56 km, 4h 45 min
Riding today was challenging. It was another beautiful sunny day in Italy, albeit fairly windy (15-20 knots). The ride itself was not that difficult, rather we did not have appropriate fuel. We started out the day at the campground eating the remnants of our food for breakfast – we each had an egg, and shared a banana and a bun. After we packed up and checked our email (the campground office had a computer we could use to check Internet), we headed out in search of coffee. We found a coffee bar pretty quickly, but it was out of croissants. It was a holiday today, All Saints Day, so very little was open.
Our ride from Metaponto Libo (Metaponto Beach) to Matera involved a 400 m climb, which was to loom over us the whole day and not appear on our path until the last 10 km. The wind was pretty strong, and for the most part ahead of us or to the side.
We stopped for lunch at a service station at about 12:30. It was the first place that we crossed on the ride, and we were shocked it was actually open. It was on a part of the highway that was closed due to construction with local traffic only. The only reason we were there is that our detour through farming territory led us back to the under construction highway. When we noted that it was open, Becky insisted that we stop. She was starving. We are very glad we did stop, there was no other place until we climbed into Matera!
At first approach, Matera looked like any other Southern Italian city with a mix of new and old apartment buildings (mostly new), but we soon discovered it is not. We had approached from the south, and the interesting old town is on the north side of the hill. As we approached “centro”, Becky saw a tourist office that actually had a person in it. We stepped inside and the gentleman helped us find a place to stay for the night. It turned out that the office was not actually open and that he was a tour guide rather than a tourist office person, so finding us a hotel was a little out of his normal duties. We were grateful that he was willing to make a few calls for us and even negotiate a price for us. It had slipped our minds that we were entering a large city on a holiday Saturday. Once we saw the old city, with all the narrow cobble stone ups and downs, we realized just how lucky we were to have been directed to a nice clean Albergo where are bikes could happily rest.
We are staying just outside of the Sassi – the old town. Most of the old houses are caves that were dug into the rocks. The roads are on the roofs of the houses. The Sassi was inhabited by over 60,000 people until the 1950s, when the Italian government moved over 50,000 people to the modern suburbs. At that time, the area was known for its poverty, as many of the homes were originally built as stables, and did not have running water or a sewage system. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and has seen a resurgence in tourism. A lot of the nicer caves have been converted to restaurants and hotels. There are still around 9,000 people living in the Sassi. The area was made famous by the film “The Passion of Christ”, and is now the most popular foreign tourist destination in southern Italy.