Monday, March 24, 2014

Strange Journey - Chapter 7


Friend or foe?

The train rolled on. The countryside lacked the majesty of the Alpine landscape of the train to Milan, but in its sunlit flatness it had a certain Zen quality. At one point Chris and Lotte saw what Chris thought were some Italian breed of monster cow, but Lotte said that they must be a herd of buffalo, bred for their milk from which buffalo mozzarella is made.

"Buffalo mozzarella really comes from buffalos?" said Chris. "I thought it was like buffalo wings."

"Buffalo wings? I do not know them. What are they?"

"You get them in pubs at home. They are chicken wings. I think in some kind of sauce. I wouldn't really know. I don't eat them myself. I, eh, don't eat meat."

"But why are they called buffalo wings? Buffalos do not have wings."

"I don't know. I think maybe the sauce is some kind of Tex Mex thing and they call them buffalo wings because they used to have buffalos down there."

"It does not seem to make much sense. In Germany we would not use such terms."

After several more hours of flat countryside their train finally arrived in Bari. They descended from their carriage.

"So, do you want to get a cab to the ferry port or shall we walk?"

"Let's walk," said Chris, who had a phobia about taxis. "We have plenty of time and it would be nice to see some of the city."

"Yes, and perhaps we could stop for lunch? It would be nice to have one more pizza before leaving Italy."

"You can never have too many pizzas," agreed Chris.

So they walked off from the square in front of the station, through streets with modern buildings arranged in a grid system. The afternoon heat of the sun was still strong, which may have been why there was almost no one else out on the streets.

"It's not really what I expected," said Chris.


"No, I had picked up the idea that Bari was an old city of crumbling buildings and narrow back alleyways."

"Perhaps we will find them soon enough."

They walked on past a park, in which some loafers were lying in the shade. Chris could not tell from their distance whether they were unemployed or homeless locals, backpackers catching up on sleep or students taking a break from lectures. Or something else entirely. They did not investigate and continued on, arriving into a plaza on which the big municipal buildings lay. The plaza was as largely devoid of people as the streets leading to it. In the square itself there were trees and statues, while the buildings had an older character to them than those seen so far.

"I would like to sit down for a moment," said Lotte, leading them to a bench shaded by a tree whose provenance was unknown to Chris, who was no great expert on trees. They took off their rucksacks and sat under the tree, looking around at the attractive buildings.

"I think we will see your old streets that way," said Lotte, pointing to roads leading off the plaza on the far side. They were narrower than the ones on the side they had come from. They also did not project from the square in anything approximating to a grid pattern and looked like they were not designed to connect two points by the most direct route. Chris looked at the map he had printed off from the Internet.

"I think we get to the ferry that way," he said, pointing at one of the streets. "It will bring us past this old castle thing."

They moved on and soon found themselves beside an enormous fortress. It was not a true mediaeval castle but more one of those star-shaped fortifications built after the invention of gunpowder, with huge sloping walls and built-in crossfire zones for the defenders. Chris had a bit of a thing for military history and would have liked to explore it properly, but they did not really have the time. Instead they stopped for a pizza and a beer in a small restaurant that looked out on the castle. The streets around here were almost as quiet as in the rest of the town, but there were still places open and a trickle of customers using them. Chris and Lotte enjoyed their last Italian pizza and then moved on, stopping only to buy ice creams to eat as they walked along.

"The ice cream is good here," said Lotte. "I mean better than in Bologna. It was good there too. But here is better."

"I liked the pizza I had in Milan, but that one we just had was amazing. The south seems to be where it's at for food."

"We should go to Naples sometime and try the pizza, for I have read that it was invented there and is the nicest in the world."

Chris's heart skipped a beat at her casual reference to the two of them going anywhere together, but he tried not to let it show externally.

"I've often wondered what it must be like there," was all he said in reply. "People keep saying it is dirty and dangerous, but I would love to see it."

"Lively and colourful, that is what I think it would be," she said, with a slight laugh.

The reached a waterfront corniche. "I think we go this way," said Chris, turning them to the right. They walked along on the seaward side, seeing to their right that the city rose up on a hill now. This looked far more like the urban landscape of twisting alleyways and piled up old buildings that Chris had expected to see in Bari.

"It would be nice to explore up there, but we must go on to the ferry," said Lotte sensibly.

As they reached the entrance to the ferryport, they saw over to their right a bar on the side of the road with the charming name, in English, of "The Tittie Twister".

"I'm surprised it's open," said Chris. Lotte looked at him, not really understanding. "You know, I thought they would only be open at night."

"But people sometimes like to go for a drink during the daytime."

"Yes but, the name… it's the same as the bar in the film From Dusk Til Dawn."

"I have not seen this film."

"Oh it's brilliant! George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino are these two brothers on the run from the law who kidnap this family and then escape across the border to Mexico. Then there is a big twist in the plot and it goes all different."

"I will try to see it."

They walked into the ferryport. It was not immediately obvious where they were meant to to catch their ferry, as it appeared that ferries and other boats to all kinds of destinations left from there. The last thing they wanted was to find themselves inadvertently boarding a boat to Albania, so they took great care to eventually find themselves in the terminal for their boat to Patras. Chris sat with their bags while Lotte went to the toilet. While sitting there he noticed a short but stocky red-haired man in shades come wandering into the terminal building. He looked around and then seemed to spot Chris and started ambling over towards him. Chris did not recognise the man in the slightest but started wondering whether he might be some old acquaintance he had forgotten about. Then he remembered the memory stick, which he had largely forgotten about while chatting to Lotte.

"Here mate," the man said as he came up to Chris. "You speak English? Is this where I get the ferry to Greece?"

"I think so," said Chris. "Well it had better be, because that's where I'm going."

"Yeah, I'm off to Greece too but I'm not staying there. I gotta go on, see. The port where the ferry brings you, can you get a boat on to Turkey there?"

Chris was having trouble placing the man's accent. It was a bit unusual, yet his relaxed speaking approach suggested he was a native speaker of English. But his inflexions and turns of phrase seemed to drift from place to place.

"From Patras? I wouldn't think so, it's the wrong side of Greece. If you went on to Athens you might be able to get a ferry from there."

Even as he said this Chris found himself thinking with some trepidation that these words could mean that this guy would be tagging along with him all the way to Athens.

"You can get a boat to Turkey from Athens?"

"Well I don't know, but it's the right side of the country for it. Maybe you could get a bus or a train to Istanbul from there as well."

"Istanbul, that's in Turkey?"

"Eh, yeah," said Chris, trying not to communicate that he now thought this guy was a bit of a moron.

"And you can get a ferry there from Athens?"

"Well, from Piraeus. Maybe."

"What's Piraeus?"

"It's the port of Athens. You get ferries there to the islands."

"So if I go to Piraeus I could get a boat to Turkey?"

"Well I don't know, but you might be able to get a ferry to an island near Turkey and then get another boat from there to the mainland."

"It sounds very complicated." He sounded like it genuinely was all a bit much for him. "I just want to get to Turkey as easily as I can, you see."


Lotte was back with them now.

"Hi there, my name's Gav." He held out his hand for her to shake, which she did.

"I'm Lotte."

"Lotte - oh, you're German." His tone and facial expression suggested this was something he approved of.

"Yes, I am."

"And what's your name, mate?"

"Chris," said Chris. Gav shook his hand.

"Looks like we're all headed off to Greece together then!" said Gav.


The story continues

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