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Trip Report Castles, Palaces and Caves-9 Days in Puglia and Basilicata

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In October 2013 my mother and I spent nine days in the Puglia and Basilicata regions of southern Italy. Before I left, whenever I told people where I was going, the response I got was “Oooh, you’re going to Italy? Where?“, My answer, “Puglia”, usually evoked quizzical looks, fully expecting my answer to be “Tuscany” or “Venice” or some place they recognized. If you find yourself wondering as well, picture Italy as a boot and those regions make up most of the heel of the boot.

I flew from Los Angeles to Bari Italy where I met up with my mother who was already there traveling on her own. This trip was in honor of my 45th birthday (the plane ticket was my present, thanks mom!!) and our plan was to eat and drink ourselves silly, see lots of quaint little towns, and stay in some cool places. I would say it was a rousing success.

We spent 3 days in the area around Fasano south of Bari which included such towns as Alberobello, Monopoli, Cisternino, Martina Franca, Locorotondo and Ostuni. We then moved to Lecce and explored that city, plus the Salentine Coast and Otranto. From there it was 3 days in Matera and the area around that town.

I'd like to start with some of the logistical details, experiences and resources so if you are planning your own trip you might benefit from my research. Then I'll get into the details of where we went and what we ate later. :-) Warning, lots of detail ahead. I'll also be posting links to my blog where there are photos, links, and some extra content I won't put here.

Planes, trains and automobiles:

Flights:
My flights were on United and Lufthansa, LAX-IAD-MUC-BRI and BRI-MUC-LAX. On UA I upgraded myself on flight #2 to Munich to Economy Plus and I think it was worth it to have the extra space. The personal entertainment was good on the transatlantic flight (lots of choices with video on demand) but fee-only on the domestic flight. On the international UA flight there was a fee for alcohol which surprised me; I guess I’ve only flown international carriers lately which still seem to provide drinks on their flights.

The Munich airport is really nice and a decent place for a layover. They offer 1/2 hour free wifi and free newspapers, including the IHT, are provided everywhere by Lufthansa. On the day we returned home, the International Herald Tribune published its final paper under that name (it’s now the International NY Times) and a little part of my heart died. The IHT has always been synonymous with travel for me. At least I got a hard copy of the final paper.

My flight from Munich to Bari was on Air Dolomites on a 100-seater plane and was fine. Arrival into Bari was easy and I was greeted by the lovely larger-than-life image of our favorite Amaro, Lucano, in the baggage claim area. My mother was waiting outside and had already completed the paperwork for the car rental. The car pick up area is about 200 meters from the airport so we were able to just walk over there to get the car.

On the way home we flew on Lufthansa, BRI-MUC-LAX. We went carry-on the whole way, each of us with a 21” roll-aboard and small backpack. We fit the size restrictions for Lufthansa, but probably not the weight (fortunately, no one asked to weigh our bags). Lufthansa seats in economy are very tight and I was lucky to have the seat right in front of the stairs down to the bathrooms below (seat 38G on an Airbus A340-600) so I could recline without worry of being in someone’s lap. The food was edible and I watched several movies on the 11.5 hr flight to LA. Sleep is impossible. We both have global entry, so touchdown to curb outside was only about 30 minutes because we did not have to wait for luggage.

Car: We rented our car through economycarrentals.com, a consolidator, which in turn, rented us the car through Thrifty. This saved a ton of money (a couple hundred euros) over going directly through Thrifty.
On arrival, the car was upgraded a size level from a compact Ford Focus to a Nissan 4 door hatchback diesel. It got decent mileage thankfully because diesel was costing about $8.40 a gal when we were there. In the future, I would opt for automatic even though the cost would be higher. The re-learning curve on the manual was very steep, and at times, frustrating for both driver and passenger (more on this later)

Driving- The towns of this region have gorgeous historical centers with a maze of tiny streets, many of them one way.
My best tip; get close, but then park and walk the rest of the way. Also, don’t forget to pull in the side mirrors on the car when you park (and sometimes while driving in those tight streets).
We depended on the GPS on my phone a lot and at times it was a lifesaver. At other times it was flawed and a comedy of errors. Pronunciation of Italian names is poor at best and several times “Glenda” tried to take us down streets which were not possible for a car. Many were not streets at all. We drove in circles. A lot. It was the only thing that made us argue during the trip. Getting to our B&B in Lecce was such a trauma we didn’t move the car for 2 days. Getting back to the B&B after leaving for the day was even worse.

Trains-Mom took train to Bari and said the station was modern and lovely and getting to the train station at the airport was easy. I would not opt for public transportation in this area because for us, it would be too limiting.

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