Posts tagged ‘matera’

Journey To Sicilia April 2011

In terms of Italy being a boot, I am currently at the ‘heal’ and am seeking a train that will take me to the ‘shin’ before training it down to the ‘toe’.  From there A ferry will take me to the ‘football’ that is being booted into the mediteranean.

Sounds like a groovy journey of anatomy and adventure.

Firstly a drive from the ‘ankle’ town of Matera where I have been spending a wonderful weekend with my couch surfing family.  My hosts drive me to the train station about twenty minutes out of Matera, where they proceed to ask the attendant about trains, times and also civil war.

Well that’s what it sounds like as my two companions get in a shouting match with the attendant, two men sipping their espressos then start waving their hands and begin to bellow out their objections.

‘No no, Belesconi is going to destroy our country!’ One man is yelling (I assume).

‘No, I believe the unification movement is dead and buried’ shouts the other.

‘I think the quality of pizza in this country is depreciating,’ says the attendant.

This maelstrom of conflict leaves me spinning out, translation is not an option, I just have to go with it.

The dialogue abruptly stops, my friend turns to me and quite calmly asks if I’d like a coffee for breakfast.

‘Ummm, ok.  Is everything alright?’ I ask nervously.

‘Sure, the lady just said that we’d be better off heading to the next station, it’s just a ten minute drive.’

I’ve just had one of those ‘We’re not in Cansas anymore Toto,’ moments.

When a shouting match that consumes the entire room is required to simply ask for directions, you suddenly become aware that you are surrounded by Italian stereotypes.  I Love stereotypes!

After an espresso and baked sweet, a quick drive and a farewell from my lovely hosts leaves me on a train.  Then another, then another.

View from ONE of the trains

I have a one hour stopover and a sudden change of platforms nearly leads me onto the wrong train.  The announcement is in Italian, all the attendants are Italian, their English is bad or non-existant.  My Italian is even worse!

I have to leg it over the train tracks to make it onto the other platform in time, but I get there!

Then, another stopover and another train and I finally reach the ‘toe’.  A ferry takes me to Messina in the island of Sicily.  Finally I am here!

Another delayed train and I finally reach my destination.

The end result.  As the crow flies I travelled a path of about 350kms in about twelve hours.

This piece of crap would have been quicker then the Italian train network

A word of warning, if you are travelling in Italy, heading away from the west coast (Naples, Rome etc) is a great deal of fun, but logistically it is a nightmare!

Haven’t said that, it was well and truly worth it!

Now bring on Sicily!


Matera- Spectacle and Chocolate Pizza – March 2011

Matera- The old city overlooking the gorge

After an impressive week in and around Naples I decide to spend some time off the beaten track.  I am to realise very quickly that ‘off the beaten track’ in Southern Italy can become logistically nightmarish.

I first heard about Matera in my guide book and was intrigued instantly.  Lonely planet refers to it in such words as, ‘you’ll feel like you’re in another world.’

It does say more than that of course, basically the quick history of the place is; the collection of ancient caves has been inhabited since prehistory, whilst in slightly more recent history, the city of Matera has sprung up on an opposite cliff overlooking the caves.

The caves were not abandoned until the Italian government deemed the 50% infant mortality rate (yes you read that right) as an international embarrassment and moved the people out less than fifty years ago.

The people were living as a family with farm animals and all in remarkably small areas, (hence the health problems).

This made the caves the longest continuously inhabited part of the world.

Now maybe you can see the rational for me heading five hours out of my little hub of Naples to check the area out.

My guide book tells me of a wonderful little hostel in the old city, carved into the mountain.


I go online….. hmmm problem, the Hotel doesn’t do hostel beds anymore, the cheapest bed is now about 30 euro a night.  At this stage, 30 euro is my entire day’s budget, not going to happen.

I can’t find any budget accommodation anywhere near the area…. What to do, what to do?

Through the most glorious of websites ‘Couch’, I not only get some free accommodation in the area, but I also get a great opportunity to meet some more locals.

There is a connecting bus to Matera that will get me in Saturday night at 19:00 hours.  I’m on it!

One thing strikes me as soon as the bus heads away from the west coast.  The terrain gets barren, quickly and the towns get smaller and smaller as time and distance move you along.

By the time I get to Matera I feel like I’m in some middle of nowhere town somehow scraping an existence despite its isolation.

I make the fatal mistake of not recording my host’s mobile number and when I am standing in the pitch black little bus stop (as compared to proper bus station) freezing away in the middle of nowhere, I have the realisation that perhaps I should be a little bit more organised.

What to do, what to do?

I decide that my host’s number recorded on my Hotmail account would be rather handy right now.

I look left down one very dark deserted street, I look right down another equally dark and deserted street.

‘Does anyone know where an internet café is?’  The stray dog walking past looks at me and shrugs its shoulders before scurrying along.


I send a few expensive text messages back to the UK hoping that some of my friends will have access to the internet and can access my e-mails to give me the phone number which will enable me to call my host and find out where she is! (gasp).

I’m in the middle of texting frantically with frozen fingers when a car horn alerts me to the arrival of one young Italian woman with a rather warm and comfortable spare seat.

‘Hello, I’m Katia, so sorry I’m late!’ She says.

Ah, my host!

I apologise for not getting her phone number and causing such a fuss as she hurriedly explains that she was waiting at the wrong bus stop (apparently there are three and the one where I was disgorged was the smallest and most isolated of the three).

Oh well, all is good as Katia takes me to the city centre to show me around.  She is shocked by my tiny pack upon hearing that my 30L day pack is my only luggage for a seven week trip.

Likewise she is shocked by my now red, frozen toes that are sticking awkwardly out the top of my thongs/flip flops/ jandels.

I tell her that I’m used to the cold on my feet and it’s time to explore!

Katia takes me to the city centre which is stunning under evening light.  A centre multi-coloured water fountain shoots off its display like a kaleidoscope as the stunning architecture of theatres, universities, churches and other nameless buildings beam down on top of me.

I am instantly stunned by Katia’s home town.

‘Wait until you see the Sassi,’ she smiles at me (Sassi= ruins/old town etc).

She’s right, I ain’t seen anything yet.

We gain just a little altitude as we grab an eye full of the spectacle of the old city.

I don’t know if words can describe it, and sadly my camera is woefully inadequate at picking up such beauty, particularly at night.

Basically, it’s like looking into the past (I know, you’ve heard that one before).  But it’s like a small ancient city has been sitting in the one spot untouched just for me to view at this moment.

It is breathtaking. Winding narrow streets, small stone ‘hut’ like houses.  The only thing missing is the markets with donkeys and maybe a Disney style monkey blowing raspberries at the local vendors.

I have decided within a half hour of being in Matera (minus the nervous time waiting at the bus stop) that the trip was well worth it!

Tomorrow will bring a good exploration of the old town as well as the caves and general panorama.

View from the caves back to the old city

For the evening there is a chance to meet some of Katia’s friends and family.

A quick introduction to her mother and American Dad, Family Guy, Simpsons watching younger brother is followed by some dinner and a quick drive out to see some friends.

A quiet stroll and chat with the locals is completed by about 1am and a long day comes to a close.

The next day is a leisurely start that takes us back to the old city by late morning.

I find it looks just slightly less spectacular in the day light, but the view of the whole area makes up for it tenfold.

The old city looks over a massive gorge as some caves on the opposite cliff stare straight back.  The gorge snakes its way off into oblivion, following the length of the extensive city before disappearing around a corner.

The caves, Katia tells me, where the sight of Mel Gibson’s film ‘Passion of the Christ.’  I’ve not seen the film and am in no way impressed by Hollywood, hence why such a socially relevant fact had eluded me.

I can see why the sight was picked however.  Ignoring the few TV antennas, and as I said earlier, adding a few donkeys and market stalls and you would be instantly transported back two thousand years.

One of the numerous caves

A day of exploring throughout the more than impressive area is broken up nicely with a traditional Italian meal (pasta, salad and coffee… IN THAT ORDER).

As often happens the evening follows the day, and after the amazing absorbing history, it’s time for some more Italian food!

Desert is of keen interest.  Nutella pizza!  Surprisingly good!

We then head out for a birthday bash.  In the park just behind a local school, Katia and I find a group of revelling Italians.

Her friends are already well on their way.  Cartons of beer and bottles of Dutch courage are abound and merriment is aplenty.

Birthday party, Italian style

I manage to meet Katia’s friends, forget most of their names, learn some Italian, forget some Italian, all in less than three hours!

That must be a record for me.

The night comes to a close when the birthday cake is unceremoniously elbowed off its tedious perch, splattering its tasty innards all over the rather grotty ground.

Summer is officially upon us! Well at least the summer daylight saving time has begun.  It seems odd with the temperature at a chilling six degrees.  But the end result is that it is now 3 am, not 2 am, so it is time to leave!

I bid farewell to my new friends and leave them to their party goings on.  A decent sleep is followed by a quick drive to the next town to catch a train.

My next destination is Sicily.  What awaits me is one car trip, three train trips, one ferry and one more train before getting picked up in Sicily.

I am to find the trip even more difficult then I expect…