It’s been over a month since we took this trip, to Puglia for a friend’s wedding. She and her (now) husband met in New York and both live there, but they love Italy and decided to get married in the Puglia region (that’s the heel of the boot):
We flew into the Bari airport, arriving Saturday morning, September 13 — a week before the festivities. And immediately, we start taking notes. Here’s day one of our Italy adventure:
We almost don’t make it on our flight from JFK Friday night. When we arrive at the airport, Olivier can’t get his seat assignment (he can never check in in advance because of his Visa-H1B status). We are told we may have to wait until the next day for another flight; there is no offer of a voucher if we’re kicked off. Getting pissed. The guy next to me is screaming at the gate agents about getting downgraded to economy from business, because there’s not enough room on the flight. Agent says they “got a different plane” than expected and are extremely overbooked.
Five minutes before the scheduled departure, we’re allowed onto the flight. We’re the last passengers on. We are not sitting together. We are squished in economy. Seats are getting tinier; I’m not a very big girl and I barely fit! Black box under the seat in front of me takes up half of my foot space. Guy next to me on the flight also lives in New York, in the same neighborhood (Chelsea) as we do. He is nice. But I start to get testy after attempting to sleep for three hours on our overnight flight. I do not sleep.
We arrive at the airport in Rome, haggard, for a layover. (Note to self: Never fly American again). Eat croissants (awful) and have an espresso to wake up (amazing). Pile onto another flight and arrive in Bari airport at 11am. Pick up car rental — it is SO European (Fiat); bet Berlusconi drives one of these:
Drive to Monopoli, a fortified Messapic city of about 60,000 people about an hour’s drive away from Bari. It was first settled in 500 AD and always been an important city for trade with Asia, and was at times under Byzantine, Norman, Hohenstaufen and Venetian control:
Olivier and I do not have a road map for Monopoli. Just the highway map and the street address of our AirBNB host. We get lost. We ask for directions. We get lost again. We finally stumble onto the address when we park our car by the port. Olivier is very proud of himself.
We meet Rosa, our AirBNB home owner, who comes with her granddaughter. She does not speak English. And she does not know how to read a map. We are excited because we figure staying with an AirBNB host means they know all the local hot spots. We ask where to go for lunch and dinner. She says every restaurant is here is good. At least the room is gorgeous, and in the middle of the historic district:
We walk around the port, take lots of photos. There’s a medieval castle, built in the 1500s by Charles V, that was, like many European landmarks, at one time also used as a prison:
We walk by the water:
We stop for lunch at a restaurant by the port eat – squid pasta and ravioli outside. Half awake. Many serious conversations, including genetic testing.
We walk around some more, on winding streets and by the port. Take lots of pics:
After showering back at the apt, we go back out and I am lured into a hat shop. The owner, somehow convinces me, in two-word sentences, to buy an expensive hat (the next day, I realize it doesn’t actually fit).
The friend of Italian hat guy, who speaks French like Olivier, shares photos of two 20-something daughters living in France. He walks us to a hole-in-the-wall seafood restaurant near our apartment. When we arrive there’s no one. We determine pics of celebs on wall including young Sean Connery were not taken in restaurant. Then we realize, we’re eating dinner at 8pm. By 9pm, the restaurant is filled out with locals, mostly families with young children. We order a bottle of white wine and a seafood platter with lots of squid (I eat it all). Then an entree of simple but perfectly cooked pasta and red sauce. Then a whole fish, branzino, which Olivier de-bones for me. The whole meal costs 40 Euros (what a treat! compared to NYC prices). We go home and crash.