Friday Oct 21st-Saturday Oct 22nd
Here we go on our cycling trip to Italy. The car service picks us up at 8 PM, and we drive to Boston in a thunderous rainstorm, the hardest rain we've had all summer. In spite of the rain our flight is only 30 minutes late by some miracle. The spoiled Nill's are sitting in Premium Economy. I drink some wine, take some melatonin, throw the blanket over my head and try hard to sleep. I don't do too bad a job, sleeping and dozing until 7 am est. They wake me for coffee, bread, yogurt. On the ground in Rome, and suddenly it's 12:30 PM Roman time. We have 2 hours to catch our flight to Bari and we need every minute to wind our way across this massive airport, in and out of passport control, grab a bite to eat and stand in line to board our next flight.
The flight to Bari is short, only an hour. We gather our luggage, go through customs and our driver finds us immediately. We meet some of the people doing the pre-trip part of this vacation. Two couples, long time friends, that have done many cycling trips in the past. We are the newbies, but they don't look at all hardcore so I'm reassured. We've signed up for a trip that’s rated “easy” so I think we will be fine.
Its a one hour van ride from Bari to Matera. Outside the window of the van I see clouds, olive trees, and lots of road construction. Matera seems nondescript until we turn a corner, and then wow! A massive ancient city comes into view. Its called the Sassi, where people lived in dwellings cut out of the sides of a mountain until the 1960's. They lived in extreme poverty and very unsanitary conditions so the government moved them out. But in the 1980's people began to realize that the Sassi was a national treasure. It has been restored with modern plumbing, heating and people have moved back. There are houses, hotels, shops, restaurants, all built into the side of a hill, overlooking a gorge. It is absolutely breathtaking.
It's late afternoon by the time we arrive. I'm really really tired so I take a bath and change before going to the meeting with our guide for the walking tour tomorrow. Our hotel room is also dug out of the side of a hill. It's beautiful but dimly lit and only a bathtub, no shower. But it's comfortable and quiet, besides how often do you get to stay in a cave?
We eat dinner at the hotel restaurant. It's beautiful, and the food is very good. We try a bottle of Puglia Primativo red. It's light, very nice. The food is good and I'm starving. By the time we fall into bed around 10 pm I'm exhausted and sleep until 7 the next morning.
Sunday Oct 23. Matera. I wake up feeling groggy but do my usual routine and get dressed so I can go get coffee and breakfast in the hotel lobby. The breakfast is generous and soon it's time to meet our guide for this morning’s walking tour. Anne-Marie is from Matera and her grandmother grew up in the Sassi. She is very knowledgeable about the town and her English is excellent. We visit a church carved out of the hillside, a house that has been made into a museum, various plazas, winding narrow paths, beautiful vistas.
After the tour Lee and I stop for lunch at a cafe; pizza and a couple of cokes. We then visit the other side of the Sassi and do a little walking tour on own, more views and a couple more churches. We stop for a cappuccino afterwards. I buy a bread stamp with my initials, a useful souvenir even if I don't need to identify my loaves of bread in a communal oven!
That evening we have dinner at Francesca, right across the street. Local appetizers, pasta, wine, lemoncello.
Monday Oct 24
Lee wakes me from a hard sleep at 9 am. We'd better get going if we want breakfast! I'm soooo groggy, jet lag. But I stagger up, get dressed. After breakfast our plan is to hike to the other side of the gorge and see Matera from another view. Once I've had enough coffee this seems like a good plan.
Its 10 min down one side of the gorge, across a cable bridge, and then up up up the other side. It's not as hard as it looks. The view from the other side gives you a much better idea of the extent of Matera, the new, the old, and the very very old. Then its back we go ending up all sweaty, eating a panini in an outdoor cafe.
At 2 pm we clamber into the van to ride to Ostuni, another whitewashed Italian village. It's a bumpy ride through olive trees to this small city on the Adriatic. At sunset we take an incomprehensible tour of the old city. We see winding stone streets, lights twinkling in the distance, but have no idea what the guide is saying in her heavily accented English, nor can we barely keep up with her in her high heels!
After a drink at the hotel bar we decide to stay there for dinner. It's a good choice, fried fresh anchovies for my appetizer, mussels and spaghetti for my main, another bottle of Primativo, mascarpone with chocolate and caramel for dessert. I better keep expending those calories because they certainly are coming in!