Since this week there was not much to speak of musically (I had to commit a considerable amount more time to completing coursework for my “Photo I: Digital” class than I was able to write), I’ll use this post instead to elaborate on some of the things that have been happening behind the scenes…
Another weekend brings another weekend trip, of course, which brings a fresh set of inspiring landscapes from which to draw inspiration for my sketches. Here, we turn to the Etruscan hills of San Gimignano and Chianti, photographed in in their rainy day glory below.
I knew entering my trip to Italy that I wanted to soak in as many and as diverse landscapes as possible during my time here. I also knew that I didn’t want to leave the country. And I also knew that the best places to go are often a fair ways off the beaten path. So naturally, I dedicated my first excursion to perhaps the least well-connected region of mainland Italy, Basilicata. There are no national trains to Basilicata, and the regional trains of the region and neighboring Puglia are limited in their reach. They also don’t run on Sundays (remember this).
Nevertheless, my traveling companion and I reached Matera Friday evening after a 5’45” bus ride and proceeded to have one of the most unique and fulfilling traveling experiences of our lives. The city and the surrounding parks are mind-numbingly beautiful and rich in both culture and history. Saturday night brought us by bus to Lecce, a baroque gem in the heel of Italy’s boot and home to one of the most authentic Mediterranean nightlife scenes I’ve witnessed to date. Sunday was to bring us: by bus to Martina Franca, a historical and beautifully well-preserved town in the heart of Puglia; then to Alberobello, home to the unique trulli houses; and then finally to Bari, which, as a city connected on the TrenItalia, network would afford us a return trip to Rome through the night.
Lecce Centrale, sometime Sunday morning, one hour prior to scheduled departure
We arrive at the station and manage to locate the vendor for Ferrovie del Sud Est, the transportation network which operates the buses and trains to all the little towns in this part of the country. (The national network covers only the route between Lecce and Bari). Mind you, my Italian is still severely lacking, but I know enough of the basics to get by. Usually. The gentleman running the tabbachi speaks no English, but is able to communicate to us that we are to board the bus out, and to the left. Well, out and to the left takes us directly to the piazza in the front of the station, where one might expect a bus to arrive. So we find seats in the shade and patiently await our chariot, pleased with ourselves that everything is working out.
Lecce Centrale, still Sunday morning, two minutes prior to scheduled departure
There is no bus. We see no bus and we hear no bus–could the bus be running late? I run to the other end of the piazza to see if there are any signs or if there’s something I’m missing, and return to my traveling partner to find him in the middle of a conversation with two local police officers, who stopped to ask him for his documents. Which he left in Rome.
Technically, we’re required by Italian law to have our original passports on hand at all times, but this is potentially problematic when bouncing from place to place, for obvious reasons. He did have a copy of his passport on hand, however, and as I had my original passport, the two officers jotted down some information and graciously let us carry on. It was now two minutes past the arrival time of the bus, and by now we’re a little bit flustered by the poor timing of it all. With our hopes of catching this ghost bus fading by the moment, we suddenly get the brilliant idea to go down one block, and to the left. Lo and behold, there we find the bus stop marked clearly as “FSE.” Brilliant. We skulk back toward the train station and consider our options: the buses don’t run frequently enough to afford us time in both towns, so we can 1) stick around for about two hours and take the next bus to one of the two, or 2) cut our losses and take a TI train up to Bari. We opt for the latter, and half an hour later, we’re on a train up to Bari, deflated and all but defeated.
Half an hour later
On the train, I pull my computer out and go back to roving timetables. As the train is making stops at all these little stations along the way to Bari, I’m struck by an idea; yes – Cisternino, two stops away, is the next town over from Martina Franca. And what’s more, there’s a bus departing for Martina Franca twelve minutes after we roll into the station… which would get us there at the same time as if we had made the other bus in the first place! We’re back on track. I relay the plan to my traveling partner, and he’s on board to salvage the rest of the trip. The tickets are purchased online on the spot.
By the way, looking out the windows on either side of the train, there’s nothing but miles and miles of olive trees. Olive trees to the mountains in the distance, and olive trees to the Adriatic. We arrive in Cisternino, and with a perplexed glance from the train operator, we disembark.
Immediately we realize something is not right. The station is deserted. Rural, dilapidated, and utterly empty, save for the drone of cicadas and the hot southern Italian sun beating down on us. Much of the next twelve minutes is spent just trying to figure out how to get off the train platform, but it’s pretty clear that there is no bus to be catching. At this point, I pull out my map and realize: la stazione di TrenItalia non è la stazione di Ferrovie del Sud Est.
That station is in the town, eight miles away.
Having missed our second bus, we’re presented with two options: wait two hours for the next train to take us to Bari – or walk two hours to the town and catch the next bus. Both outdoors enthusiasts by nature, we opt to walk, and thusly set off in the direction of the town. I look carefully at my map. Then I look at my surroundings. Then I look at the map. Then I look up. “See those mountains in the distance?”
“The town we’re trying to get to is on the other side of those.”
So off we go, trudging in the relentless heat through nothing but olive trees and the occasional friendly honk from a farmer rolling past us on a massive tractor. By the time we reach the outskirts of the town an hour and a half later, I’ve expended my water supply and am on the verge of passing out. We eagerly locate a caffetteria and acquire cold waters and a couple of pastries to hold us over until cena.
En route to the FSE train station across town, where we suspect we will find the bus in twenty minutes’ time, I decide to less arrogantly confirm all directional instructions with the locals before starting another wild goose chase. We ask a few friendly couples sitting outside to confirm where the bus will arrive. They proceed to argue about the location for five minutes. Finally, they agree it’s a little bus stop just down the street from where we’re standing.
We wait there for twenty minutes. Our bus does not arrive. We wait another twenty minutes. Nor does any bus arrive.
We are 0 for 3 now, and unsure of our options, we trek across town toward the station. Each mistake has led us further and further from civilization. Arriving at the bottom of a hill which looks panoramically over the beautiful Puglian countryside (visible in this post’s featured thumbnail at the top of the page), we find the FSE station – closed, of course, as it is a Sunday.
With the day rapidly approaching dusk and us unwilling to wait around in Cisternino any longer than necessary, we look around for someone, anyone, willing to help us catch a ride to Martina Franca, just ten minutes away by car. Before resorting to hitchhiking, we are spotted by a waiter staffing a secluded family restaurant, tucked away beside the station. He does not speak English well, but I explain the situation and am sure to include that our bottom line is that we must be in Bari before midnight – worst-case scenario, of course. He takes us inside the restaurant, which is covered from wall to wall with old family portraits, and full to capacity with extended local families enjoying Sunday evening dinner and looking on at us quizzically. The waiter relays the dilemma to his coworkers staffing the restaurant, and they immediately set about trying to find a transfer or anyone that would be able to get us out of this remote town. Ten minutes and three or four phone calls later, we are informed that a transfer will arrive shortly to take us not to Martina Franca, but to Fasano, another nearby town.
Now: I don’t know if you know anything about Fasano, but it is the next stop on the TrenItalia network past Cisternino. In a few minutes, our transfer arrives and we shell out 35€ to be taken over all of the exact same roads that we had just walked. It takes all of fifteen minutes.
Finally, we arrive in Fasano, take the train to Bari, enjoy a few hours to look around and grab food, and return to Rome without further incident. I never did get to see Alberobello, or get to eat at that delicious braceria in Martina Franca which I read all about. And while this is where this particular adventure ended, it is certainly not the only one I’ve had here in Italy.
Having learned the hard way about the importance of finding precise bus stop locations prior to the bus’s time of departure, I returned the following week to the comparative normalcy of writing music in Rome.