Italy: Up the Adriatic Coast

Up Italy’s Adriatic Coast

 

Last fall, my mother and I took a bus trip down the Eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea covering the whole eastern shoreline – or as much of it as the road would allow from Slovenia to Albania (for more about that trip, read my “Down the Eastern Adriatic” series of posts).

I’ve always wanted to do same thing with the Italy’s Adriatic coast. I wanted to begin in Lecce, and make stops in Bari, Vieste, Ancona, Rimini, Ravenna, and Venice. The trip I actually took was a little different. For one thing: I’ve been lugging around an enormous dog crate which I’ll need only when I reach Frankfurt. For another, I didn’t have nearly enough time for all of those stops. My trip was restricted to Foggia, and Ancona and all the miles of seaside railway track between the two.

Foggia

Foggia was more a stop of convenience than beauty. Foggia is the jumping off point for visitors to the Gargano National Park. My original plan was to spend two nights in Foggia and make a day trip out to Vieste, but after my first afternoon I wanted to shake the dust off my feet and get out-of-town.

The huge dog crate was at the source of my displeasure. Deciding to do things the easy way I grabbed a taxi from the train station. The hotel wasn’t far, but it was just a bit too far.  Besides I wanted to spend the afternoon exploring the town, not lugging a dog crate to the hotel. The taxi had no meter and when we arrived at the hotel 3.5 minutes later the driver informed me that the fare was 15 Euro. I was furious but a bit of a hostage. So I paid the money and grumbled about dishonest cabbies – every country has them.

I’d booked a room in a cute little bed and breakfast at the edge of the old town. I rang the bell. No answer. I rang the bell again. Still no answer. I thought that maybe they didn’t get my note about arrival time. so I set up camp on their doorstep and waited…and waited…and waited. At the time I didn’t mind. The bed and breakfast was right next to a small covered area undoubtedly used on market days. The neighbors stared, and one even told me I couldn’t sleep there (a real danger considering I’d had a very long night on the ferry passage from Albania). I tried to ask to use someone’s phone but no one spoke English and no one seemed to want to communicate. So I waited.

The narrow streets of old Foggia
The narrow streets of old Foggia

The proprietors never turned up and so I picked up my pack, grabbed my dog and the handle of her crate and began slogging back across town. I stopped in every hotel I passed (that had a reasonable rate) and asked if they allowed dogs. ‘No.” was always the firm answer. Finally one place told me that Hotel Europa, by the train station allowed dogs.

When I arrived at Hotel Europa and asked the man at the front desk about dogs he said.

“Yes, but only small ones – this one is big.” Just to be clear, bonnie is not a big dog. She is a tiny bit too big to be a small dog, and she has the build of a big dog, but she is not large (her travel crate, on the other hand, is enormous).

“She can stay in the box,” I offered. I must have looked like I was about to cry because the man relented and gave me a key to a room on the second floor. I grabbed her box and headed to the lift – only to find that it was not large enough for a single person, let alone a large dog box. I groaned in frustration and then began half carrying half dragging the crate up the stairs.

Statue in Piazza Umberto Giordano in Foggia, Italy
This statue in Piazza Umberto Giordano in Foggia, Italy represents the characters in one of Giordano’s best known operas

The room, when I got there smelled of old cigarettes. The addictions of thousands of people over several decades had sunk into the woodwork, the furniture, the drapes, and I don’t doubt even the walls of the small room last renovated sometime in the 1960’s.

exhausted from a long day, I dropped onto the little bed and fell asleep. When I awoke an hour later, it was just in time to go enjoy the town’s evening stroll.

What I found was a relaxed, quiet little city with plenty of shopping and a photogenic old section. What bonnie found was a fun black and beige puppy named black to chase her around the cobbled streets.

The pleasure of the evening stroll was not enough to keep me in town another day, and so the next morning I hauled the huge dog box down the two flights of stairs (inflicting some impressively colorful bruises in the process) and over to the train station where I bought my ticket to Ancona.

 

On the Train

The train follows the coast. Sometimes you can even see waves lapping at the rocks that hold the rail bed in place. Towns filled with ordinary, cement houses and fringed with ordinary supermarkets and big-box shopping centers dot the train line. This is modern Italy – stripped of the romance and the mystery.

When I borded the train I thought I was supposed to get on the last car – some regional trains only allow dogs in the last car. So I threw Bonnie’s box up the last set of steps and then climbed on after it. Only as the train began to pull away did I realize that I’d climbed onto a first class car. I shrugged, being unable to alter the situation and moved the enormous box so that people could squeeze past it. Then I put a nervous Bonnie inside, She was so terrified when the train screeched into the station that she pulled loose of her collar and it was all I could do to call her back). Then I went to find my seat two cars forward.

The names of the towns blurred together. Even those towns known for their interesting old towns somehow managed to be just cement villas and half empty warehouses. Most of the beach front has been developed – rows of chez-loung chairs and umbrellas marking off each family’s space.

An Italian man I met in Gjirokaster, Albania last year mentioned this. He cautioned our Albanian hotel keeper: be careful that you do not make the mistake we did in Italy – do not develop all of your beautiful coast. It is a caution I have been careful to repeat often to my Albanian friends. Many Albanians, on the other hand, see this development as an improvement. It makes more places accessible to more people. The balance is a tricky one.

 

The train from Foggia to Ancona, Italy
The train from Foggia to Ancona, Italy

 

Falconara Marittima

The train pulled into Ancona around 2pm. I dragged the enormous crate on to the platform and out to the street to wait for a bus to Falconara Marittime – the small community just north of the historic port where I’d booked a hotel room.

because...flowers
because…flowers

The look the bus driver gave me expressed my own feelings about the dog crate: ‘you HAVE to be kidding me!’

“Maybe through the back door?” I suggest in the most supplicant tone I can muster. I heard the driver mumble something about “…porto” and I took that to mean ‘try the back door.’

I drug the crate onto the bus by way of the back door and found a space among the people standing in an open handicap area. I put Bonnie into the crate and leaned up against it watching the Adriatic sea float by as we flew along the little highway to Falconara.

Thirty minutes later, after long slog up a hill with the dog crate, I found my way to Albergo Tende Verde – a modest hotel with an enthusiastically friendly staff who stowed my crate, made me coffee, and showed Bonnie me up the stairs to pleasant a little room with a large balcony and plenty of space for us both. The welcome and the room were just what I needed after two long days of travel, and I was excited to settle in for a couple of days.

iazza in Falconara Marittima, Italy
The central Piazza in Falconara Marittima, Italy
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