The Thanksgiving Holiday
An extended holiday weekend, calls for an extended holiday vacation. We decided to take advantage of the boys having a couple extra days off from school and spend the Thanksgiving holiday and weekend in a warmer climate. A couple good friends of ours with a daughter just older than our boys join us for the trip. Giovinazzo, Italy is on the east coast of southern Italy, just above the “boot heel”.
In order to accomplish this, sacrifices must be made. In this case, sacrificing some sleep is well worth it. 2:45 a.m. is the time that I set on my cell phone alarm, that gives us about a half an hour to 45 minutes to get everyone up, dressed, fed and into the car. We have our bags packed the night before, we travel light just one backpack a piece. The drive to the airport takes about an hour and 15 minutes, which should get us there at around 5 a.m. for our 7 a.m. flight. Two hours on a plane and we touch down in Bari, Italy, from rainy and 3 degrees Celsius (38 F), to Sunny and 12 degrees (56 F). We take a quick drive northeast for 25 minutes or so and arrive in Giovinazzo just after sunrise accentuating the panoramic ocean view. It takes us another 45 minutes of follow the leader driving to find the parking for the hotel as we navigate through a maze of amazing one way streets that resemble more of old stone tiled alley ways than they do roads. Some spots so narrow that we have a hard time maneuvering our ultra compact hatchbacks through the narrow openings.
After a few trial and error laps around the area, and multiple near misses with a construction workers ladder, we find a parking space close enough to the hotel for us to throw our hands up and say, “that’s good enough”. Our friends take a shortcut the wrong way up a one way to reach an area that seems impossible to reach any other way, but we are both finally safely parked.
Our hotel, S. Martin sits right on the coast, and has actually been converted from an old monastery built around 1100 into a hotel, the architecture and design are a sight to be seen and transport you back in time. Some of the artwork adorning the shelves and walls would not typically be found in a monastery but it doesn’t look out of place.
After checking into our rooms, we all meet in the hotel bar for a quick drink and a little snack before heading out to wander the city, which is much more enjoyable on foot than it is trying to navigate one way streets in a car that feels like it is six inches wider than the road it’s driving on.
The smell of saltwater and the gentle lapping of waves accompany us as we do a little coastline walking. Large stone castle like buildings hug the coastline as we walk and talk, the kids run ahead of us, climbing and jumping from rock to rock near the ocean’s edge. The buildings give way to a small inlet packed with fishing boats. Here we see wooden boats with a few decades of use, painted and repainted in every color that you can imagine. The amount of modern fiberglass boats can be counted on one hand. A few fishermen are preparing their boats for a trip out to sea and a few more are already spotting the horizon.
Just past the inlet, we see a small area with a sandy beach that the children can’t wait to get down to, as we stroll along at an easy pace behind them we come across a rooftop with 10, yes, 10 cats sunbathing on it (I counted them). They pay us no mind as we walk by, the person they are waiting for isn’t due to arrive for another 15 minutes it turns out. An older Italian woman carrying a large shopping bag rounds the corner, and all of the cats instantly stand up and begin to gather on the sidewalk next to the building. As the woman feeds the litter of cats, a crowd of people just as large as the crowd of cats gather to take pictures and hear what the old lady has to say.
After watching the cat feeding spectacle, we decide to go in search of some lunch of our own. Exploring more of the stone tiled back streets and alleyways, every side street is a picture opportunity, the quintessential Italian neighborhood that you have always imagined come to life. Religious statues and murals appear randomly but regularly, odd decorations like a small wooden ship hanging in an archway over the road start to catch the eye, and the ever present semi-camouflaged cat around each twist and turn.
We settle on a small pizzeria restaurant not far from the hotel entrance for lunch. After we all pick out a variety of pizza to try, we are informed that they don’t serve pizza until the dinner hours. We end up ordering a couple meat and cheese plates and some salads. Some much needed nourishment complete, we decide to head back into the maze towards center city and pop out in a large fountain square, the kids run gleefully through the square playing freeze tag while we relax on a park bench and I go grab us all some coffee from an eclectic little shop across the street.
When you get up a 2:45 in the morning, lunch can feel like dinner, so after sitting in the fountain square we are surprised to see that it is only 5:30 in the afternoon. We head to the hotel to relax for a little while before heading back out. For dinner, we are interested in a pizzeria that is actually serving pizza. 7 pizzas, a 2 liter of Fanta, 5 beers and 1 glass of wine later we are ready to call it a night. It’s just past 8 p.m. and our first day in Italy is coming to a close. It has been everything that we ever could have imagined it would be.
Just 10 minutes up the street is the neighboring city of Molfetta. It is a similar yet slightly larger city and offers a more extensive array of restaurants and shops. A tightly packed coastal “old town” area is a sight to behold with its historical buildings and sidewalk sized streets. This time of year, the addition of holiday decorations adds to the wonder.
We took our time walking along the coast and sat for a little while in the park while the kids jumped and ran around the playground. When we decided to wander down the main shopping street we realized that we missed our window of opportunity. Apparently it is common for all of the shops to open for the morning, close at around one in the afternoon and then reopen again around five. Being that it was about three o’clock when we arrive, all we manage to do is window shop for about an hour before heading back to the park.
We also took a day trip to the west coast of Italy to explore Pompeii, I will cover that trip in a future post so stay tuned.
A quick drive back to the airport the next morning concluded our trip. Italy was amazing and there is still so much more to see there. We will definitely be making a return trip, my wife has her sights set on Sicily…
For more and BETTER pictures of our trip to Italy, check out my wife’s Instagram @vaca_with_katie