The Back Roads of Puglia – Day 6

Back to Bari and discovering the real Santa Claus

BariToday we return to Bari which we left six days ago. We have seen and done so much on our Grand Tour of Puglia in such a short time. We do seem to have been away for much longer. A pity we all can’t stay together for a few more days.

En route Guiseppe stopped at POLIGNANO A MARE. And today half of Italy seemed to be there too. We soon found out why. The Red Bull diving series had come to town and diving was due to start at 3.30pm. Divers leap off two diving boards standing a nausea inducing height above the ocean.

Bari is a lovely medieval village perched high on the jagged coastline. The old centre is a series of streets, so narrow in parts, lined with white houses and terraces overlooking the caves below. Again another nice touch by Suzannah and Back Roads. We were met by a friendly lady who gave us freshly made foccacia and ice cold bottles of water. And very welcome they were too in the 33C heat. It is a lovely town, the second largest in southern Italy. It has a busy port and tourists are well placed here to travel to Greece and Croatia. Now a worthy destination for cruise ships too.

BariIt’s a town for walking and exploring. Shops a plenty and full of hip, young students wearing clothes that students do wear. Walk and observe and mini  Italian dramas unfold all around.

Old Bari – VECCHIA BARI or CITTA VECCHIA  is magnificent. Great architecture and churches. It is a warren of narrow streets with houses packed so tight that they seem to be stacked on top of each other. This historic centre is situated on a headland jutting out into the Adriatic Sea. All the time sea breezes refresh the weary traveller as do the many ice cream shops.

Our guide took us past CASTELLO SVEVO –  the castle – and deep into the maze of old town streets. It is so easy to get lost in here but we were expertly guided through. Some of the lanes are full of souvenirs, some locally produced  but more often from China. Choose with care. THE COLUMN OF JUSTICE where debtors were chained and whipped was interesting, as was the sight of ladies making traditional orecchietta pasta in the streets.

The town has many squares which are ringed with touristy restaurants. PIAZZA DEL FERRARESE and PIAZZA MERCANTILE are the most popular. And as in Lecce they come alive at night.

St Nicholas Father Christmas - BariAs we finished our tour we were let into a shocking, disturbing secret. Don’t tell the children – but Father Christmas is DEAD. No ifs, no buts – DEAD. We have seen his grave here in Bari. The basilica here, dating from the 12th century, was built to house the relics of Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick or Santa Claus. His remains were stolen by local fishing folk from Turkey in 1087 and brought back to Bari. He was bishop of Myra, an ancient Greek town in Lycia where the small town of Kale (Demre) is situated today in Antalya Province, Turkey. His remains lie in a shrine in the beautiful vaulted crypt below the BASILICA DI SAN NICOLA.  A sombre end to a wonderful tour. We consoled ourselves by having another ice cream.

We said our goodbyes to Suzannah and Guiseppe. They have been fantastic and have really made the trip such a success. GRAZIE MILLE.

7pm. The roof top terrace bar in Hotel Oriente. 28C. Not a cloud in sight. One last drink together. Tales of the trip were exchanged for the last time. Much laughter and warmth. A final toast, many cuddles and it was over.

Emails addresses were exchanged, as were offers of homes to stay in. Friendships have been made and who knows where they will lead in future. Hope to see you wonderful guys in Australia, New Zealand and Canada one day. Keep in touch. Thanks for such a wonderful travel experience. 

Arrivederci guys, arrivederci Puglia.

Postscript

The natural beauty of the landscape has inspired us all week. The choice of locations visited has been excellent. A  variety of towns and villages – all individually unique and special.

We have criss-crossed this wonderful land taking in the sights and smells and sounds of Puglian life. I do feel a little ‘churched out’ but culturally satisfied for it too.

This SLOW FOOD trip has been a success. Healthy and at times so simple, but always delicious. I have eaten food I would never ever dreamed I would  see or eat. My love for pasta has grown as has my waistline.

Compared to the UK this area follows a slower pace of life – the dolce vita. Meals and drinks are never rushed. Family ties are strong and there is respect for older people in society.

And who needs the stress of driving? With careful experienced drivers like Giuseppe and Back Roads Touring, you know you are in safe hands and so it is easy to just sit back and go with the flow.

Is Puglia the next Tuscany? Well the architecture is stunning. Prices here are low compared with the rest of Italy, due to the lack of mass tourism. Yet discerning travellers are beginning to flock here. My advice is to come now an experience this wonderful land.

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Dave Harcombe

Travelling pharmacist

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