Italy is a wonderful country, with nice people, but it is quite expensive.
19.09.2011 - 21.09.2011 26 °C
Tuesday September 20th
We had advance notice, I suppose, that things were about to go badly, when the train doors declined to open. On our return from an afternoon excursion to Barletta, the next town down the train line, we had arrived at our stop, Trani, and were waiting for the doors to open automatically. After a brief time, we thought that there might be more to the process than simply waiting, a button of sorts, perhaps, and we looked slightly frantically but in vain, as the train slowly moved out of the station.
Luckily, the next stop was only five minutes down the line, and we watched carefully as a young man prepared to get off. He stood, casually, confidently, with a slight swagger, and the doors opened automatically as the train stopped. Really quite simple, actually. You just will the doors to open. The next train back to Trani, in the opposite direction came five minutes later, but in that time we saw a few flashes of lighting, some brief thunder, and pouring, driving rain.
The Italian gutters empty straight onto the sidewalk, and you have to jump the streams of water as you make your way down the sidewalk. After our fifteen minute walk back to our hotel (ten minutes to the store to pick up the pasta we had seen that morning, unfortunately sold out, then another five minutes from there) we were absolutely soaked. Wet through. Having no advance notice that it was going to pour, or at least having wilfully ignored the earlier scattered shower and imminent clouds, we were woefully unprepared for the downpour, dressed more appropriately for Istanbul and 30 degrees, rather than what seemed like a typical day in Victoria. Soaked.
Trani, by the way, is lovely, and you should visit it whenever you’re trying not to stay in Bari. The old town is super full of character and charm. The streets are winding and narrow, and you have to mind carefully the one way traffic. The sidewalks, if there, are less than a foot wide, and there is little room to manoeuvre. It reminds me most of the Juderia in Cordoba. Susan says it reminds her of the Barri Gotic in Barcelona, but we didn’t go there on our last trip, and I have no recollection of it from our trip in 1992. The houses here in the old town are old. There are many palazzos with plaques on the wall giving their background information, and many appear to date to the fifteenth century. The cathedral, which is Norman, dates to about 1100. Consequently, it lacks the significant adornment of a Gothic cathedral, like Koln, which is some 400 years more recent. The cathedral purportedly contains the bones of a Saint Nicholas, who was thought locally to be a fool whilst alive, because he ran through the streets shouting “kyrie elieson” but was posthumously credited with several miracles. Interestingly, according to the Lonely Planet, the remains of St. Nicholas are in a different church, and his ashes are in an altogether different church. The most interesting feature of the cathedral is its location. It is right on the waterfront. There is a castle (used as a prison from the mid 1800’s until 1974) a couple of hundred metres to the north, but the cathedral would have been in a remarkably unprotected location at a time when fortification and defense was one of the primary concerns of cities. Strange.
Now, although we are enjoying our small town in Italy, the problem is that Italy is expensive. Very expensive. We researched for two hours in an internet cafe, where oddly, there was no actual cafe in evidence, before finding our current hotel, the “Centro Storico.” At 100 Euros a night, it is no bargain, but a room in a grungy hostel in Bari with a 62% trip advisor approval would have cost the same amount. And, both the town of Trani and our hotel are absolutely worth the 2.50 Euro and 30 minute train ride away from Bari. Our hotel, according to the Lonely Planet (our research with Hostelworld, Booking.com, and Venere led us no farther than the first listing in the LP), is an old monastery, and it is spectacular. Absolutely magnificent. We feel as though we are living in a castle. It is made from the rusticated Trani stone, very pale, that is common in these parts. Everywhere there are arches, the twenty foot ceilings are the domes made from four arches (don’t know the technical term) you see in cathedrals, and the overall effect is quite stunning. The hotel is run by an elderly couple (if your Italian is non-existent, best brush up on your French) and another man who might be their son, although we have no evidence to back that up. The old man told us an interesting story, in French, about some faces carved into one of the walls and featured on their outside sign.
Here’s Sunny now, to relate the story:
Sunny: Ok, so my French has had a three month repose, but I will translate what I am pretty sure the old man said to me. There are three faces carved into stone that you notice as you go to climb the stairs to the courtyard. The middle one, he says, was the king of Trani. He has a crown on his head that you notice if you really look. His wife, the queen, is the face to the left and his son is the face to the right. The story is about his son. When the king’s son came into power he found out that the king’s wife, whom he had grown up under the care of, was not really his mother. He proceeded to go on a search for his birth mother, and found her in a small nearby town. (It seems like a tedious search. “Hello! I am the king of Trani. I was just wondering: are you my mother?” Jeez, I don’t know how long it took him!) He could not reveal to his people that he wasn’t the son of their queen, so he kept the whole affair a secret. THE END. Yeah, that’s the end as far as I can tell. Anyways, it’s cool to know who those faces are supposed to be!
Kas: We have enjoyed our brief stay in this delightful little town, our marvellously character-filled hotel/castle, our wandering to find groceries in the little streets and equally little bakeries, delis, and mini markets of the town, and our visit to neighbouring Barletta. Tomorrow, we leave Trani and go back to Bari to catch our overnight ferry to Dubrovnik.
Susan: My turn now. I haven’t written much on this blog. I usually read Kas’ posts before they go out to the teeming masses, and they’re bang on. I do find, though, that they are a bit lacking in the human interest aspect of the trip. To give some examples from this leg:
- On the ferry to Bari from Patras, we sat and ate our provisions that evening out on the part of the deck that is also part of the bar, so there is a waiter serving people stuff and lots of people watching football on the T.V. On his way past, the waiter noticed that we had opened a wee bottle of ouzo for the big Karims to have with our toast crackers and can of tuna, and returned a couple of minutes later with two plastic cups filled with ice. He explained it’s nicer to drink it that way.
- Here in Trani and Barletta, the people are really very friendly and helpful, though it doesn’t seem like they get many tourists, at least not English-speaking ones. We’ve heard pretty much no English, and the people in shops will happily chat at length to you in Italian even though you are showing little or no comprehension of what they’re saying. Partly, I think it’s because we occasionally understand a word or two and perhaps they overestimate how much we are getting. But mostly it’s because I suspect they have no English to pull out in order to bridge the language gap, as the Greek and Turkish people seemed to have. One customer at the deli told Kas a long story about how her son likes, or doesn’t much like, a particular item we were thinking about getting.
- We somehow ended up as spectators at a wedding at the Trani cathedral this morning (who gets married on a Tuesday morning, I wondered, especially when the church is open for tourists at that time and a guided tour was taking place?) Anyway, we thought it looked like it was set up for a wedding because it had lots of flowers outside and, sure enough, when we peeked in the service was underway. Because there were other obvious non-guests going in and out, we did too, and got to see the bride and groom being presented to their friends and family by the priest. We applauded along with everyone else. I thought it would be over at that point, but there was still lots more prayers and hymns and such, so we went downstairs to see the crypt where St. Nicholas apparently lies instead. Some cool frescoes down there. The wedding was still going strong when we left 20 minutes later.
- The girls had some lemon gelato today, and boy was it good. Ali found it a bit too sour and handed the end of hers off to me. Thus continues her ice cream tour of Europe. She had tons in Germany, courtesy of Uncle Nizar, and has sampled it everywhere else as well. German ice cream is intricately presented. Turkish ice cream (dondurma) is kind of gummy, and sometimes they put on a show when selling it on the street. Her experience with Greek ice cream was limited to frozen novelties from the corner stores, and a 1 Euro milkshake from McDonalds (so we could avail ourselves of their free wifi, not because we are dumb tourists who go to McDonalds all the time. Although we also went there in Bari, and had the world’s tiniest espresso and a brioche for a Euro, again so we could use the wifi - but it didn’t work.)