Italia Good: But With Limitations: Bari to Irsina. - Lookin For John Fairweather - CycleBlaze

March 17, 2014

Italia Good: But With Limitations: Bari to Irsina.

I have an expensive five euro beer but still its hours before I get to sleep lying out on the seat. To help I listen to music; then stop listening to my own and listen to a group of young people over in the corner, one of whom is playing an acoustic guitar well and singing well too while the others harmonise along in Italian.

I wake this morning dehydrated and groggy after the beer, remembering how expensive even a water may be. I put off breakfast for a while as I read a chapter of my book, but then go for it: three wedges of cheese on a plate, bread, two portion marmalades and two butters; these are not complementary: the former are forty cents each and the later sixty cents each, plus coffee brings the total to ten euros. That isn't for a buffet. I can't return for more or even a second coffee.

I thought I saw it written somewhere that the expected arrival time in Bari is eight-thirty, but eight-thirty comes and the ferry is still in open sea with no sight of land. Then I ask at reception and am told eleven o'clock, meaning I won't have the full day riding I envisaged. I take a seat and read more, then contemplate what cycling in Italy will be like. As it gets near the time I go out on deck and see a strip of low lying land off to the left. Then a bit later on approaching the port, see the city of Bari ahead beneath a haze of brown smog, clearly visible as its a cloudless day.

I had been thinking that I would just ride off the ferry into a portside town with cafes along the waterfront. This perhaps would have been the case forty or more years ago. Present day ferries are so big and the volume of traffic that come off them, mean this idyllic fishing port scenario is no longer possible. Instead, Bari is a bulging ferry-hub with a mountain of hardcore used in the building of a huge plier-area running out to deeper water where the ferries can dock. Once I go through passport control, where the guard asks have I any cigarettes and when I say no, waves me on, then ride perhaps a kilometre or more along a barrier enclosed passage with trucks trundling by until reaching the port gates. The street outside the port fence is traffic chaos and there is no sign for city-centre. I follow the street, then turn in away from the waterfront. The surface is rough and broken and the traffic is barely moving, but seeing a right-turn sign for "Altamura" at the next traffic-lights, I see can I find it on my big map, which I can and its approximately west, the way I'm going.

The climate is warm and sticky and the highway ahead is hairy with a heavy volume of cars and trucks passing, but there's a bike-width shoulder. Further on out of town it become a divided highway and with the traffic thinned out after having carefully passed through a few motorway interchanges, the cars pass flat-out. At some point I ride into a petrol station café. The coffee is good for one euro, but I find there is no internet network I can use. Later I pull in at a second petrol station for coffee. Here I find a ten kilometre to one centimetre map, which is a lot better than the whole of Europe map I've been using.

The landscape continues between flat and undulating with olive groves to the side and at some stage the road is reduced to a single carriageway, but the shoulder remains. I reach Altamura around two, hoping to find a supermarket. I ride around town twice and see none. Then ask and am told there is one on the road onwards but its shut until four-thirty. Not having any food I stop by an ice-cream parlour and have ice-cream and another cappuccino for lunch. Then as its after three-thirty I go to the supermarket and read my book while waiting. Four-thirty comes and goes and there's still no life inside. So, I ride on as I still have mueli and a banana left. I find out the next day that there's an hour difference between Greece and Italy, which would explain the supermarket not opening as the real time is still only three-thirty.

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I reach the next town, Gravina Di Puglia around six and don't pass any food shops in this town either while riding down an inclined avenue to a cobble-stone square with an old church and narrow streets to the side. There are lots of children playing and the name Francesa being called over and over can be heard. Then an old man fills a water bottle at a water tap in the middle. So, I too re-fill my water bottle and ride on out off town which continues the inclined down into a deep green valley with rolling hills ahead, leaving the town on the hilltop behind me. Then climbing the other side through a gap between two copse-topped hills and onward into rolling green tabular-hill countryside as the sun begins sinking. So, this is Italy. It looks like North Yorkshire. The verdant green grass is all young cereal crop close-up and I pass many a farm just as I'm on the look-out for a place to camp. The sun is at the stage where it cast horizontal beams and I don't feel safe in the increasing low glare and silhouetted light. But soon reach a stretch with no farm near and first have a look for a camp spot among the vegetation along a stream too the side. Its all a little too much overgrown. But just ahead I spot a track off the road along rough uncultivated land, on which I find the perfect level patch of grass. For supper I make do with a tomato, a banana and muesli and lay down to sleep hoping to pass a supermarket tomorrow.

Today's ride: 77 km (48 miles)
Total: 12,265 km (7,617 miles)

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