Friday, 23 September 2016

Down and out in Bari

It seemed apt the the sun was behind us; don't get me wrong Bari glistened in the golden light and the port looked truly beautiful. But I just didn't feel ready for Italy. It turns out that Italy didn't really feel the love either as the queue for passport control didn't move. For 2 hours. When it finally got going an hour later, people were trickling through one-by-one. Some of the guys around me yelled out to the officious numpty that I was an EU citizen. I was eventually squeezed through the crowd. I asked simply 'perché?' of an official guy, shrugging, he suggested that I should have shown my passport earlier in the process. 

Just how, precisely? You're at the back of such a thick mass of humanity which couldn't even get a sick child through, let alone a privileged EU passport holder. Bags went through the x-ray, keeping in mind that as I left Bari, bags weren't checked! By this point, if it hasn't again for a wonderful gentleman, I don't think I'd have been queuing upright. Once outside the port, basically I wasn't. I lay collapsed on a bench watching some black-clad elderly women moving bags - they were still the other wrong side of the barrier, I wondered about their stories. 

I lay there chatting to Petrit; he was off to Germany, and I admired his strength - I was dreading the 20 minutes just getting into Bari town centre. Still, things were looking up, I remembered my Albanian cake from the previous day. It was squished, sweet, sticky and utterly delectable. Finally as the ibruprofen was kicking in again, it was time to leave the port and head our separate ways; me to my overnight stop, and he to his bus north. I ambled over to a promising looking local bus stop and I was soon heading the wrong direction into town. Excellent. 

Airbnb decided to further test my endurance and ingenuity by sending me to Via Carduzzi, rather than a Corte of the same name. I looked up at the modern office block and sighed. This wasn't it. Thank goodness for technology and having the right address. So more accidentally rather than any map reading skill, I headed in to the right part of the old town. I asked a cheery gentleman where this place was, and it caused a conversation which can only be described as heated. One way was directed, then an entirely opposite one was shouted; a priest was consulted, and soon several shopkeepers and a waiter was involved. 
Oh. My. God. 

'Go back, down the way I'd came, and it was third on the left'. This was the short answer and I said hvala and was on my way again. Wrong country. Wrong language. Tears and hysteria welling, I arrived in a pretty little court yard - only 5 hours after the ferry docked. The place was still being cleaned but the lady on seeing my condition brought out a chair, and I sat there vacantly examining my boots. They, like everything else, were filthy. What was I thinking coming to Italy dressed like a hobo!? 

Finally I was in! I stripped, scaldingly showered and thoroughly soaped, and lay clean and fragrant on the gloriously comfortable bed. The place was beautiful and the curved vaulted ceiling like a wine cellar. Wine! Food! Of course, I fell asleep and missed the Italian lunchtime window. By the time I was smartly and appropriately dressed for an Italian dinner, it was raining. And by the looks of it, it was Durrës all over again, settling in for a second bout of Thunder v Lightning. If I didn't know better, I could be forgiven for thinking that this trip was really doomed! 

Thankfully by 8pm the storm had passed over and Sunday was obviously late opening for every restaurant there. I was told to come back in 30 mins, an hour,  so meandered around the city quite happily, if hungrily. I kept meeting a colourful and noisy band which was rather random; they seemed to be playing to every Virgin Mary shrine in the place. I hope she appreciated it, I certainly did. Heading back to the first place I had tried, there was a warm welcome. Cheese, wine, meaty ears - there was a calorie explosion of the best type. And for the first time since Macedonia I ate heartily. 

I quite like Bari and, as I shall continue, the small city of Lecce. Bari has a relaxed, civilised charm, with glorious designer shopping for those that way inclined. I'd definitely go back. But Italy has really lost its charm for me - I've never really thought about Italian warmth because when you're going round Florence, Rome, Venice, centuries of tourism has taken its toll. You're just another visitor, no matter how friendly you are. Croatia easily beats Italy in terms of friendly acceptance. Croatia, your people are gems. 

Addendum. I've just arrived back in Dubrovnik told the passport man I loved him and burst into tears! Now the cafe is playing klapa - Daaaalmacija!! 

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