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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Maybe we Should Actually Ride our Bikes

Thursday, March 15

The riding started and then got into full swing during the next two days of the tour. It just seemed the right thing to do, being a BICYCLE tour and all that. Today's ride was, shall we say, a reserved effort as we had some things to see and, of course, did not want to get into serious pedaling too quickly.

Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a unique place, worthy of a closer look. Accordingly, we all agreed to ask Corinne to arrange for a local guide to spend the morning with us. It was a wise decision. I know, that's a bit hard to believe, but it happens every so often.

Our guide a) who introduced herself and b) whose name I forget, said the earliest inhabitants simply lived in the depressions and shallow caves in the walls of the ravine. Fronts were gradually closed in and the caves eventually all but disappeared from view, being absorbed in the structures that emerged. However, the people, having the history of living in the open caves, did not put doors on the buildings. Ever. Over the years, conditions in the old part of town deteriorated into a state of severe poverty, the area rife with diseases such as malaria. It got so bad that officials had apartments built in the 1950's and pretty much forced the residents to move into them. The first thing the people did was remove the doors from their new dwelling places. Cultural DNA is a powerful force.

The walking tour gave us a chance to see a variety of buildings in town, now clean and occupied again. There are homes, apartments, shops, hotels and restaurants. One stop was a restored private dwelling, providing insights into daily life early in the last century.

Old photo of the family in the restored home we visited on the tour

The family home, restored for us to try and grasp what it must have been like to live there

So many of the buildings in Matera incorporate caves, including the Rupestrian churches. This designation arises from the paintings on the rock walls, something we had a chance to see on our tour.

Rupestrian church artwork

It was a fascinating, educational morning. And, a bit sobering. Life was not easy for the people who lived in this area prior to the condemnation and subsequent renewal. Many worked in fields at distances that required them to be away from their homes for days at a time. Children too young to work suffered greatly as they were left at home with little care, Thankfully, things are better now. I must admit, touched as I was by the history shared by our guide, it was hard to see this place as anything but a unique, beautiful town.

And now, it was time to ride. Really, I mean it this time. We actually put on shorts and jerseys, got the bikes out of the storage room at the hotel and set out for an afternoon jaunt.

Our guide had suggested a ride out of town to visit another church, and we set out in that direction. I think. As we navigated through town, the group separated; as Laurenz had asked a policeman on a motorbike about the best way out of town, Bob and Bill continued on. Thinking they were unaware of what was going on, I took off to get them back. But Bob was sure that our destination was on one of the routes Laurenz had suggested in the pre-tour information we had been provided and that he was on that route and he would continue. In the end, the three of us headed out to find our own way.

We rode out of town and quickly missed the turn for the route we were pursuing. A mile or so later the road we were on ended as it merged onto a multi-lane, limited access highway. It was here we realized what had happened so back we went, up the road - literally up - to the point where we should have turned. It was then a steep, short descent during which we were accompanied by some farm dogs who kindly came out to cheer us on.

While this was technically the right road, it was not one for road bikes. Bob was determined to press on, so we invited him to go off the pavement which had ended abruptly and report back what he found around the next turn. He went on down the deeply rutted dirt road then came back a few minutes later saying what lay beyond was worse.

This does not look like the route. Unless you are Laurenz, of course

We came down it, now we had to go back up

At this point, our little trek was redefined as a short bike check ride and it was agreed the bikes were in good shape. Having reached this key point in the tour, we headed back to town, found a pub and had a beer (or two) to celebrate.

Next, we really, really get going on the cycling tour as we head east from Matera to the city of Alberobello where we would meet Trulli.

Ride totals
Distance: 9.2 miles
Total Ascent: 1,060 feet

Today's Ride:

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