Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Name:
Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Now I travel extensively, and have been to more than 65 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on amazon.com. I have made friends from all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met, past, present and hopefully in the future.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Peroni Rules in Puglia



This time the dart I threw at my map of the world landed on: Bari, down on the southeast coast in the boot heel of Italy, on the Adriatic Sea, in the Italian province of Puglia. Well, why not? Winter still had a slight grip on Budapest and I could use some sunshine, so off I went. Friday, April 1, a mid-morning flight to Zurich that left 15 minutes late (and I only had a 45-minute turn-around time!) where, once again, my connecting gate was in the farthest reaches of hell and I had to hoof it to make my connection. My stubby legs were a’pumpin and a’chuggin’ as I hustled down to Gate 82, which I reached as the plane was boarding. Huff and puff!

Got to Bari airport around 2:15 PM and took the train into Bari’s Central Station, from where I caught a taxi the short distance to my hotel. As usual, I threw my suitcase on my bed, dashed some water on my face and headed out on my initial exploration of another new town. I was staying at the Piazza Garibaldi end of the Corso Vittorio Emanuelle, which ran all the way down to the harbor area, a nice 15-20-minute stroll in the warmish early spring weather. I nosed into the Old Town, figuring I’d explore in more detail the following day; walked around the harbor area and, since the sun was now over the yardarm, decided drinks and a late-afternoon snack were in order. Silly me! I’d forgotten about the strange Italian restaurant and bar opening hours; after a brief lunchtime (usually 12-3 PM), everything closed until six or seven PM, when the restaurants opened up again for early diners. Crap! No drinks until seven. Sigh.
I walked back to my hotel, unpacked, cleaned up a touch more, dawdled a little and finally took another slow stroll back to the Old Town, where I found vini e cucina, a small restaurant I’d read about that had no menu; you just took whatever the proprietor decided he wanted to serve that night. Beer was the first order of the evening and I enjoyed my initial Peroni. This light Italian beer is to Bari what Guinness is to Dublin. It is usually served in 0.33L bottles and costs anywhere from one euro to 3.5 euros, depending on where you’re drinking, in a harbor-side bar or a fancy upscale dining establishment. It was cold and smooth and went down just right.

Then the food started to arrive: prosciutto (thin-sliced ham and pork), cheese slices, aubergine and cucumbers in heavy olive oil, some sort of hard-cooked potatoes (like hash browns), a rice-and-potato salad with mussels, and a nice little beefsteak with lettuce. Accompanied by three Peronis, this basic but filling meal satisfied my needs for the night. A brief stop at the Karlsbrau Birreiria on the way home for yet one or two more Peronis (it really is a good beer) and it was a pleasant night after all.

Saturday morning was hazy sunshine with temps in the mid-50s F (around 12 degrees Celsius). I greeted the new day and headed out to see a bit more of Bari. I walked probably half of the Old Town, getting wonderfully lost in the maze of streets, some marked, some not, but only a few shown on my official tourist map of Bari. It was great. Lots of churches (the Catholic church has a definite lock on this small town), winding streets, small “cortes,” which are actually tiny little courts with no exit, laundry hanging from balconies everywhere, small snack shops starting to open for the workers. The Piazza Maritime central square was still fairly quiet, with its columns and wide spaces and old weather-beaten lion which was used to punish local lawbreakers (not quite sure how; I think the miscreants had to sit astride the lion while the townspeople pelted them with raw fish and epithets).
I settled on one of the Piazza restaurants open for breakfast and had something called a Maxi toast, or crudo, which consists of toast (obviously), a slice of prosciutto (ham), a slice of cheese and tomatoes, washed down with a glass of tea. The day was hot and partially sunny, but the shaded streets of the Old Town were cool and inviting, so I lingered and strolled and soaked up the atmosphere.

Around 11:30 or so I decided to see if El Chinguito was open. I’d found this place on the Internet and had walked by it the previous evening, but it was closed at that time. Turned out it’s a tiny little bar located at the end of a harbor promontory, where the fishermen bring their small boats and sell their day’s catches straight out of the sea. The bar does a booming business, with old men sitting around makeshift tables playing their never-ending games of cards, young bucks swilling beer and crooning “Ciao, Bella” to any and all female passers-by, fishermen selling their fresh catches, tourists snapping pics of everything in sight and travelers like me inhaling the ambiance. I had two or three of those great 0.33L Peroni beers, which only cost one euro at El Chinguito, and I hung around and people watched all the interesting local characters until all the fish was sold and the card games were over and the bar was closing. Then I strolled back to the hotel for a siesta.
Saturday night, the big night in Bari and a night I set out to remember. And remember it I did, although not quite for the reasons I was anticipating. If there is ever an award for having bad experiences happen to someone at the most inconvenient times possible, I should be right up there with the final contenders. In the past, my apartment’s shower drain backed up on a Friday night and I was unable to get a plumber until Monday morning; the day before I was to leave for a week in Paris in a private house which I was offered free of charge I had a heart attack; and tonight when I…..well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Common lore is that bad things also happen in threes, and I sure scored a hat trick that night. My first stop was to be at Joy’s Irish Pub, which I’d also found in the net. It was a couple of miles from the Old Town so I took a taxi. Joy’s internet site said the pub opened at 7 PM, like many of the other bars in the area, so I arranged to arrive around 7:15, to give them time to cool the Guinness and tune up the band. I walked in the front door of a really tiny pub (the only one smaller I’d ever seen was the one in Dublin advertising itself as “The Tiniest Pub in Dublin,” where you had to turn sideways to enter the front door and actually had to stand outside the door to the toilet to use it – and hope your aim was good that night!) and was told by the waitress that they opened at 8 PM. Well, scheisse! Strike one.

OK, I was hungry so I walked down the street to a small pizza parlor and ordered a pepperoni pizza and a Peroni. As I was drinking my beer and chewing thoughtfully (and slowly) on my very good pizza, to make the time go by more slowly, I bit down on something hard and thought it was a bit of gristle, so I spit it out. It looked like part of a tooth. Hmmm. I finished my pizza and beer and started back to Joy’s Pub, exploring my teeth for imbedded bits of pizza, when I noticed a gap between two of my teeth. Holy Novocaine, Batman, what I had spit out was part of my tooth. Luckily, it turned out to be a very old filling and there was no pain involved in my loss. I hoped it would remain painless, as I wouldn’t be able to get to my dentist until Tuesday morning. Sigh. Strike Two.

I got back to Joy’s and ordered one of their interesting draft beers; they had Tennent’s Super, Kilkenny and Guinness, so I had one of each. As I sat at the bar making light conversation with a very attractive bartendress, I noticed the customers began to consist of families, i.e., parents and little kids – hordes of little kids. In an Irish bar on a Saturday night. What was this? Angelina (the bartendress) told me it was some sort of kiddie awards night, with coloring contests, puzzles, etc., and the neighborhood bars would be full of children until late in the evening. Well, HELL!

I was looking forward to some convivial bar chat with locals and some mild flirting with the bartendresses and some lively music, not listening to the screechy voices of crowds of young children. I like kids too, but a pub is not the place for them at night. I had my three beers and asked the bar manager to call me a taxi and went back to the Karlsbrau Bar near my hotel, which was also filled with kids, this time young teens, whose coloring books had faded into their memories and who were intent only on filling in their present spaces with the opposite gender. Two more beers without an adult bar clientele in sight and it was back to the hotel. My big Saturday night in Bari. Well, at least I got my three bad things out of the way for a while. Strike three and “Yer outta there!”)

Sunday was another day. Continental breakfast at my hotel: cold cuts of meat, cheese slices, juice and other stuff I chose not to eat. Filling, but not satisfying. I thought a Best Western Executive would have a better breakfast buffet. Anyway, more walking and exploring, peeked into the huge fort near my hotel, the Normanno Svevo, built in the 12th century, strolled down by the fish market and harbor area again, walked the Old Town walls around the “point,” stopped off at El Chiringuito again for more Peroni as the sun bore down upon me, watched a 5K race for a very short while and ended up back at the Piazza Ferrarese central square for an early lunch of wonderful Italian antipasti.

Sunday afternoon was spent going out aways and down the seaside to other unexplored areas, just taking in the warm Italian ambiance. Before the restaurants open again in the evening, there is nothing to do and almost nowhere to get anything to eat or drink. Dead time! I killed it with colorful walks and enjoying the sunshine and maybe even a siesta.

Around 6:30 I ventured out hoping to find something open, and was rewarded at Piazza Maritime with the Bar Citta Vecchia, a “cocktelleria” offering all sorts of fun drinks. I stuck with Peroni and watched the strollers go by on an early Sunday evening. There were lots of people out, too, and quite a few with young parents with babies and toddlers and young children. Obviously family night in Bari.

Dinner that night was at a highly recommended restaurant hidden away in the Old Town, La Uascezze. It really was hard to find, although it was literally just a few steps away from the Piazza Maritime. Fortunately, there were inconspicuous signs to guide me and I finally found it, a really funky old-style place with red-checked tablecloths, brick walls and uneven stone floors. My table was actually an old sewing machine table. There were strings of garlic hanging on the walls, probably to keep the vampires away (I didn’t see any, so it must have worked). Lots of local color.

The menu was only in Italian and, as my menu knowledge consisted mainly of spaghetti and Peroni, I gave in and asked the head waiter for help. He recommended a tasting menu, which I find more and more often in my travels and which I have come to enjoy, as I was able to sample bits and bites of many of the local favorites. Tonight I had: prosciutto (thin-sliced meats), two different white cheeses (ricotta and mozzarella), fresh-baked bread, big charred mushrooms, a big slice of something that resembled and tasted like quiche, several huge mussels in tomato sauce and bacon-wrapped warm cheese sticks. An after-dinner limoncello and I was a happy camper.

And so it was Monday, April 4, my last full day in Bari. My plane didn’t leave until late afternoon, so I still had most of the day to finish seeing whatever I had missed and doing whatever shopping I still had to do. And, of course, eat more of that wonderful seafood. After my morning constitutional I found one of the restaurants on the main square open for business – more or less. Turned out I could have a beer and an appetizer, but lunch would not be served for another 30 minutes. Strange customs. But the appetizer was octopus salad (octopus with potatoes) and a Peroni red beer this time. Very nice.

One more beer and 30 minutes later I was able to order the main course: frutti di mare spaghetti, i.e., spaghetti with squid, shrimp, crayfish, clans (sic), oil, garlic, tomatoes, parsley and pepper, accompanied by yet another Peroni Red. Sounds great, right? Well, it was tasty, but the squid was unrecognizable, there was only one anemic crayfish and 3-4 unshelled clams, but lots of tiny shrimp. Value received was not the best at this place, but I was hungry and it was nice in the Italian sun, so what the heck.

Got back to the hotel around 2 PM, read for a while and caught my airport bus just across the street at 3:30 (4 euro as compared to a taxi for 25 euro). At the airport around 4, checked in 4:30, cleared Security and headed for the nearest restroom – which was being cleaned. Now, I’ve never mentioned this previously, probably because I doubted anyone would be interested, but I would say at least 50% of the time I get through airport Security and need to use the restroom the nearest one is being cleaned. Really. It happens so often that statistically I must be an anomaly. I figure the check-in person must alert the cleaning crew so the cleaners can get in there and block off the restroom from needful passengers – especially me! Aaarrgghhh!

Anyway, my flight actually left on time; I had a nice light sushi dinner in Munich and arrived in Budapest at 11 PM, caught a mini-bus and got home around midnight. I was greeted by the sight of my newly-installed extra-special double-glazed plastic-framed hermetically-sealed windows, which had been installed while I was away, looked over by my downstairs neighbors and landlords. Hope my next winter heating bills go down. I hit the sack right away as I knew I’d have to be up early to head for the dentist to have my broken tooth fixed. (Turned out one of my 50-year-old fillings had finally loosened and popped out, taking part of my tooth with it. My beautiful young dentist informed me that amalgam fillings haven’t been used since before she was born. Thank you, Kriszta.).

So, another brief but good weekend. Home for most of April, then off to visit a friend in Geneva for another even briefer weekend. Watch this space for more great blogging and have a fantastic spring.