I knew two things about the town where my grandfather grew up in – that when he was 10 years old it was overrun by mafia (the reason my great grandmother sent him away to New York), and that it’s the heel of Italy’s boot. So when I got off the bus, alone, at the main station in Bari, I was going in blind. Having no expectations, I’ve learned, is essential for new – no – all experiences. It allows for the sweetness of being pleasantly surprised. And I have been more than surprised at how lovely this seaside town is – a place that for the first time feels like I’ve found that home feeling in Italy. People are kinder here, as are most people near the sea. Things slow down. There’s less honking. Less yelling (in Italian standards, at least). More seafood. Cheaper prices. Cleaner streets. Better vibezzz.
Upon arrival, I caught a beautiful melon colored sunset on the waterfront and watched the last of the day’s fishermen relaxing by the dock with their plastic chairs and crates of empty beer bottles. Locals hung out in outdoor plazas or cafes sipping on espresso and smoking hand rolled cigarettes. Young people walked by with their dogs. There was a welcoming buzz and general warmness to the streets and to the people. I walked through old town Bari and imagined my ancestors hanging outside their doorways in the narrow alleys (too small for cars), attending the church of Bari, drinking wine and cold beers in the heat of the evening. I had some pizza (duh) and sipped some red wine, chatted with a beautiful little girl that was riding her bike through the plaza. I saw groups of women making handmade, fresh pasta. It was shockingly authentic, how I pictured it would’ve been a hundred years ago, even when one of them yelled at me in Italian that my dress was too long and that it needed to be adjusted, as I’m sure my great grandmother would’ve done. I was stunned by old town Bari – a picturesque paradise of community next to the sea, just as I would’ve dreamed. Walking home from the old town, I got completely turned around (places can look so different at night!)… Since no one here really speaks English and I speak about 3 words of Italian, I knew early on when it was time for real help. I dipped into a restaurant and asked for someone to call me a taxi. Lucky for me, one of the guys working there drove me back to my hostel. Maybe Italians aren’t so bad! 😉
On other days I went to Polignano a Mare and dipped in the crystal clear water, had some pizza (… and wine…and gelato), and checked out the endless cliff views of the blue blue sea. Another day trip on the train to Matera – one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world (9,000 years old) – to revel in the stone white structures of the remaining community. Another day of hanging at the City’s stunning sandy beach with turquoise clear water… What a beautiful place this very underrated part of Italy is. Check out some of my wanderings below 🙂