Sunday, 19 July 2015

Italy - Matera

Our overnight crossing from Croatia went smoothly, as all our ferry trips with the Jadrolinija Line have done. With the car safely stowed and armed with a pizza, we went up on deck to watch the lights of  Dubrovnik fade away. We had taken a cabin for the night which comprised of 2 small bunks (about the size of our beds on Kittani) and a wash basin. It was a shared bathroom between 6 cabins but the ferry was nowhere near capacity and I think lucky for us we were the only ones using the facility. The engine noise was quite audible and stopped me from getting much sleep. Pete on the other hand felt quite at home and had a good nights rest.


                        Our little car first in line and stowed away for the night crossing to Italy.

Up early for a breakfast of sorts and then watched us come into port at Bari. It didn't take long to get everyone off and we were back on the road. We needed to find a bank and change some money, and that proved harder than expected. Firstly, Bari is not a particularly attractive town - existing mostly around the port and ferry terminal and very dirty. Secondly, the roads through town were particularly narrow with cars parked alongside and often just pulled up in the middle. Thirdly, Italian drivers love to honk their horn when they want to pass you, when they come out of a side street and just whenever they want. After finally finding a car spot near a bank, we grabbed our cash and couldn't get out of there fast enough. 

We decided to take what we thought would be the scenic coast road south towards Brindisi. It turned out that for the better part of it, we couldn't even sea the ocean and the roads were littered with rubbish everywhere. This wasn't a good start to our Italian stay. We continued on and eventually stopped in the small town of Gallipoli - a fishing village on the west side of Italy's 'heel' but again the debris lying around was really off putting and many of the buildings were covered in graffiti. The temperature outside had hit 41 degrees and we decided that this part of the country wasn't really doing anything for us, so we decided to push through to Matera.

Matera - the good, the bad and the interesting. The town lies in a canyon carved out by the Gravina river and is famous for its extensive cave-dwelling districts know as the 'Sassi'. As recently as the 1950's, hundreds of people still lived a crowded existence in these cave-homes, but by the 1980's, for health reasons they had all been relocated to more modern buildings on the plateau above. In 1993 it was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site as an example of 'troglodyte settlement' and since then has become more popular as a tourist destination. This was the interesting part.

                              A view of the Sassi with the ring road taken from Matera church 


                              Wandering up and down the alleyways of Matera, Southern Italy


                      The church at Matera.                              Outdoor restaurant setting up for dinner

We stayed at Locanda di San Martino, an accomodation comprising of 33 seperate 'cave' rooms all newly renovated and joined by pathways and stairs. The entire 'Sassi' is a series of grottoes carved out of limestone on the edge of the ravine with houses seemingly piled on top of each other, the roofs of some are the streets for those above. We enjoyed 2 days of climbing up and down endless steps and alleyways and again walking on those polished smooth stones that we have seen all throughout our travels so far. We descended into the cistern to learn about the towns water supply of old, and spent our evenings dining under soft lights and enjoying the cooler temperatures. We did however have to spend from midday till late afternoon in our room with the air con at full blast - this was the only way to survive the heat (and many places closed for this period of the day anyway). This was the good part.


                       Pete down in the cistern                          Locanda Di San Martino - our cave home

Sadly - the bad! We had thought to get on the road early to Amalfi thus avoiding the heavy traffic on the motorways. We moved our car from the free car park up to a residents only area for the loading our of cases which is allowed by the local law. We were away from the car for just over half an hour and when we returned, we found our 2 front tyres had been slashed. The only non-Italian number plated vehicle in the row of cars and I guess it was target for some low life. It was then a 4 hour exercise to get 2 new sports tyres on a Sunday!!! A local resident told us that he had experienced this 4 times - and he lived there!!! The locals were very helpful with putting us in touch with the right people, and they too were very sorry this had been done to us. A shame such a low point to end a great couple of days.


              Trying to appear happy after our little car had its tyres slashed. What can you do???

After a delayed departure due to our mishap, we were finally mobile again and a few hours drive to our next stop - the stunningly beautiful Amalfi Coast. 

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