Matera, Polignano, Bari

I'm back from a mini vacation in the south of Italy, and oh, how I wish I weren't! (It's nothing personal, Rome, I promise). This past weekend my sister Alexandra and our friends Emma and Alice headed to the Puglia and Basilicata regions of Italy for the Easter break (note that Monday is an official holiday in Italy, called Pasquetta) visiting the cities of Matera, Polignano, and Bari. I'll keep the post short as I feel the photos here should do most of the talking, but:

WARNING: this post may just cause you to take out your wallet and spontaneously book a trip to any of the three above mentioned cities. However, this is highly encouraged. But, don't say I didn't warn you.

Ahh, Matera! I had last visited this beautiful city 7 years ago ago (time flies!) and therefore another visit was certainly in order. The main points, before I let you get to the photos: Matera is home to i sassi, or rather two neighborhoods in the city center (Il Sasso Caveoso and Il Sasso Barisano) which are entirely carved out of the rock of the hillside, more specifically la murgia materana. These dwellings are constructed one on top of the other, neatly, as if held together by magic, and they're breathtaking. Having said this: the sassi have quite a comeback story, so to speak -- they were formerly considered "the shame of Italy," a slum without electricity, plumbing, or running water, where diseases like malaria ran rampant. The situation was so grave that in the 1950s, inhabitants of the sassi were relocated to live elsewhere. Some 60 or so years later however, the sassi have been named UNESCO World Heritage Site, a top tourist destination, and the 2019 European Capital of Culture, not to mention the location for many a movie set (most famously: The Passion of the Christ, and most recently: the next Bond film). After we were done marveling at the sassi we headed to lunch, where we were also left speechless by Matera's food, dining on troccoli (a long pasta typical of the Basilicata region) with ricotta and peperoni cruschi (another specialty -- dried and fried peppers, not so unlike potato chips) and mischiglio, another pasta shape unique to the region and made with various kinds of flour. Yummm.

On Easter Sunday, we headed to Polignano a mare, a little seaside town in the Puglia region. Polignano was picturesque, incredibly well-kept and clean, a little haven with wonderful views of the sea, lots of little balconies, and lots of flowers, not to mention quotes from famous authors and scientists decorating the town walls, all in the same handwriting (I still need to look in to this to see what the story is here). On the menu for Easter lunch?! Panzerotti, a specialty from Puglia, or rather fried calzones filled traditionally with mozzarella and tomato, but actually with whatever your heart desires (in our case, our hearts desired not only mozzarella and tomato but also  panzerotti with broccoli rabe/anchovies/tomatoes/cheese and radicchio cream/speck/cheese and zucchini, cheese, and tomatoes). Easter lamb who?!

If this trip had a theme, it would be picturesque, I think; Bari had a "strong balcony game" (a direct quote from Emma) with lots of colorful laundry fluttering on the lines and plants and flowers, making the city look like a postcard come to life. I was reminded of what a beautiful country Italy is, even in its simplest state -- the town piazza! a tucked-away side street! -- which may seem obvious, but is actually something often forgotten by those of us who live in Italy and often can become a little "immune" to its beauty. What else was gorgeous, besides Bari itself?! It's food, of course! While in Bari we sampled all sorts of typical dishes and sweets from Puglia: sgagliozze (squares of deep-fried polenta) plus orecchiette with cime di rapa, anchovies, tomatoes, and breadcrumbs, sospiri (an airy cloud of pastry filled with cream) and bocconotti (sweet crumbly pastry dough filled with cherry jam and cream). BONUS: an encounter with a very cuddly, very affectionate, very fluffy ginger stray cat who we named Raviolo, and who took a liking in particular to Emma. Awww. Note: we used Bari as our home base during the trip (there are trains that go directly from Roma Termini to Bari Centrale, which we found convenient. 

And just like that, our (very restful, very sunny) mini vacation was over! I've been lucky enough to do quite a bit of traveling lately, so stay tuned as well for a post about my recent trip to Bologna -- all the way up north, to shake things up -- as well as some very Spring-y recipes, too! 

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