Sometimes, things don’t go as planned and you just need to hit pause. This is a mentality I’ve been consciously working on accepting this year and Bari was the latest…let’s say opportunity to practice?
The southern port city of Bari was our first stop on a 2-week adventure around Italy. We, like most travelers, ended up there because of it’s convenience as a transport hub rather than any particular draw from the city itself. The one and only ferry line in Montenegro docked in Bari, and from there we could easily hop a train up to Venice to meet our friends.
With our Schengen visa time down to a mere 14 days we were on a tight schedule and booked only one night at a comfortable hotel we found on Booking.com. I then skimmed our Lonely Planet Europe book, and was excited to see that we were a short train ride away from the Sassi — ancient cave dwellings in one of the longest inhabited places in the world. Since our boat would be arriving early in the morning, we planned to head over to our hotel, drop our bags, and catch the first train we could down to Matera where we could spend the afternoon exploring the caves. Great plan, right?
Unfortunately, along with a great tan we also brought back a pretty gnarly bug from Montenegro. By the time we landed and made our way to our hotel (an adventure during which i begrudgingly admitted that sometimes Google Map speaks the truth and there really is no shortcut), hopes of our day going as planned were rapidly fading. We finally accepted that it wasn’t meant to be and made the decision to lay low. Most of our day was spent lounging and reading by the pool outside — not a bad backup plan! We even met another couple from San Francisco in the lobby and had fun chatting about home, and the ups and downs of long-term travel. Traveling for so long away from family, friends and the routine of everyday life can get isolating at times, and I’m always grateful for those times when we meet other people who can relate to the feelings, challenges and experiences of being on the road for so long. By the time evening rolled around we were ready to head out and explore the city. I was surprised to find myself immediately drawn to this place. The city itself is fairly average, and it was that sense of normalcy that I found myself relishing. This wasn’t a city packed with attractions, famous sites, and hoards of tourists following guides with little flags. This was a place where people lived, worked, and raised families. Being away from “normal” so long I’ve found myself craving places that feel more real. Places where, though I’m not a permanent part of it’s fabric, I can still duck into a small coffee shop and sip a quick espresso at the counter as I pretend.
Bari is connected by ferry to Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania. We booked a private cabin on Montenegro Lines for around $100/pp. The room was tiny, but comfortable, and a pretty great value considering it was both our transportation and lodging for the night. For the more frugal traveller they also have “deck” tickets where you basically camp out anywhere on the floor.
We splurged on the Mercure Villa Romanazzi. After a morning spent wandering the streets of Panama City waiting for our hostel to open we’ve learned to appreciate the value of a hotel with a lobby. The front desk was kind enough to not only let us hang in the lobby until our room was ready, but they also gave us wristbands for access to the pool.
See / Do
If you’re headed here for at least a day I recommend a trip out to the Sassi. I can’t speak from personal experience but everything I read sounds amazing. If you’ve been, I’d love to know what you thought!
Aside from that, the main historic area of the town is a great place to wander, checking out the architecture and shops.
Eat / Drink
Go for the side streets! After a wild goose chase around the city in search of a supposedly top rated restaurant (and I was just starting to have faith in you again, Google Maps…), we finally admitted defeat and dropped into this small Italian restaurant down a side street. Best. Decision. Ever. The food was delicious, the house wine plentiful, and the whole thing cost us around $20. There was no English menu but the waitress was so kind with our broken Italian. Yet another reminder that sometimes it’s best to throw away the guidebooks and review sites and see what you find.
Lessons & Tips
- Bari is back in the land of siestas. If you need to get anything done (including lunch), make sure you do it early. Otherwise you’ll be waiting around for the city to open back up in the evening.
- If you’re here on your way from one place to the next, try to at least take a day to wander, get lost, and eat some authentic Italian pasta. You just may find yourself wishing you had a little more time here…
Current Location: Busan, South Korea