It begins with a sound. A hushed whisper. Water lapping against sand. Then a fragrance. Mildly humid, salty air. That air breezes through an open door. You feel the sea air on your skin. Gently awoken by the calming sensations, you open your eyes and the first light of sunrise greets you. Is this a dream, you wonder?
Slowly the sleep recedes and you come to your senses. Your mind clicks, and you’re able to place yourself. You’re not dreaming, this is all real. You roll over, gaze out that open door and smile.
Buongiorno amore mio, sei a casa. Welcome to Torre a Mare, Puglia, Italy.
After seven months of non-stop travel, having not stayed in one place longer than two weeks, I was ready for some downtime, ready to rest.
Before I started this adventure, I had targeted Italy, specifically Bari, as a cornerstone location. I have forever put off a vacation to Italy because when I came, I wanted to “do it right.” In my head, that meant spending enough time to truly get to know it. The Italian side of my heritage hails from Puglia and so it seemed right to spend time here. The loose plan was three months in Italy, with a full month in Puglia.
I booked this apartment way back in May while sitting in my charming studio in Zagreb. I was torn between a few different locations. This apartment was outside central Bari and would require a 30-minute commute to reach. It is set right on the water and was within budget, so it remained a contender. After several internal dialogs, the thought of slowing down and resting in a quiet place won out.
Even so, I was still nervous that the location would be too quiet for an entire month’s stay. This feeling remained as the arrival day grew closer. Even on the eight-hour-long train ride down from La Spezia, and the first walk through the quaint town square, it remained. It remained until I woke up on my first morning and all my senses were alerted to the tranquility of my location.
On that first morning, I made coffee, sat on the balcony, and gazed in awe at my view of the seemingly endless Adriatic. I’ve done this same thing every morning of my stay. It’s a highlight of my time here. I’ve treasured it every morning and will miss it every morning until I return again.
My romanticism was activated that first morning, and I’ve been in love ever since.
There’s something fascinating knowing other places I’ve been are across this water, just beyond my gaze. Albania, the surprise joy of this adventure to date, is quite literally due east across from here, with Montenegro and Croatia just further north. I am reminded of how I gazed west from Dubrovnik, Ulcinj and Himarë, and wondered what Puglia would be like.
These sentiments bring a level of closure to me. Swimming in the Adriatic from both its east and west coasts has provided a wonderful full-circledness. Having spent the better part of half a year near its waters, I have a deep connection with and understanding of it.
My connection to Torre a Mare is equally deep and certainly strong, if not surprising.
Perhaps it’s the idea that part of my family is from this area. Sannicandro di Bari, the town where my great-grandfather, Giuseppe, emigrated from is about a 20-minute drive from Torre a Mare. For some reason, I’ve always strongly identified with the Italian part of my heritage, even though it only makes up a quarter part. And honestly, that connection has only gotten stronger now that my feet are touching the same soil.
Whatever it might be, this town has all the fixins’ of a perfect place for me. Life is slow and simple here. This is not a tourist destination, people don't come here. There's no pretense about it, just people living day by day.
It’s quiet and calm, with just the right number of cafes, restaurants and bars. It’s on the sea, providing that extra level of calm, not to mention the opportunity for a beach day every day. When the mood strikes and I want a city vibe, Bari is only a 15-minute train ride away.
Everything is local here, from the produce to the cheese, to of course the seafood. And the food, oh the food! Puglia might just be my favorite culinary region of Italy. Panzerotti is my new best friend, and Apulian focaccia is on another level. Mix the previously mentioned seafood, caught daily, into the equation and it's culinary nirvana for me.
Plus the sunrises and sunsets here are the stuff of legend. Purples, pinks, yellows and oranges painted on the sky, reflecting off the ripples of the Adriatic. I sit back, sip coffee or Aperol Spritz and enjoy the twice daily show!
So how have I spent my time? It’s been a wonderful mix of relaxing and active. A typical day has looked like this … wake up, coffee and a book on the balcony, a short walk along the water, work until lunchtime, post lunch espresso and another walk along the water, a bit more work, aperitivo on the balcony, make dinner, a stroll to get gelato and some YouTube before bed. Toss in some wonderful runs along the water, and a few beach days and life’s pretty darn good.
Having a kitchen and being able to cook again has been a real treat. I've realized how much I have missed it and how much joy it brings me. I have taken full advantage to perfect a few Italian classics, including Cacio e Pepe and Carbonara, but most especially pizzas. All those fresh, local ingredients truly take food to another level.
Since I had a two-bedroom apartment for a month, I invited my friend and fellow nomad, Jason, to come down. We had been roommates in a hostel up in Genova a few weeks prior and hit it off immediately. Having another person around is always good to balance out the solo travel. We spent our days working and the evenings out exploring. After about a week, Jason was off to Sicily to catch up with another friend. It was great to see how he was handling nomad life, and his work/life balance. I definitely came away with some new ideas on how to make this lifestyle more sustainable in the long term.
I’ve sprinkled in a few afternoons in Bari to get some city life vibes. Like much of the rest of Puglia, it's super underrated. Or perhaps I like a little grunge on a city. It's definitely a Mediterranean city, with its sea breeze, palm trees and Venetian architecture. The old town, San Nicola, is perched on a point jutting into the sea, and surprisingly large. It's also where San Nicola Cathedral is located, which is said to be the resting place of Ole' Saint Nick ... yeah, that one.
Most of the region is well connected via train, so I’ve taken a few other day trips as well, my favorite being an evening in Polignano.
I also spent an overnight down south in Taranto, which was super fun. The city sits inside the Gulf of Taranto at the southern edge of the country. The old town is completely self-contained on a small island which is pretty cool. The city has a great walking promenade that comes alive in the evening.
I actually had more short trips planned for my time here but was really smitten with life in Torre a Mare. So Napoli, Matera, Gargano, Lecce and many other places will have to wait till next time.
This month has been nearly perfect from all angles. I got the much-needed time to rest and recover from a wonderfully busy seven months. I enjoyed the opportunity to have a couch to lay on while doing next to nothing. Like a Sunday afternoon, but on any day of the week.
This was the plan, what I was looking forward to and what I expected. What I didn’t expect was the deep connection I have forged with this small fishing outpost. If I were picking places that “get” me, Torre a Mare would be at the top of the list.
The underlying current for choosing this adventure has always been about finding what’s next. Perhaps I just did.
For now, though, it's time for the next adventure.