Thursday, April 28, 2022

Biking in Puglia: Day 3

 May I praise these bike tour companies? Perhaps in my youth, I would have packed some saddlebags with everything I needed and biked through the country camping my way on routes that I figured out ahead of time. But I never did and can’t quite imagine it now.


But these bike tours are the perfect solution. They choose the route and give you detailed directions to follow (interesting that it’s still on paper and no GPS), arrange the hotels, provide the bikes and helmet and tool kit and water bottle, take the bags you leave at one hotel and bring them to the other. All you have to do is the actual riding. Perfect! 


So we breakfasted in Gravina, did our customary hoarding of the breakfast spread— some bread, cheese, hard-boiled egg, a banana or apple, etc. wrapped in napkins and put into a precious plastic bag and set off  for another romp out on open roads with occasional cars whipping by, increasingly larger fennel plants on the side of the road, past fields of just-beginning wheat growing and surprisingly, still that morning sense of newness, a child’s sense of time and a young adult’s sense of the world spread out before us. Our actual 70+ year-old body-minds cast off behind us as we rode. 


We arrived at the town of Altamura for lunch, found a little park with benches and as we cracked open our hard-boiled eggs, a group of five high school boys and one girl came over and started practicing their English with us. “Where are you from?” “Ah, California! Golden State Warriors!” And so conversation proceeded from basketball to music to “Do you like Altamura?” and beyond. So sweet and I would just hope that someday a group of American high schoolers would start a conversation with Italian tourists to practice their Italian with that level of warmth, courage and sweetness. 

The riding in the countryside is heaven, long stretches without having to stop to look at directions, but things get much more complicated as we come into towns. The directions to the hotel in Matera were complicated and for the first time, the inevitable impatience and slight bickering with each other came to the forefront as each of us in turn was convinced we knew the way and each of us in turn turned out to be wrong. But we persevered and finally found the Hotel Belvedere. Still complaining having to take our heavy bikes down some 30 stairs, we instantly stopped in amazement at the view outside the back of the hotel.  

I had certainly known of iconic sights like the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu, Yosemite, Venice, Santerini and such before I eventually arrived at them, but never in my life—including preparing for this trip— had I ever heard of this town of Matera. And yet it looks to be one of the most extraordinary places on the planet. How could this be?


After a welcome afternoon rest, each tucked away in their rooms with some needed solitude, we set off for dinner and started walking along the edge of the town. The awe was still fresh as we feasted on both the far and near marvels. Looking for a particular restaurant, we chatted with a man watering his plants and it soon grew to an outdoor class about the history of human civilization from a spirited and enthusiastic teacher. Topics ranged from the shift from hunting to agriculture, the rise of private property, the way neighbors are tied together and need to help each other, the water transport system (including showing us how it worked in his house) and more. This morning, we met out bike tour organizer and described the man and he said, “A chatterbox? That’s Vincente.”


On to dinner and here in this town where people lived in caves up through the 1950’s, the waitress came over to give us our menu— a tiny square of paper with a QR code. Aargh! Of course, our phones were not hooked into wi-fi and when with her help, we got one to work, we had to pass it around one at a time to read the tiny 10-page menu. Horrible! They claimed it came from Covid, but we’ve known for a long time that touching paper someone else has touched has nothing to do with the disease transmission. Hopefully, they will return to the paper menu.


This day would have been my Mom’s 101stbirthday (though she passed on eight years ago) and I vowed to live this day on her behalf. I think she would have been happy with it.


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