"Bari - First Impressions..." Top 5 Page for this destination Bari by johngayton

Bari Travel Guide: 133 reviews and 335 photos

...don't let them fool you!

After reading the negative comments on VT it was with a degree of trepidation that I detrained from Bari Centrale to find that perhaps those warnings were indeed to be heeded. Arriving about 7 pm: before I had even left the railway platform there was a homeless guy crashed-out on a bench in the evening heat. A guy with a very oily misfit of a suit asked if I wanted a taxi, despite the rank of white cabs lined up at the main exit. Needless to say I declined but before getting a cab to my hotel I decided to check on the map at the local tourist info booth, next to which another homeless guy was also crashed, exactly where my hotel was. The tourist booth itself was shut but the faded map in the window gave me a rough idea of the expected route.
The piazza in front of the station was teeming with local youths whilst the cars dropping and picking people up from the station provided a cacophonous backdrop to the bustle of the city as the taxi drivers did their “take no prisoners” act as they departed into the traffic flow. For a late May evening the setting sun was still surprisingly viscous and the moisture and smog laden air oppressive. The narrow streets lined with 8 and 10 storey office and residential buildings, many of the latter with the day’s laundry strung out on the balcony added to the oppressiveness of the heat.

If ever a stereotype was to be affirmed my taxi driver was it. Despite the 4-directional traffic: cars, buses, vans, a very attractive mini-skirted woman on a scooter and a few suicidal pedestrians, I don’t think his speed ever went below 30 mph with odd ten yard accelerations whenever the slightest gap emerged and we had covered the roughly 1 mile journey to the hotel, through traffic as thick as any London rush-hour’s, in less than 5 minutes.

Double-parking outside the hotel the meter clicked just over the 6 euros, “Call it 6.” he said, “Ach, call it 7.” I replied, having noted that the route, with all its weaving between main drags and cross streets, looked, from my mental city map, to have been the most direct possible.

This is when it all started to look up. The hotel is surprisingly modern and clean and despite my almost total lack of the language, check-in is informal but swift. My room is functional with its dark-green stained wood furniture, parchment beige walls and designer lighting giving it a touch of chicness.

Bari as a city is very interesting having two distinct components: The modern city of high density housing, the commercial buildings and the docks, and then the old city with its maze of narrow alleys, piazzas, churches, its castle and palace. The old city is no museum piece and its inhabitants are local people, living and working within the local area. Walking the narrow streets in the evening every shaded corner seems to have a group of people passing the time, chatting, laughing, eating, playing cards or just generally watching the world go by, giving one an immediate impression of community and also a certain guilt about being a tourist - as if walking through the streets is like walking through the people’s living rooms.

The piazzas of the old city are teeming, the terrace bars and restaurants a hubbub of chatter and laughter, groups of friends, pairs of lovers (of all ages) - I have since discovered that this is the Passagiata.

Children, some still babies being carried, abound, with the odd shrill mother’s admonishments to not stray too far. A runaway little girl, perhaps 5 years old, is chased by her mother along the street just outside the city walls, to be scooped up by perhaps a stranger, perhaps a family friend, and squirmingly delivered back to the mother with much “Grazie, Grazie!” and then a good telling-off for the child.

As late as 11 pm the bars and restaurants are still doing good business, people still arriving, the cars still parking up around the Corso’s and the Lungomare, double-parking, nose-parking any form of parking goes. Within the old city walls two cars come nose-to-nose at the 90 degree turning between two streets, neither is giving way, strangely enough no horns are blown (maybe they both have sufficient respect for the local residents), manouvering isn’t going to create the space for them to pass and by now both have other cars behind them. This is being too much of a voyeur and so I squeeze past and leave them to their own devices.

A City in the Makeover Process.

There is not much that can be done to change the way that the Modern City functions, short of razing it to the ground and starting again. The Old City, on the other hand, is in the process of being restored using traditional materials and techniques, though it must be allowed to maintain its character too, and not become another of those craft and gift shop places with overpriced bars and faux-artisans.

Looking back on the older reviews both here and elsewhere, and then looking at more modern ones: there seems to be a definite rise in satisfaction of outsider's perceptions of Bari. Adding my own impressions, I would say that this change is down to the citizens themselves - as if there is a collective will to enhance visitor's experiences - smiles and helpfulness replacing the old "scowl and shrug", mentality.

And THAT is a true makeover.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:The Old City
  • Cons:Traffic, heat and pollution in the city centre
  • In a nutshell:Definitely a city attempting to represent itself as a destination.
  • Last visit to Bari: May 2006
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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