Our first adventure on the 160mph high-speed rail system in Europe was our ride from Rome into Bari, Italy; and is where this story begins. The high speed rail system is available to European travelers in, what appeared to be, 3 different luxury rail providers. At one point or another, we rode all three. I didn’t know enough about the rail systems in Italy to pay particular attention to the difference in quality associated with each line; although at one point or another, we found all kinds of interesting amenities in the various rail services and some fine varieties of cuisine provided in the terminals as well. We also found another American India Pale Ale (IPA) on tap . . . so I ordered one.
Our whole existence in Italy is due to the wife accepting an invitation for us to be part of my Grandson’s baptism in Molfetta, a township only 18 miles to the north of Bari, Italy. We had many authentic Italian interactions, lessons and some very thorough tours of the surrounding lands, beaches, and harbors of this south-eastern portion of the country. From the area just north of Foggia extending down throughout the tip of the ‘boot’s heel’, representing this portion of the country similar in shape to the wardrobe accessory, is the Apulia region. We made it as far as Otranto, a harbor area south of Lecche, that had another historic church, fortress and harbor area that we were able to enjoy along with some sun, a jump in the water and some refreshing cocktails.
We had the luxury of traveling this region with personal tour guides (family members from the region) on a couple of day trips that kept us comfortable in a wonderful touring van that the family had rented for showing us this culinarily influential region. The touring van even came with an entertainment system in the fashion of ‘singing Italian songs’, that had every family member grasping for the tour guide’s microphone as they began to all sing the hits that were popular in Grandma’s home. It was fun to witness.
Our first day upon arrival into this Apulian region had us traveling the local area from Bari through Molfetta and into Bisceglie to the private Villa Torre Rossa Ricevimenti resort. Look that one up and don’t be hatin’. Our now “we’ve got family in Italy” housed us in a very modern and equipped single level apartment along side of our son, Daughter-in-law and the grandchildren. I’m certainly not jealous of anyone else’s accommodations as our “villa”, that overlooked the beautiful Adriatic coastline, was only a moments walk to the shoreline. The location of our apartment made for beautiful strolls in the morning, daytime and evenings along the water or down to the boardwalk to get a gelato or espresso. It could not have been a more perfect setting; and we got to stay there for five days. I never began to realize the stories we would share with our Grandchildren until after this trip.
We had somehow ended up at the Molfetta harbor our first evening for our first Apulian pizza night on the town. We toured the area by foot and enjoyed yet another fantastic Italian evening with our final destination returning us to the harbor once again. Yes, in other words we walked around and around. That’s nothing different then what other Italians do in other parts of the country. We should know, because we are now seasoned travelers of this Italy thing; not even close . . . Oh, and we also ate Gelato . . . again and again. That, is a true Italian tourist.
One of our daytime ventures had the family taking us to the farmer’s market to view the fresh seafood nearby the local wharf. The in-laws grabbed and asked Grandma to prepare fresh Escargot that I pointed out while we visited the market area. That was surely a treat, but I’m gathering I was somewhat of an oddball visitor to the family because I’ll try just about anything. We also had a somewhat constant flow of fried local fish, squid (calamari) and whole shrimp. It was what the family had grown up on living so close to the local harbor near the market. Molfetta is a very charming small town. It was easy to imagine having grown up here. We saw many likenesses of our in laws on these streets, and everyone knew everyone. Another savory treat that we were introduced to for this region was the Panzerotti; a savory, usually cheese, turnover or empanada-style pie that was very simple but perhaps the perfect compliment to the various seafood encountered while in Molfetta. Remember, as I had mentioned in part one of this story, this could very well have been the birthplace of Jesus.
We saw a couple days of use with that touring van as the wife and I had began our trend for Italian touring of sitting in the back of the tour bus. I don’t know where that one started, but I’m guessing around high school. On our ride south to Otranto and heading again North, we had stopped for some wonderfully explained tours through Trulli, where we actually stumbled across our first Michelin star restaurant. A quick peek inside of the dynamic restaurant, as the door was open, I saw the staff sitting before their day begins talking about the anticipated service and sharing a pre-course family style meal. I remember those pre-service talks, and menu sampling, when attending my schooling.
On our comfortable ride home from Otranto and traveling throught the countryside of the Apulia region, we had made several stops along the way, but none of which were to sample the region’s cuisine; since our villa was equipped with a kitchen, and that morning, we had provided Chefly-preparred (and the Chef’s wife) Italian sandwiches of Prosciutto and Provolone (all of this stuff was cheap in Italy) to eat along the way. As part of our southern tour of Italy’s ‘boot heel’, we got to witness the marvelous Trulli construction and history, we also were entertained by the experienced Speleologists that escorted us through the Grotti De Castallana (caves) that made for a bit of interesting pictures and fulfilling some curiosity. I don’t have much in the way of pictures because being inside of the caverns are like looking at the Grand Canyon in the United States; once you’ve seen one angle or view, the others kinda all look the same. But we did catch the sun peaking through the cave’s surface hole . . . or whatever it was called; I was talking to another guide about craft beers (I was wearing a Stone Brewery shirt).
We toured Bari and the Apulian Bari region with the family much of the time while in this area. We had celebrated our Grandson’s baptism and at one point that evening, we made our way to the middle of a countryside property for what was to be a wonderful farm-to-table meal. Tenuta Lama Gorga provided a great Italian experience serving us local fresh fare that just kept coming, and coming, broken up by some dancing . . . and then the food just kept coming and coming.
I was seated next to the Bishop that presided over the baptism service (he is also a close family friend) and asked him what he thought of the wine. Tonight it was a local Duca Carlo Guarini, and one of the few times we actually drank a pre-bottled wine . . . and from the region.
I thought it was rather delicious and appropriate for the meal. The Bishop’s said “eh, eats ok”. He continued, “do you know what we called these when we were kids?” Pointing to the very large rigatoni pasta, with a very simple olive oil sauce (more specific to the region). As the Bishop continued, he flattened out his hand and waved it back and forth and said, “We used to call these ‘slap me’ “. That opened up a whole new conversation with the Vatican official. I understand the Baptismal certificate was also signed by the Pope. That’s pretty cool. My wife an I were asked by the Bishop when we were going to be back into Rome, because he wanted us to meet the Pope. We had to decline that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity fearing our sins would be a direct path to hell, and the Pope and Bishop probably have more worldly things to attend to.
Our last morning in Bisceglie netted us a tour of the Torre Rosa facility upon checkout; I guess you have to know someone . . . Although the stay here at Torre Rosa was very nice, each evening during our stay had an event going on the property grounds. It was not disturbing to us as we just wanted to join them just to taste the food. The resort’s location and photogenic grounds makes for wonderful pictures.
Visiting this region will always be a bit more special than other parts of Italy. We had learned so much from our family about the existence of this country and this wonderful region.
Next stop . . . Sorrento, for what was the center jewel of our relaxation this trip.