At 3:00 am sharp on July 27th, 2020, I descended from the flight of stairs, moving as lightly as I can so I don’t arouse my sleeping neighbours.
A wave of excitement rushed through me as I think of my one week vacation ahead. I did a quick checklist in my head to ascertain I had not forgotten anything: comb, hair straightener, beachwear, toothbrush, and most importantly my laptop.
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I had struggled with the decision of leaving my laptop behind or taking it with me as I wanted this to be a vacation free of work, but can I really do without tracking the automated campaigns I had left running?
I watched him descend from the car to help me load my luggage in the car boot. It was still pretty dark, and we spoke in low voices as we arranged the luggage in the boot.
At 3.05 am sharp we were on the highway heading towards Matera. About two months ago, when I had written about “22 Videos of Famous International Movies Filmed in Beautiful Italian Cities“, I had chosen Matera as the feature photo for that post, and I had not imagined I would be heading there soon.
I struggled to stay awake, mumbled a bit to some songs blasting from the radio, and even danced – on my seat. I caught myself nodding a couple of times as I drifted to sleep and then awake when a song I liked came on or he mentioned something to me.
We stopped four times throughout the journey to refill the car, take a coffee, and use the bathroom. At 12.00pm sharp, we were pulling into the car park of the Bed and Breakfast we had rented in Matera for two nights. Luckily for us, the owner had agreed we could check in once we arrived even though the check-in time was later in the day.
We dropped our bags and headed straight to the city centre on foot. It was so hot it felt like I was melting. We roamed around a while until we found this nice restaurant – Il Terrazino – with a view of the old city.
We settled here and I ordered a local dish (Orecchiette al tegamino) made from Orecchiette (pasta), sausages, mushrooms, and cheese. It came in a reddish ceramic bowl, filled to the brim. It was simple and delicious – just the way I like my dishes.
For the second dish, we ordered Gnummaridd (lamb intestine), a local dish of Matera.
In the evening, we decided to visit Parco Murgia. We left the car to hike up the hill as we looked forward to the reward of a beautiful view of the city and relics from the Passion of Christ movie.
We had walked 45 minutes before doubts started creeping in we were on the wrong path. There was no single soul in sight and it was getting dark.
Ignoring the telling signs we got the wrong spot, we adamantly hiked up all the way, blindly following Google’s direction. By the time we reached what was supposed to be a historical monument (according to Google), it was nonexistent.
It got dark and it was slightly scary as we were the only ones walking along the narrow road with no streetlight and only bushes around us. We stopped a lot to catch our breath.
Obviously, we had it all wrong as we discovered only abandoned houses and farms along the way. We ended up walking three hours to and fro, but we did catch a beautiful sunset and had a long talk, laughing at our adventurous misfortune.
The next day, we went on a 2-hour tour of the city, which lasted for 3 hours. The tour started from Piazza Vittorio Veneto, where the guide told us stories of the cities as we made a beeline to the inner part of the old city.
The highlight of the tour for me was the Casa Grotta, where we saw how people lived up until 1959 before they were moved to civilisation. The Casa Grotta is a cave that lived up to eight people – two parents with their six children.
It’s ironic because people died from living in such caves that were heavily infested with mold, and now people pay for a one night experience in these caves.
“The people of Matera didn’t believe they could have gas, light, and water in these caves” the tour guide mentioned. Many of these old houses and caves have been renovated and people live in them. We saw a whitewashed 7-starred hotel, which is a cave that has been transformed into luxury apartments with fine services.
What fascinated me most was that the modern part of Matera is just a few minutes walk away. It gives a beautiful contrast to compare what the city had been to what it is becoming.
For dinner, we ordered La Crapiata, which like other traditions and dishes of Basilicata is linked to the peasant customs. Major ingredients were:
chickpeas, peas, lentils, and carrot.
By Wednesday morning, we were on our way to Alberobello. I have longed to see the Trulli live since I encountered them on Instagram. I had imagined what they would look like and feel like.
Out of curiosity, I read up a bit on the Trulli, on how they came to be. I discovered in the 1500’s, the Acquaviva family, the local rulers within the feudal system, wanted to avoid paying property taxes to the King.
The trullo’s dry-wall construction, without mortar, was imposed on new settlers so that they could dismantle their shelters in a hurry: an efficient means to evade taxes on new settlements under the Kingdom of Naples, and certainly a good way to deter unruly lords.
The Trulli were built from remnants of the fields, and in such a way that they can be easily destroyed when there is a local inspection by the tax collectors.
Most of the Trulli are often adorned with a painted symbol. Their origin is unknown but they usually have a religious or astrological meaning. Symbols may include planetary signs, the malocchi (evil eye), the cross, a heart, a star, and a few others.
We had Pasqualino – a sandwich invented since 1966 by Pasquale Dell’Erba, a local shop owner. It’s a combination of rosetta or turtle bread and, precisely in this order: tuna fish, capers, salami, and cheese.
The server at the local shop we ordered from had informed it wasn’t so common to have people request for Pasqualino, and it wasn’t even listed on the menu. Well, I had done my research so well, and I was hell-bent on having it even though the combination seemed strange. I liked it!
Next, we went to the Trullo Sovrano, the only two-storey Trullo in the world, which has now been converted into a museum. Of course, I threw a coin in the well of wishes. Don’t ask what I wished for.
I spoke to the owner of the Terra Rossa – a local store that sells products from the region – who informed this year was definitely slow due to the global pandemic. Usually, the roads were filled with tourists and it was almost impossible to make your way from place to another.
The “Cuckoo” is a souvenir I noticed at many gift stores across Puglia. The cuckoo is a typical whistle Materano shaped like a rooster. It takes its name from the sound it produces because it recalls the Cuckoo.
This object dates back to before Christ, they are witnesses of the finds within the graves of children of Magna Greek times. The traditional whistle materano depicts a colorful rooster on the sides, symbol of strength and virility.
With the passage of time, the whistle is enriched with floral decorations and small birds taking an important meaning during the step of courtship between a man and woman.
In a metaphorical sense of fertility, the whistle was the gift that many newlyweds in Matera received as a good omen for an offspring as numerous as possible.
According to a more recent tradition the cuckoo was given to children on Easter Monday.
We bought some souvenirs from a local shop who demonstrated how the Cuckoo works.
That evening, we were at Monopoli for dinner. We walked along the port, and a little around the city. I was immediately drawn to the style of the buildings and their cute balconies adorned with flowers.
It was a more vibrant city than I have imagined. Restaurants, pubs, and stores line up the city centre. I had eaten so much in the last two days and at lunch that I settled for a bowl of summer fresh fruits and cheesecake only.
Polignano a Mare
The next morning, we were at Polignano a Mare. It’s no doubt nor news that the southern part of Italy has the best beaches in Italy. They are less polluted, crystal clear, and with fine sands.
We stayed at an agritourism styled Bread and Breakfast called Santa Bice that grows many of its own fruits and produces used in cooking. The breakfast was amazing and always included fruits and homemade marmalade and brioches.
We spent majority of the time at the beach side at Cala San Giovanni. In the evening we went into town to sight see and dine.
On Friday, we headed to Bari’s old town, where we had booked a stay for a night. He kept emphasising the need to be security conscious as this was quite a dangerous zone. Even though for me, everything looked fine, I couldn’t smell any danger.
The houses here were older compared to other parts in Bari. Some looked depilated and unlived. We went up towards the port where there was a nice view.
I loved the palm trees that could be noticed almost throughout the city centre of Bari. We spent that afternoon at the seaside.
On Saturday, it was time to say goodbye. We walked the street of Puglia for the last time, settled for a large meal of mixed fried seafood, and hit the road.
Below is a video from my trip. Enjoy!
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