Two weeks in southern Apulia, Italy, September 2016
Trip Report, September 9 - September 23, 2016
If you look at Italy as a boot, the Apulia region is the heel. "Apulia" is its English name, but in Italian it’s called "Puglia", and that’s what I call it in the balance of this report. We visited the southern portion, south of the city of Bari.
The travelers were Larry (74) and Margie (72), who both post on the Fodor’s Forum as "justretired" (despite our Fodor's name, Larry actually retired way back in 2003). This initial report was written by Larry (who makes restaurant reservations as "Lorenzo" in Italy), a retired electrical engineer with an interest in linguistics. In addition to his native English, Larry speaks French, Spanish, and Italian (some better than others), and even remembers a bit of his college German.
Margie is an ex social worker, who is now an artist. She works primarily in watercolor, but she has also worked in mixed media, including paper maché (which, you will see, is relevant to the area of Italy we visited).
On this trip, we spent six days in each of two agriturismi (agricultural tourism resorts). We had a rental car for the entire time, and used the agriturismi as bases from which to take short day trips to nearby points of interest. Between these two longer stays, we spent one full day (two nights) in the city of Matera, which is not in Puglia, but rather in the region Basilicata.
In this report
In this report, I’ve underlined section headings, boldfaced the first mention of places and restaurants we visited, and put Italian words other than place names and restaurant names in italics. I start with a general discussion of:
Our rental car
The Mobile Passport app
These will be followed by a day-by-day account of the trip, and then by some final thoughts.
As we planned this trip, we became aware of problems that might be posed by what Italians call la pausa, meaning "the pause". This is a custom found in many southern areas of Europe – we’ve seen it in Spain and in southern France as well: work stops for lunch and a siesta during what is, in summer, the heat of the day. In Puglia, it’s quite common for stores and attractions to close down at noon, 12:30, 1:00, or 1:30, and not re-open until around 4:00 or 5:00pm. For tourism and shopping, this eliminates some activities for up to four hours in the middle of the day. Most restaurants, of course, stay open until around 3:00pm.
For tourists like us, on short day trips, this is a problem. Italians eat their main meal of the day during la pausa, and then have some time to relax a bit before going back to work. Children often come home from school, and then return after la pausa to finish their school day. But tourists like us are nowhere near home when la pausa starts. We’re out and about, and suddenly our options are restricted. As you’ll see if you read my day-by-day report, this often limited us.
Obviously, given la pausa, it would be a good idea to get started very early each day. But breakfast in our hotels was not generally served until 8:00am, so it was hard to get on the road before around 8:30 or 9:00. If our destination for the day was a 45 minute drive, and if parking and walking from our parking spot to our actual destination took another 15 minutes, our day couldn’t start until around 9:30. That left only two and a half hours before things started to close. In practice, we generally got going even later than that, sometimes considerably later, for reasons I’ll now discuss.
Certainly, lunch is an activity for la pausa, but it seldom took us more than an hour and a half. While we always found other things to do during la pausa, at our age, we tended to run out of steam by 4:00pm, when attractions and stores start to reopen. Thus, we generally didn’t make any use of that late afternoon / evening period – we generally headed home.
And then, dinner was not served until 8:00pm, and we usually didn’t finish dinner until 9:30 or 10:00. It’s not possible for either Margie or me to go to bed right after dinner – we need to leave at least an hour or two. Thus it became impossible to get to bed before 11:30 or midnight, completing the cycle by making it impossible to wake up really early. For us, la pausa was a problem – it substantially limited the number of things we could do.
We ate well on this trip, probably better than on previous trips to Italy. Perhaps we would have needed to spend more in Tuscany and Umbria, and particularly in major cities like Rome and Florence, to get the same quality meals we found routinely in Puglia. There were local vegetables galore in the antipasti, which were extremely varied and imaginative. Fresh mozzarella and burrata cheese were plentiful and good. The pasta was generally fresh.
Being on the coast, there was lots of fresh seafood, although Margie has a shellfish allergy, so she couldn’t take advantage of all of it. Much less seafood seemed to be available in Matera, in the province of Basilicata, apparently because it wasn’t on the coast. That seemed a bit odd to me, because it is only a couple of hours from the coast by truck. Maybe Italians really only want their seafood if it’s right off the boat.
On past trips, we found we didn't always eat well if we just walked into a randomly chosen restaurant. So this time, Margie did extensive research before we left, much of it on the Fodor's Forum, and prepared a file on sights and restaurants which we carried everywhere, both on our phones, and in paper form. Margie intends to add comments on the restaurants we ate in on this trip to that file, and we'll eventually make it available to Fodorites. But while we like to eat well, we don't generally plan a day's excursion based upon visiting a particular restaurant, and we tend to choose restaurants that are moderately priced.
When I mentioned restaurants in a trip report a number of years ago, someone suggested that I should also give the price of each meal, so readers would have an idea of the price range of each of the restaurants we tried. I’ve done that in my trip reports ever since. On this trip, the Euro was worth around $1.12. Since there's always a lot of interest in restaurants among the Fodor’s readership, I go into quite a bit of detail as to what we ate.
When we travel, we like to stay connected to our family back home, and we use the Internet fairly often to research restaurants and tourist attractions. Margie in particular wanted to stay up on the news, with the ongoing fascinating developments in U.S. politics. We also used Google Maps to navigate on the road.
To keep us connected, we rented an ExpressoWiFi device for this trip, and we liked it. We found it most useful on the road, where we used Google Maps for navigation. Google Maps did much better than my Garmin GPS, which was hampered by out-of-date maps (Puglia seems to have added a lot of new traffic circles). After using the Garmin GPS to drive from the Bari airport to our first hotel, we never used it again.
When we use a GPS or Google Maps, Margie often follows along on a conventional paper map. That way, if we get into trouble, she still has a good idea where we are. We used the Touring Editore 1:200,000 map of Puglia for an overview. It’s printed on rip-proof and waterproof plastic. It also has another very useful feature: it tells you which syllable is stressed in place names. Thus, for instance, the name of Otranto, a city we visited, is written on the map as Ótranto. That accent mark is NOT part of the city’s name as it is normally written. It only serves to tell you that the name is stressed on the first syllable – it’s OH-tran-toe, not oh-TRAN-toe as you might otherwise expect. On the other hand, Margie noticed that some of the route numbers on the map did not correspond to the route numbers used by Google Maps. Perhaps there’s been some sort of re-numbering since the map was issued.
We prepaid for the ExpressoWiFi device on their web site ( https://www.expressowifi.com/ ). We paid a per-day charge of 5€, and a 16€ delivery/pickup fee. There were no additional charges beyond that. The device was waiting for us at our first hotel upon our arrival, in a sealed envelope, and we left it at our last hotel for pickup, in another sealed envelope that had been provided, with a prepaid and pre-addressed label. Some sort of courier service was used for the drop-off and pickup.
The carrier used by the device was TIM. A WiFi device like this is sometimes called a "hotspot", and in rural Puglia, that name was quite apt - the device was often hot to the touch. I imagine that it was working hard to connect to rather weak 4G signals in the area. On our one day in Matera, in Basilicata, it ran much cooler. We kept it powered when in the car, so we had no problem with battery life even in fringe areas.
The ExpressoWiFi device provided WiFi to our two phones and Margie's tablet, wherever we were, for 5€ a day. Data plans with an adequate data allowance from our US carrier, Verizon, would have cost almost twice that, and for only one phone. Our old Samsung Galaxy S III phones are CDMA at home, but while they have GSM capability (and SIM cards), they are locked to Verizon, and we've never gone through the trouble of getting them unlocked. Hey, at least they don't catch on fire.
Our first hotel only had WiFi in two public areas, so we used the device in our room (and were able to look up the web sites of places we were planning to visit on Margie's WiFi-only tablet, giving us a larger screen). It was less important in our second two hotels, where we had a high-speed WiFi connection in our rooms, but we still used it daily for navigation on the road.
Since ExpressoWiFi had no drop-off point at the Bari airport, we left the device at our last hotel for pickup. We then turned on Mobile Data on our phones for the last day only, and used Google Maps to navigate back to the airport (which would have been pretty simple even without Maps). That was easily within the 100 Mbyte limit of our inexpensive Verizon International Plan, which also gave us essentially unlimited calling and text messages.
We were quite happy with the ExpressoWiFi service
Our rental car
Towards the end of June, we selected a car rental package on the Economy Car Rentals web site. Their provider was Keddy Car Rental, which seems to be a subsidiary of EuropCar. The web page provided us with a voucher to print and present at the EuropCar desk in the Bari airport.
The car was a Fiat 500L diesel, with room in the back hatch for all our luggage. It handled well, and we were mostly happy with it. I had two minor complaints about it. First, it had awful visibility out the back – it really needed a backup camera. Second, when swung to the side, the visor came nowhere near far enough back to block any sun coming in the driver’s side window. When driving south in the morning or north in the evening, both frequent occurrences, I was dazzled by the sun low in the sky. I took to wearing my hat inside the car, and pulling the wide brim down on my left side to shield my eyes.
We drove 1264 km in 14 days, on 93€ of diesel fuel. The credit card slips don’t give the number of liters purchased, but at a price of about 1€30 per liter, we must have used about 72 liters.
The final bill from Europcar lists the amount of carbon dioxide our 1264 km of driving released into the atmosphere. At 110g/km for the Fiat 500L, it amounted to 139 kg of CO2. Of course, this is a drop in the bucket compared with the round trip flight for the two of us, which produced around 5 tons of CO2 emissions (using a rough average of about 2.5 tons of CO2 per person for a transatlantic flight). That’s about 4,500 kg of CO2, over 30 times as much as we spent tootling around Puglia in the car.
The Mobile Passport app
Prior to the trip, I had loaded the Mobile Passport app (Android version) onto my phone, and filled it with our basic information (passport numbers, photos, etc.). On our return flight, I filled it out with the information that is normally submitted on the blue Customs Declaration form that is always handed to you on the plane. Since this was my first experience with the app, I actually also filled out the paper version of the form, in case the app didn’t work.
But in fact, it worked spectacularly well. In theory, using the app just provides a slightly faster way of transferring your Customs Declaration information to the examiners. The information is transferred electronically, instead of by presenting a paper form. But using the app at Boston's Logan Airport, it did much more than that. It took us out of the regular lines, and moved us into the Global Entry path at every step, and we zipped right through as fast as those who had Global Entry. In fact, the Global Entry users were having problems with the machines (particularly with the printing), while our app "receipt" barcodes were read perfectly.
Margie and I have paid $100 each to apply for Global Entry, but our interviews are not scheduled until April, 2017. But it was not clear what Global Entry would have gotten us that use of the Mobile Passport app did not.
I'll continue tomorrow with a day-by-day account of our trip.
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Two weeks in southern Apulia, Italy, September 2016