Another place we went on our InterRail trip that was brilliant for people watching was Bari, in Italy. Bari was one of the only places we went where I hadn’t researched a number of potential hostels to stay in, because it was added to our list of destinations at the last minute. So, when Emma found a hostel that was reasonably priced, and had hairdryers (obviously a key requirement), we booked it quickly, and didn’t think much of it. Arriving in Bari after a ten hour boat journey, and fear of boats and/or seasickness meaning we hadn’t slept, we weren’t really in a fit state to find said hostel, not having trusty Google maps directions printed out, as I had for most of our previous hostels, and finding our Italian hopelessly inadequate to understand locals’ directions. So, when we came across a group of American Mormons, who said they knew where our hostel was, although we were a tad bemused by their overwhelming enthusiasm for life, we were relieved and grateful that they seemed happy to take us where we wanted to go.
However, when we arrived at what they thought was the address we had given them, it was very clearly not a hostel, but some sort of shady looking apartment block. Now, our Mormon friends looked as confused as we felt.
One of the Mormons then noticed that on our hostel booking form, there was a phone number, and very kindly offered to phone it for us, realising that none of us had any hope of conversing in Italian in person, let alone over the phone. After hearing one side of a rapid Italian phone conversation, and seeing the poor Mormon’s face fall, he then explained to us that our hostel was not, in fact, in Bari, but in Bitritto, a neighbouring town. It transpired that in order to get the bus to Bitritto, we needed to go back to where we had first met the Mormons. They did their best to keep up their cheerful chatter, but by this point we were so tired that our conversational skills were limited. They took us back to the bus stop, and checked with the driver that it was the right one, before leaving us to return to their camp.
Even in my irritable, tired state, they looked so crestfallen that they hadn’t been able to take us to our hostel that I felt really sorry for them. From what they told us, it sounded like they were living like Boy Scouts, except under orders from an unknown church elder, who could tell them to move to a new location at any time. In some ways, their lifestyle sounded fun – they had food and a place to stay provided, they got to travel, learn new languages, but it seemed to me like they didn’t have a lot of freedom, which was maybe why they were so eager to help us, to get a glimpse of travelling for the sake of it, rather than going where they were told. Maybe I’m missing something, but religious or not, I think travelling and seeing different cultures is an invaluable experience, and I would hate to be limited in where I could go by someone else’s decree.
The main square in Bitritto, illustrated map of Italy from Pinterest, and Italian Mamas cooking from jordanayan.typepad.com
When we finally got to Bitritto, once again, we found ourselves a little lost. However, the people in Bitritto were amazing. To find our hostel, we befriended an Italian woman, whose son luckily spoke English, and was so excited to find we were native English speakers, that he persuaded his dad to drive us to the hostel. Yes, I know you’re not supposed to get into cars with strangers, but since we literally had no idea where we were, we were running out of options. This time, our new favourite family knew exactly where the hostel was, and got us there in about ten minutes. Relieved doesn’t quite cover it.
Once we had left our bags in the room, we then encountered another problem – acquiring food. It seems, in Bitritto, presumably because it is a tiny town, that doesn’t seem to attract tourists, restaurants don’t open until late at night, when the locals like to have dinner. Having not eaten in about 24 hours, we weren’t ok with waiting till then, and wandered around the town until we found a café, only to be very disappointed that they didn’t serve food. However, once again, the wonderful people of Bitritto came to our rescue. The woman who, presumably, owned the café, made a phone call with lots of gesticulating, and then told us to follow her. She led us to an adorable little restaurant, which was opened just for us by our very own, wonderfully stereotypical Italian Mama. After a rapid discussion with our café rescuer, the gist of which I think was “please feed these poor, hungry girls”, she greeted us with the questions “Do you like antipasti? Pasta?” To which we said yes. Obviously. She then proceeded to bring us plate after plate of the most amazing traditional Italian food I’ve ever had – it was so good, we didn’t even stop to Instagram it.
Life lessons learnt: My OCD travel planning is not unreasonable, the Mormon lifestyle is not for me, and locals always know best.