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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Friends, Old and New

As it seems to be with Lorenz and Corinne, we were with people who all had made at least one other of their European tours. I knew Lorenz, Corinne, Bill and Bob. Andre, Christian and Pat were not on their first tour with Lorenz, but I met them for the first time on this one.

Then, here in southern Italy, we all made new friends: Sassi and Trulli. They are unique, southern Italian individuals and it was a pleasure to have made their acquaintances. Sassi is strong and good on the hills. Trulli, on the other hand, is nimble and quick, changing directions on tricky curves in ways that leave others looking on in wonder. They were good companions who provided us interesting stories and lasting memories. But, before we discuss this pair, let's get through the transition from tourists to cyclists...

As cycling tours go, this one was a long time getting rolling. The time in Naples was part of the tour in the larger sense and we certainly enjoyed seeing the sights. However, the only progress made by bicycles was our rolling them across the hotel parking lot to the trailer and van which would deliver us and them to Matera, Sassi's home and the city from which riding would finally commence.

Bus and trailer loaded and ready for the trip from Naples to Matera

We pulled into Matera in the afternoon and parked near the edge of the older part of the city. There were No Parking signs up, but we figured they didn't apply to us. The idea was to send out scouts to find the hotel. You might think I am making this up, but take into account that many of the cities and towns we visited were built hundreds of years ago (Matera was founded in the 3rd century BC) when motorized vehicles were still only vague concepts in Leonardo's notebooks. Streets are narrow, winding and many lead into cul de sacs. Or is that culs de sac? Whatever... So it only makes sense to scout out the situation before committing a small bus pulling a trailer into the labyrinth - you never know what might happen, although on this day, we were treated to a first hand look at one of the possibilities. The scouts returned and reported with great precision that the hotel was "over that way," pointing in a more or less easterly direction.

Typical of the narrow streets we encountered throughout the tour

We entered the older part of town and quickly came to a point where our options were "left" or "right." The stubby stone post and large rock in the center of the street off to the left and the open access to the street to the right made it clear to Lorenz which way to go. Left. It was only by virtue of his well honed bus-trailer driving skills that he was able to squeeze between the granite obstacles and the buildings that were hard up against the edge of the street.

Stones in the street mean "Do not enter." Sometimes.

Things immediately began to look less than promising so a few of us went ahead to assess the situation. Seems as though the street morphed into a stairway just a few hundred feet from where we were stopped. Upon hearing this report, Lorenz started to drive on; I was sure for a moment that he only viewed this situation as a challenge to his driving skills that needed to be dealt with more persistance. Persistance is, of course, a good thing. When you are right. We were actually reminded of this truth several times during the tour. However, Lorenz quickly decided that perhaps this was not the right way to go so he stopped and began the process of turning around. Now remember, we are at the end of a narrow street in an ancient Italian city in a small bus pulling a large trailer. "Turning around" was not just a matter of turning around. We unhitched the trailer and Lorenz executed the "Y" turn maneuver, requiring something like 27 forward-and-back moves to get the 6 meter long bus turned around in the 7 meter wide street. Upon finally accomplishing the reversal, he drove back up past the stone barrier. We then manually swung the trailer around and pushed it up to the van - this being, thankfully, much easier than I had imagined.

Stuck. Almost.

We were off. For about two blocks. Then, the street emptied into a pedestrian square. Let me just say that getting around this required some more deft driving, advice from several Italian men and finally, Lorenz taking one of them on board to serve as a guide to get back onto the streets and then to the hotel. Now that was Lorenz, the newly commissioned local guide, the bus and the trailer. But not us. We just stood there and watched as Lorenz rolled into an adjacent street and disappeared around the corner.

Into the square

We finally found our lodgings after asking several times for directions. When we walked down the final set of steps to the level of the narrow street at the front of the hotel, we met Lorenz who had obviously been successfully guided to a small parking area. Some the luggage had already been unloaded and we collected our belongings and proceeded to check in.

Last flight down to hotel

At the destination at last

Our view of Matera from the window of our room

It was during all of this wandering around that we had our introduction to Matera. What an amazing place it is. The old part of the city starts at the level of the surrounding countryside, but spills over into a ravine, its white buildings tumbling down one side and washing up the other.

An amazing city

But what was most interesting was that the stone edifices were built around caves which comprised a large part of the interior space, as you can see in this example - our hotel room:

Man cave

It was a long, interesting day that led to a night of deep sleep, aided by the cool night air coming through the windows.

Coming next, we FINALLY get on the bikes. But not until we played tourists one more time.

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