the south of Italy like when the guide hardly speaks English, the travelers hardly speak Italian, and the month of May is full of abnormalities?
It is beyond fantastic! Our tour was broken up into 3 different sections:
1. ) We visited the Polignano a Mare; at the entrance, we were cordially greeted by the statue of Domenico Modugno (for reference, he was the one singing the famous “Volare”).
Here, everything was amazing; from picturesque bays and balconies overhanging the cliff edges, all the way to the quaint, narrow streets.
Someday, when I find the time to really learn Italian, I would like to come back here again to decipher all the different inscriptions written on practically everything; every centimeter of the Polignano a Mare was inscribed by the masters of words!
Another reason to visit again would be to go to the restaurant, Grotta Palazzese, which boasts a wonderful panoramic view of the sea. However, it’s better to get dinner here for a special occasion, as the prices and the atmosphere are clearly not for casual get-togethers during day tours.
2. ) We visited the town Alberobello: home of the famous trulli architecture.
The part of town that we visited reminded me of the Museum of Folk Architecture in the suburbs of Kiev, not far from where I used to live.
In Alberobello it is nice to walk along the winding paths, climb to the observation decks, check out all the zodiac and religious symbols on the rocks, and admire the landscaped courtyards. Aside from that, the town is a large enclave of souvenir shops- which are difficult to leave without spending some euros. However, throughout our Grand Eurotrip, we had been collecting souvenirs for my mother-in-law, so we ended up buying several magnets and kitchen utensils for her.
3. ) The climax of our excursion was visiting the jaw-dropping caves in Grotte di Castellana.
Until this day, I had never been underground. Sometimes, I even consider myself to be quite claustrophobic; however, I really liked it here. I know, it sounds funny, right? A claustrophobic person enjoying a cave… But this is no joke!
The entrance hall was very interesting and eerily beautiful- it had a round hole in the natural stone ceiling through which light would leak in and, during rainy weather, a waterfall would accompany the light. As a matter of fact, during our walk through the cave, the rain got so intense and “excited” that the water flowed down through the ceiling, down the stairs, and completely blocked the entrance! It was quite extreme (and my favorite part); we had to do an emergency evacuation through an elevator, and voila – we then see snow in the South of Italy during the end of May. How cool, crazy, and bizarre is that?
And with this, our excursion ended with a bang.
Our 3rd day:
Our last day in Bari was devoted to our initial purpose — to visit the Basilica! As well, to the walk around the old part of the city.
I really liked the old town! I had been a blind fan of everything Italian for many years. So for this, the narrow streets, the abundance of flowers, and even the linen hanging from balconies led me even more in love and into wild delight.
However, the rest of the city had the vibe of being a transit point for illegal immigrants or of a troubled industrial area from our previous century. Needless to say, Bari is clearly not for long walks.
As for our gastronomic experience, we decided to limit ourselves with a double visit to L’osteria del Borgo Antico, which was located in the old town.
The kitchen deserves an outstanding 10 out of 10! Our lunch was superb; they serve huge and, most importantly, delicious portions for a very reasonable price. They have two different types of menus: a set menu, and an a la carte.
For our first visit, we ordered from the set menu and everything went perfectly; we got plenty of food at a bargain price, as well as a bottle of Prosecco. However, for our second visit, we decided to try and get a little fancier by ordering dishes from a la carte. Without having a good level of Italian, it was very difficult to communicate with the waiter and, after spending plenty of time ordering our dishes from a la carte in Italian/English, there was still a mistake. Even with this little bump, we will definitely be visiting again (but next time we will just stick with ordering simple options from the menu).
All in all:
Aside from our day of excursions, Bari seemed to be the city of definitive contrasts.
For instance, its industrial character at the entrance was quite different from the beautifully landscaped promenade. As well, the unpleasant walking streets of the modern city were quite a different story than the lovely alleys of the old town. However, the potholes on the roads were perfectly ‘in tune’ with the peculiarly rough driving of the locals (which is something that cannot be described, only experienced).
Despite all the contrast, we will definitely return to Bari, as well as to the Bed and Breakfast Diana, hopefully by next May. We would like to, at the very least, visit Basilica again; but as for other future excursions? Vito will tell…