Monday, June 14, 2010

I Belong in Italy

I feel I have traveled enough to say something with some definitiveness.  If I were to write a travel book, it would be called “Go To The Place You’ve Never Heard Of.”  These places are INFINITELY better than the traditional places that are full of nothing but tourists.

I promised Bonnie that I would title today’s post “Gradual Abandonment and William the Bad,” but that has such a negative connotation and I don’t want me and Italy to have any negative connotations!  She and I had a great day exploring this incredible city!

Today has been an amazing BEAUTIFUL day – warm, sunny, great company, beautiful sights, and an undeniably laid pack, happy culture!  I woke up to this amazing view of the train station from my hotel room:

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Walking towards the Old Town of Bari from my hotel, Bonnie and I cut through the University of Bari and had some great converstation with some Art Students having their final “Gallery” for a grade.  We participated, but the architetecture and beauty of the locale alone made me feel ashamed of GSU:

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Here are some random sights from the beginning of the day, including this poor Smart Car that won’t be able to leave his parking spot because of how jam packed in they park over here.  This one was slightly ridiculous and provided us with endless enjoyment!

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The buildings and ruins and they way they work together as a functional city is just incredible.  It’s history.  It’s real life.  It’s where they work.  It’s where they live.  It’s where the very few of us tourists snap pictures.  And it’s exactly the way it was done 1000 years ago.  Amazing.

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This sign, though we don’t speak Italian, made us pretty sure that if we walked any further, we would get shot by a sniper:

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Sorry for this random string of pictures here at the beginning of the post, but this was a door open on a random street we were walking down and the inside of the house felt so old world that I had to capture the moment.  Then we found some of the original streets from the Old Town Bari.  Just to the right of the black post in the foreground, you can see an indent in the old street where the wagon wheels of the ancient Romans would go in order to make moving heavy materials easier.

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The first real site we hit today was St. Nicholas’s Basilica. Looking at these first two pictures, you might think you’re in two different churches.  That’s the way it felt.  The ceiling was so ornate and beautiful, like the churches of Passau and Salzburg, but the walls were stark white stones, almost like ruins or gothic style.

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But look really closely at the picture above.  The top left corner of the pictures is that big round-ish ceiling painting.  Look just below the painting diagonally to the right.  See some really faded frescos/murals there on the white wall?  If not, I have some better pictures later.  This was one of my Top 4 favorite European Church moments.

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See how it feels like two different churches?

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This is the side alter, zoomed in to the Tabernacle then out to include the faded wall frescos.  Hopefully, this gives a clearer idea of how magnificent this church must have been in its heyday.

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Below the Basilica was St. Nicholas’s actual Tomb.  This is where Bonnie and I began our religious debates.  I don’t know if you can really tell in the picture below, but there were basically two groups of people down in the Tomb: a group of women all wearing Mantillas and praying (one was sobbing in front of the tomb) and then a bunch of tourists being led by a guide, dressed casually and clearly clueless as to what’s going on around them.  We had a great conversation about the role of a church/pilgrimage location, and how, yes, on the one hand it deserves to be a sacred, spiritual place for those who have spiritually and mentally prepared themselves for the journey.  However, it’s also important for these locations to still remain opened to those “tourists” unprepared spiritually because it allows people to be exposed to the sacredness and possibly become inspired.  It was a great conversation that caused us both to get somewhat spiritual and humbled by the devotion of those around us.

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Some close ups of the ceiling art.  My camera on my phone doesn’t zoom or have a flash, so I’m limited in my photographing skills.  We spent some time, mainly avoiding going back out in the heat, trying to figure out what was happening in the paintings.

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We next tried to go to the Church of St. Scholastica since she was St. Benedict (and St. Benedict was an Orsini, so isn’t she, too?)  However, it’s actually a Monastery – not a church – so we couldn’t exactly go into the Monk’s home, though we tried!

According to the map, we had a nice 20 minute walk to the castle, during which we planned to find a place to grab a bite to eat.  However, we turned the corner, and then, boom, castle.  The town is surprisingly small!  So we grabbed the first seats we saw and let me tell you that prices here in a non-tourist town are sinfully cheaper than all the other places we’ve been.  A bottle of water would normally run around 5EURO everywhere else we’ve been.  We had 3 bottles of water, 2 glasses of wine, a 15” cheese pizza, and a mozzarella/tomato Panini, and our bill TOTAL was 17EURO.  INSANELY CHEAP!  You know, I used to think that there’s nothing like a cool beer to quench your thirst on a hot, summer day.  But now, I’m convinced.  The real summer beverage is a cool, crisp glass of Italian wine (especially if the view is a castle:)

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After sharing our pizza and Panini, we stormed the castle.  Even the castle was a breath of fresh air.  Go back and look at the castles of Krumlov or Salzburg.  They were so painted up and fancy and Disney and charged around $10 to get into.  We paid 1EUR and got to enjoy this beautiful castle, almost to ourselves!  It reminded me so much of Chepstow/Tintern Abbey back in the UK, maybe because it was actually a Norman Castle!  The Normans, after breaking up the Roman Empire, apparently made it all the way down here and built up this castle on top of an old Byzantine castle. 

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The castle yielded lots of fun for our imaginations, like Bonnie dancing with a statue.

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And all the signs gave us great phrases, like “William the Bad” and “Gradual abandonment.”

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The concept of “gradual abandonment” baffled us.  The sign basically said that after this one princess died, the castle fell into its current state via gradual abandonment.  Can you imagine letting the White House fall into the state of ruins like this?  It’s so crazy for our 21st Century American minds to understand!!

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Can you see the difference between the old Byzantine castle/style vs. the Norman castle/style built on top of it??  Pretty cool, huh?

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After the castle, we wanted to go to the movie theater near my hotel to see Robin Hood, but the next showing didn’t start until 6:45, and Italy (defending champs!) played in its first World Cup match at 8:30 and we definitely wanted to watch that over dinner and vino!

Instead of a movie, we took a traditional Italian “siesta.”  AKA, everything closes from like 2-7pm, because it’s just too dang hot!  We met back up at 7, tried to eat dinner, but that can’t start until 8, so we just explored some more!  Joined now by Danny, we defamed public property and found this adorable round home foyer!

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We finally found a place to eat that had a TV so we could watch the World Cup Match and wasn’t just pizza (we had put on dresses afterall, and needed a fancy dinner to match!) but they didn’t open until 8.  We made a reservation, and then, naturally, went and got gelato before dinner.  I think it’s a widely known fact that I am not a huge fan of ice cream/gilato.  I mean, when I eat it, I microwave it!  But we found the most amazing ice cream/gelato on the planet!!!!!  Bonnie got two scoops of “chocolate” which I sampled and it tasted like raw brownie mix.  So I got two scoops of my own.  No exaggeration, but Bonnie (an ice cream expert) had 8 scoops total for the night.  Every flavor we tried was amazing:

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Dinner was actually very nerve racking.  Mafia looking guys kept moving the TV so we could barely see the match, Italy tied and everyone seemed DEVASTATED by this, and no one spoke English, so we were pretty sure that our food was going to come with fish heads and a variety of inedible things.  But Bonnie and I had a surprisingly delicious seafood risotto and Danny had a great little pasta thing.  The wine was gorgeous, Italy tied their match, and as far as we were concerned, the evening was PERFECT!

I will swear by it forever, go to towns you’ve never heard of!  Ljubljiana and Bari have been my two favorite places I’ve visited –pretty much ever – and most people couldn’t tell you where they are!

1 comment:

  1. I am so happy your experience in italy has been positive, you never know, the waiter or the cook or the receptionist at the hotel could be your 5th or 6th cousin.
    stay warm in switzerland and we'll see ya thursday night