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Trip Report On my way to Puglia

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I suppose this is a good a place to start a trip report as any, even though I am still traveling to my destination.

Apologies if this is, or becomes somewhat incoherent, it will become apparent as to why. I am writing this on my netbook on board a Frecciaargento train somewhere between Foggia and Bari, on my way to Lecce. Today has been “A bit of an adventure”

A combination of a hectic few weeks and a difficult journey to the airport had left us both very tired – but this didn’t matter as we had booked an overnight stay in a hotel right next to the terminal. We slept really well – too well as it turned out – right through the alarm. It was 6:15 and our flight would take off at 6:20.

I swore, cursed my stupidity (I nearly always set both phone alarms but for some reason had overlooked it), then wandered over to the airport more in hope than with any realistic expectations. We are talking Ryanair here so stupidity or failure to follow the rules are going to be costly.

The woman at the help desk was actually incredibly understanding – we could change our flights that day for £100 each (twice what they cost but less than a third of the cost of buying a new ticket) Unfortunately there were no more flights to Brindisi that day, there was one to Bari but it arrived very late and It would have been close to midnight before we would be able to get to Lecce. This really only left Rome as an option – a quick look online found I could get a train from Rome to Lecce which would get me there by 8:30pm – not ideal but workable.

So 9am found us taking off for Ciampino, and things were looking up as we landed 30 minutes ahead of schedule. The quickest and cheapest way to get into central Rome can be local bus to Ciampino station followed by train to Termini. For us it wasn’t as we missed a train while waiting in a queue for tickets, and the next wasn’t for another 50 minute – but we still got there in plenty of time to find out that we could not buy tickets for the fast “frecciaargento” at the automatic machines. Going to the ticket office, we found a queuing system – take a number and watch the board, and the delay seemed to be about 30 minutes.

A very pleasant young woman handing out the numbered tickets told me that both fast trains for today were full, but ask at the office anyway (I now only had 40 minutes until departure).
At this stage we were getting desperate – maybe we could fly, but I needed internet access – so a quick trip upstairs to the TIM office = no luck – another “take a number” system , and at least 15 people in front of us – I was running out of ideas – so back to the ticket office queue.
It was there that we had some more luck. A casually dressed man,- he didn’t look like an official- was standing near the ticket machines as I double checked the Lecce train – he confirmed it was sold out – but then told me that if I took the train to Benevento, I could pick up a fast train from there to Lecce. I was sceptical, but it was true – Rome to Benevento (3h20) a 90 minute wait then another 3.5 hours to Lecce via Foggia.

So there you have it – I have just passed Bari, and have just over an hour to go. I’m hoping that the apartment owner will be there to meet us (I’ve had all sorts of issues with phones and internet – but I think we have an understanding) and then I want to sleep for about 12 hours. Hopefully I’ll have more interesting travel related stuff to add to this report later.

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    <We slept really well – too well as it turned out – right through the alarm. It was 6:15 and our flight would take off at 6:20.>>

    I audibly snorted when I read this. If only I could sleep that well before a flight:)

    I hope there's some smooth sailing ahead.

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    We did eventually arrive in Lecce, and the apartment owner was great about the delay, and came to pick us up at the station. It was well after midnight by the time everything was sorted out and we could shower and go to bed.

    Are rental apartment is modern and well equipped, but it is outside of the old city in a fairly nondescript area typical of many modern Italian cities – large areas of apartment blocks and shops with the occasional small piazza – certainly all our “views” are merely of other apartment blocks.

    Friday was somewhat of a washout – we were both exhausted. We made a half hearted attempt to explore a little of the old town, but it really is a maze and we frequently found ourselves hideously lost – but I suppose that is part of the charm.

    Overall, Lecce hasn’t immediately won me over. Maybe I’m just not that interested in Baroque architecture. It was early afternoon when we were wandering, and all the churches were closed until the evening so we plan to see them early next week.

    We did have a very good meal at the nearby A’Roma L’osteria. A really good selection of Salami and cold meats, followed by two very good pasta dishes and a bottle of house red followed by coffee cost us around €40.

    Saturday we set of to explore Gallipoli. I made the mistake of trying to take a shortcut, and got hopelessly lost again – several times. I even asked for directions (against all male instincts) , thought I’d followed them to the letter, and found myself in various dead ends. We finally got to the station 5 minutes after our train had left.

    As it was quite warm and humid, we sat in the station bar and had coffee and “cornetti” and waited for the next train that was due to depart an hour later.

    Many of the local railways are run by Ferrovaria Sud Est (FSE) rather than the national rail company. At the allotted time, a strange little train arrived at the station – probably about the same length as two buses, and rather worn out. The windows were all so dirty that you could barely see out of them, and I'm not sure it ever got to a speed over 50km/h.

    The journey was supposed to take just over an hour, but after leaving 15 minutes late, the guard moved through the carriage telling us all that the train was no longer going to Gallipoli, and we would now have to change at Zollino – which is why we found ourselves stranded in the middle of nowhere, with no signboards, no information office, and no indication of when the next train would arrive.

    An aside – a young Italian couple in their twenties had been passionately kissing while on the train. At Zollino they both disappeared into the male washroom. I suppose one has to make one’s own entertainment while delayed by FSE.

    About 25 minutes after we were dumped, another train came along – we guessed it must be ours, but nobody was saying. Eventually a guard came through and confirmed that yes, Gallipoli was the destination.

    I liked Gallipoli, it was very pretty. The old town and fortress juts out into the bay and you cross a bridge to get to it. I’ve seen it described as twee and touristy, and I could understand that, but to me, it would be quite appealing as a base.

    We ate at Ristrobar Ritro, mostly because we liked the location alongside a sea wall. The food was decent enough – my seafood pasta particularly good. It was probably a little expensive overall, but we enjoyed the meal, and the view combined with the sea breeze made it very pleasant.

    The train journey back was uneventful.

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    I'm actually enjoying it quite a bit. I'm currently sitting in a Piazza, eating olives, drinking local beer and watching the world go by. It's 7:40 local time and the temperature is still in the 20s. It's Italy, what's not to like?

    The people here seem exceptionally friendly, confirming my preconceptions about Southern Italians.

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    I've been neglecting this report (I promise it will get more positive - maybe not this next bit)

    Monday 3rd October:

    Time for some more exploring, and Ostuni appeared a popular destination. I looked on the rome2rio site, and there were several options, but the only workable one seemed to be a train to Brindisi, then a local bus. The timing was quite tight, but I thought it would be workable.

    I was quite taken aback once on the train, the announcement was along the lines of “Train to Bari centrale stopping at … Brindisi, Carovigno, Ostuni, Cisternino - There is a stop at Ostuni ?
    I looked at a map, and found the station was about 2-3 km from the city, so walkable – and it made far more sense that rushing around Brindisi trying to find a specific bus stop. We got off at Brindisi to buy tickets onwards (I tried to find a guard, to see if I could get a new ticket without changing trains, but without success – still, no great problem as I knew the trains are every 30-45 minutes so it would not have been a long wait)

    We had breakfast at a bar near the station; coffee and “Un Rustico” I think the barman called it, a sort of cheese and tomato pie – very pleasant. Onwards to Ostuni – and on arrival at the station, a minibus was waiting – the driver pointing out we could buy tickets at the station bar (which we did while he waited), so we were quickly up into the town.

    I must try and be fair here. Ostuni is a very beautiful town. It looks wonderful from the station, and not too shabby at street level. The white building s have been described as “more reminiscent of Greece than Italy” and I understand why.

    I read that the region around Ostuni is sometimes referred to as “Salentoshire” as so many British people live/have holiday homes in or around the city – it is the 5th most popular location for UK expatriots in Italy. I have to say I am missing something here, because I cannot see the attraction.

    After visiting the Duomo and another church (neither particularly memorable), we spent half an hour just wandering around , admiring views and taking photos. Then there wasn’t anything obvious left to do:
    It was Monday so the museum was shut. Tripadvisor gives the 6th most popular “Thing to do in Ostuni” as the tourist office! We decided to have lunch but it seemed that any decently rated restaurant was a) some distance out of town b) closed for holidays or c) didn’t open at lunchtime.

    It was also incredibly hot – the pharmacy signs varied between 26 and 28 degrees, but combined with the humidity is was very unpleasant – the beautiful white walls just radiated heat back at you, and there seemed a shortage of shade.

    As there were no buses back for a while, we tried exploring one of the other hills in the town, and ended up in a more residential area with a small park which was sadly rather neglected (although it did have a rather lovely map seemingly drawn by primary school children displayed at the entrance).

    On the way back down the hill, I slipped on a wet patch (? melted Ice cream) , did an involuntary “Splits”, and landed rather heavily on my right knee. It wasn’t massively painful, but I was now hobbling, so it seemed sensible to sit and wait for the afternoon bus back down to the station.

    On returning home, we stopped for a quick drink at a local “craft beer” bar called “The Hopster”. It’s a good choice of a name because the owner is a stereotypical hipster, but he was extremely friendly and had a very good selection of beers.

    We ate at A’Roma L’osteria again, mostly because it was so close, and our first meal there had been excellent. We weren’t disappointed and had another excellent meal: a selection of cheeses from the Lazio region, a pasta with guanciale (pig cheek - it’s like bacon, only even more “piggy”!) and pecorino, I had gnocchi with sausage. A litre of house red, water and coffee and it was still under €40.

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    jubilada - I don't mind using public transport, and initially, it seemed that this would be a decent option - but in hindsight (and for any future trips) then I think I need a car.

    Part of the problem is lack of preparation - I usually do quite a bit of research well before traveling, but for this trip, for an assortment of reasons, there wasn't time.
    Skimming through guidebooks gave me a false impression - yes you can get to Marina Franca by train, but it takes 2.5 hours and at least one change of train companies. There is a bus, but you can't get back unless you only wish to spend half an hour in the town etc.

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    Hope your knee isn't too bad!
    As you, I don't see the attraction of Ostuni. A friend of mine is also looking to buy a house there. I found it terribly touristy, all those shops selling souvenirs. Not my place anyway.
    As to Martina Franca, it's not the most interesting town, either. So if you can't get there, you didn't miss a lot.

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    "As to Martina Franca, it's not the most interesting town, either. So if you can't get there, you didn't miss a lot"

    That makes me feel much better - because today, my hate affair with FSE continued. We had tickets to Martina Franca and the bus just failed to arrive. I waited for over 30 minutes after the departure time, but nothing. Instead, I walked off in a huff, went to the train station, and took a trip to Polignano A Mare (which I enjoyed)

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    I found Martina Franca very interesting, three full days worth,and I'm really glad we stayed there, but I don't think one needs to go everywhere. You had fun, that's all good., and some places are just not in the cards , for numerous reasons.

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    I'm back in the UK now, and have downloaded my photos - and I've spotted an error already. The second time we ate at A'Roma was the Sunday night, after doing very little all day.

    On our trip back from Ostuni, we walked up through the old part of Lecce, and passed "Pizza&Co" - it is a tiny "pizza by the slice" shop, with a very few two person tables on the street, and yet it appears in the top 3 restaurants in Lecce according to Tripadvisor. The Pizza was superb, and the selection of bottled beers (some local) meant that after eating here, I could understand why it had been so highly rated.

    On Tuesday, we just walked slowly around Lecce. We went into several churches, which are interesting in their own way, but if you don't like the Baroque style can seem overly ornate. Many of the churches appeared to have total bans on photography (and not just the normal "no Flash" rule). We did try and eat at one of the Apartment owner's recommended restaurants, but they appear to have closed - possibly for a week's vacation - instead we bought bread, cheese, salami and a bottle of red wine, and just enjoyed a quiet night at home.

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    On Wednesday, another daytrip - out to Otranto which had been recommended by the apartment owner.

    The ongoing battle with FSE continued, but this time the changes to the schedule worked in our favour and we only needed one change of train instead of the planned two. At Maglie we transferred to another ancient, small train - which refused to budge from the station without several minutes of attention from the station crew - I'm not quite sure what they were doing but it appeared the train wasn't getting any traction on the rails, and the wheels were just spinning in place.

    One of the advantages of the very slow trains on FSE is that you get a great deal of time to admire the view. This part of Puglia is very flat and rocky, and there are mile after mile of olive groves containing some ancient looking gnarled trees - apparently they can live up to 1500 years.

    Otranto was pleasant enough - a nice beach, many restaurants, an old city and a castle to explore. My favourite bit was the Duomo - founded in 1088, and with an incredible mosaic floor from the 1160s depicting old testament scenes as part of a "Tree of Life"

    We had a very good lunch at Ristorante Dal Baffo next to the beach - I had a starter of mussels, rice and potato that was particularly good, although my beloved - having decided to brave the raw squid, found it "Slimy". She was much happier with her seafood spaghetti as her main course, and my Octopus in red wine was very pleasant.

    Getting back to Lecce proved to be another FSE moment - The train had been cancelled and replaced by a bus. This was only apparent by a small A4 notice in Italian on the station door and one of the passengers was kindly moving among various tourist groups explaining the situation to them in English and German. The bus trip to Maglie was interesting as it interspersed bursts of well over the speed limit with crawling through very narrow streets of the other towns on the way back to Maglie.

    At Maglie, there was mass confusion as it appeared several trains had been cancelled or rescheduled, and now large numbers of people, nearly all Italians were trying to find out when and where they needed to go. We reached Lecce about 45 minutes late - but hundreds of passengers were left on the platform while one poor official tried to answer all their questions (I can only assume that other trains were being resheduled and rereouted)

    We stopped off for a last drink in the town centre, and went home to pack up for the departure to Monopoli the next day.

    So overall I suppose Lecce was a bit of a disappointment. It's not to say I didn't like it , but it would be quite far down on a list of places to return to.

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    Oh, I love your photos. Just the right proportion of architecture to food to cats.

    All the British fodorites are going to places I want to go to before I get a chance to. There must be some sort of rule against this.

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    On the Thursday morning we cleaned the apartment, met up with the owner, and checked out. He offered us a lift to the station, but we decided to have one more slow amble through town - we couldn't get into our new apartment in Monopoli until 2:30 in the afternoon, so there was no rush.

    When I originally planned the trip back in May, I had looked at Lecce as our main destination and then a secondary place somewhere near Bari. Flight schedules meant it was easier to reverse the order - Flying into Brindisi and out of Bari.

    In our search for apartments for the second portion of the trip, several broad searches for Bari brought up the province, and several times the town of Monopoli (Which I had never previously heard of). As the rentals seemed very reasonable and the town boasted lots of beaches, and had easy access to public transport, we decided to choose it as a base. We found an apartment in the old city which had a rooftop terrace and that had very good reviews.

    We arrived in Monopoli at 1:30 after an easy 90 minute train ride. At first, it was quite unimpressive - just another collection of anonymous apartment blocks, but we followed the road towards the old town, and found an impressive town square with a fountain, and then we entered the old town.

    I wouldn't have believed it possible - the historic centre of Monopoli seemed even more of a maze than Lecce. Fortunately, every house is labelled with a ceramic tile giving both the house number and the number, so when one street changes name for the third time in 100 yards, it is easy to see. More than luck than judgement we found ourselves outside of our apartment at around 2pm - just as the owner arrived.

    The place we are renting was part of an old building, and the stairs were quite badly worn, but we shouldn't have worried because the apartment itself, although very small, was great. A Juliet balcony opened out with a partial view of the port meant we could sit in the living area and watch the boats come in and out of the harbour entrance.

    Once booked in , we went exploring: We were right next to the castle and the old port - the latter full of fishing vessels. We could follow the sea wall around the outskirts of the town to a small beach, then inland up to the cathedral. It was all very picturesque.

    That evening we ate at a local Pizzeria that specialised in artisan beer, Pizzeria Osteria Ai Portici. Overall not bad at all. A great range of Italian beers, friendly service and extremely large, tasty pizzas.

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    My photographs suggest we didn't do a great deal on Friday - we strolled around, and visited an exhibition of photographs that was being held in the Castle and various churches throughout the city, as well as partly displayed on the walls of the old port (The latter being a collection of black and white portraits of the local fishing community).

    There were two thought provoking collections on migrants and the problem Italy is having with those arriving in Lampedusa, another two on the problems Albania and rural Serbia are having with depopulation (as working age people leave for either the cities, or other parts of Europe to find work). The negative aspect of having the exhibitions was that many parts of the castle were closed.

    In the evening, the weather was stormy - we walked a little way from the centre to take some pictures of the cloud formations, and found a series of boards showing the various beaches in the area. In a way, it is a bit of a misnomer - the coastline is rocky, with a great deal of erosion - and in many places there are narrow coves where sand has gathered - many are marked as dangerous, others are safe for swimming, and a few have lifeguards. There seems nothing that would traditionally be thought of as a beach.

    We found a bar called Terrearse which specialised in Italian beers. The owner, a very outgoing character who slightly resembles Blutto from Popeye , was extremely friendly, and happy to discuss beer and breweries with somebody speaking poor Italian. I really liked the place, and it became a nightly stop off point for a pre dinner drink.

    We ate at trattoria pizzeria da ZiOttavio , and It didn't really make that much of an impression on me - I know I had braised donkey, and Jen had seafood pasta both of which were tasty, but if we had anything else, I cannot recall. One of the problems that Monopoli seems to have is an overabundance of restaurants in the off season - When we got to the restaurant at around 8:45 there were two other tables occupied, by 9:15pm we were the only people left (they were supposedly open until midnight).

    On Saturday, we headed north, walking through the rather decrepit parts of the port and along the coastal path, It was a warm day, and following the shore meant we hiked a fair distance without actually achieving much "as the crow flies" - after a couple of hours we reached a rather ugly area of light industry, and from the smell, the sewage works, and decided to turn back and follow the road.
    Overall it was quite an unscenic, disappointing walk, because the only real swimmable cove was a private beach.

    There are very good cycle paths along the shore - and when we arrived at Monopoli station, there was a "Boris bike" like rental scheme (30 minutes free, drop the bike off at any station). Unfortunately, our day of arrival also coincided with all the bicycles being removed.

    We ate at Dal Ghiottone - which seemed to be entirely filled with other tourists. I had sautéed mussels and clams (excellent) followed by a disappointing seafood risotto, Jen ate an Avocado salad , followed by mixed fried seafood - which she really liked, but I found a little over salty. Not bad, but we definitely ate better meals on the trip.

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    Sunday, we noticed some noise coming from the old port. We went to see what was happening, and there seemed to be some sort of festival.

    A four piece band were playing, what could probably be described as "Sentimental traditional Italian music" - I recognised 'O sole mio' and 'Volare'. Groups of people, many of them children n red hats, were embarking onto a queue of small fishing boats which set off around the harbour entrance to a nearby cove and back.

    After watching for a while, we set off for another walk , this time heading South. It was prettier, and much of it was through farmland with several trulli dotted around. We found several quite pleasant coves and a smallish beach. In all, we walked around 4 miles from the town reaching Abazzia di Santo Stefano - originally a castle forming part of the coastal defences, later an abbey. Unfortunately, because it is privately owned, there is no public access.

    Heading back we stopped at a bar overlooking the beach at Porto Rosso. As it was warm, the beer cold and the snacks very pleasant, we probably stayed here a little too long. A pair of middle age foreigners really didn't fit in with the "trendy young" crowd who seemed oblivious to everything except their appearance and cell phones (yes, I know I am getting old and cynical).

    We ate at Terrearse that night and enjoyed very good hamburgers along with our usual beers.

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    Monday: Lounging around is all very good, but we had sightseeing to do - so off to Bari. I really liked the place, and this was probably my favourite day of the trip.

    Walking down from the station, we were passed the University of Salento, and there must have been a graduation ceremony (I'm guessing) as several students were standing in the nearby park all wearing laurel wreaths and surrounded by parties of well wishers.

    We then entered the "posh" area - if I am near Prada and Gucci shops, I know I'm in the wrong district!
    We turned down towards the sea, and came to the fish market. Several fisherman had small stalls where selling Ricci di Mare (sea urchins), further on others were "preparing" octopus by beating them to death against the concrete docks (sometimes, watching the realities of dinner can be disturbing).

    Onwards and into the old town, once supposedly one of the most crime ridden spots in Italy, and another maze. Outside of several houses, we found women making and selling pasta - the Orecchiette (little ears) commonly found in Puglia.

    We then went into the Basilica of San Nicola. This is a beautiful church, built around 1200. It holds the relics of St Nicholas of Myra, stolen from the original grave in modern day Turkey. St Nicholas being, among other things, patron saint of the city of Bari, of pawnbrokers, archers, sailors and children. He is the Saint Nicholas who gave rise to the modern Sinterklaas/Santa Claus (I might tell my nephew and nieces - We found the tomb, so Christmas is cancelled).

    Listening to one of the guides, it seemed that the pope had given special dispensation for priests of the Orthodox church to perform services at the tomb of St Nicholas as he is a very revered saint. The guide cynically suggested that it was partly a way to improve relations between the two churches, and partly because "The Russians bring lots of money".

    As we were looking at the tomb, a group of Orthodox worshippers arrived, lead by a huge priest looking not unlike Robbie Coltrane playing Hagrid in Harry Potter films. We sat at the back, watching the service - although I am not religious, I found it fascinating as it was quite unlike any service I have seen - the use of icons was particularly interesting.

    Unfortunately, several busloads of tourists arrived during the service, and many showed little or no respect. The signs asking for silence were widely ignored - in some cases by the tour guides - people walked causally around the crypt taking photographs and videos as though the priest and his congregation were somehow part of the show. I was appalled.

    As we left, a wedding party arrived - and as we departed the cathedral the bride and her father pulled up in a very smart Maserati. I hope the tourists showed more respect to her.

    It was now Luchtime, and we walked back into town to find somewhere to eat. We found a restaurant called Il Sottosopra - which was completely empty. The waiter was superbly grumpy, but managed to find us a table. It was a strange place, the walls absolutely covered with pictures, but no discernible theme. Within 10 minutes, the restaurant was half full - it seemed that many local business people had an arrangement whereby they had pre ordered their lunch.

    I had a very tasty pasta (Cavatelli) with mussels, shrimps and squid, while Jen had a dish of Paccheri with tuna tomato and capers which was stunningly good.

    In the afternoon we visited the castle - parts of it are shut for renovation, so we had a reduced ticket price, but it was well worth the hour or so that we spent there.

    Two of the ground floor rooms are devoted to plaster casts of various carvings from churches around the Puglia region made for a 1907 exhibition. I wouldn't have been tempted by that description, but it was actually quite fascinating to be able to see up close where the originals might be high up on a tower somewhere.

    We returned to Monopoli in the early evening, and having eaten at lunchtime, didn't have the energy or enthusiasm to go out again once we had got back to the apartment.

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    A great trip report - very informative. As someone who definitely prefers not to drive when on holidays, I appreciate the information about using local transport. Sounds like it was a mixed experience. I do find those changes of schedules - like trains becoming bus services unexpectedly - a bit daunting when I don't speak the local language. But good to know that it is definitely possible to get around without a car.

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    Having enjoyed strolling around Monopoli for several days, we hadn't managed to see any of the inland towns. The FSE Website suggested there were buses to Martina Franca, and after some head scratching and guesswork we managed to find not only the bus stop, but also a place to buy tickets (the latter was not so easy as there seemed to be only about four places in Monopoli where you could buy them, and three of these appeared to shut on Tuesday).

    Tickets purchased, bus stop found , and we still had 40 minutes before the bus arrived at noon. Looking down the street, we spied a couple of market stalls, so went to investigate - and found a huge street market taking up hundreds of meters of one of the main streets.

    We dragged ourselves back to the bus stop and arrived there with a few minutes to spare - and we waited, and waited. My ongoing relationship with FSE was going according to recent history. By 12:30 we assumed that the bus wasn't going to arrive (this also seemed to be the view of several others who appeared to be waiting for the same bus).

    Not wishing to waste the rest of the day, we walked the few hundred meters up to the Station, and found there was a train that would drop us 10km up the coast at Polignano a Mare.

    Polignano is quite picturesque. It is built on rocks that have been heavily eroded by the sea, so the whole coastline is full of caves. There is a gully cut which leaves a small, pebbly beach and an inlet protected by the surrounding cliffs. It is a favourite holiday destination for Italians, and contains numerous restaurants for such a small town (including a famous cave restaurant at the Grotta Palazzese Hotel - worth googling if you've not seen pictures).

    We noticed a fast food fish shop at the entrance to the old town. It looked clean, modern, and was packed. The menu, displayed on the wall, contained a large variety of fish dishes.. It took me a while to work out the system, but it was really just a case of queuing (which put you next to the counter displaying beautifully prepared dishes of mostly raw seafood), paying for food and drinks, and finding a space among the large shared tables while waiting for the staff to bring out your order and call a number.

    My "fried fish of the day" turned out to be a cardboard container of about 8 small (6 inches) whole fish . Jen had ordered grilled octopus. Both dishes were very good indeed.

    We spent another hour or so walking around the town before heading back to Monopoli, where we spent a quiet evening, stopping for beer (our last chance to say goodbye to the owner of Terrearse as they were closed on Wednesdays) and having a pizza back at Pizzeria Osteria Ai Portici.

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    Wednesday was our last full sightseeing day, and I wanted to go to Taranto.

    There were a couple of reasons for wanting to visit: My family has a long history of service in the Royal Navy, and I've always been interested in its history. In November 1940 the RN launched an attack using carrier based aircraft against the Italian fleet based in the city. It was a huge success with three of 6 Italian battleships put out of action (the action was thought to have greatly influenced the Japanese attack a year later at Pearl Harbor). Taranto also houses what is reputed to be one of the best archaeological museums in Italy.

    It was It was a relatively long journey as we needed to change at either Bari or Brindisi. We chose Bari as the change times suited us better. After nearly two weeks of the flatness of Salento and Monopoli, it was quite pleasant to find the train went through some hills on the journey.

    If there is an uglier approach to any city than a train into Taranto, I'd rather never have to do the journey. The station is on the edge of a huge zone of heavy industry and it is grim.

    From the station, the walk to the bridge across to the old city is a series of perilous pedestrian crossings over very busy roads. Things don't really improve much at the old town - the main road through the island looked decidedly rundown and uninviting - more so than more infamous places like Naples and Palermo (I'm not suggesting there aren't dodgy areas in either city, but this was supposedly the main road up through the old city).

    We kept to the road along the sea, looking out across the bay. Apart from a couple of larger than life nude sculptures of women out on the breakwater, there was little else worth seeing.

    At the far end of the island, and the bridge over to the new city, things got more interesting. The Aragonese Castle is still used by the Italian navy, and can be visited only at certain times. Next to the castle were the remains of several huge columns, remains of the original Spartan settlement of Taras. The next castle tour was still over an hour away, so we decided to go straight to the museum and come back later.

    The National Archaeological Museum of Taranto is known as MARTA, and it is stunning. We did have a little difficulty finding it, mostly because I had assumed it to be the huge reddish building in the centre of the square , which was entirely closed off by scaffolding (and was about to rant about wasted journeys) - but it was actually across the road.

    Because of staff shortages, visitors were only allowed on one of the two open floors at any time, so we waited 5 minutes before being allowed to explore floor one, and after an hour had to move to floor three (floor two is shut for renovations), before returning to floor one before departing.

    The museum is beautifully designed, the exhibits are all well labelled in both Italian and English, there are interactive computer displays around the rooms where you can focus in to specific periods of history and how it affected Taranto.

    We were both so engrossed, we missed the turnover, and staff members came to find us to tell us we needed to change floor.

    Some of the gold jewellery dating back well over 2000 years is absolutely exquisite, The full set of Greek armour that is nearly intact is fascinating, there are numerous Greek black figure urns. To me, the highlights were some Roman mosaics recovered from the floors of villas in Taranto. The colours were so vibrant I wondered if they had been repaired or otherwise restored.

    After around two and a quarter hours, my brain was fried - there is only so much time I can spend in a museum, even one as good as this. We walked out, and decided that we were both too tired for the castle tour, and instead we would try and find a snack - but we were out of luck as everything appeared shut.

    We had about 80 minutes to kill before the next train back, so walked a brief way along the esplanade , hoping to find an open snack bar or similar. After 15 minute or so , we crossed to the other side of the island and walked back through a wrterside park, then back across to the old town and along the road next to the fishing boats.

    This was not particularly pleasant - the area was again very run down, several of the building in severe disrepair of partialy collapsed. We didn't feel particularly safe.

    The next train back to Monopoli went via Brindisi. It was relatively uneventful except that we saw a nice looking castle on the hill at a town called Oria. Trying to find if it was visitable, I found it for sale - if anybody has a spare €1.2M it is listed here:

    Back in Monopoli around 7:30, and we stopped off at the Garibaldi Pub Steakhouse. It got very busy very quickly - and it was easy to see why - a very good range of beers and really good burgers and steaks. It seemed very popular with locals.

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    Thursday: Time to go home.

    We cleaned out the flat, and were almost ready when the owner arrived - a misunderstanding - we thought we needed to be out by 11, he had texted us on my beloved's phone to say 9:30 - still, no major problem.

    We walked up to the station both saying how we would definitely like to come back - there is a certain atmosphere that we really liked about the town, it is relatively easy to get to (and the difficulties are all on the UK side). There are also lots of nearby places to see - but next time we will hire a car.

    We managed to get our timing completely wrong - we missed a train to Bari, and found the next one was 75 minutes later. Because we had our bags and coats with us, moving around too much was to be avoided, so we read our books and waited.

    At Bari station, we were to have dropped our bags at the left luggage department, but taped to the door was a sign saying Closed, Strike. As it was approaching midday, and our flights did not leave until after 10pm, we had decided to make one more trip - this time to Trani about 40 minutes north of Bari. W

    e wanted one more decent seafood meal before we left Italy, and this port town seemed to contain many highly rated restaurants. Looking quickly through tripadvisor on the train up, I found a place near the harbour called Pescandalo.

    I only speak a little Italian, and struggled a bit with the menu here, but the waiter was very friendly and patient. Eventually I decided to ask for his recommendations. At his suggestion, we went for the mixed appetizers, followed by a seafood pasta.

    The four appetizers were Octopus (char grilled), Squid (Grilled - served with a sauce that may have been chicory and fave bean - but I am not sure, Prawns (possibly with Pumpkin) and a fish mixture wrapped in Aubergine.

    Each was exquisite - beautifully prepared and superbly flavoured. Among the best food that I've ever eaten. The pasta was also very good, but compared to what had gone before was almost disappointing.

    We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the harbour, stopping to take in the Norman Cathedral (The stark simplicity of its interior is a real contrast to the elaborate decoration of the Baroque churches in Lecce. Walking back down to the waterside, the fishermen were selling their catches from tables next to their boats - and the crowds buying were fairly large.

    Not wanting to miss another flight, we made sure we were in Bari with plenty of time to spare. We took the local bus from the city centre: €1 each as opposed to €5 on the metro - but it was standing room only, got caught up in rush hour traffic, and took almost an hour.

    We still had plenty of time, and we spent some of it looking at a collection of models based on the works of Leonardo Da Vinci (this was a free exhibition on the top floor of the airport - I'm sure I've seen the models before, when we were in Rome in 2013)), then a last coffee before heading through to security.

    We actually had more than we thought because the plane was an hour late in arriving. I described the plane journey back in this thread.

    On arrival back at Stansted, we had an altercation on the bus heading back to the parking lot (A large group of my fellow countrymen, coming back from Marbella, insisted in standing directly next to the bus doors with their suitcases as "The wanted to get out first" - everybody was expected to squeeze past them, both on the way in , and out again as theirs was one of the last stops.

    Our drive back was long and tedious as much of the M25 had been reduced to one lane with a 30 or 40mph limit, then we found the M3 back to the south coast was closed for a long section, meaning we had to divert through quieter, slower roads.

    Eventually we got home at around 4am - but it was still a much easier day than the first of our holiday :-)

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    Ah the little island of Taranto is really an odd gem. We stayed 2 nights in a run down "hotel" just before the bridge to the railway station with wonderful views of the piccolo mare. ( I think TI thought we deserved to be punished for some reason, or else the owner needed some business)

    One night we ate out at the local restaurant across the tiny square outside the hotel (past the broken Roman fountain). Only one fixed menu (fish) and it was very good. Liverpool was playing Roma that night and the waiters came often during the first 45 minutes to gloat at how well Roma was doing. Their visits became more entertaining as the Reds cruised past their Italian opposition. Final score 2:3 to Liverpool.

    A very ancient town, in a terrible state of preservation with fantastic views and the worst pollution in Western Europe. But we liked it too.

    Shopping on the main land is pretty good, as you say the Navel base looks great and Mrs B seemed to like all the little matalots wandering around.

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    Thanks for your extensive report. It was like being back.
    Here's what I wrote about Taranto in my trip report: 'Part of the centro storico reminded me of the worse parts of Napoli. Dirty, deserted, neglected. Italy as I remember it from 50 years ago.'

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    I'm glad I went to Taranto, if only because the museum was so good. After the beauty of the other towns and cities we visited, the seedy nature of the old town really came as quite a shock.

    In fairness, I may be being totally unfair to the place - I just got a sense of foreboding, and really didn't feel safe. As a result, I only really saw a few hundred yards of decrepit and seemingly deserted buildings - maybe things would have normalised had I carried on.

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    Taranto is home to a huge steel mill, the ILVA. I'm not sure it's any longer active, but for years it spewed noxious chemicals into the air. Some of the directors have been arrested.

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