After three years in Greece and Turkey, Berkeley East's return to Italy was met with much enthusiasm among the crew. The land of pizza and pasta has always been a favorite. Our arrival was very challenging, so we welcomed a good nights sleep, and calm conditions in the morning. But we were awoken by BE pitching and rolling, and for a moment we thought we had only dreamed the safe landing. There was a split second of panic as we wondered if we were still at sea and if so, who was on watch? Then we heard the enthusiastic yelling outside, in Italian. Relieved upon realizing that we hadn't imagined arriving and docking in Italy, we poked our heads topside, and felt as though we must be hallucinating. There, right out front of Berkeley East in the harbor, were tanks, Italian army amphibious tanks racing around in the water. And all of the shouting was coming from our dock master telling them to stop making waves. We were a little concerned given that we were smack in between the angry dock master and soldiers with guns. Once we shook the cobwebs out of our sleepy heads, it was hilarious, what a scene. Only in Italy.
With the army's maneuvers complete and Berkeley East safe from gunfire, we needed to get checked into Italy. Having no idea where to go, we wandered through the streets of Brindisi.
Three hours later, we completed the check-in process after receiving assistance from some 20 people, including three translators, all eagerly working to get us to the right place, with the right people. This doesn't happen in other countries.
We decided to drive around to see some of the surrounding region of Puglia. After inquiring about a rental car with our dock master, it was quickly arranged. When we asked for directions to pick up the car, he informed us that his friend would take us, which he did. Then, the friend proceeded to wait until the formalities with the car agency were complete, in order to lead the way back through the winding city streets to the dock. It was great to be back in Italy.
Our travels took us to Ruvo di Puglia, a historical town which boasts one of the best preserved old quarters dating from medieval times. Today, it is a town devoted to agriculture, wine and olive growing. Just our type of place.
Ruvo di Puglia is also was home to many churches, and we found ourselves drawn into each and every one of them. Visiting every church we see is something we only do in Italy. And we were fortunate to be able crash a beautiful wedding, something we have done many times in this country.
We stopped in the town of Alberobello to see the trulli "houses." A trullo is a traditional dry stone, without motor, hut with a conical roof found only in Italy, in the Itria valley of Puglia. This style of structure was used so that it could be dismantled quickly; some say an efficient way to escape when the tax man was coming.
Puglia's tradition of winemaking goes back to the Phoenicians, who are believed to have practiced viticulture as far back as 2000BC. It was so ingrained in the culture by the time the Greeks arrived they called Puglia "Enotria" which means Wineland. While Puglia's wines are not as famous as those from other Italian regions, they are excellent and offer a very good value. But visiting the wineries is very challenging, as they require advance appointments and close for several hours in the middle of the day. We went to one winery that was just closing for the afternoon, but they allowed us in to make a purchase. When we asked questions in English, a translator was summoned. When we probed if we could taste just one wine before we bought, glasses were brought out, along with several wines, snacks and water.
At another winery, we were told it was impossible to have a tour or tasting, so we asked to just have a look at the beautiful grounds. An hour later, we had been given a guided visit of the entire facility, and were sampling wines with the CEO of the company. Only in Italy.
A move up the coast to Bari, led to refrigerator repairs. When the technician arrived, he spoke no English, but his diagnosis needed no translation, "kaput", he said. After several exchanges using Google Translate, we had a plan for parts and installation, and a special price for cash. So off we went in search of a bank, a simple enough task. When the Fitbit hit 30,000 steps, we knew we had made a few wrong turns, something we recall doing a lot of in Italy.
In Bari they make a unique snack called Barese focaccia. It's not something you find in a restaurant, but a delicacy to be picked up on the street, or fresh from the oven at a local bakery. We walked into a small, family-run bakery and had the best Barese focaccia ever. The words "parla inglese" brought heads shaking in the negative, but the little lady did not give up, she seemed to welcome the challenge. After much smiling, pantomiming and laughing we walked away with roughly one half of a kilo of this yummy snack, congratulating ourselves on our excellent communication skills.
We needed to do some provisioning before leaving Italy again, so we drove to a very large market and spent the better part of the morning translating words on our phone to understand what we were buying. It was a Saturday, so the store was very crowded, as were the checkout lines. As we parked our cart, with its 500 items, in a queue, a woman began speaking very harshly to us in Italian. We stared at her blankly and changed lines. Soon there was a lot of commotion, a man yelled at the woman, and then spoke to the cashier. The man told us to go back to the first line, people moved out of the way to let us through. We had been in the "10 items or less line" and the man asked the cashier if she would take us through her line anyway, with our 500 items, which she happily did. Then the woman came to us to apologize, in Italian. Apparently she didn't realize that we were American, given that we look so Italian. She had probably been saying, "can't you idiots read?"
And so it went, during our brief stop in Italy. Simple experiences enhanced by generous, helpful people taking pity on the Americans. And when we did leave, and had to get our passports stamped out of the country, we didn't have to roam around searching, the police came to us. Only in Italy.