Tis Returns to Italy! Day 65: The Painful Journey to Bari
Southern Italy is an absolutely beautiful place. There are so many unique and interesting things to experience. However, the language barrier is more pronounced and public transportation has not kept up with the demands of tourism.
The Best Laid Plans Jump the Track
Today I woke up feeling bulletproof. After the trouble I had getting from Alberobello to Matera, I had gone to the station yesterday to sort my transportation to Polignano. I bought my ticket to Bari where I could easily catch one of many daily trains to Polignano. While in the station, I asked a local to review the posted schedule with me to confirm there were no unexpected shutdowns, strikes, or holiday schedules that could disrupt my trip. We found no planned delays or cancellations.
With my train ticket in hand, I arrived at the station a half-hour early, intending to have tea at a nearby caffè after I confirmed my train was on time. Interestingly enough, the doors to the station were locked and everything was dark. There were no signs of life inside or outside. I looked for notes around the station, explaining the unexpected and unannounced shutdown of a fairly notable southern Italian train line. Nothing. Just emptiness.
Finding My People
The bus station was just across the street, so I headed to see what my options might be. As luck would have it, the bus station was closed, making it super helpful to stranded travelers. Nearby, I spotted what appeared to be an informed local. As I approached him, I flashed a friendly smile and my best Italian, asking if he knew why the trains were not running. He rolled his eyes, lit his cigarette, and said, “I don’t speak English.”
I replied in English, returning the eyeroll saying “Dude. That was Italian.” Immediately, the walls were down and he became my personal advocate. He spent the next 30 minutes running around the bus parking lot, scanning the bus schedules and asking tour bus operators for information. As he spoke to one, I heard him refer to me as “la signora poverina” or “the poor lady”. That was a rapid change of heart.
At some point, I picked up a second advocate on the “Get Tis to Bari” effort. The two men worked the parking lot together, finally locating a group of Italians that were also headed to Bari. These were friendly Italians as opposed to the obnoxious group I spent the previous day with, touring the Murgia.
My People Go to Work
The group welcomed me and then ignored me, as they furiously worked on solving my transit problem. They had tickets for the bus while mine was for the train, both belonging to the same company and costing the same price.
When the driver of the bus arrived, the group, my new best friends, accosted him. Let’s just say he was not expecting this nor did he welcome it. While I am a bit of a dreamer, early indications showed that I was clearly not going to be adding him to my group of allies.
Luckily for me, my allies greatly outnumbered him and were more persistent so his resistance was futile. He was forced to let me on the bus but took great pleasure in giving me a lecture about how my ticket was only valid on the train. I passed on the opportunity to ask him when the next train was leaving today that I could catch.
The Painful Part of the Journey
At this point in my day, I expected to be on a lovely local train, complete with a fully functioning toilet. Given that, I had enjoyed a myriad of farewell morning beverages on my cave apartment terrace, including the last of the peach juice, a couple of cups of tea, and water to begin my day properly hydrated.
In the vision of my perfect day, I would board the train, wait for everyone to get settled and the train to depart (so I would be sure no one would jump off with my bag), and take the first opportunity to use the bathroom.
There was no bathroom on this bus.
Regrets. I’ve Had a Few
I immediately regretted my pleasant morning filled with lovely beverages as I sat on the bus to Bari with no bathroom and they sat on my bladder. OMG this is going to be tricky. I sat there imagining if it would be visible when I wet my pants in my navy dress and tights.
To accurately plan the length of my misery, I checked google maps for the time required to reach Bari by car. As I suspected it was one hour and a half with no stops. Before we departed, some young kids got on. They had no ticket as there was nowhere to buy them on Sundays (shocking) but they were told they could buy one in Altamura. While the four of them bought a ticket I could use the bathroom!
The Painful Journey Finally Begins
Finally, we left. I anxiously watched our progress on Google maps as we began our journey to Bari via Altamura. When we stopped before leaving Matera to pick up a man at a random bus stop I almost jumped off and ran into the field nearby. Then to add to my pain, a tractor got on the road ahead of us and we were unable to pass.
This is going to be such a long day…
Finally, we were approaching Altamura. The bus took a roundabout way into the center of Altamura. Our progress was incredibly slow on tiny streets filled with slow traffic. I passed the time watching all the caffès just outside my window. At one point I almost asked to jump off and catch back up with the bus. It was moving so slowly I’d have plenty of time to fit in a bathroom break. Given the status of my relationship with the bus driver, I decided against that option.
When we arrived at the Altamura bus stop, I saw a vision of loveliness in the form of a sign saying “Public Toilet”. Of course, when I asked the driver if I could jump off and use it, he said he did not know of a bathroom nearby.
Are you kidding me? It’s literally right in front of you! When I realized this was his way to pay me back for the completely irresponsible use of my train ticket on the bus, I went back to my seat, resigned to my fate.
Thankfully, when we finally made it back to the highway, we were able to make good progress. Within 45 painful minutes, we were in Bari and I was running as fast as I could drag my bags. I am sure there is some lovely video surveillance footage of the train station that day as I hurled myself toward the bathroom.
Running Out of Options
I could not find one. Unbelievable. However, I saw a ticket machine and checked for the next train to Polignano. It was leaving in ten minutes. Quickly I purchased a ticket and ran for the track, hoping the train would arrive early. As I was standing on the platform, I heard an announcement that the track had changed, so I had to run down the steps and over to the next platform.
Finally, the train arrived. I did not wait for it to leave the station to ensure my bags would remain on board while I used the facilities. At that point, I would have probably given someone my bag in exchange for a toilet.
A Plea to Southern Italy
Southern Italy, I love you. You have many beautiful things to share with visitors. One suggestion from a weary traveler? Work on upping your game on the transit situation. Your visitors will appreciate it beyond your imagination.
Ciao for now!