Living the Dream

Captain Caveman
1st July 2015

It felt like I had hardly been asleep when I was rudely screamed at by the 3am alarm. It was so difficult to come around. Nobody should be getting up at this time in the morning. It's not natural!

However we didn't really have a choice in the matter. Half an hour later we were sleep walking our way to the North Terminal rolling our little cabin cases behind us. Julie was especially proud of her funky red lips Lulu Guiness suitcase.

In no time we were airside in a Garfunkles Cafe having a Danish pastry and a coffee in an attempt to wake up.

After buying our customary bottle of champagne (it's all part of the pre-flight ritual) we walked towards gate 109 which was possibly the furthest one.

Sat at the gate we saw a lot of yawning and head rolling amongst our fellow passengers. This has to be our earliest flight ever. We were certainly the first scheduled flight out of Gatwick this morning (along with another 5:45am to Ibiza).

Julie however was sat bolt upright, fidgeting, visibly anxious, so another diazepam was administered to help. Whether it does or not it's difficult to say.

To pass the time we played "Spot the Speedy Boarder" and I got him straight away, the one decked out in casual blue pinstripe jacket, beige chinos and blue loafers. The gates opened and after we waited for the solitary speedy boarder to swan his way to the front we, the masses, began to board.

It was a fully booked flight. Fortunately for us we boarded propmtly because within minutes of placing our luggage in the overhead locker and settling into our seats the cabin crew were getting a little stressed as luggage space was running out. All this palava was unerving Julie. She was strapped in her seat, adopting brace position, preparing for take off. She is simply quite awesome!

It all went smoothly and we were soon up enjoying the calm air of the troposphere. Julie relaxed a little and began to play a few games on her iPad. I wasn't much company as I tried to get some rest. We had a bit of a drive ahead of us when we landed.

It felt like a short flight. I'm sure I didn't sleep for any of it!

It only took took 2 hours and 20 minutes and we were landing at Bari airport, also known as Bari Karol Wojtyla Airport. It may seem an unusual name for an Italian airport but Karol Wojtyla was of course better known as Pope John Paul II.

Landing was smooth as was our entry into the country. Just as we came through passport control into the baggage reclaim our bright orange suitcase came rolling down the carousel. We took that as being a good sign for an excellent trip.

Before heading to the car hire desk we stopped to catch our breath and celebrate our safe landing with a coffee and another bakery product.

"Un capuccino, un americano, and um ... a Treccia" I asked pointing towards a sugar coated pastry. I was given a brief lesson in pronounciation but it was all good natured fun.

We found the Treccia slightly disappointing. Whilst the sugar coating was sweet and tasty beneath it was just a plain bread roll. I think we expected buttery sweet brioche bread but it wasn't the case.

Anyway, after half an hour we went to the Europcar desk where there was still a queue, in which we spent a further 20 minutes before getting to the front. Unlike those before us we were flying through the formalities. That was until we came to the insurance questions.

She highlighted the risks of just having the basic cover, emphasising the benefits of Europcar's premium package at only an extra €468!! After choking on my own spit we politely turned her down. She then continued with her script, cranking up the hard sell for the next grade down and when we turned that down she turned to scare tactics to try and sell us their economy insurance package. It didn't work, in fact it made me even more resistant to accepting any deal.

So I gave a calm but firm "No thank you" and that was the end of that. It had taken almost 10 minutes to get through it all. I suppose they have to do it but I was getting slightly impatient. I could see the keys on the desk. So near yet so far because she then said, "Just one more question"

Well, I almost cracked. I just wanted to blurt out something like "Just give me the fucking keys!" but I didn't. I held myself together. After answering the final 'petrol tank pre-paid or return full' question we finally got our hands on the keys.

The Europcar car park was a short walk from the terminal and ours chariot awaited in bay 32, a grey Fiat Cinquecento, almost identical to the one we had at home, only the steering wheel was on the opposite side, obviously. The car was spotless and brand new. All of a sudden I felt a little foolish in rejecting those ehanced insurance deals!

With our luggage filling the boot and the back seats we set off, guided by our SatNav from the Rent-a-car parking lots to the main SS96 road to Altamura. I was surprised how normal it felt driving on the right side of the road. A far cry from the first time I drove in Europe bouncing off the kerb all the way to Barcelona from Salou.

The roads weren't busy so it was a comfortable drive tootling along sticking to all the speed limits, although we appeared to be the only ones doing so. Despite my ease Julie's anxiety returned. She held her breath at every junction and held on tight whenever I overtook.

After 3/4 hour we turned off down an arrow straight road (the Romans had clearly been here before) which brought us to the city of Altamura. Famous as the "city of bread", I wanted to stop here for lunch!

We parked up on the side of the road a short distance from the historical centre. It was in a parking metre zone. We knew this because there were parking spaces painted in blue paint on the tarmac.

We didn't have enough change so we popped inside Gran Caffe Ciccimarra for a cappuccino and a water to break into a €20 note. It turned out we could have paid by card at the metre. Although it was all in Italian so I probably would have ended up paying for a whole month or something!

We walked up to Porta Bari, the old city gates. We could see where the city's name came from, Alta-mura literally translates s "tall walls". The old historic centre was encircled by tall buildings.

We continued through the gates and along the partially pedestrianised streets. I'm sure vehicles weren't allowed but there was a steady flow of white vans and mopeds.

Despite this there was a great atmosphere in its narrow streets. Old men sat outside a bar discussing politics watching the world go by, children playing with a ball against the cathedral wall.

Its heart was the cathedral, or the Duomo.

It was surrounded by the city that grew around it and was difficult to appreciate it as a whole. It had a mostly plain facade. With twin bell towers and a standard rose window it was at first quite unremarkable.

However the entrance was quite stunning.

Guarding the portal were a pair of stone lions, each one with their own unique features. The one on the right had piercing stare that could turn you to stone whereas the left lion had quite a comical mournful look. It reminded us of the lion from the Wizard of Oz.

The steps lead up to an oversized wooden door which was framed by an intensley carved portico with intricate patterns and images of various biblical scenes. This 15th century addition is what makes the cathedral special. It really was quite impressive.

We stood for a while studying the rich decoration depicting scenes throughout the life of Christ from his birth to his resurrection. Once our necks began to hurt we stopped and continued down the narrow street through the historical centre.

Enough time had past for us to feel hungry so we were on the lookout for a bakery to try a panini made with the famous Pane di Altamura, a thick crusted sourdough bread made from only semolina flour.

The narrow streets began to open out into wider spaces as we reached the end of the historical centre without finding the renowned bread. We had earlier seen a cafe right next door to the cathedral called Caffe Ronchi Striccoli so we turned on our heels and returned back.

Sat outside in the shade of a canopy and hidden from view by some shrubbery we browsed their menu. They didn't have much in the way of choice but did have a sandwich, a panini, and two savoury pastries called rustico and panzerotti.

I asked for a tomato and mozzarella sandwich but the reply was a "No". I tried asking for "panini solo fromaggio" but he shook his head again. I'm guessing that all they had available had already been prepared so they couldn't be felxible. After explaining I was a vegetarian the waiter suggested the panzerotti, tiny pockets of bread filled with cheese and tomato. He also listed every other non-meat item on offer.

We said yes to them all! So accompanying the five little panzerotties came a bowl of crisps, peanuts and delicious green olives. Julie and shared this little buffet, although I had the olives to myself as Julie detests them.

Also 2 into 5 didn't go so the last panzerotti was cut in half but Julie graciously let me have the last one. "You're enjoying them so much you can have it" she said.

I didn't hesitate nor argue with her. Within a second I had swallowed it. They were so tasty.

When we came to pay they didn't take card payments so I had to walk to the nearest bancomat (ATM) inside a Banco di Napoli. I took out a €140 and it gave me the option to fix the price to £102.97. Now that was a much better rate than I got when exchanging the bulk of our money for this trip. We've said it before that we should just take our spending money out of the local ATMs when were on holiday.

When I returned to Caffe Ronchi I went inside to pay and saw they had a large selection of ice creams. I couldn't resist. Spoilt for choice I opted for a flavour vaguely described as Padre Pepe.

I'm not sure that I really wanted to know how Father Pepper tasted but it was a bright white ice cream with a caramel drizzled all over. It came served in a proper cornetto and ever so creamy with a slightly nutty taste.

It was a lovely sunny day which unfortuntely meant the ice cream didn't last long, melting and dribbling down my hand as we walked back towards the car.

Before leaving we returned to the Gran Caffe Ciccimarra. I wasn't hungry but Julie hadn't eaten much so a cheese and ham toastie in order. It was only a basic sandwich but Julie greatly enjoyed the flavours.

Back in the car we switched on our Sat Nav and were relieved when it guided us through the streets of Altamura. We would have struggled without it. I'm sure we would have eventually found our way to the SS99 to Matera but it was comforting to hear this soft Irish accent talking us through all the tiwsts and turns. We had a good laugh when we recalled how it used to be a standard out-of-the-box female voice but after Hannah our daughter borrowed it TomTom suddenly became an Irish man from County Wicklow! (check out TV presenter Craig Doyle's accent for the perfect match)

It was only a short distance from Altamura to Matera and in fifteen minutes we were turning off the SS99. We drove through the modern town getting increasingly excited.

The road descended into the enchanting Sassi district of Matera, an area listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its houses built into the soft volcanic rock. The rock is ironically called tuff but is quite porous and not at all tough!

Not only had I long wanted to visit Matera I had dreamt about staying in a cave hotel such as Sextantio le Grotte della Civita.

Many on-line reviews had said it was difficult to find but the hotel had provided us with detailed directions. I had also virtually driven down the streets on Google's street view so it was all strangely familiar.

Their instructions had asked us to park at the side of the road at the bottom of the steps to the hotel. Usually they recommend parking in a large free public car park a little further up the road but because of tomorrows' festival they were going to valet park our car for us.

However, when we got there another car was already parked at the bottom of the steps so we continued to the car park anyway. It was a great feeling when we eventually stopped knowing that we had finally arrived and that we weren't going anywhere for the next two days.

Regardless of being a little early for the 3pm check-in we wheeled our luggage back towards the hotel. The road skirted the Sassi and overlooked a ravine. It was in a spectacular location.

We worked up quite a sweat dragging our suit cases up the steps. I'm sure we could have asked a hotel porter but that's not our style.

We reached the hotel reception which itself was located inside a cave. Our eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim lighting. It was so atmospheric.

The staff were very welcoming. Perhaps it was their dilated puplis that made them seem so friendly. They told us about the hotel, its owner, its history, how it took 10 years of renovation to convert a collection of caves into one of the world's most unique hotels. They gave us a useful map of the Sassi district and marked on it a few restaurant recommendations.

Eventhough our room wasn't ready we continued with the formalities of checking in.

With it all done we left our luggage and our car keys at reception and walked to the centre of old town Matera. Perhaps more spiritual then geographical but none the less the Cathedral was a place where most gravitated towards.

Reading the map we didn't realise that the shortest route to the Piazza Duomo was also the steepest. In the heat of the day the march up left us gasping for breath and dripping with sweat.

At the top or at least where we thought was the top we turned a corner to find even more steps. Thankfully the narrow Via Riscatto did level out a little and there was some respite from the sun.

The tall houses that cast the shade made us realise that not all of the Sassi were homes dug into the rock. They were all constructed from the same stone however and looked to grow out of the landscape.

Via Riscatto ended beneath a tower of scaffolding. We soon realised that the entire cathedral was wrapped in this metal casing. How disappointing.

We were now at the highest point of the hill which gave the most spectacular panormama of the medieval Sasso Barisano below. It more than made up for the disappointment of the shrouded cathedral.

The Sassi of Matera is divided into three areas, la Civita, Sasso Barisano and the Sasso Caveoso. The latter being the more ancient and less developed district.

It was absolutely fascinating to gaze upon the maze of streets and alleyways weaving between the tumble of houses built on top of one another. Some streets even ran over the rooftops of others.

Up until the 1950s the population still lived here as if it was still the 16th century. With no modern convenience such as running water, sanitation or electricity it was no easy place to live.

Poverty was rife in Italy after the second world war but Matera became a national embarassment when the primitive squalor in which people lived was brought to the world's attention by the book Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi published in 1945.

In 1952 the residents were forcibly relocated into modern accomodation in Matera or elsewhere and the Sassi stood empty.

Its resurrection began after 1985 when it became listed as a UNESCO's World Heritage site. Squatters had already moved in during the 60s/70s but modern services were connected and life returned.

Next year Matera is to become Europe's City of Culture. Quite a turnaround in fifty years!

It had been at least an hour since we last ate so we justified another cafe stop. We sat outside the unimaginatively named Duomo Cafe looking at a wall of scaffolding.

A glass of prosecco at €1.50 was music to Julie's ears and the ice cold beer was nectar for my throat.

We were kept entertained by the workmen and one workwoman scaling the scaffold. She appeared to be less labourer and more conservationist.

All she appeared to do was dab a little water on a section of the cathedral wall to reveal a fresco beneath the layers of dust and grime. She wasn't getting very far. She spent most of the time going backwards and forwards to get a thimble of water at a time.

Other than that there wasn't much in the way of people watching which may explain why we were excited to see this three wheeled vehicle, one of those tuk-tuk truck vans so popular on the continent, converted into a mimiutre tour bus with three rather large tourists stuffed uncomfortably in the back.

"Perhaps we should book one of them?" Julie suggested, to which I raised my eyebrows. 

Before moving on I popped inside the catherdral. They allowed visitor to view the progress of the restoration work taking place inside. The door was open but a large perspex screen prevented me from entering any further.

The ground floor was covered with construction materials but lifting my eyes up I could see the stunning painted ceiling and the gold leaf embelishments on the arches.

There were also a couple of beautiful stained glass windows to the front.

We left Piazza Duomo through an archway following the road gradually down the hill. Just on the left was an old Palazzo complete with a lovely balcony from which you could easily imagine a Juliet waiting for her Romeo.

The view from up there would have been spectacular.

Directly opposite was a viewpoint where we could also see across the Sassi and the large Convent of Saint Agostino. We paused for a while to take in the cascade of houses and the winding lanes between with this enormous almost fortified convent at the end. We were totally captivated once more. It was like no other place we had seen before.

We continued down Via Duomo until we came to another little square called Piazza del Sedile. It was a much livelier space with plenty of bars and cafes.

At one end was was the entrance to the Music Conservatory of "E.R. Duni” of Matera a curious building. A peculiar hybrid between a triumphal arch and a church facade.

It was topped by two statues and two belltowers although only one tower appeared to be completed with a bell and a clock dial. I though it may have been to avoid paying taxes but in the 16th century it was the municipal town hall!

We decided to sit down outside a Focacceria on the corner. I had not heared of that term before, Pizzerias yes, but Focaccerias? Puglia and I suppose Basilicata is renowned for its focaccia.

We had a look at the menu of Focacceria Del Sedile Olivieri Di Capozzi Giovanna (to give it its full name) and despite its speciality I ordered a tomato and mozarella salad.

If I were to be critical I was expecting an insalata caprese to have lucsious buffalo mozzarella but the fresh taste of the little milky knots of cheese with the unbelievable sweetness of the tomatoes and the intense flavour of the basil leaves made for a delicious plate.

As we were on holiday we were going to have another beer and a prosecco but we could only find a "prosecco with aperol" on the menu.

We weren't too sure what to expect but it arrived as a glass of fizz with a bitter Campari-like mixer. I got a taste for this kind of "spritzer" after a visit to Venice ten years ago. I even started to drink it at home briefly until I came to my senses.

Let's just say the spritzer wasn't Julie's favourite!

"A waste of good prosecco" was her opinion and as if to make the point she left half of it.

We slowly made our way back up Via Duomo, stopping again opposite the palazzo to admire the view.

From the Piazza Duomo I thought about taking an alternative route back to the hotel. There were plenty of narrow lanes shooting off in all directions and I always like to experience a place from all angles. However it had been a long day and by the time we reached the square we were very tired. So we decided to simply retrace our steps back to the hotel.

We left the Piazza Duomo down the side of the catherdral, beneath the scaffolding. There was a sign for a cinema painted onto the wall which confused us slightly as we didn't remember passing one earlier.

The walk down Via Riscatto was pleasant as it was a gradual incline and mostly in the shade but at the end we turned the corner and were back out in the sunlight struggling down several steep flights of steps which were tough on the old knees.

We stopped frequently to ease the pressure and to admire the view of the rocky ravine below.

Matera is a special place, the Sassi districts have been inhabited by cave dwellers for thousands of years; and so it continues which is why we didn't consider anywhere else but the cave hotel Albergo Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita.

Sextantio is known as a "diffuso" hotel which literally means a "diffused" or widespread hotel and is a popular concept in Italy. The idea is that deserted villages and communities can be revived by having many of the houses converted into a singular hotel.

When we returned to the reception it was plenty past 3pm so our room was ready for us but first we were enthusiastically shown the breakfast room, a large tall cave that was once used as a church then in 1952 its last residents were a large family and their donkey!

In between the reception and the breakfast room were two rooms, conveniently located in one respect but lacking in privacy in other way.

We followed him back up the steps we had earlier stumbled down to the next level of rooms, effectively the first floor. He opened a little gate from the public walkway into a small yard where we could see doors into five rooms. Ours was number 18, the door in the far right corner. It immeditely pleased us as it was our favourite number. It's both the day of my birthday and the day we were married.

After he unlocked the door with an over-sized medieval key he gave us a brief tuition on how open and lock the door. It wasn't that easy.

It opened like a stable door with the top half swinging ajar. The bottom half opened by lifting a wooden bar nd of course it creaked as we stepped inside.

It was dimly lit with several candles. Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness we saw that our bedroom was a stylish combination of exposed rock and stone masonry with a smooth flagstone floor.

The rustic furniture added a certain cave-dwelling charm to the room.

Deeper into the cave down candlelit steps we came our en-suite grotto. It was such a delightful, tasteful and relaxing environment. The suite were clearly designer fittings which gave it an elegant modern look which contrasted well with the rustic cave walls and a mirror that looked over 100 years old.

The only negative we felt was a slight disappointment that we didn't have a bath. We had seen them on their web page and were looking forward to a good soak in the striking half-shell tub by French designer Phillippe Starke.

In reality however a shower was far more practical.

What wasn't at all practical were the shampoo and conditioner bottles. They were stored in over-sized glass vials like those on a shelf in an apothecary. It would have been challenging to lift them up whilst washing your hair even without wet hands.

It was clearly a case of too much 'style over substance'. I mean even the spare toilet roll was tied with a coarse string.

We settled down for a siesta and closed the stable doors behind us. The room suddenly fell into near darkness which was perfect for sleeping but not so good for writting your journal our putting on your make-up. (Not that either of us wear any face paint as a rule)

There was no 'big light' to brighten up the room. There wasn't any comfortable seating either and whilst I'm complaining there was a dampness in the air that had permeated the bed clothes.

I guess you have to succumb to the hopeless romantic in you to not be bothered by these things. all these gripes are insignificant when you consider the attention to detail and the ambience created to make your stay here a complete experience.

We soon fell into a deep sleep once our noisy French neighbours left. Actually they weren't that noisy it was just their high velocity chattering was distracting.

Four hours later we re-surfaced and headed out for supper. We had decided to find Bacchus, a restaurant named after the Roman god of wine and one of the ones recommended by our hotel.  It was now 8pm. In the light of dusk the stone of the Sassi took on an ghostly white colour and the deserted streets amplified the etherealness. It was so quiet.

When we arrived at Bacchus we found that it was closed. Fortunately another recommended restaurant Le Botteghe was literally next door, was open and had just one table left outside.

Our supper began with a traditional Materan dish called 'cialled'. It was a bread salad filled with ripe tomatoes , cucumber, red onion, fresh basil and oregano but mostly it consisted of soggy bread.

It looked great but it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment when compared to the flavour packed panzanella bread salad we were more familiar with. The bread here seemed to be simply soaked in water and it lacked in any seasonning.

It was a huge portion so there was enough for me to eat around the bread. It was also inexpensive which balanced out the disappointment.

After the mediocre first course we were little concerened about our main courses.

I had ordered Cavatelli, a Puglian pasta speciality, short cut (about 3cm) and rolled to form a small flat shape. It was also green in colour which is why it's often described as "pea pod" pasta. It was served in a simple tomato sauce which unfortunately failed to impress. It tasted like plain passat straight out of a jar. Once again lacking in seasonning.

On top was a salty cheese called cacioricotta which was tasty and quite different to parmesan. It was very thickly grated, which was a bit odd.

Julie and I also shared a plate of grilled vegetables which I felt were undercooked (we're not always this difficult to please, honestly) and two small baked potatoes that happened to be the best thing we ate all night. Well cooked and drowned in butter.

Julie's main course was the "local lamb" which arrived as pile of gnarled pieces of meat and bones on her plate. She wasn't at all impressed. I suppose living in Wales we are spoilt in having perhaps the best lamb meat in the world so in comparisson it may as well have been mutton or even goat on her plate.

Doubt began to creep into Julie's thoughts.

"This doesn't taste much like lamb" she said "Are these supposed to be ribs? They seem far too small, like a cat's." she continued only half joking.

A little while later a dog came strolling down the road and decided to stop by our table. She sat quite patiently whilst we ate. I know that feeding stray animals from your restaurant table shouldn't be encouraged but she had such a kind face and a calmness about her.

I leant over and picked a chunk of the "local lamb" and tossed a piece over. It landed in front of her. I expected her to snatch it and run away. She looked hungry.

Instead she sniffed it, quite carefully before rejecting it. She even huffed in disappointment. It was so funny to watch. Not even a hungry stray dog wanted to eat the "local lamb" on Julie's plate.

Well, I think that said it all.

So we paid out bill of €67 which we felt was expensive considering the poor quality of the food. "I feel a Trip Advisor rant coming on" said outraged from Bangor. (I never did in the end)

Anyway, as we were fully recharged following a good afternoon sleep we continued with the evening. Hand in hand we walked along the empty streets, wandering aimlessly until we agreed that being aimless and lost were pretty similar.

We hadn't brought a map with us but eventually we found a few steps that lifted us up above the rooftops where the view of an illuminated Sassi was staggering.  It was so incredibly beautiful, like a painting.

A short distance from the top of the steps was Piazza del Sedile, the small square we visited earlier in the day. There were plenty of people here.

The end of the square looked very pretty with the music conservatory under the spotlight and the adjacent building glowing purple reflected from stage left. In fact it did look like a stage. Members of the cast were doing the passeggiata, the evening stroll around town. We didn't join them, we had walked enough. It was time for another sit down.

We gravitated towards the focacceria where we ate in earlier but they had no room.

A quick scout around and we saw this tiny bar with just three tables outside, two of which were vacant. It wasn't the best looking bar on the square but the glass of prosecco and bottle of beer were just as nice as anywhere else. It had a no nonsense feel which we both liked.

The people watching was excellent. All sorts passed through the piazza, young and old, rich or poor, the ugly and the beautiful. The most entertaining were sat right next to us, clearly brothers putting the world to rights. (Would it be wrong of me to admit that they reminded me of the two old farts from The Muppets sat up in the balcony.)

The purple light illuminating the far end of the music conservatory was intriguing me so I left Julie to finish her fizz whilst I explored what was just around the corner.

When I saw the spectacular display of lights down Via del Corso I came rushing back to her.

"You've got to come and have a look" I said like an excited schoolboy "It's incredible." 

We walked down this tunnel of love mesmerised. It was better than Blackpool, better than the Christmas lights down Regent Street in London, even better than Vegas.

On reaching Piazza Vittorio Veneto we were amazed by not only the illuminations but the crowds. So this is where the people were hiding

There was such an electrifying atmosphere in more ways than one. There was music playing, street performers entertaining, several stalls were lined up selling trashy plastic stuff whilst all surrounded by a beautiful structure of lights.

The whole place was buzzing and this was the night before the festival.

We delved right into the middle of it, wading knee deep in revellers, making slow progress across the square towards another tunnel of light.

This one was even more striking with a delicate floral pattern. It gave us the impression that we were leaving the square towards another but in fact we were still in Piazza Vittorio Veneto. (It was difficult to tell in the dark)

We emerged into a spectcular colosseum of light where we both let out a "Wow" in unison.

 They were setting up a big screen here ready for the festivities tomorrow. The effort involved in all of this must have been staggering.

There were several more stalls here lining the square. One in particular that caught our eye was one selling fried potato on a stick. What a clever idea for a street food.

He had this gadget to cut a potato into one continuous thin slice which he then deep fried to a crisp. There was a long queue and we weren't in the mood to wait so we didn't get to try any.

Instead of continuing headlong into the night as we normally would have on out first night away we decided to return to the hotel. (I had a very early start planned for tomorrow.)

We retraced our steps back through the busy Piazza Vittorio Veneto pausing briefly to watch a man on stilts creating supersized bubbles which was a lot more entertaining than it sounds.

Via del Corso and its tunnel of light leading out of the square was crowded so we took a quieter side street back towards Piazza del Sedile and up the hill to the Duomo.

As we looked down over the Sassi and Matera the party lights were still shinning bright but from up here it was all so peaceful. Another deep breath was taken. It was such a beautiful view.

It was gone midnight when we got back to Sextantio le Grotte della Civita. I collected the key from reception where I met Silvio, I guess the Night's Watchman and a very pleasant and chatty guy.

He told me we weren't the last to return, there were three other rooms. "I give them until 2am" he said "then I call them in case they are lost."

We ended the evening back in the comfort of our cosy cave drinking our good luck champagne. What an awesome first day. Tomorrow promises to be even better.

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