Friday, October 14, 2022

More Puglia and Rome


Day 10: Trani, Alberobello, Bari

The weather does not improve in the morning. Last night we had braved the two blocks to a sushi restaurant, the rain still running down the centuries old stone. This morning, the rain still comes in waves, and we eat breakfast inside. 

The plan was to leave and go straight to Alberobello. However, Todd had been exploring the map and found a typewriter museum. So, Todd, Dad, and I meandered off to the Duomo piazza, where we found two floors of 150 years of typewriter history. We can’t help but thin of our Poems While You Wait friends in Chicago. These typewriters are real beauties. Some stand a foot tall, some two feet wide; others are so small that you could cup them in your  two hands. Most are in English, but there are Braille, Hebrew, Arabic, and Japanese. Many are standard black, but so many are glorious colors. Down in the Olivetti room, it’s a riot of color: from a special edition typewriter in the Italian flag colors, to turquoise, pink, green, red, purple. They are so, so pretty. Even the Olivetti Lettera 22 that our friend Eric helped me find as a wedding gift for Todd is there. As in Venice, our biggest disappointment is the lack of a book we can buy. All we can get are a few postcards. 

Back out in moody Trani, the stormclouds still ominous, we load up the car to head to Alberobello. An hour twenty minute drive, passing by fields of olive trees and vines heavy with grapes, Dad expertly navigates another crowded, narrow town, finding a perfect parking space. The view to the Trulli homes is so pretty. 

The problem is that Alberobello’s sky looks a foreboding color, and the weather is chill. We find a restaurant with seating outside, ordering hot meals and hot tea, in the hopes that we won’t get rained on, even under the restaurant umbrellas. The food is good, it only spits rain, but the wind is still chill. 

We decide to meander the Alberobello streets and admire the Trulli buildings: small white houses with stone cone roofs, many adorned with chimneys, symbols. They are not quite uniform, versions of a traditional style. But they are beautiful. They remind me, in a way, of the Taos Pueblo, the buildings individualized with flowers and colorful doors, but speaking of a long history. When everyone is done roaming, I take 15 minutes for a photo shoot and wander around on my own. It’s so easy to capture places like this, especially when the blue sky peaks out momentarily. I come across a small photography shop in a Trulli and buy a great black and white photograph for myself. 

We then drive the hour to Bari, a coastal city popular for ferries and cruises. We park along the Adriatic waterfront, the water and sky so blue. We walk into the old city walls and check in. Our room is right off a main strip, and it’s half cave/stone walls. Meeting back up with Dad and Margaret, we meander to find an open restaurant. It’s too early and the wrong day, so we eat at the simple cafe near our place. 

After dinner, we walk into the still-open Basilica of St Nicholas. It’s dark, with only prayer candles and some scattered lights. The ceiling looks to be primarily gold leaf frescoes, but they are impossible to make out right now. We go down to the tomb, which is well-lit and not as creepy as I expected. It’s clearly used often for prayers, lined with pews and offertory boxes. It’s a quiet night back out in the world, and we all say goodnight. 

Day 11: Bari to Rome

Dad and I meet up for coffee as we await our partners to join us for breakfast. Locals are out, mopeds and motorcycles delivering produce, parents taking kids to school, a few travelers already up and out. 

After breakfast, we check out of our rooms, Dad and Margaret checking into a larger room the next two night, and we load up the cars. With a few hours before our train to Rome, we decide that we have time to visit the castle, Castello Svevo di Bari. With a clear fortress intent, complete with a moat, this castle took its sea location seriously. There’s great stone work, excavated ruins, and a museum that houses plaster molds, along with other artifacts, like pottery, found on the grounds. The blue sky puts the castle stone to its best view. I realize that this is the third castle we’ve seen on these six days with Dad and Margaret—clearly a record!

Soon, we need to head to the train station. While we’ve spent almost half our vacation with them, it still doesn’t feel like enough. More chats to have, more time to explore, more hugs to give. But I do enjoy our video chats, so we will keep those up. One final selfie and round of hugs, and we are on our way. We buy lunch and water and wait for the train. 

It’s on time, speedy, and mostly comfortable. Since this is a fast train to central Rome, it’s busy and there’s a staff person that walks around with a cart of drinks and snacks. There had been only one first class coach on our Bologna-Vasto train, but there are many on this one. 

We arrive in Rome just after 5pm with throngs of others. Making our way to the taxi stand, we are quickly in a cab and making our way to the hotel. He drops us off and points to the wrong direction. Another hotel Concierge sees our confused looks outside of the wrong hotel and points us in the right direction. 

We check-in and make our way to the room. It’s a large room, a definite splurge for us, but it’s nice to have a couch and chairs. Unpacking a bit, we decide to forgo a passegiata in favor of dinner. 

Todd finds a vegan restaurant five minutes away, and we head there. He is eager to have a dairy free meal, and I’m just thrilled to have a whole vegan menu. We sit outside on the piazza, watching and hearing city traffic pass is by: buses, cars, garbage trucks, bikes, people. As we peruse a menu, talking to each other about what to order, a young woman at the table next to us, leans over and says, “it’s all vegan.” We just smile and say “we know,” but what I think is, “I’ve probably been vegan longer than you’ve been alive.” That thought doesn’t make me feel old AT ALL. The meal is delicious: fried olives, focaccia, a rice/mushroom/cheese dish, truffle pasta, sausage pizza, and tiramisu. All vegan, so filling. 

We then decide to take a slow meander to see the Trevi fountain. We saw it briefly six years ago, but Todd wasn’t feeling great, and he wanted to experience it again. We zigzag through the crowded thoroughfare, prepared this time for the onslaught of people, restaurants, and vendors selling flying lights and other wares. We make it to the fountain and stake our claim along the railing. The Trevi is always beautiful at night, more dramatic and romantic. The shadows on the statues, the play of light off the water. I am reminded of the first time I visited the Trevi over Christmas in 1994, a young man coming up to us college aged Americans, flirting, asking us if we like white wine or red. I don’t feel like 28 years have passed, but somehow they have. 

We head back to Piazza della Rotunda in front of the Pantheon to get a good view of this at night. Again,  I’m reminded of 1994, and again 2004, and 2016. Previous trips flooding me with memories. 

Day 12: Rome

It’s raining! Luckily, we have the Galleria Borghese booked this morning, so we hope to avoid most of the bad morning weather. It’s definitely a taxi morning. Rome is humid, and the taxi windows steam up, so we lower them a bit to see landmarks we pass. 

The Borghese is a timed entry situation: every hour on the hour, booked ahead. Umbrellas line the entry, and we check our bags because only small purses are allowed. We are guided up to the second floor, where we start with mostly old masters and Christian art. There are some beauties up here, like Titian’s “Sacred and Profane Love”, a Botticelli, Raphael, Reubens. It’s downstairs on the first floor where all the gorgeous statues are. Bernini is the star of the show, at least for us. His sculptures are emotive and fluid. His “Apollo and Daphne” is spectacular, with Daphne transforming into a tree, roots and leaves emerging from her extended fingers and toes. 

Not to be undone, there are brilliant pieces by Caravaggio (especially his gorgeous “Saint Jerome”), Canova’s beautiful marble “Venus” that Justine Bonaparte sat for, and gorgeous mosaics. Of course, when an art gallery is in a palace, you must always look up and down to admire the beautiful frescoes and the gorgeous marble floors. The whole place is a work of art. 

When we emerge from our time slot, rain still falls. We grab a taxi that is dropping someone off. We head back to our hotel, where we finish our pizza and pasta leftovers from last night and create a game plan. Our last afternoon and evening of vacation. We stroll to the Pantheon and step inside this gorgeous building. I never get tired of this place: the seamless open air rotunda, the ancient brick and stone mingling with the centuries old marble, the play of light. 

We then walk the few blocks to Piazza Navona to complete our Bernini tour of the day. We notice lots of reporters and their crew following people down streets, and a crowd of people and police stand in front of a building. When we search later, we discover that it’s the Senate building, which opened today for the new session after the election. A 92 year old Holocaust survivor opened the session, just before a new speaker was elected—a right-wing, fascist supporter. Everywhere there is this resurgence of anti-democratic, far-right conservative movements; no country seems safe from it. 

We admire the Bernini fountain sculptures and choose a cafe for a snack. Todd asks about vegan items at one, while I check out the menu at another. When I approach, the man says, “I am vegan, too” and gives me a fist bump. We sit in the piazza, safe from spitting rain, and enjoy vegan appetizers: bruschetta, artichoke, and mushroom/potato balls. (What is a major disappointment is that we cannot find plain fried squash blossoms, just ones stuffed with cheese and anchovies.) We then hunt down vegan gelato, the third place being the charm. Chocolate and fig; this time the fig tastes like fig!

We meander back to the hotel to pack and prep. I stop in San Luigi to see the Caravaggio chapel, which is in another beautiful church. Bags get packed, and we decide to head out to a ceramic store we passed. We’ve hardly bought any souvenirs. It’s closed when we get there, but it’s near the Temple of Hadrian. They have a great digital light display over the ancient columns, which shows the evolution of the building from Temple to ruin to repurposed. It’s a fun display, a bigger scale show than the mosaic digits recreation in Padua, and a fun final Roman moment. 

We decide to forego restaurant hunting and instead head back to Buddy for our final meal. This time, we order olives, falafel, and a seitan mushroom truffle dish. The hotel has provided us with vegan breakfast items for the morning, including yogurt and chocolate croissants. So, we finalize our packing and attempt to get to bed early for our 5:15 wake-up/6:15 taxi/10am flight. 

So, here we are, at the end of our vacation. 13 days, 6 cities/towns, 1 family reunion. It’s been three years since the last long, international vacation. There were things to relearn, new experiences to enjoy, stress and anxiety, masking, joy and beauty. I’m so glad we came, and I hope for another trip soon. There are friends to see and hug, new places to explore. I’ll try to post another blog for all that we did. Thanks for following along! 

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