Italy

Boisterous Bari

I was intrigued by Bari, but I don’t believe the right word for it was “excited”. At least not the same way that I’ve been excited to visit other cities. Boy was I wrong. I checked in and dropped off my luggage at the Albergo delle Nazionali, which is just across the street from the sea. I set off on foot toward the old town, having no plans but to find myself some lunch in a piazza where I could do some people watching and sipping on local wine. It’d been a busy last week and a half, so I opted to just see where the wind took me.

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As I walked along the edge of the water on the sidewalk, I came up to a small port where I could see fishermen cleaning up their catch of the day. It took me a whole 3 seconds to recognize where I was. I’d seen it many times before, but not personally. Elizabeth and Sophie Minchilli visit Bari often and when they do, one of their main stops is at this port to taste test the local fish. In that moment, I sure wish I liked fish! There were tables set up, with plates full of different kinds of fish, each with a wedge of lemon on it. I sat there staring at the fish, with my camera clutched in my hands, when all of the sudden two fishermen weren’t going to let me go without asking me to buy something. When I turned them down, one of them came back right away with “buy a fish for your mamma.” I told him my mamma is in America and I don’t think the fish would like that long of a journey. By the look of surprise on his face, I think he liked my very strange response.

I bid the fishermen farewell and looked at the skyline to see which way was one of the tall towers or churches that I knew I’d probably plant myself in front of for a while. I passed a group of tourists on a walking tour, then Italian families that you could see where on holiday, pointing at a map that they had in their hands. I saw tourists on a bike tour, their fearless leader hardly looking in front of himself as he shouted back to the people behind him, in a strong German accent. By then I had made it into one of the main squares, where each restaurant is packed, side by side to each other, most with seating in the glass containers that make me feel like a fish in a fishbowl. If you’ve been to Italy, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. In one corner was an old fountain and people were lined up filling their water bottles. 

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I found a small restaurant that served only meat and cheese plates and panini. No menu on the tables to be found, everything was written on chalkboards, which were hanging on the doors of the place. I took a seat, ordered a spritz and panini. I was more thirsty than hungry, but I couldn’t resist when I saw a panino go by me, the fior di latte cheese dripping from the bread. I sat and took my time at this place, I could tell it was family run and the women behind the counter were inviting and kind. I ordered a second spritz and bantered back and forth a bit with the owner. She was stunned when I told her how much aperol costs in the states! (Double that it does in Italy).

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My next stop was to visit the churches in the old town. I rounded the corner and came upon my first church, which was the Basilica di San Nicola. I was immediately drawn to the entrance of the church, which still had the impressive external details, such as the two lions that are carved out of limestone. I circled both of them, in complete awe that these have somehow withstood so much time and so much ware in the weather. There they stood, intact and still fiercely guarding the doors of the church. I walked into one of the side doors and was floored at what I was looking at. Finally, a differently designed church. The arches which crossed from one side to the other of the church, were slightly off set, but obviously on purpose. It drew me in and had me gapping, literally with my mouth hanging open saying “woooow” until I realized I said it a bit too loud and a lady in front of me turned around and giggled. The ceilings were a brilliant red and gold. The paintings seemed fresh and new, so vibrant against the stone of the structure it was painted on.

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I saw someone walk down a staircase to the back right of the church and proceeded to follow them, hoping that the crypt was open. It was open, but there was currently a church session or mass happening (and in Russian I believe), so I stood by the door and gazed across the crypt. Others passed me and walked straight through, taking photos without even a slight bit of hesitation. Though I’m not religious, I believe we should all have the same respect for each others beliefs and with that comes space. I took a couple of photos of the entrance, but I took my leave pretty quickly.

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From the church I zig zagged through the small alley ways, making up each turn as I went. I passed by grandmothers that were planted in their folding chairs, each wearing a decorated apron and they were in their house slippers. They were chatting with someone either in the house across from them or to another person in a balcony nearby. I call those people the “Italian security guards”, always silently watching from above.

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Bari certainly lacks in the rain department, so the streets aren’t as washed down as you’d hope. Though the only smells I was experiencing were coming from the kitchens with their windows open. I smelled sauces being cooked, espresso being brewed, I could hear chopping on a cutting board and a voice asking for someone to get something out of the fridge. Each of these small moments made me feel relaxed and so at home in this foreign place. There’s one thing that Italy does to each of it’s visitors, even to people that don’t claim that they are foodies- they become foodies while they are in Italy. If you ever travel to Italy and don’t eat well, you’re doing it all wrong…somehow. It’s not just about a fancy dinner reservation that you make at a Michelin star restaurant, food is a way of life, it’s a daily enjoyment of flavors and mainly of balance.

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I was walking along, thinking about which way I should head next, when I came across a woman sitting outside of her home, making pasta on a table. Her head was down and she was focused, but you could tell this was a rhythm that her hands knew well. She pressed and pushed, pressed and pushed and then grabbed the next set of pasta dough that was on the side and began the same repetitive motions. Pressed to make the shape, pushed it to the side to dry. She looked up from her work and greeted me. Not in the most welcoming of ways, but more cautious as she looked from my camera to me and then at her work. She probably knew I wasn’t going to buy anything, but she asked anyways. I told her that I was still traveling for a while, otherwise I wish that I could buy the whole table of goodies. I asked if I could take a photo and she nodded and went back to work.

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I continued on and just a couple of unknown turns later, I saw an old column, then two, then I realized it was a small courtyard with 6 of them. Not all completely intact, but there they stood, surrounded by apartments and cars parked next to them. Like they weren’t there at all. I walked closer and realized that the ground where the columns were, were made up of very well placed and beautiful tile. Not mosaics, but just tiles that were all placed quite differently, never mimicking the last pattern. The shapes and colors all different as well. I looked around for a sign, some kind of explanation of what this fantastic find was, but all I saw were two men, sitting on the side of the courtyard, drinking beers and passing the time. 

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Just like this small courtyard, I felt like I had found a special place in Italy as well. I really enjoyed my time in Bari and I look forward to my return. Possibly even in 2019?

Una caminata in Roma

Images and altars to Madonna can be found all over Rome. Romans know the Madonnelle (little Madonnas) and pay respect to them, regardless of whether they're religious or not. Currently, it's possible to count more than 500 of them in Rome! See how many you find during your time in the city. They are usually placed on the corners of buildings, the Madonnelle are made in individual ways, such as mosaic, wood, and marble; some even have vases for flowers and candles placed around them. In the past, the candles provided some protection by keeping the streets safe from the dangers of darkness.

Piazza del Campidoglio, from the founding of Rome until its fall almost one thousand years later, the Capitoline Hill symbolized the epicenter of Rome's might and many of the city's most important buildings stood on this hill. Pope Paul III Farnese asked Michelangelo to design a new square, which was the Piazza del Campidoglio (Capitoline Square). The project also included a redesign of the existing buildings surrounding the square.

A traveler must visit the worlds smallest country while in Rome- Vatican City of course! It really is the world's smallest country, Vatican City occupies 0.44 sq km (about .2 square miles) and is completely surrounded by the city of Rome. Vatican City serves as the spiritual center for millions of practicing Roman Catholics worldwide. St. Peter's Square is bordered on two sides by semi-circular colonnades which, according to Bernini, symbolize the stretched arms of the church embracing the world. Pretty well thought out, if you ask me! All which in the end was created by Bernini and his students. They depict popes, martyrs, evangelists and other religious figures. One of the most impressive halls within the Vatican is the Hall of Maps, with murals of old maps of the papal lands. This is one of my personal favorites at least, but really there are so many rooms to choose from! St. Peter’s Basilica was built on the site of a church covering Peter's tomb, it's one of the largest churches in the world. Entrance to the church is free but visitors must be properly dressed, with no bare knees or shoulders. Saint Peter's Basilica is open daily, 7AM - 7PM (until 6PM October - March). Masses, in Italian, are held all day on Sundays. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be there while a choir is performing!

The Colosseum is probably the most impressive building of the Roman Empire. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater, it was the largest building of the era. The monumental structure has fallen into ruin, but even today it is an incredible sight. The Colosseum could accommodate some 55,000 spectator- that in itself is impressive! Emperors used the Colosseum to entertain the public with free games and to gain themselves popularity. For those of you that don’t just want to see this from the outside and really want to set up a great tour- go all the way, splurge a little and do something like this: Skip the Line: Ancient Rome and Colosseum Half-Day Walking Tour Make sure to book any type of tours ahead of time- months or weeks before, so you can be assured that you will have a spot in a tour while you are in the city!

Built more than 1800 years ago (take that in for a second), the magnificent Pantheon still stands as a reminder of the great Roman Empire. The name Pantheon refers to the building's original function as a temple for all the gods.  With its thick brick walls and large marble columns, the Pantheon makes an immediate impression on visitors. But the most remarkable and memorable part of the structure, is the more than forty seven yard high dome. It was the largest dome in the world until 1436 when the Florence Cathedral was constructed. This site is free to the public and open from 9:00am to 7:30pm. 

Piazza Navona is a wonderful place to grab a gelato, find a bench or just simply wander the square and people watch. It's big enough to do some laps! The large and lively square features three striking fountains and the baroque church of Sant'Agnese in Agone. The central and largest fountain is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. It was constructed between 1647 and 1651 on request of Pope Innocent X.  The two other fountains around the piazza are the Fontana del Nettuno at the northern end and the Fontana del Moro at the southern end of the square. 

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme - a museum without the crowds! Located near Termini Station, the museum features impressive frescos and bronze statues, like 1st-century BC Boxer and Prince, as well as mosaics, jewelry, coins, and marble statues of gods and emperors. Admission to the museum also includes entrance to three other excellent museums—Palazzo Altemps, Crypta Balbi, and Baths of Diocletian—which are all close by.

The Trevi Fountain is situated at the end of the Aqua Virgo, an aqueduct constructed in 19 BC by Agrippa, the son-in-law of Emperor Augustus. The aqueduct brings water all the way from the Salone Springs (approx. 21km from Rome) and supplies the fountains in the historic center of Rome with water. The central figure of the fountain, standing in a large niche, is Neptune, god of the sea. He rides a shell-shaped chariot that is pulled by two sea horses. Each sea horse is guided by a Triton. One of the horses is calm and obedient, the other one restive. They symbolize the fluctuating moods of the sea. The statues were sculpted by Pietro Bracci.

Sacred Segesta

Getting to Segesta, was half of the adventure that day. Me and my little rental, were making moves across the Sicilian terrain and leaving just a trail of dust behind me. I rounded the corners of the streets like I was driving a Ferrari and warming the wheels up for a race. My GPS decided to give me another run for my money, (day two of being in Sicily and the second time I was lost...ish). It had been about 15 minutes since I had last seen a car or a house that someone could have actually been living in.

The roads were atrocious. After several bad pot holes, that looked more like sinkholes, I knew for sure I was not on the road that tour busses were taking and my GPS was seriously messing with me. I had passed a sign for Segesta about 20 minutes ago and it said to go the road that I was on, I had not made a mistake, so I figured there's no turning back now! I had the windows rolled down and I was thankful for the rental car insurance I purchased, because whatever damage that was being done to the vehicle, wasn't going to have to be fixed by me personally.

I'm driving along when I see a tractor and a cute little old man, standing on the side of the road. He turns and sees me coming, so I slow the car, roll down my side window and he approaches the car with a big smile. He greets me and holds his hand out to shake mine and asks how he can help. I tell him in my broken Italian that I'm looking for the Archeological site of Segesta. The old man steps back out of the car and his smile is now a look of disgust. If I hadn't known any better, I think I just cast a spell on him. He says "I'm not interested in what you're doing!" and starts to walk away. I try to explain myself, but he's just shaking his head and looking at me and my car like we just landed from mars and we brought the plague with us. I am still SO curious to find out, what he thought I said! 

I'm still saying loudly, with my hands in the air, "wait, please, come back!" When a blaring noise fills the air and makes me nearly jump from my seat- it's a car honking his horn from behind me. A car. A car! I pull to the side and flag this guy down, who I can tell is half of the older mans age. I try it again, but with slight hesitation, worried I'll be scaring away another person. I'm just finishing saying I'm looking for the Archeologic- and he cuts me off and says back in Italian, "Out here? This isn't the road. Follow me and you will see the sign of Segesta and you will follow that and I will go on where I need." I thank him over and over again and he waves his hand at me, like it's nothing and we're on our way. But we're on our way like someone is in the back seat of the car dying. We're driving so fast my heart is racing and really, I'm barely keeping up with him. I thought I was having some fun earlier driving fast, but this guy is no joke. My car skids and hops over the bumps with his and all of the sudden we're approaching this beautiful old bridge, which I could assume was ridiculously old- all I want to do is stop and take a photo, but I can't lose my new guide, so I keep my foot pressed on the gas and we pass under the bridge and I'm still looking up at it with my rear view window.

There it is, a sign for Segesta. I pull off, following the arrow and leaving the man behind, waving my arm as a gesture of "thank you" and he waves back. I follow the sign, head up the hill and I begin to see tour busses parked on a road and know this must be it, for real this time! I park, walk passed the tables of silly souvenirs- which are mostly about the film The Godfather- man they really play it up for us tourists. I'm at the ticket window and I ask the man behind the counter for a map or any information that he can provide, but he tells me the only thing they have is maps you can buy in the souvenir shop. And this is where I'm reminded of how helpful it is to book a tour or have a guide be with you when you visit these places!

Not many plants in this area, just an occasional little palm like this beaut here.

Not many plants in this area, just an occasional little palm like this beaut here.

After a quick break, halfway up the walkway, I stopped and acted like I was taking photos, but really I was catching my breath. The sun was shining down on my pale skin and I was already becoming a shiny mess of sweat. They say that these ruins are as good as what you will find in Athens, Greece. I wouldn't know, because I haven't made it that way yet, but I'm going to take people's word for it. This temple stopped me in my tracks though, quite literally...because as I stood there staring, I hear a "um, 'scuse me miss", in a British accent behind me, as a couple tries stepping around me. I was shocked to only find about 10 or so people, up at the temple when I got to the top and began to look around. Which made me smile, because I'm so used to waiting for another tourist to move out of the shot I'm trying to take. Winning! Let's take a walk around the temple together, shall we?

From the site, looking out at the snaking freeway that is headed toward the Tyrrhenian Sea in the distance.

From the site, looking out at the snaking freeway that is headed toward the Tyrrhenian Sea in the distance.

It was quiet up there, perched perfectly on the hilltop where you could see the sea in the front and the mountains were behind you. I could see why they picked such a place. All that is left to see while you're there is the temple and across on the neighboring hillside is the Amphitheater. Thought to have been built in the 420's BC (by an Athenian Architect) there was a castle, a small church and mosque, all which were inhabited up until the Middle Ages. Though here's the twist! They assume that the temple was never completed, as there was never a roof added, the pillars were never fluted (carved in grooves for decoration) and you can still find tabs in the blocks of the base (used for lifting the blocks into place, but then they are typically removed). What kept this place from being finished?

After slowly completely circling the temple, I took off down the hill and looked in the distance to where I would be next. I saw people zigzagging back and forth on the paths and on the road to where the amphitheater lies. To walk or to bus, that was... wait, no, I knew I wasn't going to walk! Who am I kidding?! So the bus, it was. You pay 1,50 € to take the bus or walk for free. Those that have time, sure enjoy the walk, it's not that bad! I felt guilty as we passed all of the 70 year olds that were really enjoying that sweaty walk, while we zoomed passed them on a bus. But time was of the essence! Know one thing about this place, it lacks any type of information as I sort of started to tell you about earlier, so researching ahead of time is wise. There's a map on the sign when you get dropped off by the bus and then that's it. The bus comes and goes every 15 minutes. I set my timer for 28 minutes and I hopped off the last step of the bus, taking long strides on each step of the path to get to the site without dilly dallying. 

I was only one of five people on the bus, we passed just a handful of people walking up and down the hill and at the site I only saw the same people that I saw over at the temple. I couldn't believe how lucky we were to basically have this place to ourselves!

Cutest couple award of the year, goes to these two!

Cutest couple award of the year, goes to these two!

Taking photos from every angle possible and then pausing, slowly bringing my camera down from my face, I'd just stand there, taking it all in. The stories that this historical place has, I tried imagining the actors walking across the stage, entertaining it's onlookers from the seats. They may have watched sunsets and sunrises from here and that's when I wondered what the land looked like then. Without the speedway distracting your eyes from the spectacular view. I had slipped back in time for a second. The only thing that woke me from my dream, was this man in the photo on stage that began reading a line from something in German. German? What languages were they speaking here, what languages did their visitors that came by ships speak?

With the amphitheater to my back and this just on the other hill top. 

With the amphitheater to my back and this just on the other hill top. 

Overall review of my few hours that I had here? Fabulous. Do I wish there was more information provided? Absolutely. Something like this deserves to really be showed off and the story to be told! I always recommend getting a guide and this was definitely a reminder for me to: practice what you preach! I'm no historian people, so learning from a true guide who really knows what they are talking about and is able to answer your questions, is so satisfying when seeing sights like these. You'll fall much more in love with the sights that you are visiting and they can definitely point out details that you won't notice on your own. I suggest a trip to Segesta, if you're in the area- don't miss out!