Archive for June, 2009


Late last night, we gained two new roommates and Philip also witnessed an amazing sight: for the first time since we arrived in Bari, we saw the man who manages the place actually doing something other than sitting and staring blankly at the wall. Believe it or not, he was reading a pamphlet of some kind when Philip went down to the bathroom to get ready for bed. In fact, the entire night was full of surprises. For example, we were delighted to learn that our female roommate from Lithuania is actually a pretty heavy snorer. Two new people arrived at around 12:30 am and went up to the room above ours, again waking us up with the noise and light. Around 1:30 in the morning, the guy upstairs got violently sick (apparently from drinking and smoking for the first time) and threw up down the weird ladder/stairs that connects our two rooms. He then proceeded to slip in his own vomit and fell/slid down into our room.

Philip and Rose in Lecce, Italy

Here we are exploring the quaint town of Lecce during the early evening.

Shockingly, Philip stayed asleep through most of this, though Rose did wake up and took a while falling back asleep. Fortunately for vomit guy, his friend came to help him get down to the bathroom and she was even kind enough to clean up the vomit on their way back up to bed. We have no clue when our other roommate returned, but when we woke up in the morning, he was sleeping peacefully in his bunk.

Nevertheless, 8 am came a bit earlier than we had hoped, though we were shockingly well rested considering the night’s incidents. We got ready for the day and finished packing up in the darkness of the room. We made it out the door and headed to the bus stop just in time to catch the 8:35 am bus to the train station. We were actually on the wrong side of the road when the bus came but he was really nice and waited for us so that we could get on. The ride to the station was uneventful, and Philip sat with the bags while Rose went a few blocks down to the supermarket to get her morning juice (for the second day in a row, the juice only cost 1.12 euro and we think that the cashier may have accidentally locked our discount from yesterday into the system as the actual price).

We ate our breakfast from the panini shop and waited for our train to arrive to take us to Polignano al Mare and eventually, Lecce. The train was at the station early since it was the beginning of the line, so we were able to get on and get seats early. However, when we went to validate our tickets on platform 10, we realized that the validation machines there weren’t operable. Philip went back to the underpassage and came up at the next platform only to find those non functional as well. He had to go all the way back to the station to validate the tickets, but at least we remembered this time.

The ride to Polignano was about a half an hour, though we did get in a little bit late. We looked around the small station there for a restroom and a place to leave our baggage, but came up empty with both of those. We set off into the piazza outside the station with our bags and asked a police officer directing traffic there (well, there was no real traffic to speak of and her job seemed rather useless) where we could find a tourist information office. She gave us directions to the historical center where a tourist information office was supposedly located, so we set off with our bags towards the center of town.

seaside town of Polignano al Mare in Italy

The small seaside town of Polignano al Mare south of Bari.

After much trekking about, asking for more directions from a random lady and another policeman, and finally consulting a street side map, we finally found where the tourist information office was supposed to be located. Unfortunately, it was definitely closed and appeared to have been that way for a long time. During our wanderings, we did step inside one church that we came to and spent a minute or two enjoying the beauty inside. Like most of the churches we have seen on this trip, it was far more beautiful than any we have in America, though will undoubtedly be lost in our memories as just another beautiful church.

At this point, we gave up on finding a place to leave our bags for the two hours we would be in town, so we took them with us as we walked towards the ocean. We found a small piazza that had a nice overlook of the ocean and we stood there and took numerous pictures of the water, the town, and the gorgeous caves that are carved into the bluff at water level. Philip also wandered into the gelateria that was nearby and got his first cone of the day. We stood there for several minutes looking out over the water and eating gelato. As we were about to leave the square, Philip asked the gelato man where a public bathroom was located, and he allowed Rose to use his (never hurts to ask).

caves beneath Polignano al Mare in Italy

The soft rock along the cliffs is home to numerous caves...one is now home to a restaurant.

We walked a few minutes to another nice overlook of the ocean and took more pictures of the caves and town. While we were there, we met a couple from Toronto, Canada, who were taking 10 days to bike around this area of Italy. We then set off back towards the train station and were able to find it with quite minimal issue. We stopped in the piazza outside the station and got a few small cookies as a snack. While waiting for the train, we played some more gin rummy and Rose absolutely dominated. Our time in Polignano was short, but very nice (except for having to carry our packs the whole time). The town is beautiful and we were very pleased with how nice the people seemed to be. Everyone we talked to was very nice to us and we hope this will continue throughout southern Italy.

caves along water in Polignano al Mare, Italy

View of Polignano al Mare from the edge of town. Philip may have had a gelato in hand soon after taking this picture!

The train was only a few minutes late and we were soon onboard for the ride to Lecce. The trip was supposed to take just under two hours, but our actual travel time was less. We spent probably 20 or 30 minutes of the trip waiting at various stations for other trains to pass or for the track ahead to clear. When we got into Lecce, we were both hungry so we stopped at a small bar next to the station and each got a miniature pizza.

We found our bed and breakfast with no trouble at all and rang the doorbell. A lady named Silvia greeted us and took us next door to our room. The place is absolutely gorgeous and definitely welcome after our three nights in the hostel in Bari. The ceiling is full of arches and the large stones that form it are visible (see the pictures for a better description). We checked in and asked Silvia for recommendations on how to spend our one night in Lecce. She told us the places to go and even some good restaurants that are also inexpensive. It has been interesting to note how the timetable for dinner is different across Italy. In Venice, we could dine at almost any time. In most places, 7 pm or 7:30 pm is the norm for dinner. In Rodi Garganico, 8 pm was dinner time, and here in Lecce, dinner is served at 8:30 pm. It is probably good that we have pretty much reached the southern tip of Italy; if we went any further south, dinner might not come until the morning.

We spent a few hours during siesta relaxing in our room, journaling, and of course, napping for Rose. During that time, it rained for a few minutes and we could hear the sounds of thunder off in the distance. At around 5:45 pm, she finally got her butt out of bed and we set off to see the city of Lecce and take care of some logistical business like figuring out our plans for tomorrow. We set off first for the church just down the street from our bed and breakfast, the Chiesa di San Matteo. Of the churches we’ve seen in Lecce, San Matteo has the most beautiful façade and is also the prettiest inside (the Duomo may compete for the latter though we didn’t get to spend much time inside as we’ll discuss in a moment). We spent a few minutes taking pictures of the church and then set off back to the train station to figure out tomorrow’s trip to Otranto.

Chiesa di San Matteo in Lecce, Italy

The ornate exterior of the Chiesa di San Matteo in Lecce.

When we arrived at the train station, Rose scoped out the food options while Philip went to the ticket office to ask about the trip for tomorrow. The ticket agent told us (Rose had returned by this point) that we had to go to another station to get tickets for Otranto. We figured out quickly that there is a second train company, Ferrovie Sud-Est, that operates that line of trains and buses and is located adjacent to the main train station. Before going there, we went to a bar attached to the train station (a different one than when we arrived in Lecce and each got a panini/pizza thing to help combat our hunger. The guy at the counter was very nice and spoke good English. We talked with him for a few minutes about various things and then headed outside with our food.

We had some issue finding the station and ticket office, but we did find a large parking area with buses and several “workers” who were playing cards in a small building. We asked one of them where we could buy tickets for tomorrow and he told us to go around the corner to the bar with the green gazebo. We did such and came upon the most ghetto ticket office we’ve seen to date. The actual office was a small building but the ticket agents were two young guys (at least one appeared to be a university student based on the Economics book that he was reading) who were sitting at a folding table on the side of the building under a green awning. When we asked about buying tickets, the one guy said that we could and he walked over to his car parked nearby and pulled a large cash register/ticket machine from the trunk. He then walked to the bar 10 meters away and unrolled a large extension cord that would reach to his folding table. It was an interesting experience, but we bought our tickets and it only cost about 4 euro total for us to get to Otranto.

Finally, it was almost time to go explore the city, but on the way we stopped back at our bed and breakfast to tell our host when we would like breakfast (9:30 am, if anyone cares). Our first stop was the church of Santa Teresa, another beautiful and ornate church. One interesting thing we noticed in both this church and in San Matteo is that the ceilings look very rough and unadorned. The churches in Assisi had unadorned ceilings, but at least the plaster work was smooth and looked finished. In these two churches here in Lecce, the ceilings almost look as if they were not completely finished and thus appear very rough.

We proceeded on to the Duomo, though only after passing not one, but two brides who were getting ready for pictures or some other festive occasion. In total, we think we saw five or six brides and accompanying grooms or parties in one small area of Lecce tonight. Apparently, June 27th at around 7 pm is the ideal time to get married in this city. It finally became ridiculous when we saw one group of wedding attendees standing outside a church (Santa Croce) while a wedding was going on inside. Our best guess is that the wedding that they were attending had the next time slot in the evening and they had arrived a few minutes early. Nevertheless, the entire historical center of Lecce was full of very well dressed people this evening and we stuck out a bit more than we would have normally.

We made it to the Duomo but only stepped inside for a moment as Saturday evening mass was going on. However, in the back of the Duomo during mass, we saw a crew of people setting up for what looked like yet another wedding (the fancy car to take away the bride and groom was sitting outside in the piazza). The Duomo was beautiful inside, though the outside looked like most of the other churches in Lecce. The facades of almost all the churches are very similar, which is also why San Matteo stands out so much.

military ceremony in Lecce, Italy

We stumbled upon this ceremony (we think young military graduates) in front of a church while walking around Lecce.

We walked from the Duomo over towards the center of town, dodging brides the whole way, of course. We reached a piazza in front of a church where a large crowd had gathered (not a wedding, shockingly) to watch what looked like fresh military graduates stand at attention. Nothing else really happened for the few minutes that we looked on so we left them standing there and continued on to Piazza Sant’Oronzo, where a section of Roman Amphitheater is highlighted in the middle of a piazza. We were originally looking for an above ground complex like those in Verona or Rome, but soon realized our mistake. We took a bunch of pictures around the beautiful piazza, and then headed off to our last planned site, the church of Santa Croce.

Anfiteatro Romano (Roman Amphitheater) in Lecce, Italy

The Anfiteatro Romano (Roman Amphitheater) is the focal point of Lecce's large central square.An interesting structure near the Roman Amphitheater in Lecce.

Santa Croce has one of the most ornate facades that we’ve seen, though it is not as big as some of the others that we’ve seen in other cities. This is where multiple weddings seemed to be occurring so we were unable to investigate the interior. We weaved through the throngs of people out front and then set off for one of the restaurants that our hostess had recommended. When we got there, however, we realized that it was a little pricier than the one near our room and we were not quite hungry enough to have dinner yet. We decided that we would eat at Trattoria Nonna Tetti, so we set off back across town to inform the restaurant that we would be joining them for dinner (this formality is required at a lot of the trattorias that we’ve seen). Along the way, we stopped and got a bottle of water to sate our thirst and help us make until dinner time (45 minutes away).

Chiesa di Santa Croce in Lecce, Italy

When we arrived at the Chiesa di Santa Croce, what did we find? A wedding of course...just one of 6 or 7 that we saw during our one brief night in Lecce.

After making the reservation, we went to an internet café nearby and spent 30 minutes checking emails, trains for our return trip from Otranto, and posting the blog. We walked around afterwards for a few minutes, and then went to the trattoria to have what we hoped would be an amazing dinner. We were led upstairs in the building to a seating area on the first floor (using Italian floor numbering) where only one other table was occupied. Rose ordered gnocchi with tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella and Philip asked the waitress what she suggested. We didn’t really understand what he was ordering, but he went with it anyway.

Our food was spectacular and it turned out that Philip ordered pasta with chick peas and crispy wonton like things. Rose’s gnocchi came oven-baked and was gooey, hot, and delicious. We drank a full two liters of water during our meal and the total still only came to 15 euro (before tip). The atmosphere of the restaurant was amazing and this was definitely one of our favorite (and most affordable) sit down meals in Italy. During our meal, we were discussing the costs of some items (we don’t remember what we were actually talking about) in America and Philip started to give prices in euro rather than dollars. You know you have been in Europe for a long time when you start defaulting to the local currency.

After dinner, we walked a block or two and found a good looking gelateria. For 2 euro, Philip got an enormous cone that was piled high with gelato and even free panna (cream) on the top. The gelato was also some of the best that we’ve had in Italy, especially the pesca (peach), which was very white and tasted like biting into a fresh peach. Philip was beaming as we walked out of the gelateria and he ate his cone (with some help from Rose) as we walked back to the amphitheater one last time.

Philip with cone of gelato in Lecce, Italy

Look at the size of the gelato cone! It should be obvious that Philip is ecstatic at this moment.

We took a few more pictures there at the amphitheater, and then returned to our room to finish journaling and get ready for bed. Tomorrow, we are very excited for what hopes to be an excellent breakfast followed by a day at the beach in Otranto. We found a journal in our room that has entries from different guests dating back to 2005, and several of which complement the quality of breakfast. If we have time in the morning, we will add a short entry of our own to the mix. Lecce has been amazing, and like San Marino, we wish we could stay longer but are also glad to leave with only great memories. Otranto is on the east coast of Italy’s stiletto and will hopefully offer us an amazing day of relaxation AND beach, a combination we did not get in Rodi Garganico (ideally, we will avoid any more landslides as well).

Daily # of gelati: 2

Flavors:
ACE (orange, carrot, lemon)
Fragola (strawberry)

Fragola (strawberry)
Pesca (peach…the best we’ve had yet, it was like biting into a peach and was white instead of orange)
Kit-Kat (Kit-Kat)

We woke up this morning at 7:45 am and stumbled around in the darkness as we tried to get ready for the day. Our French Canadian roommates had claimed that they would be up by around 6 am, but in the total darkness of our room, they were definitely still sleeping when we left for the day. We walked from our hostel down to the train station, stopping only for Rose’s morning juice fix at a supermarket. The juice cost 1.40 euro but when we went to pay with a 20 euro bill, the lady asked if we had any change to pay with instead. We handed over the 1.12 euro in Philip’s pocket and she was content to let us go with that (the supermarket was in disarray and the staff seemed in a hurry, which probably explains why she was happy to come up 28 cents short. We made the 15 minute walk from our hostel to the train station in about 25 minutes, though this was not because we got lost but rather because of a lot of construction blocking our planned route. However, when we arrived at the train station we became hopelessly lost as we searched for the adjacent train station that served a different rail company that we were riding for the day. After walking way too far out of our way, we managed to find the station by asking several people for directions (it turns out that the station is drawn incorrectly on our map, and is really four blocks closer to the other station building than the map indicates…we walked by it without realizing as we followed our map).

Philip and Rose at Castel del Monte in southern Italy

After journeying by both train and bus, we made it to Castel del Monte!

We rushed into the station, purchased our tickets for the train ride to Andria, and ran downstairs to catch our train. We had allotted 45 minutes to get from the hostel to the train station, but with the construction and our inability to find the station, this was just barely enough. As we were about to hop on the train, Philip had a revelation and stopped to validate our tickets (it’s much nicer when these types of revelations happen before getting on the train, rather than what happened when going to Assisi). We hopped on board one of the prettier trains that we’ve seen thus far, and a minute later departed for the city of Andria, about a 45 minute ride away. As we rode, we ate our pizza and sandwiches that we had purchased last night, and admired the images of ourselves and others that kept cycling through on the train’s closed circuit television (for some reason, there was a monitor right in front of our seats).

Our plans for the day began with a visit to Castel del Monte, a beautiful castle built by Frederick the Second that lies about 15 km outside of Andria. We were not able to fully figure out the bus schedule during our internet time yesterday, so we descended from the train in Andria unsure of our next move. We went to the ticket office to inquire about the bus, but the clerk was not there. There was, however, a helpful man standing in front of the ticket window who pointed to the bus schedule that was posted there in an obscure location. We knew that we had to take Line #6 and the schedule indicated that it would depart at 10:10 am for Castel del Monte.

A bit more confident (perhaps not justified, though), we headed outside to the bus stop directly in front of the station and asked a driver in the bus labeled Line #6 where we could buy tickets. He told us that we could find them at a Tabacchi store, about 100 meters from where we were currently standing. A digital signboard next to the bus stop indicated that the bus would depart at 10:15 am (what happened to 10:10?) and Philip even verified this departure time with the driver. We set off in the direction the driver had indicated, only to become a bit confused. We ended up doing a full circle around the block without finding the Tabacchi. We went into a gelateria to ask for more help, and asked a patron there where the Tabacchi was located. After telling us (we think) that we were too young to be smoking cigarettes, he gave us more or less the same directions to the Tabacchi as the bus driver had. Before departing, we made sure to explain that we were not in search of cigarettes but only bus tickets.

We found the Tabacchi shop about 10 meters beyond where we had made a turn during our last attempt. From the spot where we turned, the sign was quite visible and we have no idea how we missed seeing it the first time. We bought our bus tickets to both go and return (a steal at only 0.45 euro each way) and came back to the bus stop. The time was 10:11 am and to our horror, the bus marked Line #6 was gone! Very confused, we asked the driver of the bus that was now at the bus stop (Line #7) where we could get on the Line #6 bus. He pointed across the piazza to the area right in front of our gelateria and we headed over there still quite confused. The area was indeed a bus stop, though the sign board there only listed Lines 1, 2, and 3. Notably absent, was Line #6.

Castel del Monte near Bari, Italy

Castel del Monte standing alone in the countryside near Bari.

We waited there for a few minutes (it was not around 10:20 am) before we went back across the piazza to ask the ticket agent (now back in his little glass box) where the bus stop was located. He confirmed what the driver had said and we once more walked across the piazza. After another few minutes, a bus pulled up to that bus stop and parked there. It was not Line #6, so we decided to ask that driver when the bus would arrive. He told us that it would come in 10 minutes (interestingly, this is the answer that you will get the majority of the time when you ask when a bus is coming, regardless of when it is actually supposed to arrive.

To help soothe his frustrations, Philip wandered back into the gelateria and got a very large cone for only 1.30 euro. As Philip came back with his gelato, the driver was outside the bus with his bus schedule in hand and began to tell us that the bus had already passed through at 10:15 am. We tried to explain that this was not possible as we had been in the piazza since 10:11 am. Throughout all of this, we knew that the next bus would not depart until 11:30 or 11:45, depending on whose bus schedule you looked at, and we were quite frustrated that we might have to wait around for over an hour to catch that bus. As the driver was finishing telling us that we had missed the bus, he stopped mid-sentence as the bus marked Line #6 came around the corner and arrived at the bus stop 15 minutes late.

We got onboard, quite relieved, and took our seats at the very back of the bright orange city bus. The ride to the castle was uneventful, though the majority of it was through beautiful orchards and vineyards and we were able to see the castle getting larger as we approached. Before departing the bus, Philip asked the driver when the next bus back to Andria would leave from the castle and the driver said it would go at 12:30 pm (the schedule in the train station said 12:20 pm). We walked over to an information booth, decided to pass on a 5 euro guide book, and dodged the 100 or so school age children that were there as we headed up the hill towards the castle entrance.

octagonal castle, Castel del Monte, in southern Italy

Designed as an octagon and built with great precision, Castel del Monte is an impressive sight.

When we got to the ticket office, we learned that tickets were only 1.50 euro for people between the ages of 18 and 25. We told the lady that we were both students and she inquired about our disciplines. We informed her that we were studying engineering and she proceeded to tell us that our total was 3 euro. As we did this, we read on the sign that students of architecture could enter for free, and we explained that Rose was a student of Architectural Engineering. A minute later, we were walking away from the ticket window with a reduced ticket for Philip and a free entrance for Rose (she would like it know that this is “because she is cooler and Philip wishes that he was studying architecture as well”).

The castle is laid out as a perfect octagon with octagonal towers/bastions at the corners, and is the same beautiful white color as the Basilica di San Nicolo in Bari. The castle is fairly bare in adornments, but we were able to walk through all but one room of both floors and the posted information was very interesting and in English (for the most part). We spent about an hour going through the castle, looking out the upstairs windows at the amazing views of the countryside, and admiring the numerous arches that spanned each room. Just as we were about to depart from the castle, we were blocked from entering our last room by all 100 school children. Since we had time, we waited for a few minutes until they cleared out and we went inside to see the small remnant of mosaic floor and to read more signboards.

clouds in sky above Castel del Monte

Looking up out of the center courtyard of Castel del Monte.

After exiting the castle, we walked around its perimeter and took pictures from several angles. After a complete revolution, we returned to the bus stop a few minutes earlier than necessary just to ensure that there were no issues. We spent our time puzzling, watching the hordes of children, and getting eaten by ants (and perhaps flying things, as well). The bus showed up fashionably late at 12:40 pm and we were on our way back to Andria. The ride was again uneventful and we departed into the train station to purchase our tickets for the return trip to Bari, with a stop in Ruvo di Puglia.

The train didn’t depart for about 20 minutes, so we set off back to the gelateria to find a snack. Rose got a chocolate-filled pastry and a spinach-ricotta hors d’oeuvre. Philip decided to go for his second gelato of the day, a cone of fiordilatte and chocolate (since he is no longer ill, the medicinal gelato line will no longer work. However, he would like it known that this gelato was consumed not as a dessert, but rather as a means for getting calcium to his bones…osteoporosis is no fun and he is doing his best to prevent such issues in his future).

We returned to the train station and were soon on our train to Ruvo di Puglia. We had a slight issue in figuring out which platform the train would arrive at, but Rose figured it out with her deduction abilities (there is only one track coming in and out of the station, which splits into two at the station. She figured out that the first train to arrive would go to the far platform and the later train would come to the near one, otherwise people wouldn’t be able to get to the far train…Philip would like it known that Rose is so smart sometimes!).

We boarded the train and spent almost 10 minutes sitting at the station while we waited for the train in the opposite direction to arrive at the station. We weren’t thrilled about waiting but we soon realized that it was a far better alternative to a head on collision with another train. Once we finally got going, the ride was only about 15 minutes to the town of Ruvo di Puglia. When we got off the train, we exited into a nice, light drizzle.

Unfortunately, the nice, light drizzle quickly progressed to a downpour. Rose pulled her rain coat out of the day pack and put it on, while Philip contemplated the fact that he did not even bring a rain jacket on the trip (actually, the rain was quite warm and he was completely fine without a jacket). We looked at a beautiful, embossed street-side map, at first enamored with its beauty, but we soon became frustrated when we realized that the very style that made the map so beautiful also made it difficult to use. We got a general idea of where to go to find the town’s Duomo and set off in the rain to explore.

Philip and Rose in Ruvo di Puglia, wet from rain

Standing in front of the Duomo doors, a bit wetter than before thanks to the brief torrent of rain.

We walked through Ruvo di Puglia, doing our best to hug buildings and walk under trees to prevent getting soaked. It took a while to find the Duomo but we were eventually successful and entered onto a lovely piazza in front of the church. Like most of the other ancient constructions in this region of Italy, the Duomo is constructed of a white limestone. The main portal of the church is flanked by two beautifully carved winged lions, perhaps indicating some relationship with Venice (there is a Venetian Chiesa di San Marco in Bari so it is definitely possible that Ruvo di Puglia has a Venetian influence as well). Unfortunately, we arrived during siesta and the church was not open for visiting. After taking pictures of the façade, we set off from the piazza to return to the train station.

Duomo in Ruvo di Puglia, Italy

The facade of the Duomo in Ruvo di Puglia looks a lot like the churches of Bari...not everyone can pay to import stone from hundreds of miles away.

Our trip back was rather circuitous as we had no map and only a general idea of where the station lay. Eventually, we stopped at a gas station (the first gas station we’ve seen that was similar to those in America) and asked for directions to the station. The attendant there was happy to help and set us on our way about a half kilometer back to the station. It turns out we had walked a bit too far west and not quite enough south, but we made it pretty close on our own.

At the train station, we both had to use the restroom and we knew the station had a public bathroom. However, the station cleaning man told us that the restroom was closed until 4 pm. We wondered why such a necessary public facility would close for siesta, but didn’t question him about it. Instead, we walked inside the small station to the ticket office to ask which track our train would arrive on (platform 2) and if there was a public bathroom nearby. He told us that the station had a public bathroom and we then explained about it being closed. Another man in the area, perhaps also an employee, then set off towards the platform where the cleaning man currently was. A minute later, the cleaning man came to us and gave us the keys to both the men’s and women’s lavatories. We’re not sure what all the fuss was about but we did both get to use the bathroom for free, which is not an easy feat to accomplish in Italy.

We had about 25 minutes before the train arrived, which we spent playing gin rummy. The train arrived on time and the train ride back to Bari was uneventful (well, Rose took a little nap but nothing else happened). We exited the train station and walked over to the main station to figure out our travel plans for tomorrow. We plan on stopping in a small town along the coast on the way to Lecce, and we were excited to learn that it was on the same Regional train line as the ride from Bari to Lecce. We bought our tickets so that we wouldn’t have to deal with it in the morning, and then headed back towards the historic center of town to get some food.

We returned yet again to our favorite panini/pizza shop (yes, it is that good) and we each got a piece of pizza to eat there. Our hunger satisfied, we walked down the block to the gelateria where we each got some dessert. On our way back to our hostel, we stopped at the soccer cages and watched a bit of soccer from on top of the city wall. We then returned to the hostel and spent a while journaling, organizing pictures, organizing our belongings and clothes, and resting.

At around 7:30 pm, we were starting to get hungry again so we walked back one last time to our favorite square. On the way, we stopped at the port and the bus stop there to check the schedule for our trip to the station in the morning with our packs. We checked at the nearby Giornali to see if we could buy bus tickets but the shop did not sell them. We walked to Piazza Mercantile and went to a potato/panini shop to get dinner. We split a panino, a small order of steak French fries, and some mozzarella balls (a lot more like the American variety than the previous ones we had). We ate while people watching in Piazza Ferrarese and had a lovely time seeing the night culture in Bari one last time.

countryside in southern Italy near Castel del Monte

The countryside near Castel del Monte.

When we finished eating, we went back to our favorite panini shop once again to get breakfast for the morning. Since we were in the area, Philip stopped at the gelateria and got his night-time gelato which he ate (and shared with Rose) while we walked back to our hostel via the soccer cages. We stopped and watched for a few minutes, both impressed by the high level of skill the players seemed to have, and Philip was at least a bit jealous that he didn’t get to go play. We also witnessed two guys take a restroom break at the hedge that lines the outside of the cage (bold, but we suppose they were well covered…at least from the side that matters).

We returned to our hostel and finished journaling for the day. We packed our bags so we wouldn’t have to in the morning before our early departure, and got ready for the night. Tomorrow, we travel to Lecce via Polignano al Mare and we are really excited to be spending a night in a Bed and Breakfast there. Our hostel experience in Bari has been interesting, though we are definitely ready to move to slightly nicer accommodations. As an aside, the guy who manages the hostel spends a significant amount of time just sitting in the little lobby area downstairs. He never seems to be reading a book, watching television, talking on the telephone, or anything…just staring at the wall. It’s a little bit unnerving and we can’t imagine how he hasn’t died of boredom in the last three days since we’ve been here, let alone however long he has worked for the hostel.

Anyways, we head out in the morning on our way further south to explore more of Italy. Bari has been an amazing place to stop and see Italian culture away from tourism, but it is time to move on and see other cities. We are about two thirds of the way through our trip (Philip frowns and gets sad every time we mention that), but we still have 19 days in this amazing country. Our trip has been incredible so far and we really look forward to what the remainder has to offer.

Daily # of gelati: 5!

Flavors:
Anguria (watermelon)
Fragola (strawberry)
Golden Kiwi (self-explanatory)

Cioccolato (chocolate)
Fiordilatte (milk cream)

Vaniglia (vanilla)
Stracciatella (chocolate chip)
Ananas (pineapple)

Fragola e Banana (strawberry and banana)

Ananas (pineapple)
Cocco (coconut)
Fragola e Banana (strawberry and banana)

For the first time that we can remember, it was not raining when we woke up this morning. We both slept well, though were woken up at 3:30 am when the people living above us passed through our room on their way in for the night/morning. We also were woken up around 8:00 am when our Russian roommates arose and started rustling about. We finally got out of our bunk bed at around 8:30 am and began our own set of rustling. We got ready for the day, stood in the line for the hostel’s only bathroom (didn’t take as long as we expected), and organized our belongings around our bunk.

Philip and Rose in Bari, Italy

Here we are out on the town in Bari.

As an aside, here is a little bit of insight into our hostel. The building is four or five stories tall, but only 15 feet by 12 feet in horizontal dimensions. Essentially, it is a series of rooms with two bunk beds each stacked on top of each other, connected together by very steep staircases/ladders that are carved out of wood. It is about as awkward an arrangement as one could imagine, made even more so by the fact that we are in the first room above the lobby and get all the descending foot traffic from above passing through our room. Below the lobby area (again, we’re talking 15 feet by 12 feet) is a floor that contains just the bathroom with an accordion door at the bottom of the staircase to prevent bathroom barging incidents.

Before we headed out for the day, we decided to organize our pictures from yesterday while they were still fresh in our minds. Having done this, we walked outside and set off in search of a proper breakfast (we snacked on the remainder of the pilfered cookies from Rodi Garganico while we did pictures). After stopping at our local neighborhood market to get Rose here juice, we returned to Piazza Mercantile where we had dinner last night, hoping to find an open panini shop or someplace where we could get food. Unfortunately, everything in the area was closed (we can’t fault them too much as it was not yet even 10 am) so we left the historic center of town and explored the more modern area of Bari.

Only a few minutes after leaving the historic center, we wandered into a very crowded bar/pasticceria where we each got pastries at 70 eurocent each. Our hunger slightly sated, we continued to explore and Philip soon spotted a gelateria. After giving Rose puppy dog eyes, she finally gave in and allowed him to go get his first cone of gelato for the day. He ate as we walked and we returned to the historical center of town to revisit the Basilica di San Nicola.

red and white flags in quaint street in Bari, Italy

This street in Bari proudly displayed its colors in the form of rows and rows of small flags between the buildings.

On the way, we stopped back at the Cattedrale di San Sabino and peeked inside to see it one more time. To our surprise, there were no indications that a concert had taken place there the previous evening. All of the sound equipment, lighting, and even the boom operated camera were gone from the church and we were able to see it in its natural state. We spent a few minutes sitting there and then headed to San Nicola. We went inside the basilica and sat down in the back pew to look at the architecture.

Here is the description we promised about the basilica that everyone has waited so patiently for (actually, we will be quite impressed if anyone is keeping up this closely with the blog to even notice the one day delay in basilica information…and after yesterday’s four and a half page entry, we’re impressed if anyone is still reading at all). The Basilica, like the majority of the historic city, is built from a white limestone like rock that must be local to the area. The walls are not covered in marble façade, like many other churches, but rather leave exposed the core building material. However, unlike the church of San Pietro in Assisi, the look remains elegant and appears finished, rather than rough and crude looking. San Nicola has a unique architecture with a tall center aisle and side aisles with a second story balcony.

The most interesting architectural feature is the arches that span the center aisle, but at a height that only reaches the floor of the balcony. The look is really cool and the lower arches make the space feel more intimate, but yet don’t detract from the awe inspired by the incredible height of the church. The other reason that the arches are so interesting is that they are not orthogonal to the walls of the church. Rather, they are slightly askew, which becomes very apparent by looking straight up at the ceiling from the back of the church. Once we noticed this, we looked more closely at the columns lining the center aisle and discovered that they are not well aligned. We spent a while discussing reasons why the church would have been built this way but came to no solid conclusions. Again, if anyone can tell us the reason behind this strange architectural feature, we would be most appreciative.

ceiling of Basilica di San Nicolo in Bari, Italy

We still think that these arches don't line up quite perpendicularly to the walls and ceiling. No idea why it was buil this way but it really bothers us!

Beneath the church lies the beautiful crypt which contains the remains of San Nicola. However, the bones of Santa Clause have not always been in Bari, but were stolen by Barese seamen from some other town and laid beneath the basilica (an interesting way to gain a patron saint for your city, to be sure). After finishing our second visit to the basilica, we headed back outside and set off to see more of the historic center.

We were getting hungry again by this point, so we headed back towards Piazza Mercantile to check and see if anything was open yet (it wasn’t). We decided to head out into the newer area of Bari to hopefully find food where people were a bit more prevalent (for the most part, the historical section of town doesn’t come alive until evening). After a lot of walking, and a bit of sitting in the shade, we found a focacceria that had what looked to be amazing panini and pizza. We each got a panini and took our meals to another set of park benches nearby to eat. The sandwiches were very tasty and well worth the time it took to find them. Our hunger sated, we headed back to the historical center to explore the beautiful castle there.

wall of Castello Normanno Svevo in Bari, Italy

The stone walls of Castello Normanno Svevo near the center of Bari.

The castle, Castello Normanno Svevo, costs a nominal one euro per person to enter and was well worth the price. Only a small portion of the building is open for visiting as the majority is used as offices for the local forest conservation department and other related services. Several rooms of the castle contain artwork from the area and we were able to see some really cool paintings that incorporated stamped metal into the piece (a touch we have not seen anywhere else). During this week, the castle is also playing host to the Bari Jazz Music Festival, and we saw a crew setting up musical equipment in the center courtyard. The castle was first begun in the 11th century and has been modified numerous times over the years. In one area, we were able to see excavations that brought to light some features from the earlier constructions that had since been covered up. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the museum of plaster casts as that area was closed for renovations.

Stamped metal painting inside Castello Normanno Svevo in Bari, Italy

We loved this piece of art inside the castle. It's a unique combination of painted canvas and metal accents that we hadn't seen before.

Upon leaving the castle, we once more returned to the Piazza Mercantile and Piazza Ferrarese area, this time to try and find the information booth there that was shown on our map. Ultimately, we were unsuccessful in locating it, so we chose instead to walk the 10 minutes down to the train station where we knew an information booth resided. The walk was gorgeous and we spent much of it in the shade of the tree lined streets. As we walked, Philip scoped out the different gelaterias as we passed them, and finally got a cone when he found one that suited his fancy. When we got to the train station, we made a pit stop at the public water closet (80 eurocent each, but when you gotta go, you gotta go).

We proceeded on to the information office and asked the lady there numerous questions about where to find various businesses. She was very helpful and gave us directions to an internet point, a supermarket, and a Laundromat. She also informed us that the town had numerous barbers and that there are even several in the historic center. Unfortunately, she followed that up by saying that a haircut cost about 20 euro, a price that is hard to swallow when one is used to getting free haircuts for his entire life (well, there was the one time in Utah, but we shall not bring that up as the memories are just too painful).

We set off from the information booth and began our quest for the various businesses. We inquired at the internet point about pricing (we hurried out as soon as possible because the room was wall-to-wall with people), and then set off for the Laundromat. When we got there, a sign on the door said “back in five minutes” so we stood outside and waited. Within two minutes, though, a man came from the back of the store, saw us standing there, and let us in. We asked about the pricing and were excited to learn that we could also get internet there. We headed back to our hostel to grab the computer and our dirty laundry (basically every clothing item we have, minus Philip’s socks and boxers, which have been washed in various sinks over the past week…update on the socks: they are almost dry and it has only taken two and a half days!).

We returned to the Laundromat with our clothes and dumped them in the medium sized washer (we tried the small, but it was so tight that we doubt water could have gotten through). Our time at the Laundromat was amazing and definitely a highlight of Bari and even our trip. The man who works there spoke very good English and we were shocked to learn that he was actually a native of Bari (we assumed he had moved to Italy or at least had been educated elsewhere). We spent about two hours at the Laundromat, posting the blog, checking trains (less productive than we had hoped as the Trenitalia website was not functional), figuring out our plans for tomorrow, and conversing with the laundry guy. Through our conversations with him, we learned more about Italy, the culture, the differences between northern and southern Italy, the customs of Bari (they are one of five places in the world that eat raw octopus), and even that he has never had a visitor from the great state of Tennessee (apparently, people from every other state have visited, but for some reason those Tennesseeans don’t go to Bari and do their laundry…we will make it a point to contact the people we know in Tennessee and recommend a vacation destination). At one point, he wandered across the street with another person to a coffee shop and came back carrying a small cup of iced coffee drink for us to try, which was like a coffee flavored whipped cream (it was pretty darn good, even according to Philip who doesn’t like coffee). He even gave us an amazing destination to check out as we travel from Bari to Lecce in a few days, a beautiful sea-side town called Polignano al Mare.

modern buildings in Bari, Italy

Typical residential buildings in Bari.

The laundry experience was fantastic, though a bit pricy. We figure it was worth it since this is the first time since we left home that our clothes have been both clean and dry at the same time. We took our laundered clothing back to the hostel and spent a little while there journaling and for Philip, showering. Feeling more rested and refreshed, and also hungrier, we set off towards our favorite piazzas with the intent of going to a Doner Kebab. We haven’t been to a Doner Kebab since Venice, and we were both craving the amazing combination of meat, bread, lettuce, and white sauce. When we arrived at the restaurant, we found it curiously dark though still open. As it turns out, they were having electrical problems and while we waited to order, the lights turned on and off several times and we heard the familiar sound of a circuit breaker tripping. They finally got it figured out, though, and we were soon seated at a table with two very tasty kebab sandwiches. While it is hard to compare between restaurants over such a long period of time, we both agreed that these were among the best we’ve tasted in Italy.

After finishing our food, we walked a block or two to a gelateria recommended by our laundry friend. Rose wasn’t feeling hungry enough, but naturally, Philip got a cone. After Rose tasted the gelato, we returned to the gelateria and got her a cone as well. When we returned, the lady working there smiled and laughed as she figured out what had happened. The gelato was quite good, though not the best that we have had in Italy. We ate our cones while sitting in the piazza and watching people milling about and loitering. As with last night, there were several pockets of children kicking soccer balls and a handful riding bicycles.

When we finished the gelato, we walked back to our focacceria from earlier today to get breakfast for tomorrow (we’ve gotten fed up with being hungry and not being able to get food). Philip got two slices of pizza and Rose got the same panini that Philip had earlier today. Food in hand, we returned to the piazza to do a bit more people watching. As is becoming custom, Philip took more pictures of pretty clouds while Rose just shook her head.

We proceeded around the corner to watch some soccer in the soccer courts from on top of the city wall. As we were watching a small pick-up game of young children, we noticed a fight break out between a kid in an orange uniform and another in street clothes. They wrestled around on the ground a little before some older kids broke up the fight. Both seemed pretty angry, but the kid in street clothes walked away outside the soccer cage and everything seemed ok. As we continued watching, another fight seemed to break out between different people outside of the soccer cage, which grabbed the attention of the kid in street clothes. Suddenly, the kid in the orange uniform, noticing that his opponent was distracted along with the boys who broke up the fight, rushed out of the cage and tackled the kid from behind. They wrestled around a bit more, and one older kid (perhaps orange’s brother) seemed to be helping rather than hindering the attack. Nevertheless, the fight was broken up and everyone went their separate ways. Unfortunately for us, these events seemed to end any real soccer games for the evening, though it was fun to watch.

small cage soccer pitch in Bari, Italy

One of two small soccer pitches along the harbor. The competition was intense and the displays of skill were very fun to watch.

We returned to our hostel and spent the remainder of the evening finishing the journaling that we had started earlier and organizing pictures. Rose took her shower and we settled in for our second night in Bari. Since the Russian couple has left, we now have new roommates who are traveling from Quebec, Canada (their native language is French) to Italy and Croatia. They seem very nice, but are only hear for a night so we probably won’t get to know them very well. Tomorrow, we plan on exploring some areas outside of Bari and will take a day trip to Castel del Monte and the town of Ruvo di Puglia. We don’t yet have all the details worked out and we sincerely hope that we can reach our destinations.

Daily # of gelati: 4

Flavors:
Ananas (pineapple)
Fragola (strawberry)

Mango (mango)
Cocco (coconut)
Fragola (strawberry)

Anguria (watermelon)
Pesca (peach)
Ananas (pineapple)

Mela (apple)
Ananas (pineapple)
Frutti di Bosco (mixed berries)

As we have started to expect, it rained through the night and we woke up at 8:45 am with the rain finally tapering off. We both slept fairly poorly and each woke up several times during the night, which is why we can say with certainty that it did in fact rain throughout. We went down to breakfast and were delighted (sarcasm) to see that even more mud has washed across the railroad lines and the situation was now worse than what we saw yesterday morning. After taking several pictures to document the mess, we sat down to breakfast and enjoyed our morning croissants and other fare. Since we were travelling, we also took a few extra little breakfast cookies to help hold us during our various rides of the day (in this particular case, a “few” is approximately equivalent to what will fit in a small sandwich Ziploc bag). Before you condemn us for pilfering sweets, we would like it known that we watched an elderly lady shoveling pastries into her handbag in plain sight of the staff and everyone else without any comment.

Philip and Rose in Bari, Italy

Spoiler alert...the weather is better in Bari than it was in Rodi Garganico!

We finished breakfast and went back up to our room to pack our belongings. Yesterday afternoon, Philip had the brilliant idea to wash all of his socks in the sink (well, all but one lonely sock that has no mate), and they were all still fairly wet this morning. The weather was quite humid because of all the rain and there was just too much moisture in the air to allow the socks to dry. He threw them all into a Ziploc bag and decided to deal with the situation at another time. Incidentally, this also explains why he was wearing a pair of Rose’s socks today. We packed our bags, and at 10 am on the dot, headed downstairs to check out of the hotel.

From a bit of intelligence gathering during breakfast, we knew that we would have to traverse a sizable mudpit/river to get across the train tracks from the hotel to the road (the road wasn’t peachy, by the way, but at least it wasn’t ankle deep in mud). Rose elected to go for the flip flop method, resigning herself to cleaning her feet, but hopefully saving her shoes from a lot of heartache. Philip, on the other hand, boldly stepped forth in his sneakers and rolled up jeans, hoping not to step in the wrong place or get off balance and fall over because of the large backpack. We both successfully traversed the area, though with different routes, and it turned out that sneakers were a slightly better option (this is only because the flip flops got a bit stuck with every step and a large amount of mud was flung into the air as Rose pulled them free).

We walked down to the intersection just past the train station so that we could ask the police officer stationed there (preventing cars from going down our road because of the cleanup effort and the impromptu river) for information about the train/bus. He informed us that the train was indeed not running…and that the bus would not be picking up from the train station. Rather, the bus would be picking up in the center of town, a nice uphill walk from our present location. A bit disheartened, we set forth towards town and climbed to the top. We stopped at the Tabacchi where we had purchased our tickets yesterday to inquire about the actual location of the stop. 20 seconds after we asked, another man came up and asked the exact same question. The clerk had told me that he didn’t know, but after hearing the question again, perhaps in better Italian, the clerk gave the guy directions and we set off after him destined for the bus stop.

flooding of railroad tracks in Rodi Garganico

Just when they had gotten the tracks cleaned up, a bigger mudslide came down the hill and left this in its wake.

It turns out, the bus stop was quite a walk from the Tabacchi and we were sweaty and exhausted when we finally made it. Fortunately, the bus was 10 minutes later than we expected and we had a chance to rest on a park bench (we later learned that it was a dirty park bench, primarily based on the large dirt marks across our backs). The bus came and we settled in for the hour and a half long ride to the San Severo train station. About a quarter of the way through, we came to a complete stop on the shoulder of the on-ramp to the Autostrada (highway) and the driver informed us that we needed to switch buses to go to San Severo. We dashed across the road with our packs, along with the majority of the other riders, and got onto our new bus (we think this happened because of the flooding and blocked roads in so much of Rodi Garganico and the surrounding areas). The second bus ride was just long enough to make Rose motion sick and we were happy to get off the bus in San Severo. The bus that we had been on, operated by the Ferrovie del Gargano, continued on to Foggia (this will be important soon).

We went inside to the ticket agent and purchased two tickets to Bari. Through all the commotion of the morning, we had forgotten that our train transfer was to take place in Foggia, the final destination of our previous bus. Because the bus was late, we missed the train that we were going to take to Foggia by less than a minute, and learned that we would have to wait 45 minutes before taking another BUS to Foggia instead. At least the unnecessary layover wasn’t a complete waste of time, because it gave Rose a chance to recover from her motion sickness and we were able to grab some lunch from the bar/pizzeria next to the train station. We also splurged (1.50 euro) and got 10 little fried balls of mozzarella. These are not like the greasy, gooey mozzarella sticks that we have in America, but are literally a little ball of fresh mozzarella that has been fried. When you bite into it, you can feel the moisture in the cheese and they are far superior to the T.G.I. Friday’s appetizer.

As we should have expected, the bus to take us to Foggia was just over 15 minutes late. We saw two other buses destined for Foggia, but both of these were operated by different companies than the Ferrovie del Stato (Italy’s primary train company) and would not honor our tickets. It would not have been a big problem that the bus was so late, except that we had just a 21 minute layover in Foggia (for those doing the math, this leaves us with a little fewer than six minutes if everything else goes to schedule, which it never does). The ride was supposed to be 35 minutes long, a journey that we managed to race through in about 39 minutes. This left us with two minutes to grab our bags from beneath the bus, race into the station, run down the stairs into the under passage, go all the way to platform six, and race up the stairs to the platform. We made it onto the train with about 30 seconds to spare and were soon on our way to Bari (naturally, the only vehicles that were on time for us in the entire day, were the two that we needed to connect with…fortunately, we made the second one).

The trip south was uneventful and we each took very short naps during the ride. The highlight of the train ride was passing by the large Barilla pasta factory. Rose had a nice moment of feeling at home in Iowa and she took several pictures to commemorate the event. We arrived in Bari and immediately went to the information booth directly outside the front door of the station. After finishing helping two Canadians, the information lady gave us all sorts of useful information, brochures, and a tourist map of Bari. We headed across the plaza where we bought our bus tickets to take us to our hostel. The bus stop/station was a madhouse of chaos; buses were lined up in multiple directions and in multiple rows with no real indication of what bus belonged where. After waiting for about 15 minutes, we finally saw our bus, 20/ (who names a bus 20/ anyway?), pull into the farthest row, blocked from sight by no less than three other buses. As we walked over there, we marveled at the fact that anyone can ever find the proper bus without getting run over or exhausted in the process. After finding the bus, the actual ride was a breeze and after only five minutes, we departed along with everyone else at the city’s main port. We found our room with little trouble though we did have to tiptoe around a dead pigeon in a narrow alleyway (Rose was not thrilled).

Barilla factory in Italy

Rose felt oddly at home as we passed this Barilla factory on the way to Bari...a similar factory resides in Iowa near her home.

We knocked on the door of the building and were met with no response. We repeated the previous action several times before finally getting frustrated enough to call the phone number for the hostel (we had already called once today to alert them of our arrival time). A guy answered and merely told us to knock on the door and somebody would answer. After hanging up, we continued knocking for about five minutes. Finally, a man came walking from around the corner to let us into the building (we are really not sure why knocking was supposed to summon him from elsewhere, but we suppose it did work).

We checked in and were led up the stairs to our room shared with two other people. Our roommates are an older Russian couple and it is a little awkward to be sharing a room with people our parent’s age (or older). They seem very nice, though, and hopefully we will get a chance to talk to them more if they are staying for a couple of days like we are. We had a small issue with acquiring sheets for the beds (still unresolved after multiple attempts as of the writing of this entry at 10 pm), but decided to deal with it later so we dropped our bags and headed out to see the city of Bari.

Basilica di San Nicolo in Bari, Italy

Bari's Duomo, the Basilica di San Nicolo, which is named after good ole St. Nick.

We walked without plan around the historic center (which is also where our hostel is located), and soon ended up at the Basilica di San Nicola. San Nicola (Saint Nicholas) is the patron saint of Bari and of children. This is why Bari is sometimes called the city of Santa Clause (Saint Nick). We plan on returning to the basilica tomorrow, so we will save any description of it until then. We proceeded on to another church, the Cattedrale di San Sabino, and were shocked to find a very modern production being set up. When we walked in the doors, we were met by the sights of a large sound board, over a dozen people bustling around setting up equipment, and even a boom operated camera. We looked around the upstairs briefly before descending down into the crypt.

The crypt was beautifully adorned with inlaid marble floors and a beautifully painted ceiling. The area had numerous columns and the altar was small, but ornate. On one side of the room there was a small chapel with what looked like a tomb in the floor; it bore an inscription of the lady’s name and the years of her life (she died at just 22 in 1999). The other side of the room had a plexiglass box that contained a decrepit looking body. We were unable to determine if it was a well preserved corpse (relic) or just a very life-like and realistic sculpture (if anybody can clear this up for us, we would be most appreciative).

We went back up into the main area of the cathedral and were delighted to see that the lighting system was being tested out. The altar area was lit up beautifully with purple and white lights and we discussed for a few minutes how amazing it would be to see all of the churches lit up like that. We are both what we could classify as “lighting nerds” and are enamored with illuminating things in a nice way (especially if it involves LEDs!).

pink LED lighting in Catholic church in Bari, Italy

It's not everyday you see a Catholic church with pink LED lighting!

After leaving the church, we walked out of that piazza and found ourselves face to face with a magnificent and large castle. We checked inside to see about costs and hours, but were met with a man who merely said closed and open in the morning. It would be nice to have more information than “open in the morning” but we figure we will show up at 5:00 am and hope for the best (well, not really, but it would be nice for people to actually tell hours occasionally). We walked around the perimeter of the castle and started to head back towards our end of the historic city to grab dinner.

On our way, we spotted yet another church with open doors and Philip just couldn’t resist going in. We walked inside the wrong door but a nice man inside directed us along towards the sanctuary. The church was small and seemed fairly recently redone, but it was nonetheless beautiful and elegant. We sat for a few minutes and looked around before getting up to leave. As we were about to exit, a lady came up to us and wanted to show us something. She took us over to a side chapel and said in Italian, “Look at the eyes of Jesus”. She turned off the chapel light and then turned it back on and we were able to see the very cool effect of the statue’s glass eyes. They sparkled subtly and we probably would not have noticed it if she hadn’t taken the time to show us. We’re still not sure if she worked at the church or was just a parishioner excited to show off her little church to tourists, but we thanked her and exited back outside.

We ended up walking all the way around the peninsula of the historic center in our quest for an evening meal. We passed up on a few places that just didn’t feel right before finding ourselves in Piazza Mercantile, a beautiful piazza full of shops and restaurants. We found a trattoria that had excellent prices and a good feel, but were sad to learn that it didn’t open for an hour. We were both hungry at this point, but decided that it would be worth the wait. In the mean time, we got a gelato to tide us over and to ensure that Philip didn’t go without for the first time in the trip. On that note, as we walked around town we saw several stores that advertised as “gelateria” but only had a freezer of pre-packaged ice cream treats. Some people writing this blog view this as blasphemy and find it very slanderous to the good name of gelato.

harbor in Bari, Italy at night

Bari has a beautiful harbor with sailboats and fluffy clouds overhead.

There was a slight breeze and the night was getting a bit chilly, so we decided to return to our hostel to grab our jackets before returning to the restaurant. Philip took the opportunity to hang his socks (still just as wet as before) on the bed rail and we got our beds ready for when we got back. We walked back across the historic center to the restaurant and sat down at an outside table to enjoy our meal. Dinner was phenomenal and was exceptionally nice since we haven’t had a sit down dinner in several days. We had a bruschetta appetizer, two bottles of mineral water (the coldest we’ve ever had in Italy), a pasta dish with the local “ear-shaped” pasta and a stuffed beef wrap, and a plate of risotto with mussels and potatoes (a typical local meal). We enjoyed the food immensely, and the bill was less than 25 euro total (far less than what we’ve budgeted for food).

After dinner, we found a Yogurteria and got a cup of fruit topped with frozen yogurt (the frozen yogurt in Italy is true to its name, as opposed to the sugary concoction that TCBY sells). We sat in another large square near our restaurant, Piazza del Ferrarese, and ate our yogurt treat while watching the crowds of Italians loitering. This was definitely the place for locals to hang out and was yet one more of those moments that we enjoy so much of really getting into Italian culture. We watched young children riding their bikes with training wheels across the cobblestone, while other young kids kicked a soccer ball against the wall of the church. Teenagers did what teenagers do best, standing around and gossiping, and the scene was generally just amazing to be a part of.

Piazza del Ferrarese in Bari, Italy

One of the coolest piazzas in Italy, Piazza del Ferrarese is the cool place to hang out in Bari during the evening.

On our way back to our hostel, we walked along the top of the remnants of the city walls and watched a few games of soccer that were being played in the park cages. These are the equivalent to our neighborhood basketball courts and are a small carpeted field with netting all the way around. It was interesting to watch one game being played by skilled adults and then transition to the other court, which hosted a handful of children. One of the kids couldn’t have been more than 4 times the height of the ball.

We eventually made it back to our hostel and spent the remainder of the evening journaling (a new record, in fact…over 4 pages long). At 10:35 pm, Philip finally received his sheets so all is well and we can go to sleep peacefully. Tomorrow, we plan on exploring more of Bari and returning to the castle and the Basilica di San Nicola to see those in more detail. It feels like today lasted forever, hence the long entry, and it’s almost hard to believe that we were in Rodi Garganico this morning, tiptoeing across muddy railway lines. We are really excited to be moving south and we can definitely feel the difference in culture and the cities, something we look forward to seeing more of in the remainder of our trip.

Daily # of gelati: 2*

Flavors:
Cocco (coconut)
Fragola (strawberry)
Fiordilatte (milk cream)

*The other was a cup of frozen yogurt and fruit from a Yogurteria. The fruit is listed as follows and was topped with frozen yogurt:
Frutti di Bosco (mixed berries, including currents like in Philip’s Grandma’s yard)
Pere (pears)
Albicocche (apricots)

We woke up this morning to a magnificent thunder storm! Naturally, it was raining like crazy and we dashed down to breakfast, doing our best to avoid getting soaked during the short outdoor walk. Breakfast was the same as yesterday, though the juice had been changed from pineapple to something similar to ACE. While we were eating, we looked out the window at the street in front of the hotel which now looked more like a river. It was fun to watch small cars attempt to get through the large flood of water, only to eventually give up and head back the other direction.

Philip and Rose in Rodi Garganico, Italy

Another day in Rodi Garganico. Maybe the weather will cooperate today...hahaha.

At one point, we noticed a large group of people in the eating area all standing around and looking at one particular spot. We got up from our table and went over to see what they were all looking at. As it turns out, a small gulley comes down across the tracks, which in normal amounts of rain probably causes little or no issue. However, with the inundation of water that we experienced last night and this morning, a small landslide had completely buried about 10 meters of the railroad tracks. Throughout all of this, the thunder and lightning continued and the rain kept pouring down from the sky.

We finished breakfast and went back up to our room to hang out while waiting for the rain to stop so that we could go to the beach. We played some cards and then decided to watch another movie (Mr. Deeds) to help pass the time. When the maid finally came by (room cleaning services were a bit late today due to the need for everyone on staff to try and control the massive amounts of water that were flooding into the building), we took the laptop downstairs to use the internet and allow her to change our towels and such.

clouds behind tree branches in Italy

Philip is proud of the framing in this picture with the tree branches accentuating the clouds in the distance.

For the second day in a row, the lobby area was a complete zoo. As far as we can tell, we are the only people in our age range at this hotel. Everyone else is either elderly or at least 30 with young children. Those same young children tend to spend their time watching cartoons at ridiculously loud volumes on the large television in the lobby. We camped out in the stairwell and checked our emails and attempted to figure out the train situation for tomorrow. Just as we were finishing up, a troop of people headed to the top of the staircase where they proceeded to smoke cigarettes inside the building (admittedly, they did open the door part way, but this mostly served to create a draft pushing the smoke straight to the bottom of the stairs where we were sitting). We finished up with internet and returned to our room to escape the smoke and finish watching our movie.

As an aside, last night when we were posting the blog down in the lobby, we somehow became the most popular two people in the entire hotel. Multiple people (at least 5) came by and blatantly looked over our shoulders to see the laptop screen. In America, nobody would ever be so blatant about peeking but it seemed normal here. We also had a lady come up to us asking to check the weather forecast. Philip tried to explain to her with words the forecast he had read in the paper and Rose drew a picture for her of partly cloudy skies, but she insisted on using Google and going to an Italian meteorological site. We were happy to oblige but it again seemed quite forward compared to what we are used to. As we sat there longer, another gentleman came up (assuming we were from England, we think) and asked us about futbol and where it began in the world (we were a bit confused). He soon found someone else to engage in conversation and we got off the hook on that one. We finally decided to return to the room when we got shooed from our table as two guys were setting up music equipment for a small show. We thought about heading back down to see it later but once we got back to the room, decided that sleep seemed more appealing.

Returning to today, we hung out in our room until about 1:30 pm when the weather finally started to clear and we headed into town to try and find food. We had an interesting experience navigating across the mud pit that is now the railroad tracks, but we made it with minimal issue after some nimble footwork and intelligent path choice. When we got into town, we again marveled at how every store around was closed already, and at how this didn’t seem to bother anyone but us. After much walking, we returned to our pastry shop/gelateria from yesterday where Rose got a coffee pastry and Philip had his first daily gelato. We struck out on finding food anywhere else and headed back to our hotel still slightly hungry but at least not starving.

The return trip across the railroad tracks was a bit easier since the water had had some time to drain since the rain stopped. We were excited that the sun was peeking out so we headed up to our room to put on sunscreen and get ready to go to the beach. As Rose was just finishing putting on her sunscreen, the rain started again and we just looked at each other and laughed. Philip, having faith that the rain would again stop, put on his sunscreen and we sat down to play some cards while we waited (besides, we needed to wait 30 minutes before getting in the water anyway). After several hands of gin rummy, the rain finally stopped again and we headed down to go to the beach. We figured that the water would be warm enough (verified by our walk along the beach last night) that it would not matter if it rained a bit while we were out there.

We stopped at the front desk to inquire about beach towels and the lady seemed concerned and amused that we even wanted to go out there in the first place. She spoke English but we had a lot of difficulty in getting the word “towel” to translate. After writing it down on paper, she finally understood what we meant (we think by a computer translator) and told us that she did not have any towels to give us. We headed out back across the railroad tracks, which was far more difficult in flip flops than it had been in shoes (Rose lost one in the mud but did manage to get it back). When we got down to the water, we were shocked at how cold it felt in comparison to yesterday evening, and instantly knew that we would not be swimming today. Besides, the water was still incredibly muddy from all of the agitation of the rain and storms. Incidentally, the picture that we have posted of the landslide across the tracks was taken at around 7 pm after a full day’s worth of work at clearing the area.

washed out train tracks in Rodi Garganico, Italy

The mud flowed down the hillside and washed out the train tracks next to our hotel...what a mess!

Rather than head back right away, we chose to take a walk down the beach in the opposite direction of yesterday. A stray dog decided to follow us for most of our walk, and it looked like it really wanted somebody to play with. We thought about throwing a stick for it, but Rose pointed out that we would probably never have been able to lose the dog after that. As we got further down the beach, we saw more and more trash that had been washed up and the water was coming closer to the wall. Just as we were about to turn around on our own, a worker from the road above (bulldozers and other equipment were being used to clear the mud off the road in front of our hotel) yelled down to us and told us in Italian that we were not allowed to walk that way any further. We were content to turn around so we headed back the other direction to where we had left our flip flops on an umbrella table. We returned to the hotel and spent the next little while journaling, burning backup copies of our pictures onto DVDs, and for Rose, napping.

Because of the bad weather the last couple of days, we decided that it was not worth the trip out to Isole Tremiti, a small set of islands off the coast of the Gargano Peninsula. We’re sure the islands are beautiful but we just were not feeling up for a day of exploring in the rain. It would be amazing to come back to this area when the sea is clear and the sun is shining. All of the pictures we have seen of the area show it as being spectacular, and while it is unfortunate that we did not get to experience this, we were able to spend a few days resting and recuperating for the remainder of our trip.

public square in Rodi Garganico, Italy

A small public square in Rodi Garganico.

At around 7 pm, we left our room and headed into town to get some dinner and see the town center one last time. Since we are leaving in the morning, it makes perfect sense that the weather was absolutely beautiful and the sky was mostly clear with the sun shining. As we walked, we heard a loud sound that reminded us of firing cannons. Fearing that we were under naval assault, we ducked and covered, but soon realized that it was just some fireworks being launched into the air. The fireworks didn’t have any color or sparkle, but were exceptionally loud and after the third or fourth time, quite annoying. When we reached the center of town, we went back to the Creperia and each got a wonderful crepe for dinner, which we ate while sitting on the fountain in the center of the square. Afterwards, we went and got gelato for dessert, and took our cones to a nice overlook where we could watch the sunset over the ocean (now a lovely blue color). We sat there for a while watching the sunset, taking even more pictures of clouds (yes, Philip had another round of cloud picture mania), and enjoying the first extended period of nice weather.

Before heading back to our hotel, we went back to the center of town and stopped at a Tabacchi to inquire about our train ride in the morning and to see if they knew if the train was actually running. We were unsure because the tracks, while significantly cleared compared to earlier in the day, still appeared impassable because of the mud. At the first Tabacchi, we received an answer of “I don’t know” and directions to another Tabacchi that supposedly sold train tickets (apparently, the first Tabacchi didn’t sell them). In front of the second Tabacchi shop, there was a sign that listed many of their items for sale and on it were train tickets. However, when we went inside, the lady told us that they no longer sell train tickets and she didn’t know whether trains would be travelling. She did give us directions to yet a third Tabacchi. Finally, at the third Tabacchi, the guy didn’t know whether the train would be travelling. Fortunately, though, he was able to tell us that we would be able to get out by autobus if the train wasn’t running, and we bought two tickets.

sunset in Rodi Garganico

Another stunning sunset in Rodi Garganico...despite the rain, this area was very photogenic.

We took our train tickets (the first that aren’t rectangular) and returned to our hotel to call it an evening. We sat on the porch swing out front for about 20 minutes talking, swinging, and watching the people inside the hotel’s restaurant eating their dinners. On our way back to our room, we saw a bunch of people sitting around the TV in the lobby watching the soccer match between Italia and Bulgaria. We attempted to find the channel on the TV in our room, but we can’t figure out how to operate it fully and can only get 6 channels (soccer is not on any of them). We spent the rest of our evening posting the blog, organizing pictures, and perhaps watching a bit of soccer (obviously we are writing this before posting, and we aren’t exactly sure of what the remainder of the evening holds). Tomorrow, we leave Rodi Garganico and head further south to continue our trip. We are excited to move on, though will be sad to leave this beautiful place that we have enjoyed despite the rain. In meteorological news, it appears that the weather in southern Italy is changing from rain to sun over the next couple of days. Hopefully, this will mean clear skies and sun for our beach days in other cities (thank you to the random lady who wanted to check weather on our laptop last night!).

Daily # of gelati: 3

Flavors:
Cocco (coconut)
Caramello (caramel)

Cheesecake (cheesecake)
Kinder (cookies and cream)
Mela Verde (green apple)

Mela Verde (green apple)
Viola (juice flavor)

After a restful night of sleeping, we woke up at 9:00 am so that we could get our free breakfast from the hotel which ended at 9:30 am. Breakfast was a nice assortment of cakes, breads, pineapple juice, cereal, and jam. The highlight, though, was the two croissants covered in powdered sugar that were on our table when we sat down. Of all the plain (non-filled) croissants we have had in Italy or elsewhere, these were the best because of the crisp caramelized exterior and the fluffy, amazing interior. We ate well and returned to our room at 9:30 to grab the laptop so we could take advantage of the hotel’s free wireless internet (it is on all 24 hours at this hotel, but we can’t get the signal in our room on the top floor.

We posted the blog, checked emails, and Rose even had the chance to Gchat with her friend Jess (“I love you, Jess”) from school. The weather outside was frightful, but the fire was so delightful (well, there was no fire, but the winds were approaching gale force). It was too windy for us to want to go outside and the beach was definitely out of the question. We actually learned later in the day that the beach is usually massive, but the seas have been stormy for the last several days and the water is almost all the way up to the retaining wall of the road.

Philip and Rose in Rodi Garganico

You might not be able to tell from the picture, but the wind was blowing pretty hard in Rodi Garganico.

Rather than fight the weather, we decided to camp out in our room and relax there for a few hours, which is the reason we planned Rodi Garganico into our trip in the first place. We hung out, did some puzzles (the puzzle book is getting pretty finished by this point), and then decided to watch Casino Royale, the James Bond movie. All in all, it was a very relaxing afternoon and we enjoyed the rest thoroughly.

At around 4 pm, we were both getting hungry (we had only had snacked on the rest of prosciutto and rolls since breakfast) so we decided to head out into town to find food. Rose was craving a kebab sandwich and we had seen a kebab restaurant last night so we headed there. Unfortunately, the kebab restaurant was closed, along with almost every other shop in the entire town. We walked around for over half an hour looking for a place to eat, even having no luck at our Creperia that we enjoyed so much. The upside of not finding food quickly was that we were able to explore a lot more of the city, something that we had been hoping to do. Finally, we decided to stop at a pastry shop to get something to hold us until we could find proper dinner. Rose got a cream-filled pastry and Philip elected to go with his favorite comfort food, gelato.

arch supports on roadway in Rodi Garganico

Interesting arch supports holding up a roadway along the edge of Rodi Garganico.

We quickly finished our pre-dinner snack and continued to explore the city. We had passed another pastry shop near the center of town so we decided to head there and try there pastries as well (we may have been content to just walk around sampling pastries for dinner, but don’t worry, that’s not what we did). At this pastry shop, we found not only a nice chocolate-filled croissant, but also some pizza with red peppers and a stuffed piecrust type bread with onions, raisins, and seafood. The seafood was a unique addition and not something we would want to eat every day, but it was still a pretty good meal. We ate our meal while sitting on the edge of the fountain at the center of the square.

After finishing, Philip was ready for his post-dinner gelato (the first one didn’t count as dessert since it came prior to dinner…Rose would like it known that the two gelati were both consumed within a period of about 30 minutes…Philip is not sure why that matters). Before getting his gelato, we headed to the supermarket to get some more juice (peach for Philip and ACE for Rose…incidentally, we discovered that ACE stands for the three main vitamins in the juice…you figure out which vitamins those are). We also picked up some more rolls so that we would have bread to snack on throughout our day tomorrow.

marina in Rodi Garganico, Italy

The choppy seas threaten to wash over the sea break of this partially constructed marina.

Philip got his second gelato on the way back towards the hotel and was thrilled to learn that one can get it in a sugar cone rather than a wafer cone for the exact same price. We stopped to chat with the lady at the desk about the beach and chair rental for tomorrow (free!). Philip also picked up a newspaper to check the weather forecast and to attempt reading a bit of it. He was even able to clarify a few words that he had been confused about with the help of two young guys who happened to be in the lobby as well.

coastline of Gargano Peninsula

The coastline of the Gargano Peninsula...our hotel is just outside the right edge of the image.

We dropped our merchandise off in our room and set off for a walk along the little width of beach that we could see. We walked down to the base of the town and the edge of a new marina that is being constructed, a distance of about a half kilometer. The sky was stunningly beautiful and the cloud formations here and around Italy consistently put smiles on Philip’s face. He took about 30 pictures of the clouds during our walk, but Rose didn’t mind too much. The wind was still blowing pretty hard, though not quite gale force anymore, and it was really nice when the warm water would wash over our feet as we walked. We misgauged the height of the inrushing water a few times, leading to a fair amount of splashing onto Rose’s capri pants. We returned to the hotel and spent a few minutes swinging on the nice porch swing that sits out front, before heading inside and back to our room. The lobby was packed with elderly people by this point, which we think is related to dinner being served at 8 pm.

clouds over ocean in Gargano Peninsula, Italy

Fluffy clouds over the stormy ocean.

We cleaned the sand off of our feet and spent the remainder of the evening journaling, organizing pictures of clouds, and running back outside to view the amazing sunset over the ocean. Incidentally, this also brings Philip’s total of cloud pictures to around 50 for the day (we probably took less than 60 pictures total, enough said). Tomorrow, we hope to spend a large portion of the day at the beach, building sand castles, playing in the waves, and perhaps even laying on beach chairs under an oversized umbrella with a good book and a cold beverage complete with novelty umbrella in it (since it is us, this beverage will most likely not contain alcohol and may even be as simple as plain water…the umbrella is still required).

sunset over Rodi Garganico, Italy

An absolutely stunning sunset with colors exploding over Rodi Garganico and the beach.

Daily # of gelati: 2

Flavors:
Cassata (fruitcake)
Caramello (caramel)

Cheesecake (cheesecake)
Giallo (yellow juice)

Authors Note: We should all celebrate as this post came in at under two pages. Not bad for a day when we did as much nothing as yesterday and wrote two pages less about it. That said, if we keep typing we may just roll over to that third page.

Unfortunately, today began far earlier than either of us desired as we had to catch an early train out of Assisi. We got up at 6:45 am and we were out the door by 7:15 am on our way to the train station. We made the 800 meter walk in just under 15 minutes and enjoyed some of our breakfast while sitting and waiting for our train to arrive. The ride to Foligno took only about 15 minutes, as well, and we settled into the waiting area there for the hour long wait for our Eurostar train to Ancona. While waiting, we finished our movie from last night and Philip even enjoyed it.

Philip and Rose at the train station in Italy

Here we are at the beginning of a very long day of travel...at least Philip got to ride a train!

Our assigned seats for the Eurostar were in carriage number eight, which was the second to last car at the back of the train. We didn’t realize how far back this was, so once the train arrived, we had the pleasure of power walking the length of the train to our car. Once we got on the car we had to stand in the aisle for what seemed like forever while the ladies in front of us got themselves situated, and we finally made it to our seats just as the train started rolling. The seats are in sets of four facing each other, and there was only one person already in our set. However, we think he was sitting in one of our seats but we didn’t press the issue and he made no movement to get up. We sat down, facing backwards, and spent the hour long ride finishing the journaling we had put off yesterday. The man behind us on the train appeared to be in his late 50s or 60s, but his cell phone ringtone was more appropriate for a 13 year old techno kid. His phone went off at least three times during the ride and we were treated to an amusing assortment of techno music.

Other than that, the ride was uneventful and we got off the train at the Ancona station. We had an hour layover in Ancona before boarding the InterCitta train for the long leg of our journey. We sat down in the waiting room, broke into our grocery store purchases and feasted on very good rolls, cheese, and the best prosciutto crudo we’ve had yet. Before too long, Rose reminded Philip that he had gotten Chinese food here a few days ago the last time we passed through. Two minutes later, Philip was walking across the street to the Chinese restaurant and came back a few minutes later with curry chicken and two tins of rice (all for only 6.50 euro!). We sat and ate the Chinese food and then headed out to platform three to get on our train.

We were in carriage 7 on this train, so we headed towards the back of the platform to where we thought our car would be. However, the carriages were in the opposite order on this train and carriage 7 was in fact at the end nearest the engine. Therefore, the arrival of the train saw us power walking the length of the train yet again, but be boarded without issue. The seats on this train were in small compartments in a set of six seats. Three of them were occupied when we walked in but we were able to take two seats side by side and facing forward. The two ladies opposite us in the car looked quite unhappy to be on that train and sat silently with frowns the entire time. The girl next to us started out reading a book, but soon turned to sleeping with her legs on the seat opposite her and blocking the door.

The train ride was three hours long and was fairly tolerable. We spent the time doing puzzles, listening to iPods, and looking out the window. Throughout the trip, the weather steadily worsened and before too long, it was raining heavily. The highlight of the ride for both of us was entering an area where large wind mills were prevalent and be both stared out the windows like the engineering nerds that we are. The windmills we saw are different than ones at home as the blades are far more curved and they often have red stripes on the ends of them. As we were about to exit the train in San Severo, a lady from the neighboring compartment came in and asked Philip for help to get her suitcases down from the overhead racks. She asked in Italian a few times before we understood, and he went over to help her get her unnecessarily heavy bags down.

We got off the train in heavy rain and made a dash for the cover of the train station. We had no real clue how to get from San Severo to our final stop in Rodi Garganico, but the ticket office was open and there was no line. We walked up to the ticket agent to inquire about buying tickets to Rodi Garganico and were met with a flurry of Italian that essentially said, “you can’t get them here and I’m not interested in helping you” (we may have paraphrased a bit but that was the combination of his words and attitude).

We looked around a bit and saw a small ticket booth out in the parking lot for another train line that was primarily used for the Gargano Peninsula (where we were going). We dashed out through puddles and torrential rain to the ticket office only to find it closed (it is Sunday, after all). There was a schedule posted on the wall but it was difficult to decipher and we couldn’t figure out if it even applied to Sundays. We came back inside the train station and went into the waiting room where Philip asked a lady sitting there if she knew how to get to Rodi Garganico. As luck would have it, she was heading to the same place and explained to us in Italian that the train would leave at 6:10 pm. As it was only 3:30 pm, we didn’t relish the thought of waiting around for several hours but realized we didn’t really have a choice. She told us we could purchase the tickets on the train and only for 1 euro more than normal.

After thanking the lady, we walked out to the platform where we saw a train sitting out on the track that was used for the Gargano train line. We decided to take the walk way to that platform to ask the driver about the train to Rodi Garganico. Just after reaching the top of the stairs, a train conductor came up behind us and we asked him instead. He spoke in mumbled Italian, but after several requests to repeat and some pointing, we understood that we were to get on that train and it was leaving at that moment. Unfortunately, we had no time or way to signal the nice lady who had helped us out earlier. Hopefully, another train did come later that evening and she was able to take it.

This train was like none that we have yet had in Italy. It was only one car long and the engine was attached. While riding, we could see the driver in front of us and for the first time could look out the front window of a train. We bought our tickets for about 5 euro each and took our bags off the seat at the conductor’s request (we’re not sure why he cared so much…there were only 10 people on the train designed for over 100 and the seats were not in great condition, but hey, he asked so we complied). The ride was rainy the entire way but the scenery was still beautiful. The train was also unique in that it stopped at road crossings and checked for cars, rather than the other way around. In the seats in front of us, two Italian gentlemen were discussing numerous topics including what they like to eat for lunch. We were uncertain about when to get off the train as the stations were poorly marked and it would have been hard to grab our bags and jump off the train. A third gentleman had joined the conversation in front of us and he gave us excellent directions of when to get off the train and even where to find our hotel. With the exception of the ticket office guy, who had been just as uninterested in the nice lady as in us, everyone we have met so far in this area of Italy has been extremely nice.

We got off the train in the pouring rain and dashed for the station. About 10 people were at the station already and we had quite a mass confusion as we got off and they all got on, because nobody wanted to spend more time in the rain than necessary. When we got to the road in front of the train station, we looked to the right and a few hundred meters down the road, we could see the sign for our hotel. It’s somewhat humorous, actually, that the easiest time we’ve had finding our hotel for the night has been in the pouring rain.

beach and ocean in Rodi Garganico, Gargano Peninsula, Italy

The view from the hotel's first floor balcony over the choppy waves in Rodi Garganico.

We avoided most of the puddles and quickly forming streams along the way to the hotel and we’re only somewhat soaked when we walked into the lobby. Several elderly people were just sitting around and talking in the lobby and we almost instantly felt welcomed and at home. We checked in at the desk and a teenage boy (we later learned a lifeguard) attempted to take us to our room. We only unnecessarily walked up and down two flights of stairs, and after asking the maid, he led us to our room. We spent a few minutes resting and drying off, and then headed back down to the lobby to get some more information about the town and where to find dinner.

While we were waiting to talk to the lady at the desk, the owner of the hotel came up and started talking to us. He was very excited that we are Americans (that’s a first), and spoke to us in pretty good English about how he would like to visit America, how his son was in San Diego at one point, and we think about how his son now has a nudist hotel or something similar in Italy (his English was good but the accent was really thick and a bit hard to understand). The lady at the desk gave us a tourist map that looked like it was made in the early ‘90s and explained to us that we could get dinner at the hotel or at their sister hotel down the road. We decided to set off on our own in search of food and headed out into the sun (yes, our arrival in Rodi Garganico apparently brought sunshine, which the owner’s sister thanked us for).

We walked back towards the train station and inquired at several restaurants along the way. In general, everything was pretty pricey and not yet open for business (it seems that dinner doesn’t begin until 8 pm in this part of Italy).We decided to leave the waterfront and head up into the town above to try and find food there. We walked past a church with open doors and heard the sounds of Sunday evening mass pouring out. When we reached one of the main piazzas of the city, we stopped at a small trattoria to ask for a menu and check prices. Philip asked in Italian for a menu but the lady there just looked very confused. She called for the chef who came out and told us that there was no menu but that she was making a pasta with meat sauce that evening and fish for the second course. We’ve never seen a trattoria that operated like this but it seemed pretty neat and the prices were reasonable. Unfortunately, they didn’t serve dinner until eight pm and we were hungry now at 6 pm. We may go back another night while we are here in town, but for today, we headed across the square to a Creperia (a place that makes crepes).

Dinner was phenomenal and we each had a crepe with arugula, prosciutto crudo, and an amazing spreadable cheese (kind of like brie). For dessert, we split a crepe with strawberry jam and powdered sugar. We will definitely be returning there for lunch before we leave town and we walked out of the restaurant quite content. Well, almost content as Philip soon found a gelateria and got his requisite cone of the day. We walked around the town a bit and were hopelessly unsuccessful at figuring out where we were on the map. We did manage to find a grocery store, though, where Rose was able to purchase her daily juice, a wonderful concoction known as ACE.

The night was starting to get dark and so we headed back the way we had come and towards our hotel. Just as we passed the train station, the rain started again and we scurried a bit faster the rest of the way (all we can figure, is that passing the train station in a certain direction seems to trigger weather…we will walk past it again tomorrow to validate this conclusion). Both in Rodi Garganico and the train station at San Severo, we have noticed a plethora of very large and seemingly stray dogs. This is not something we have seen in Italy thus far and it just seems weird to have stray dogs that are nearly the size of us.

Rodi Garganico at night in Gargano Peninsula, Italy

Overcast skies over the seaside town of Rodi Garganico.

We spent the remainder of the evening journaling and watching the thunderstorm that had rolled in. We flipped on the television to find a weather report and learned that we should expect rain in the morning but only partly cloudy skies by afternoon. Tomorrow, we hope to head down to the beach and to spend a day relaxing, reading, and playing in the waves (don’t worry, Moms…we will be wearing lots of sunscreen).

Daily # of gelati: 1

Flavors:

Cheesecake (cheesecake)
Mela Verde (green apple)
Fragola (strawberry)

Author’s Note: We realize that we took over three pages to discuss a day in which basically nothing happened. If you managed to read the entire thing and have gotten to this note, mad props to you!

For the second day in a row, we got up at 8:30 am so that we could partake of the free breakfast provided by our hotel. Today was extra special as the hotel provided apricot pastries instead of the strawberry pastries of the day prior. We ate our breakfast, got ready for the day, and headed off to the bus stop to catch a bus into Assisi. Fortunately, before we left, our hostess informed us that the weather forecast was for rain and Rose made sure to grab her rain jacket. We got to the bus stop with about 20 minutes to spare, so we decided to investigate the massive church across the street, Santa Maria degli Angeli. We only spent a few minutes there at this point, but we went back later in the day so we’ll say more about it then.

The bus came on time and we got onboard for the 20 minute ride to the top of the town. Our plan was to hike 4 km to the hermitage where San Francesco used to go to pray, and hopefully to return before the day became too hot to handle. We set off from the square and soon exited the northern gate of Assisi. The walk was lovely, and the entire route was along a quiet road through the forest. The caveat, however, was that the entire trip was uphill. We were passed by a handful of cars heading up the hill, but after the first few minutes we saw no other hikers.

It took us about 45 minutes to get to the hermitage, Ereme delle Carceri, and we were both a little bit winded when we arrived. We went into the small courtyard of the building where we saw the mom and son from yesterday evening. We spent a couple of minutes talking with them before going our separate ways to explore the area. There was also a large tour group of school children, not all of whom seemed thrilled to be there. Unfortunately, the main sanctuary of the hermitage was closed for restoration and we were not able to see much of the building.

bronze statues at the Ereme delle Carceri in Assisi, Italy

Interesting bronze statues at the Ereme delle Carceri.

Instead, we spent some time walking on the nice footpaths behind and above the building. There are several tiny caves in the area, though we did not actually go to any of them. The hike was beautiful and very reminiscent of Boulder. After doing a small loop, we returned to the building and decided to head back down the hill to Assisi.

The walk down was much easier than the walk up, though it started to drizzle as soon as we left. Throughout the entire trip back to the city, it would rain for a few minutes, stop for a few minutes, and repeat. Thankfully, Rose had heeded the warning of our hostess and had her rain jacket to keep her warm and dry. The rain actually was quite warm and refreshing and it was not unpleasant to walk through it.

When we returned to the city, it was just after noon and we headed to the large fortress, Rocca Maggiore. We paid the entrance fee of 3.50 euro each and set off to explore the inside of this amazing building. We only saw a handful of people the entire time we were there, probably due to the weather, and this made it feel like it was just the two of us exploring the secret passageways of an ancient castle. We checked out various rooms and towers, climbing numerous stone spiral staircases. In 1971, Assisi hosted a huge medieval fair/theatrical production (our best guess is a very large Renaissance Fair) and the fortress was utilized as the back drop for many parts of it. In various rooms, there were photographs of the event and, in one room, a flat screen television showed footage of it while medieval music played in the background. The fortress also contained a room with various examples of weaponry (apparently the crossbow was the weapon of choice for archers and could outshoot a long bow every time) and another with medieval clothing.

Rocca Minore in Assisi, Italy

Rocca Minore (Minor Castle) at the highest point in Assisi.

The fortress had two towers on either end of a very high section of city wall. We climbed into the first tower via a rather rickety, yet modern, steel spiral staircase (they only had ladders when the fortress was active for defensive purposes) and were able to walk along the top of the wall for a little ways. As we were about to head back down, Philip ducked as he saw a large flash of lightning only a few kilometers away. The crack of thunder was enormous and we quickly got back inside the building and headed to lower elevation. Rose was the most excited she has been yet on this trip because it has been almost a year since she has heard a thunderstorm and got to see this one from inside of a fortress. After she stopped jumping up and down, we decided to take a quick look at the other tower before heading out of the fortress. The passageway that connected the two was six feet high and three feet wide. It was over 100 meters long and was exactly what one would expect for a secret passageway inside of a castle.

Rocca Maggiore in Assisi, Italy during a storm

Standing (terrified) atop Rocca Maggiore...we only peeked our heads up for a moment due to the stormy weather.

The second tower was slightly taller than the first and Rose ran out on top to take a quick look and a picture of the view. Philip, slightly more terrified of the lightning, remained crouched at the top of the staircase and attempted to coax Rose back to safety. Fortunately, neither of us got struck by lightning during our time in the fortress (or any time after that), but Philip did smack the top of his head on a stone arch earlier in our visit (no concussion, though the spot is a bit tender).

We left the fortress and walked through the drizzle towards the center of Assisi. Rose was getting sleepy and our plan was to walk one more time around that area of the city before catching the bus back to the hotel so she could have her afternoon nap. Along the way, Rose got a piece of pizza from a restaurant in the center, and we then stopped at the store of the lady from Texas that we had visited yesterday to purchase a holy water font for Philip’s mother. She wrapped it up in bubble wrap for us, and after chatting for a few minutes, we headed back into the rain to find Philip his lunch. We stopped at a lovely little café a few tens of meters outside of the center square (down a staircase, actually) where Philip was able to get a piadina with arugula and mozzarella (phenomenal!).

gorgeous view over Assisi, Italy

A view across the entire historical town of Assisi.

We headed down past the Basilica di San Francesco and were soon to the bus stop. We were about one minute early for the bus. Unfortunately, the bus was about two minutes early and we saw it pull away as we got to the stop. For the second day in a row, we had a half an hour of time to spend before we could catch our bus. We decided to return to the Chiesa di San Pietro to look at it one more time; we figured it would be nicer to spend time there rather than sitting at the bus stop. We sat inside for about 15 minutes, taking in the simplicity of its design and construction, and talking quietly about the features we were seeing (it’s been really cool that we are both architecture nerds and can converse somewhat intelligently about what we are seeing in the buildings around Italy…it’s the engineering version of what art historians do here).

When the time was right, we headed back to the bus stop and took the bus to the train station. We went to the ticket office and purchased our train tickets for our ride further south the following day. Because we are travelling on a Sunday and not down one particular route, we have to take our first Eurostar and InterCitta trains of the trip. These are more expensive than the regional trains we have been taking, though they do save on time. Feeling better about our plans for travel, we left the train station and walked back to our hotel. Along the way, we stopped at the gelateria from last night and Philip got his first cone of the day. The lady wasn’t there, but two younger girls (possibly her daughters) were. Gelato in hand, we returned to the hotel for some relaxation.

stone buildings in Assisi, Italy

Typical Tuscan stone buildings in Assisi.

Rose took her nap and we spent time going through pictures and finishing journaling from yesterday. Afterwards, we went to the supermarket to pick up food for the long day of travel and some more juice for Rose (apple-kiwi, this time…an amazing concoction that doesn’t have the overwhelming sweetness of American apple juice, but rather tastes like green apple mixed with kiwi and the hint of tartness is quite good).

We took our groceries to our favorite pizza place in Assisi, Pizza Mia, and each got two slices to go. We took them to the large piazza in front of Santa Maria degli Angeli and ate them while watching children playing soccer in the piazza. The pizza in Italy is amazing for two reasons: first, the bread, sauce, and cheese are spectacular; second, they use unique toppings that keep life interesting. Rose enjoyed one slice topped with corn and another with pepperoni and sundried tomatoes. Philip had a slice with broccoli, followed by one with potato, rosemary, and sausage. It was really cool to sit and watch Italian children playing in the square and we were quite impressed with their ball-handling skills.

After finishing our food, we returned to Santa Maria degli Angeli (we were there first thing this morning as well) to see a bit more of the church. The church is absolutely enormous and feels even larger than it looks. The ceiling and walls are fairly simply done in plaster, but the small chapels on the sides contain beautiful artworks. The centerpiece, however, beneath the pinnacle of the cupola, is another church building within the basilica. Santa Maria degli Angeli was built in the spot where San Francesco died. The smaller church within the basilica was there during the time of San Francesco and the basilica was built soon after around it. It was interesting to see the perspective of a smaller building within a larger one; in particular, it gave a better opportunity to judge the size of the building and to understand the vastness of the space (much like with the caves from Genga).

The smaller church was approximately 30 feet high, 30 feet wide, and maybe 50 feet deep. At least two and a half of them could have sat on top of each other without even reaching the ceiling. Behind the smaller church was the main altar of the basilica and to one side was a doorway that led to the sacristy, cloisters, and a rose garden. We didn’t get to see much of that area as it was closing just as we got there, but we did see a large statue of San Francesco with a live dove in his hands. We’re not sure why it stays there, but it was humorous to see a sign in Italian that said, “Please don’t touch the dove”.

After exiting the church, we stopped at our favorite gelateria to get Philip one more cone before leaving Assisi. Both the older lady and the two younger girls were there and they all chuckled when we walked back in. Apparently, they have figured out that Philip is enamored with gelato and they joked with us about it as he ordered his cone.

Philip and Rose at the Ereme dell Carceri in Assisi, Italy

Here we are standing atop the Hermitage frequented by Saint Francis.

We returned to the hotel and stood around in the lobby as we attempted to pay for our room (we were leaving too early in the morning to pay then). We talked with the British lady as she ran the credit card but decided to hold off when she accidentally almost charged ten times the amount because we were distracting her. We got it sorted out though and stayed there talking with her and our Italian hostess for about 15 minutes. It was really cool to be there talking with them and it was the first time that we’ve had an Italian conversation and been sure of the entire translation (the British lady was helping us translate and making sure we actually understood). At one point, we spoke with the British lady about false cognates (words that don’t mean what you think they mean). Philip gave the example of “embarassato” which in Spanish does not mean embarrassed, but rather pregnant. The lady chuckled and then informed us that the same word in Italian does not mean embarrassed, but rather “you cannot use the loo” (aka. constipated). It was a hysterical handful of minutes and one of those moments that is hard to reproduce in writing or words. Both of them were incredibly nice during our stay here and we would highly recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Assisi. The facilities were approximately comparable to what one would expect in America, but the people and the personal touch were so amazing.

We retired to our room and got ready to go to sleep as we had an early morning. We posted the blog and finished organizing pictures, and then packed our bags for travelling the next day. Our British hostess knocked on our door and handed us a platter full of pastries, croissants, and iced tea for our breakfast in the morning. Just one more example of how amazing our stay at this hotel has been. After showers and teeth brushing, we settled in to watch a movie for a while, something we have been craving for some time. We decided to go with a manly action movie, “The Devil Wears Prada”, but we did save about half of it to finish the following day. We saved journaling for the following day, and we are currently writing this as we cruise across Italy on a Eurostar on our way to the Gargano Peninsula. Italian beach, here we come!

Daily # of gelati: 2

Flavors:
Cookies (cookies-and-cream)
Cocco (coconut)
Fragola (strawberry)

Kinder (cookies-and-cream)
Mela (apple)
Cocco (coconut)

The hotel serves breakfast from 8 am to 9 am, so 8:30 saw us waking up and getting ready for the day. We went across the hall to the breakfast room and were pleasantly surprised by the spread. While there weren’t a lot of options, the food that was there was excellent and we both ate several pieces of corn bread, strawberry pastries, and croissants filled with apricot jam. The hostess even prepared us a fresh pot of breakfast tea, which Philip enjoyed greatly. After eating, we finished getting ready and then set off to explore. We picked up a tourist map from the desk and walked up the street to the Giornali to buy bus tickets and to catch the bus to the top of the town.

Philip and Rose in Assisi, Italy

Although we are hard to see, we assure you that we are alive and well over a month into our trip around Italy.

Our plan was to ride the bus as high as possible and to walk downhill as we visited the sites. This seemed far wiser than starting at the bottom and walking uphill as so many tourists tend to do. We got off the bus at Piazza Matteotti and took a few minutes to figure out our plan of attack. We decided to head first to the Duomo of Assisi, the Cattedrale di San Rufino. The cathedral was magnificent, but the real highlight was the crypt area beneath. We bought our tickets for 2.50 euro each and descended into the numerous chambers beneath the cathedral floor. The architecture was quite interesting and we were even able to see the remnants of Roman life such as drainage ditches and walls that had been made during Roman times (the Duomo was apparently built in the area that had once been Assisi’s Roman Forum. The information signs were quite good and helped us understand the context of what we were seeing. In particular, we learned that the one section had the remains of frescoes, which were apparently remnants of a 12th century cult that worshipped bishops and cardinals. The rest of the rooms were used as a museum of religious artifacts and the like.

We left the Cathedral and headed a bit further down the hill toward the Chiesa di Santa Chiara. Along the way, we stopped for a snack and Philip got a piece of pizza and Rose got her morning pastry. Santa Chiara, known as St. Claire in English speaking areas, is the female counterpart to San Francesco (Saint Francis). She was the founder of the Poor Claire’s and the church was built in her honor. The church, like the Duomo, was beautiful. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, which was the case in most of the churches in Assisi.

In the piazza in front of the church, there was some sort of exhibition of vintage cars, a sight that brought great excitement to Rose. We spent a few minutes walking around and looking at the very nice cars, though the intense heat of the day soon chased us back into the shade. We continued on from the Chiesa di Santa Chiara towards the center of the town. Just before reaching the center piazza, we took a left turn and found ourselves in front of the Chiesa Nuova (literally, new church).

quaint street in Assisi

Assisi is a quint-essential Tuscan town with stone buildings and lots of flowers.

Unlike the cross layout of the other churches, the Chiesa Nuovo is organized in a more Byzantine style with four side domes and one larger central dome. The church was stunningly beautiful and the intricacy and detail of the artwork and stonework were excellent. We sat inside the church for a while enjoying the art and cool air, but decided to leave when we saw a 40 person tour group wander in. Throughout the day, we did our best to avoid the tourist crowds and for the most part, we were successful.

We proceeded to the center of town and entered into the Tempio di Minerva. This former Roman temple was converted into a church at some point in its history, but the façade still contains the beautiful columns that are reminiscent of the Parthenon in Greece. The interior was gorgeous and had more detail than that of even the Chiesa Nuovo. In both churches, the use of sculpture and painting together was really neat to see and the two forms of art seem to complement each other well. In some other churches that we’ve seen thus far, paintings and sculpture often seem separate and don’t mesh as nicely.

After leaving the Tempio di Minerva, we spent a while walking around and looking at the shops along the main way. In particular, we were searching for holy water fonts (aqua santiere) for Philip’s mother. Apparently, Assisi is the place to purchase holy water fonts as we found beautiful ones in nearly every store we entered. Our favorite store was owned by a lady from Austin, Texas, who had moved to Assisi just one year ago. We took pictures of the fonts we saw so that we could email them to Philip’s mother and get her input.

Rocca Maggiore in Assisi, Italy

The Rocca Maggiore (Major Fortress) in Assisi.

We continued on around the city and attempted to find another church on the map. Unfortunately, we were unable to find the church, though we did do three laps or so of the immediate area where it should have been. We decided to move on and headed down lower in town to the Chiesa di San Pietro. This is one of the most interesting churches we have seen thus far, but also the simplest. The church façade is quite simple and very square, and the only decorative elements are the three circular windows near the top. The interior of the church is even simpler, lacking completely the plaster or marble facing that is so prevalent in other churches. The altar area is nothing but a wooden crucifix hanging from chains from the ceiling and a large slab of stone. On the left side of the church is a large chapel that is a bit more ornate, though not by much, and there was also a large diorama of the nativity scene.

rough stone interior of Chiesa di San Pietro in Assisi, Italy

The rough-hewn interior of the Chiesa di San Pietro (a bit different than the interior of the Vatican's basilica of the same name).

After leaving San Pietro, we did our best to ignore the large work of modern art in the piazza outside (it looked like a polished quarter-pipe skate ramp) and we walked to the bottom edge of town where the Basilica di San Francesco is located. This is the enormous church that was built in the honor of St. Francis, the poster child of Assisi and the town’s claim to fame. San Francesco began the order of Franciscan brothers and he fought against the wealth and corruption of the church by living a life of poverty and starting a medieval revival.

We began by walking through the lower basilica, which is beautifully intricate and contains a lot of beautiful frescoes and several chapels. The chapels were interesting because they were at higher elevation than the main area of the basilica and had steep staircases leading to them. Descending from the main area there were several staircases, one which led to a room containing artifacts from San Francesco’s life, and the other which led to the crypt and the tomb of San Francesco. The artifact room contained, among other things, robes worn by San Francesco and a signed piece of parchment from the time of his life (1200s). The area with his tomb was reserved for prayer so we decided not to act like all of the other tourists and march straight through to the tomb.

After finishing with the lower basilica, we headed up another staircase and entered into the upper basilica. Along the way (a mildly steep 15 steps), a man asked us in English if it was worth the climb. We couldn’t understand what was so difficult for him to descend 15 steps (he seemed to be in fine health) and we indicated that it was worth the tremendous effort and moved on with our day. The upper basilica has amazing vaulted ceilings and the feel is very different than that of the lower basilica. The most famous part of the room is the series of frescoes that line the walls and outline the life of San Francesco. We sat down in a pew and spent several minutes looking around. We then moved further back in the church and did the same.

It’s interesting to think that both Saint Claire and Saint Francis led lives of poverty and depravity, and yet, soon after their deaths, their followers decided to build massive cathedrals in their honor. Somehow, it seems like the message may have been lost a bit too quickly and we doubt that either of the saints would be thrilled by the intricacy and wealth of their cathedrals. The church of San Pietro, with its rough hewn walls and complete lack of ornament, seems to be far better suited as a monument to one of these saints. Just a random thought as we try and understand the history of Italy.

Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi, Italy

The Basilica di San Francesco, named after one of the most loved and best known of all the saints.

By the time we left San Francesco, Rose was definitely ready for her afternoon nap and we headed down the road to catch the bus back to our hotel. We got to the bus stop just in time to catch the bus and we headed back down to our hotel. We spent about four hours at the hotel, journaling, napping, and basically avoiding the awful heat of the day. Around six pm, we headed out to get some pizza for dinner from Pizza Mia, our favorite neighborhood pizza restaurant, and we also stopped at the supermarket to get some juice (for Philip this time).

We brought our food back to the room and finished organizing our pictures from the day while we ate. Afterwards, we decided to head back into Assisi to see the town at night and get a better feel for it when tourists were not present. We caught the bus into town and got dropped off at the top of the city like we had in the morning. Our first destination was the small fortress at the north end of town called Rocca Minore. This is a privately owned fortress but we were able to walk to the base of it where we got a pretty good view of the setting sun. As we were walking, Rose jumped a little as she saw a small snake slither across her path. A minute later, Philip essentially did an Irish jig as he jumped when he felt something brush against his leg. As it turns out, it was not a snake but merely a tumbleweed that had wrapped around his leg. Rose laughed for several minutes before we were able to continue walking.

view of Assisi, Italy

Looking down across part of Assisi and into the surrounding countryside.

We only spent a few minutes at the base of the fortress before heading back down the hill. The sun was still too far from setting to justify waiting around, and we wanted to explore more of the town at night. We walked to the east side of town and went just outside the gate there to check out the amazing views. Philip took over 20 pictures of the sun setting behind the large fortress of Assisi, Rocca Maggiore. In the valley below the city walls, we could see a large clearing in the middle of a forest of trees that looked like the perfect place to hang out (with the exception of the ridiculously steep walk to get back to town).

We explored the north-east area of the city a bit and then headed to the center to see what it was like without all of the tourists. The Tempio di Minerva was lit up beautifully and the central square was a lovely place to be. We got a pastry from a shop on the corner, and then headed down the hill towards the Basilica di San Francesco and the bus stop to go back to our hotel.

Tempio di Minerva in Assisi, Italy

Like almost everything else in Italy, this former Roman temple at the heart of Assisi is now a Catholic church.

We missed the bus by just a few minutes and so sat down at the bus stop to wait the 40 minutes until the next bus was supposed to arrive. We had some delightful conversation about car purchasing, the reality of getting a real job in a year, and other such topics. After about 25 minutes, the bus showed up and attempted to get through the roundabout at the bus stop. However, there were two cars parked at the center island and he was unable to make the turn. Rather than backing up a few feet and getting through just fine, the driver instead decided to lay on the horn for a good 10 seconds, before getting out of the bus and calling someone on the telephone (we think he called the Carabinieri, which is the Italian police). After another five minutes of waiting, he set off for the nearby bar and disappeared inside. We’re not sure what he did in there, but before too long, a man power-walked out of the bar and went to move his car from the island. A minute later, a lady came for the other car and they both drove off into the night. Oddly, it took several more minutes for the driver to make his way back to the bus, but we were soon off on our private bus ride back to our hotel.

Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi, Italy

The incredibly large Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angeli just a few blocks from our hotel.

We were the only ones on the bus the entire way, which is a much nicer experience than when the bus is crowded. We got off at our hotel and met a mom and twenties-something son waiting to get in the building. We chatted with them for a minute or two, but the lady who owns the hotel was soon down to let us in. We got ready for bed and took our showers and soon fell fast asleep. Tomorrow, we will head back into Assisi to explore the town some more AND to purchase a holy water font (or two) for Philip’s mother.

Daily # of gelati: 3

Flavors:
Pesca (peach)
Anguria (watermelon)

Fragola (strawberry)
Pesca (peach)
Mela (apple)

Fragola (strawberry)
Mela (apple)
Amarena (cherry)

We woke up this morning a bit sad that we had to leave San Marino so soon, but we were excited because we got to travel abroad to another country, Italy! We checked out of our room at around 8:30 am and began the 12 minute walk to the bus stop. The bus was scheduled to leave at 8:45 am, so we walked briskly as we went. We made it to the bus, purchased our tickets, and got onboard. After a few minutes, the bus departed and headed right back to where our hotel is located (as it turns out, we could have caught the bus after only a 300 meter walk, rather than the full kilometer that we enjoyed). We chuckled as we drove past the hotel, but the walk was good for us and the day was still cool.

Philip and Rose in Genga, Italy

On the road again...well, perhaps on the rail is more accurate!

The bus ride took about 45 minutes to get from San Marino to the train station in Rimini, but fortunately, Rose yet again survived without getting sick. We picked up pastries for breakfast and ate them while waiting for the train. We bought our tickets to Ancona and boarded our train (a few minutes late, naturally) for the hour long ride. Halfway through our ride, we realized that we had forgotten to validate (time stamp) our train tickets, an offense punishable with up to 50 euro fine. We spent a few moments freaking out and then decided that one of us would hop off the train at the next station, validate the tickets quickly in one of the machines, and hop back on the train. It was a great plan, but the train conductor arrived to check our tickets before we had the chance to implement it. Fortunately, he was really nice and just hand-validated the ticket there, rather than charging us the fine. Whew. When we arrived in Ancona, we knew that we would have a layover, but fortunately it was shorter than we anticipated. We purchased two tickets to Jesi (4 euro total) and settled in to wait out the 45 minutes until the train was supposed to arrive. Philip was getting hungry again by this point, so he went across the street from the Ancona train station and purchased some rice and chicken from the Chinese restaurant there.

Our plan for the day was to travel from San Marino to Assisi, stopping at a set of caves along the way. Five minutes before the train arrived, Philip decided to flip through Rose’s guidebook and had a shocking revelation. The caves were not accessible from the train station at Jesi, as we had thought, but rather required travelling 30 minutes further to the station of Genga-San Vittorio. He rushed to the nearby Tabacchi and purchased add on tickets that would cover the extra 30 km to that station. We made it onboard the train, and before we had even reached Jesi, the ticket conductor came by and we handed him our first ticket (validated this time!). In just under an hour from setting off, we exited at the station for Genga-San Vittorio. The station was small, thought a little bit larger and nicer than that in Santa Giustina.

airplane contrail over cliff in Genga, Italy

Philip got very excited when he saw this airplane contrail above the rock face in Genga.

We left the station and followed the signs that took us to the ticket office for the caves. The large parking area and ticket office were just down a small hill from the station, but unfortunately, we had to walk around for nearly 800 meters to actually get there. We purchased our 13 euro tickets from a somewhat angry-looking, elderly lady, and spent 45 minutes waiting to head up to the caves for our English tour. While we waited, Philip got his first gelato of the day and Rose had a panini to stave off her hunger. While we waited for the bus, we enjoyed a period of people watching and eavesdropping on the conversations of British people. It was a nice change to have conversations going on around us in English, rather than the Italian we have become accustomed to hearing (but not comprehending).

Before too long, we hopped onboard the bus that would take us the few kilometers to the entrance to the caves. We were able to leave our bags in the office there, and within a few minutes we were descending into the cool recesses of a mountain with a group of about 30 other people. Our tour guide spoke excellent English and we began the tour with a map showing us the general layout of the five caves we would be entering. This set of caves was discovered in 1971 and over 34 km have been discovered (we were only able to walk through about one kilometer of the system).

The first cave we entered was the largest and was also the first discovered. It was stunningly beautiful with massive stalagmites on the ground. On one side was a large rock pile from a land slide that had occurred in the past, and near the roof we could see the tiny opening that the cavers had first entered from (there is now a 200 meter long tunnel with airlocks that is used to enter the system). The cave was so large that it would be possible to place the entire cathedral of Milan (one of the three largest churches in the world) within the cavern. It was impossible to grasp the size of the space, which our tour guide explained by indicating that the cave felt smaller than it actually was because of the lack of reference objects. Without any trees, buildings, cars, or other artifacts of known size, it was difficult to judge just how large the features were. For example, at one point our tour guide told us that the wall was 90 meters away. We looked at each other and agreed that it only appeared to be 25 or 30 meters away at best. On that wall was a stalagmite feature that appeared to be at most two feet high; it was actually over two meters (nearly seven feet) tall.

We could have spent all day in that one cavern, but after a few minutes of looking around it was time to move on to the rest of the rooms. We walked through four more rooms, each filled with beautiful stalagmites and stalactites. Our favorite features were the ribbon-like formations that looked like draped cloth. The caverns have an almost imperceptible draft that fluctuates through them, and this draft causes the formations to acquire the look of cloth billowing in the wind. There were also several deep pits (called wells), a feature that looked like organ pipes, a beautiful but small underground lake, and even a feature that looked like a polar bear. The final room was called the Room of Infinity because the features all looked alike and the path was rather convoluted. Apparently when the cavers were first exploring the system, they got lost in this room and after almost a day, finally recognized the polar bear feature and were able to find their way out. Nowadays, of course, the caverns are lit artificially to facilitate tour groups. We both speculated about how ridiculous and scary it would be to try and traverse one of these caverns with only flashlights. It was easy to see how the cavers could get lost.

We did a loop through the Room of Infinity and then headed back along our previous path to the entrance. Our tour guide was excellent and she gave us a lot of cool information about the caverns and the discovery process. Also on our tour group were a young couple with two kids (we think they were Dutch). One of the children, probably four or five, was fascinated with the sound of his voice echoing in the caverns and spent the entire visit talking and making noises. It was cute for about the first five minutes but we were definitely happy to be free of the child at the end of the 70 minute tour. All in all, the caverns were well worth the stop and we could have easily spent several hours down there. Before we got back on the bus, we picked up our bags and then stopped in the bookstore where Rose got two postcards so that we could have pictures of the inside of the caverns (photographs were not allowed).

The bus ride back to the parking lot was uneventful and only took a few minutes. We asked the driver if he could stop at the top of the hill before descending into the parking area, but unfortunately, he said that he was not able to stop there. Hence, when we got off the bus, we had a nice hill (short but steep) to climb to get back to the train station. When we arrived at the train station, we were disappointed to find that there was no ticket office there. It was possible to purchase tickets at a restaurant across the street, but naturally that restaurant was closed for siesta at this time. Our train was arriving in two minutes, so we decided just to get on and get off at a close stop where we could by tickets. The 30 km tickets that we had purchased to get from Jesi to Genga had never been checked and punched by a conductor, and they are technically valid for 6 hours from the time of validation, so we felt ok riding the train for up to 30 km to another stop.

Rock formations in Genga, Italy

The area around the caves was gorgeous with amazing rock formations and lots of trees.

We skipped the first stop because it seemed as small as the one we had just left, but we got off the train at the following one called Fabranio. We knew getting off the train here would put us off our original schedule a bit, but we figured an hour delay would be better than a 50 euro fine for not having a valid ticket. We purchased tickets all the way through to Assisi (changing trains in Foligno) and sat down to wait for our train. Rose set off to explore the area a bit and find food options, and Philip sat with the bags and worked on his puzzle book. We ended up getting some foccacia bread and paninis for our early dinner and Rose even tried a white grapefruit Fanta. The food was surprisingly good and a few minutes after 6 pm, we boarded our train and headed to Foligno.

We spent a little while journaling on the train, but were limited by the low battery life of the laptop. When the conductor came by to check our ticket, we were confused by how long he spent looking at it. He then proceeded to tell us that we had forgotten to validate the ticket (yes, we managed to forget to validate train tickets twice in one day…we weren’t thrilled with ourselves). Fortunately, for the second time that day we had a nice conductor who did not fine us the 50 euros (we’re guessing we look touristy enough that they take sympathy). He told us to validate it in Foligno, which we made sure to do as soon as we got off the train there. We only had to wait about 30 minutes in Foligno before hopping on our short train ride to Assisi.

When we got into Assisi, we bought bus tickets at the nearby bar and hopped on the bus to our hotel. The hotel directions said that it was only about 800 meters from the station, but they didn’t give any roads or cardinal directions. We figured it would be easier to take the suggested bus than to walk unnecessarily. The bus actually went a few kilometers before dropping us only 30 meters from our hotel (we later looked at a bus route and understood why it goes the way it does). We checked in with the nice British lady (we think, anyway) who runs the hotel. After resting for a few minutes, we set out again to find some food and drink as we were getting hungry and thirsty.

Our hotel is about 5 km from the walled town of Assisi, so we kept our wanderings to just the immediate area around our hotel. Most places seemed closed already (different than most other towns we have been in thus far), but a pizza restaurant was still open. Philip got a large slice of potato pizza and Rose got some Powerade and Sprite (she was low on electrolytes). We walked back to our hotel and spent the remainder of the evening organizing pictures from the last two days and using the internet (the hotel only offers internet for four hours a day, between 6 pm and 10 pm. It seems odd to us but it is free so we won’t complain). After showers and getting ready for bed, we went to sleep, excited for a day of exploring Assisi tomorrow.

Daily # of gelati: 1

Flavors:
Cuordilatte (like vanilla without vanilla bean)
Fragola (strawberry)