Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Italian Adventure: Bari and Polignano

Believe it or not, this post marks the 693rd time I've written about my life in this forum over the course of the last six years. It seems hard to believe that it was only six years ago that Mark and I made our first trip to Maui together. From that point, many of my blog posts chronicled our travels together, then mine on my own after he died. It's been a great resource (and comfort) to look back on all those posts ... and so I continue now with a chronicle of this trip I'm now on.

I arrived in Bari on Saturday afternoon a couple of hours before my friend, Bob, pleasantly surprised after two experiences with lost bags and missed connections last year that my connecting flights and my luggage both arrived on time. 

That evening, Bob and I headed out in search of gelato, an Aperol Spritz and dinner, in that order. We managed to find all three--each one delicious--and we also enjoyed the festive atmosphere that prevailed in downtown Bari that evening.

Bari waterfront.

A rosato that I had been looking forward to trying ever since learning about it in my Italian wine courses.

One of the squares was lit up with the huge electrical display pictured in the above photographs. The place was thronged with people of all ages enjoying the evening and the festive atmosphere. We learned the following day that this display is put up every year at this time to commemorate the arrival in Bari of the remains of St. Nicholas a thousand years ago. We just happened to luck out and be there during the festival. The remains now rest in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Nicholas, and the lights are designed to recreate the shape of the church.

Basilica of St. Nicholas (photo from Internet)

The highlight of the following day was a private walking/foodie tour of the old city of Bari with our guide, Francesco. Our first stop was to sample some delicious Bari focaccia from a bakery operating out of what had been a church constructed 900 years ago. Unlike Genoese focaccia that is thick and features cheese or onions, this focaccia was much thinner, drenched in olive oil and topped with cherry tomatoes -- sort of like a pizza. Delicious.

Inside the Basilica of St. Nicholas

The next foodie stop, after winding our way through what Francesco off-handedly referred to as "the labyrinth," was "Lady Nunzia's" on "Pasta Street." All along this street, women make pasta traditional to Bari and Puglia, particularly orecchiette that are shaped like small ears. They make the pasta in the first floor kitchens of their "tower houses," then set up shop on the street to sell their products to both tourists and locals. There was a large tour group on the street outside Lady Nunzia's, but we were invited in to her kitchen to sample both her pasta and her husband's homemade wine. I will admit to feeling special.

Lady Nunzia and her guests.
Her orecchiette featured a very light sauce of olive oil and rabe. It was delicious.

We were also offered a sample of their deep-friend polenta.

"Pasta Street"

After touring the Basilica of St. Nicholas and stopping for a glass of rosato, we made our last foodie stop of the day, at Gelateria Gentile. It was here that we said goodbye to Francesco. We had really enjoyed our tour, and one of the reasons I enjoy taking these small-group or private tours when I travel is the opportunity to get to know the local guide. It had been a fun and educational experience.

Fabio, owner of Gelateria Gentile, who had just returned from opening a new store in Brooklyn.

Bob, Francesco and me

Yesterday, Monday morning, we took the train from Bari to the town of Polignano a Mare, where our cycling tour would begin. The highlight of that day was what ended up being a private boat tour of the caves along the coast below the town of Polignano.

The harbor at Saint Vino, from where we embarked.

And so it begins. Today, after lunch, we will take a short spin of 17 miles into the countryside to make sure our fit on our bikes is good and that everything is in working order. Then tomorrow, we head out. Andiamo!

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