Friday, November 12, 2010

Unexpected stop: Bari, Italy

While trying to get from Croatia to Greece, we unexpectedly crossed Bari, Italy. From an online review, we were expecting an industrial town and hoping to stay as short as possible. When we found out that we had an entire day to burn before the next ferry to Greece, we decided to walk into town. We were pleasantly surprised. Bari is not a small place.

First we walked through an “old town” which gave us a sense of small-town Italy. Old stone buildings, cobble-stone streets, laundry wires, old churches, and ancient castle wall remains. Since ancient times, as early as 181 BC, it has been known as a major Mediterranean port, and is still well known as a port city. We quickly realized how important religion is in this part of town. We passed and entered several churches, and lost count of mini shrines/altars set up in the streets, built right into the stone walls. I cannot for the life of me find out what they’re called. It usually consists of a religious painting adorned with curtains, and a shelf for plants, statues, and/or candles. Bikes and scooters are the easiest form of transportation through the narrow old streets, especially when you have to navigate around produce or goods that spill out of shops or are stacked against an alley wall. The front doors of homes were all left open with a lace curtain hanging over the opening for the perfect blend of privacy and fresh air. Would I be weird to implement this genius idea back home?

One of the first things we did was grab breakfast. My eyes went big inside the restaurant. Pizzas, calzones, panzerotti, and paninis were neatly lined up behind glass, waiting to be picked. The coffee list was equally tempting. The names went far beyond my coffee knowledge of lattes and cappuccinos. I had never seen so many names for coffee drinks! This was especially lovely after leaving Croatia, where an espresso machine is rare and the only coffee is overpriced NesCafe, an instant coffee that reminds me of gas station brews. Yuriy and I ordered lattes, grilled panini sandwiches with prosciutto, greens, and thick round slices of milk cheese. We also tried croquettes for the first time—they look like fried mozzarella sticks but have ground potatoes, ham, and cheese inside. Let’s just say it was a good start to the day. 
As we continued wandering, we left the “old town” and entered a modern metropolitan city. A big contrast. No more laundry wires. We walked along a major street lined with palm trees and big, well-known designers and stores. We were definitely surprised. We later found out that Bari is the second largest city of Southern Italy, after Naples. I was overjoyed to find several gelaterias. I didn’t get a chance to have any gelato ice cream while in Paris, so I had been craving it ever since. I guess it’s not such a bad thing we waited to get the real thing from Italy. We soon realized we were in the middle of a University town. We sat on the edge of a fountain across the street from the [gorgeous] school, and watched students walking around the park. We strolled through the campus to see more of the fashion the young people were sporting. One thing that puzzled me was these ugly shoes every other person was wearing with the letter “H” on the side. Especially with a nice chic outfit, these outdated looking sneakers ruined the look (in my opinion). Men, women, old people, young people, even babies were wearing them! And they came in every color combination, including glitter varieties. I googled these fad shoes later and found out they were called Hogans. Have you heard of them?

Around mid afternoon, we realized a good part of the city was closed for business. Locked up, lights out, iron gates down over the doors. We began wondering where everyone was and whether it was a holiday. We got to the point of wondering if there was some national crisis going on and we just hadn’t been keeping up with the news. We didn’t want to be clueless tourists, so we found wifi and started scouring for Italy news online. We came to find that shops in Italy are typically open Monday to Saturdays from 9am-1pm and 4:30pm-7:30pm. Lucky people get a 3 and a half hour lunch break! I had heard of Europeans and their luxury naps, but didn’t think this still happened in a big, modern city.

We had time for a tea break, several bakery stops, photos around the city, and a lot of bookstore browsing (mostly photography and art books since we can’t read Italian). Then back onto the ferry in the evening to head for Greece.