topics: octagonal castle, Frederick the II, Trulli houses, sudden change in travel plans; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: April 8-10, 1998

Food of the Day: "Blood" Oranges

"Blood" Oranges of Sicily are so called because the meat of the fruit is a deep, dark red! This is a big surprise when to start to peel what looks like a regular looking orange and the juice that starts to run onto your hands is a red liquid, instead of the pale orange-juice color you expect.

Person of the Day: Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II

Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II was an extremely noteworthy 13th century leader. A German ruler whose kingdom was primarily in southern Italy and Sicily, he is still today recognized as one of Sicily's most enlightened rulers. Educated by the Pope (after all Frederick had the same birthday as Jesus Christ), he was crowned (at the age of four) by his father as King of Sicily. No, we're not kidding; kings are in charge and can DO things like that to their kids. After marrying at the age of 15 (not so uncommon back then, either) and proving himself an excellent military leader, at age 26, Frederick II became Holy Roman Emperor.

Frederick II traveled to Jerusalem and remained for a while in the Arab world as part of the Crusades. However, he was so enchanted by the Arab culture that he quit crusading. And when he returned to his native land, he had structures and some cities in southern Italy and Sicily built to emulate Arabian styles of architecture and décor. You can bet this did nothing to impress or please the papacy, and led to an increasing number of conflicts during his reign.

But to other folks, he seemed pretty swell; he was, in fact, known to some as Frederick the Great, and to others as Stupor Mundi, or "Wonder of the World." What made him so great? Well, he was an eccentric in literary and political arts, threw terrific and notorious parties (many of which occurred at the octagonal Castel Del Monte - see the Place of the Day) and created one of the first (non-slavery-oriented) civil service programs in Sicily.

Place of the Day: Castel del Monte click to view a photograph

About 55 km (34 mi) from Bari, the Castel del Monte stands out starkly against the sky at the top of a sloping rise, and visible from really far away. So bright is its color and bold is its shape - always present in the distance, but never seeming to get all that much closer - it almost looks like a big, isolated tenement building! click to view a photograph

The only typically castle-like defensive architectural elements it has are tiny slit windows in some places. Otherwise there are no ramparts or cannons atop it, the octagonal towers that look so much a part of the blocky structure are hollow, and there is no moat to cross. In fact, it's hard to recognize it as a castle at all. click to view a photograph Plus, the structure is in the middle of nowhere. The total absence of obvious strategic importance meant that outside threat had to have been minimal. click to view a photograph So why is it here and what is it for? Read on!

Built and probably designed in the early 13th century by our Person of the Day, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II - hence the innovative and non-traditional design - it was used as a hunting lodge in this rural area which was once thickly forested and home to all sorts of wild game. This came as a bit of a surprise, since unfortunately, now, there's barely a tree in site. click to view a photograph

The interior of the castle is also a surprise. When you walk inside click to view a photograph, you quickly encounter an octagonal open-air central courtyard click to view a photograph with four balconies and doorways, all of which used to be adorned with sculptures. click to view a photograph Surrounding this central area are two floors of interconnected halls running around the octagonal structure and through the eight octagonal towers. click to view a photograph Tall decorative windows facing outside let light into almost every hall, and, accessible via a short flight of steps, have little sitting benches before them. click to view a photograph

Although it has a wacky design and is a little disorienting, the castle is remarkably pragmatic and fun to explore. click to view a photograph Corralite stone decorates the doorways and fireplaces, along with multi-colored marble pillars keeping it pretty and pink. click to view a photograph

UNESCO also recognized its value and uniqueness, assisting the effort to have it restored, and maintaining it as a World Heritage site visit the World Heritage Site page that "is a successful blending of classical antiquity, the Islamic Orient, and northern European Cistercian Gothic.

Tech Fact of the Day: flexibility and determination

Throughout the months we've been on the road, we have been obliged to deal with a number of difficult circumstances. From problems like getting the bikes to fit on buses and trains, to problems with our stomachs, to personal problems from home reaching us by email, to Corinne's all-too-close relationship with the ground (i.e. falling), there's always something that makes our journey all the more challenging.

Border problems have plagued us from the outset, and kept each of us from seeing a country or countries. Thus it is with the case today. It has become more clear than ever that we will regrettably not be able to visit Montenegro (Yugoslavia).

Yet, even given the various political and financial obstacles that we have to overcome, we somehow find the strength as individuals and as a group just to keep on going, to fulfill the BikeAbout mission. Two factors that help us survive these trying times are: (mental) flexibility and determination.

We have all been told, "If you've got it, use it." And we do... In fact we're all quite lucky to have the mental resources of one another, and ourselves, to get us through such annoyances. The aims of BikeAbout push us past the setbacks, and we still strive to make our dispatches interesting and insightful. Thus we move on straight to Croatia, as curious and anxious as we have ever been!

Group Dispatch, April 8-10
picture of Corinne

Wednesday morning we all woke up and immediately started working at our computers... again. The plan for the day was that we would all check out of the hotel by noon, find a place to finish our writing, send remaining dispatches to Elizabeth, and, after the chat 'n' debate, hop the overnight ferry across the Adriatic Sea back to the Balkans. However, by 11 a.m., Ethan and Padraic had discovered that our ferry to Dubrovnik, Croatia, had been cancelled due to bad weather. Oops.

So: a new plan B (or is it plan C or D yet?) needed to be devised. Of course there was another ferry scheduled for Friday night (three days away!), but we still had to reconsider all the options since there was a plethora of train or bus alternatives (train immediately to Ancona [Italy] and take a boat to Split [Croatia] from which we could then take a bus back down to Dubrovnik), or the possibility of skipping a few cities (like Dubrovnik or Sarajevo). Ethan again suggested the possibility of biking "backwards" along the coast, meaning that for a short time we would bike clockwise around the sea, just to cover the distance. Pouring over maps, we tried to estimate the financial consequences of the various options, hoping to make a group decision with which we all felt comfortable.

Accordingly, two things were decided: first, we would wait for the Friday night ferry, continuing with the itinerary as planned, without a try at visiting Montenegro. This would still get us into both Dubrovnik and Sarajevo and on our originally scheduled dates, and thus made the most sense. Second, we unanimously and overwhelmingly agreed that a bike ride the next day was IMPERATIVE, as we are all getting melancholy from being locked up in our rooms at our computers all day, and we hadn't had a long bike day in weeks. Weeks!

With that, we let the pension proprietor know we'd be there for a couple more nights, and hunkered down to finish more dispatches. That evening on the chat 'n' debate, which took place at Bari's Netcafe, we spent most of our time discussing why we weren't in Yugoslavia! Special thanks to the Netcafe for allowing us to use two computers for half price during the chat, and helping us send and receive email.

Thursday morning, we decided to check out an Italian World Heritage site visit the World Heritage Site page called the Castel Del Monte, which was about 55 km (34 mi) away. Suffering the 48-hour flu that Corinne had just beaten, Anthony opted out of the bike ride, deciding instead to do a little more local site seeing from his bed... OK, OK, and a little on foot too. So Corinne, Padraic and Ethan set out.

After some confusion around finding the right road out of town, we sped through the outer suburbs of Bari and then onto the surrounding plains full of olive groves. A straight shot (after a few more map checks) of less than interesting - but smooth - roads and light traffic brought us on a meandering uphill journey past farm after farm after farm. click to view a photograph

Save for the Trulli houses - that looked more like medieval bus shelters or the Italian answer to the "pillbox" bunkers of Albania, and dotted the road and edges of the fields click to view a photograph - there just wasn't much more to the nature around us. The cone-shaped roofs, tiled with slim and tight slates click to view a photograph stuck out of the landscape here and again, keeping things relatively interesting and holding our curiosity about how life in this area had developed over the years. click to view a photograph

Trulli houses are peculiar little structures about which we only have limited information. Circular, small-ish, and made of gray stone, the Trullis we saw seemed to be uninhabited - they are probably used more for storage these days - and somehow they didn't seem that old either. click to view a photograph

As Corinne battled the sun and the gradual uphill, she asked herself, "Who builds castles way out here, anyway?" Biking along the sea, we've seen plenty of fortresses, but a lonely structure all the way inland was a new concept. Her initial thought was that some king must have owned all these farms, and wanted to be centrally located so that all the farmers could come pay their taxes and whatnot from a somewhat equal distance. Either that, or he had a bunch of daughters that he wanted to keep inland and well away from sailors. Confining his princesses to a secure building out in the middle of nowhere, they certainly wouldn't be tempted to run off...

Corinne's bizarre assumptions aside, it was actually a pretty good question, especially since the castle sticks out of the landscape and is visible for miles around. click to view a photograph Well, it turns out that this "castle of the mountain" was built and used as a hunting lodge back when all these farms and fields were forested and chock-full of wild game. It was hard to imagine what the wooded landscape must have once looked like once, as there was no forest - and few trees - to speak of in the area.

And what about the Castel Del Monte itself, our Place of the Day. In short, this one-of-a-kind octagonal keep rocked. None of us had ever seen or heard of anything like it, and delighted in exploring the place. We applaud the efforts of its ambitious builder, Frederick II, by making him Person of the Day.

For the road back to Bari, we took the coast, happy to have the water at our left again, finally getting to know the Adriatic Sea. The continual threat of rain never played out, and we were back in town just before dark, ready to take care of Anthony... and dinner. (Funny how those two things naturally go together...)

On Friday, we were homeless. We had to check out of the hotel by noon, which meant that we had 12 HOURS at our disposal since our boat did not leave until midnight. The early afternoon was slightly chilly, so eating our grocery-store fare in the park, we brainstormed where we might find an indoor place where we could work for a few hours without spending a lot of money. Deciding this wasn't really possible, we loitered in the park until we were all too, too chilly, and then went to a restaurant, where we ordered as little as possible and stayed as long as we could without getting kicked out. By then it wasn't even quite 5 p.m. So, we zipped off to the Internet café, where again we could only stay an hour because it cost money to hang out and use electricity.

Then we were on the street again. Literally. The boys watched a bike race from outside of a shop with a TV inside, and Corinne read a book, leaning against the building.

After that it mysteriously and considerably warmed up, so we wandered the city aimlessly for a while, and ran into the Easter Parade preparations. We stood around amidst families and others from the city out to watch the mobile festival, all waiting for the procession to start.

The HUGE Roman Catholic Stations of the Cross Procession slowly crept through the jam-packed streets. Locals, with tears in their eyes, honored the statues being carried on men's shoulders and representing the last journey that Christ made before he was crucified. Tall, tall lantern poles were held up by trembling altar boys, lighting the path and dramatically accentuating the already passionate, standard-fare Latin tableaux. The musical accompaniment - a live, 20-piece band for each statue - was beautiful. It sounded just like the soundtrack to the movie "The Godfather," all somber and Italian and brassy. Everyone was well dressed, clean, and very respectable for the occasion. Unlike some of us.

As the guys started joking around, Corinne laughed really loud at one of their comments, thereby, in a single explosive exhale, offending every Italian for blocks around - so we had to split. Again we meandered, this time looking for a place for dinner that was more or less in our price range. We succeeded.

And then it was all of 8:00 p.m. This provided plenty of time for a leisurely meal and conversation.

Around 10:30 p.m. we boarded our ferry and took our seats in the seating area of the boat (there were no more cabins so we ad to make do with "poltrone" or seats. By 12:30 a.m., the boat had left the port of Bari. In about 7 hours, we'd be in Croatia!

Once we were well on the way, Corinne took a walk around deck. It was GORGEOUS outside. It could be that spring and warmer weather are here to stay... or is that wishful thinking? The not-yet-full moon sparkled on the water, illuminating the hazy clouds in the sky, and the few stars were dimmed by her brightness. Even the far deck, that gets none of the ship's lights, glowed with moonlight.

The sea was fairly peaceful too, so if it was at all possible to get comfortable in the chairs on the inner deck, we might even have gotten some decent sleep. But it wasn't comfortable. Anthony and Ethan actually opted for the floor for somewhat better comfort, but neither Corinne nor Padraic wanted to brave the cold down there, instead curling up in the chairs and squirming with restlessness all night. Oh well, can't win 'em all!

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