Sunday, April 01, 2007

Polignana a Mare & Bari

The last post from Italy. It's only a short drive to Bari, and while I could have visited any number of places up and down the coast, such as Vieste to the north, or even the Baroque splendours of Lecce a few hours south, I'm still not really keen on driving all day.

So I just made a beeline to the coast, stopping at the small seaside community of Polignana a Mare, with its centro storico sitting above a rugged coastline that reminds me - in miniature - of Sydney. Not much is open, but everyone is clearly busy springcleaning for the post-Easter crowds.

In Bari, I'm lucky enough to find a free spot to park the car just outside the ferry terminal. That leaves us all afternoon and evening to look around the city. The ferry terminal is right next to the old town which has streets/passages that twist about so much (much more than Venice) that a map is almost useless.

Castello Svevo, the Norman built castle is hosting an art exhibition. When we rock up to the ticket booth inside the castle, the castle staff all come out of their offices to say hi to Bondi. Since the exhibition appears to run all day, I tell that we'll come back to view the exhibition when everything else is closed down for Italy's 1-5pm lunch break. When I do return, after purchasing a ticket, they are suddenly, inexplicably of a completely different mind and Bondi cannot stay or enter. I ask for a refund of my ticket and leave.

The afternoon was mostly wet, and Italy is not a great place to be on a wet afternoon with everything closed. I got a haircut (the bravest thing you can do in any country for which you only have a tiny grasp of the language) and some ghastly take-away (real food is rarely available at lunch time) and then sit in the archway of a cathedral with a bunch of English and Kiwi tourists, similarly locked out of opportunities to spend the afternoon.

I tried to visit an internet cafe but the owner said he needed to see my passport because it is a "special law in every country of the world" in order to combat terrorism. I say I have never been asked for such before, and it's an invasion of privacy, since he can link my passport information with any private information I access on his terminals. He goes on and on about how I cannot know anything and I cannot possibly have ever used an internet cafe without a passport and I get fed up and leave.

After a spot of sunshine and the day's 6th macchiato, I headed back to the ferry terminal to exchange my voucher for a real ticket. The passengers for tonight's sailings to Croatia, Greece and Albania are starting to gather. I feel like I'm on the set of an Emir Kusterica movie (please someone, release Time of the Gypsies on DVD with English subtitles), with Bondi as my dancing bear.

We spend about an hour in the car in one of three lines for the ferry, nudging slowly forward through border control. A young boy in the car ahead cleans condensation off the rear window with what appears to be a toy stuffed rat. The border guys want my car registration papers, which sends me scurrying through various compartments of the car - I have them, but where? - and then they're found and we're OK to board. They compliment Bondi as we're waved through.

This ferry crew is multilingual but the room is not great. For some reason the Viamare shipping agents in the UK said that I couldn't just be sold a deck seat, when there is plainly ample choice there. Instead I have a room, with very hard bunk, no shower, a basin with only hot water that runs all night, and a corridor full of Italian schoolkids banging on each others' doors (and expecting me to be one of them, I am interrupted constantly even after losing my temper several times) and the noise doesn't abate till at least 3am. It's stuffy as all hell and I'm almost delirious. I would have slept better in one of the nearly unoccupied rooms with deck seating. Two thumbs down for Viamare.

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