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May 17, 2006

Massafra - Taranto - San Pietro in Bevagna, 75 km

In Massafra we have a hard time finding the small country road to Taranto that is on our map. The signs to Taranto take you there on a major, heavily trafficked route. As is often the case, the minor road through small villages has no signs at all and when we ask someone on the road side, expecting locals will know, we are sent exactly to that highway that we are trying to avoid.

Entering the city of Taranto is easy. I tend to worry about the approach to larger cities, this time unnecessarily so. As the traffic and ratio of trucks to cars increases, we have a wide shoulder to ride on, past the smoking chimneys of industry on the one side and the remains of a Roman viaduct on the other, a strange contrast.

The old part of Taranto is in a sad state of disrepair. But it definitely has charm if you are able to disregard the extreme poverty. What were once grand palazzi are now crumbling ruins, much of the old city is not inhabited or rather is not inhabitable.


 The Castello Aragones of Taranto

Taranto is today, as in its long history, an important commercial and military port. The Castello Aragonese, beautifully and strategically located at the entrance of the canal separating the old and new parts of the city, is maintained by the Italian Navy.

I think this must be lunch-rush-hour traffic we encounter on our way out of Taranto. For kilometers the traffic is at a standstill, to our advantage of course. We zip past them all. This isn't the first time we've seen the cities and towns in Apulia absolutely choked with cars.

On the coastal road it's a different story. The road is quiet, the view fantastic and we even have friendly tailwinds to propell us along.

The Tourist Information Office in Taranto assured us that there would be plenty of hotels along the coast and, more imortant, that they would surely be open this early in the season. However, the further we get from Taranto the more off-season the towns look. Restaurants, campings, cafés, markets and hotels are in abundance, but they are all boarded up. But then San Pietro comes to our rescue. The hotel here is open and its restaurant has excellent seafood.

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