Bari was a stopping point between Rome and our next host in Matera. It’s one of the larger cities in the Apulia region, right beside the Adriatic sea. Within the city you find a mix of new and the old. One block is lined with designer shops and boutiques and a block later you transport back thousands of years in the Old Town. Seriously, one second we were walking by GUESS and H&M, and the next we saw fresh seafood being prepared on the streets. From pavement to cobblestone alleys, linens drying in the wind, kids passing around a soccer ball, and little hidden bars and café’s where you could hear indistinct chatter late at night coming from the basements. I thought we had walked on to a movie set. There is little to no tourism, and the businesses don’t cater to it, especially in the old town, I don’t think they would even think about that. After spending so many days going to popular places and attractions, it was a good change of pace.
We booked a hostel just for the night, not expecting to do much since the check in time was so late (5pm) and our train left early the next morning. Our hostel was called “The Olive Tree,” it was simple and clean, but the real standout was the receptionists customer service. When I mentioned to him that we were looking for a place to get Mikel’s haircut, he was kind enough to give us directions to a barber nearby. He then started writing instructions in Italian on a piece of paper to give to the barber so he could understand what Mikel wanted. Midway through he stopped and said “you know what, let me just call up the guy that does my hair and ill translate for you over the phone. It’s a bit further of a walk but he will take care of you, he’s been doing this for over 30 years. Just go there and say David sent you, he will know.”
We walked through town and stumbled upon Peiro’s shop, a little hole in the wall with no evidence that it was a barber shop unless you peer through the window to see a gentleman in a chair receiving a straight razor shave. We walked in and the only words spoken were “me- zero Ingles, you- zero Italiano.” He would ask every so often if he keep cut cutting shorter, but you could tell he already knew what he wanted to do from the moment he started. I know I’m simply talking about a haircut but it was pretty amazing to watch, he was very skilled and only charged a 9 euro, the standard is now set!
Afterwards we headed to a restaurant recommended by the same receptionist at the hostel. I was a bit apprehensive because I have not been blown away by the suggestions we have received on this trip thus far. Still, we decided to give “Il Rustico” a chance, and I am so, so glad we did.
We were told to go between 7:30 and 8 or there would be a line out the door. We arrived around 7:30 and were seated right away. There were no menus given to us and no words spoken to us other than to ask if we wanted beer or wine. Minutes later the plates of antipasti started to arrive, in groups of 3-4. As the night went on we had about 12 plates of antipasti on our table. We were spoiled with mussels, bruschetta, olives, cheeses, prosciutto, rice, bread, marinated tomatoes and potatoes. We were stuffed, but were told this was just the first course. Shortly after a large pizza of mixed vegetables and meats arrived, and another round of beer. We hardly touched the pizza due to being too full, so they packaged it up for us to go. Finally, little shots of sorbet and limoncello were served for dessert, the perfect end to the best meal we have had since we’ve been in Europe. And what’s even better is the 20 euro total for both of us, incredible. Sure enough on our way out there were a line of people out the door.
We ended the night with a walk along the boardwalk in the old town. The town of Bari itself was really not nice (in my opinion). Similar to Malaga, there is graffiti and garbage littered everywhere. Like a lot of European cities, the old town is what makes the city special. It was a really unique experience I’ll never forget. The following morning we went back to go inside the Cathedral di San Sabino and the Basilica San Nicola, which had a service going on inside. Saint Nicolas (Father Christmas) is kept inside beautiful crypt, the locals are apparently somewhat paranoid it will be taken since it was stolen from Turkey in 1087.
Now, I can confirm we are in Matera. The work is hard but the accommodation is luxury, a private castle-esque home (called a Masseria) with 360 degree views of the rolling countryside and our own private terrace. Life is good!