This is giving me flashbacks to my Greyhound tour last year. The weather is grim. Cloudy and almost - but not quite - raining. I was the only one to get out at Metaponto. There were two black guys filling 5 gallon containers from a public well. Run-down buildings. Trashed old-fashioned irrigation aqueducts. I doubt they had been replaced with modern irrigation - the field was just full of the ubiquitous wildflowers. Called out at the coffee shop because there was no one at the counter. Got an espresso and a bus ticket then sat in the parking lot alone, waiting. Couple kids rolled by and hollered out the window. I'm the entertainment of the day.
Bus pulls up, climbs a winding road to some grid-pattern country town to pick up a few folks and now we're sitting at a gas station so the drivers can switch and have a smoke. Rural bus lines, same the world over. Except here there is no interstate. Just winding country roads with fields of grapes, olives and wheat either side. It's all smallholding, or maybe permaculture. Nothing like the industrial scale of the prairies.
God, this place is so mind-numbingly suburban i want to kill myself. First the good news. The sassis are fucking amazing. They are completely overrun by tourists, but it is still cool to see these weird cave houses burrowed into the cliffs either side of a canyon. It's one of those places - just like Venice - that makes you wonder wtf the builders were thinking. Those caves are cold, dark and windy. And whenever there is an earthquake or landslide, half the city is destroyed. Why would anyone bother when there is a perfectly flat and fertile valley literally just on the other side of the hill?
Here's the bad news. This is a shit place to live and it seems that modern Italians understand that. Every building that isn't the oldtown/sassi is depressingly beige. And this is to someone who regularly takes photos of bleak tower blocks. Every restaurant - every fucking restaurant - is a pizzeria. No Middle Eastern. No North African. No Indian. No Chinese. No burgers. No fish and chips. This is yet another Italian town that seems to survive solely on pizza and panini. I walked around for 2-3 hours once i left the sassi trying to find somewhere to eat. It seems the most unique thing they have here is butcher shops that also cook meat. So i guess if i was going to do the real local thing i would go in and get some ribs? Sigh.
I just feel like this place is so inward-looking. There's not even a public train line coming up here, just a private line that only goes to Bari. Despite all the tourist trade, it's like the locals are still bloody-mindedly living in caves. And eating pizza.
So, i ended up at an "Irish" bar (?!) that appears to be more a family restaurant than anything else. The only things on the menu are pizza, panini and bruschetta. I feel like i am in the dullest, most godawful American chain restaurant i can't even. But it's what the locals dig! No one speaks English - not the servers, no one - and the place is packed. At least 100 seats, and there is a line out the door. Where in the world outside of America do people line up to eat at a restaurant that serves the exact same junk you can get at any take-out joint anywhere else in the country? Apparently Matera. I am having a tomato and mushroom bruschetta. Not gonna lie. It is very good. As is always the case here, if you do order something Italian they do it very well. It's just so... parochial. I'm glad i came here so i understand another side of Italy, but i will definitely never be coming back.
Back at my hotel and i am going to post this right now because i need to get it off my chest. I am starting to get a cold and i am a bit miserable. This hotel is very expensive and completely soulless. Literally every other room in every other hotel was booked. This is a massive tourist destination, though it appears to be mostly aimed at Italian tourists. Tomorrow is Sunday and i am dreading the bus timetable. I think i won't be able to get out of here till lunch time. I hope Taranto is better. I have learned, though, and will definitely book ahead before i leave. Rushing into a (sigh) pizzeria for the free wifi to try book a place after being turned back from three in a row was not much fun.