I’ve been speaking English for 29 years, so I thought I knew what a few simple words meant. Words like “Amazing,” “Awesome,” “Astonishing,” and “Beautiful.” Pretty straightforward, right? And on this blog, I have liberally thrown those words around because lots of Italy is amazing, awesome, astonishing, and beautiful. But the other week, to celebrate my 29th birthday, we went down to Puglia and those four words were redefined.
The south gets a bad wrap. Yes it tends to be dirtier and more chaotic, yes there is a lot of corruption and organized crime, and yes, the accents and dialects are turned up to 11 meaning someone with even decent Italian ability can be left bewildered. But it’s also significantly friendlier than anywhere else I’ve been in this country. So from now on, I’m not going to acknowledge hackneyed cliches about the “danger” of southern Italy anymore, because as you will see, it is word re-defining-ly good.
Today: Bari and the redefinition of “Amazing.”
Bari tends to be overlooked, but the city itself has a ton to offer and its central position in Puglia means it is in a prime location for striking out around the heel. We stayed in Bari Vecchia for a few days and it worked out perfectly. Bari Vecchia is almost bizarrely separated from the new town, when you exit the train station you walk for about 15 minutes through a modern Italian city that could be Rome or Milan, with shops like Louis Vuitton and Hermès. Once you cross into the Old Town, it’s almost as if the modern city ceased to exist.
Bari Vecchia is winding and twisty and makes you think of Venice without the canals, and you forget you’re on the sea until you get to the walls, and there it is all shining and gorgeous:
The two meals we ate on my birthday in Bari were excellent, I will now be unable to eat spaghetti alle vongole ever again, because the one in Bari was too good (technically I had a spaghetti al pescatore, but it’s a close thing to say who won that meal). Everyone we talked to was above-and-beyond friendly. When we finally meandered into the piazza that housed our bed and breakfast an elderly gentleman, seeing how obviously out of place we were (I stick out at least, my dear companions 100% Italian-American heritage helps him fit in a bit better) said: “bed and break? bed and break?” while pointing us to its location across the square. When we knocked on the door, waiting for the proprietor, a neighbor lady saved us the trouble by yelling: “eei-o Gianni, Gi-ANNI!” Later someone (strangely) asked me directions through the labyrinth of the old town, when I (obviously) couldn’t direct them, another person walking by stopped to help, and the lady working in the bar we had just exited also came out to point the lost souls on their way. It was amazing.