I think I picked the route well today. I wanted flat and that’s what I got!
It seemed a slow start this morning and when I posted from Venosa I was a little anxious that I would be cutting it fine to arrive in Matera and find a hotel before nightfall. More of that later…
Following a gentle descent from Venosa I joined the main road to Spinazzola. A good quality road that allowed me to put some kilometres under my belt. Spinazzola would have been my first town in Puglia had I chosen to turn left before continuing to Gravina in Puglia but from a distance it didn’t shout ‘stop here and write something whimsical about me on your blog’. So I didn’t. I did however make a stop at Spinazzola’s most unfriendly service station to buy two bottles of water; the woman didn’t even ring my 3€ into the till whose money draw seemed to be permanently open. This despite there being two policemen stood at the bar having a drink. What happened to receipts being given and keeping hold of them for 100 metres? Marcello in Rome; get your mates to check it out!
Fully laden with water I set off across the desert of Puglia. That’s what I referred to it as earlier and it was no exaggeration. Hot, arid, baron. All it needed was a few snakes and David Attenborough in a cream suit with a film crew to prove me right. Many of the farmers had decided to burn off the stubble from their land and at one point the flames were just next to the road. If I had paused, I’m not sure who would have melted first; me or Reggie. Poor Henry Helium (the tent) would have dissolved into the ground quicker than the wicked witch of the west…
36 kilometres later with a slight sunburn on the exposed parts of the right hand side of my body (I am now cycling east rather than south) I approached Gravina in Puglia. I wrote last week about names that conjure up images and Gravina in Puglia could be one of those places. Just a shame that in Gravina’s case it was a bit of a dump. Think Mad Max (we’ll come back to Mel Gibson in a few moments by the way) with more litter. I needed sustenance however and sat outside an ice-cream bar consuming a delicious melon, lemon and peach cone (does that count as three of my five-a-day?). It did strike me by the way that there is a killing to be made in Italy for anyone who decides to open up the first 24 hour shop. My choice of places to eat at 3pm was either the ice-cream parlour or, err… the ice-cream parlour. Someone propose the idea to the Dragons and I’ll take 5% of he profits for suggesting the niche in the market.
I prayed and hoped that the road to Matera from Gravina would at least be flat. The patron saint of cyclists (there surely is one) must have been smiling down on me as the road was not just flat, it was slightly downhill more or less all of the way. Joy.
Until the last few kilometres. As I approached Matera I thought to myself “what is that horrible place over there on my left; and why is it not on my map?”. All I could see were modern housing blocks. No houses built into the rock, but as I neared the blot on the landscape it was indeed Matera. Not what I had expected at all. I continued, up the long hill that lead me to the centre of the development. At least the ‘centro’ signs had still not run out so I could remain hopeful of an improvement.
Of course it did and I found the delightful historic centre of the town a few minutes later. The picture here by the way is the main square rather than famous houses that Mel Gibson had built into the rock to make his film ‘The Passion of the Christ’. Have I got that right?
My struggles were not over however on arrival in Matera. I needed somewhere to sleep. The tourist office took one look at me in my increasingly shabby Lycra, sweating from the afternoon’s exertions and pointed me in the direction of the bed and breakfast accommodation. I pointedly informed them that I preferred a hotel, and not a crap one at that! I was ready to launch into ‘do you know that I have just cycled from London and this is my last night on the road…’ rant but held back. They suggested a hotel and I checked it out but it was full. I wandered around Mel Gibson’s part of town for a bit without finding anything else. Dejected, I was preparing for the B&B option when suddenly in front of me loomed the ‘4 star’ Hotel San Domenica. It looked just my kind of place to celebrate my last night on the road. Expecting a three-figure number for the price I almost squealed when the guy behind the desk said the price was only 80€. Brilliant!
I’ll check out the film set tomorrow morning and then it will be time to head for Cisternino. Basil: I don’t think either of us believed I would get anywhere near Puglia when we shook hands after breakfast on the 18th July and I shuffled off down the Wokingham Road but now it really is time to put that kettle on!