Thursday, July 20, 2006
When I saw the movie,"The passion of the Christ", I thought the location was so hauntingly beautiful. I did an internet search and found out that it was shot in Matera, Italy - Southern Italy to be exact and I knew in my heart I want to visit this place. I started to research about Matera and found out that it used to be a valley of cave dwellers. The poor farmers carved into the rock surface and made living quarters out of them. Living in caves still goes on in France, Sicily and in China. Matera is special because a lot of these caves have been renovated into modern dwellings. We stayed in a cave hotel which was completely renovated and fitted with all modern amenities, elevators, showers and flash toilets. The Locanda di San Martino is so pretty that it was hard to imagine that a few years ago they were just some dirty caves lived in by poor farmers from the Mezzogiorno. An American lady and her Italian husband started to buy up these caves, one at a time until they had some 24 of them and then the hotel was born. Arriving by train in Matera, I was disappointed because I couldn't see the caves or "Sassi" in Italian. I saw the new town which was some chintzy high rise buildings. The visitors' center pointed us in the right direction, the "Sassi" area is down in the ravine. My first sight was one of total disbelief, it was a sight I'll never forget, it was so surreal and so beautiful. I kept saying, "Oh, my god, oh my god! It was even harder to believe that right in the middle of this mess is this beautiful and modern hotel. It is a breathtaking place, completely unbelievable and must be experienced in person. It took a little planning to get to Matera but it is doable without a car. I took the train to Bari in the Adriatic coast and took the train from Bari to Matera. Bari is a very friendly Italian town. It has 4 rail companies operating out of the same train station. One can take the fast train there from Rome but I took the train from Naples because that was where we were. We had to change trains at Caserta. We stayed the night in Bari and took another train to Matera which had to stop at Alta Mura and we changed trains there. Bari is a good stop to use to visit the region of Puglia, one can go to Alberobello, Martina Franca, Locorotondo, Leece, Brindisi and a host of other places. We left Bari to go to Rome, a 4 hour train ride on a fast train got us into Rome. The Japanese have long discovered Southern Italy and everywhere we went the Italians thought we were Japanese, we are Chinese Americans. The locals were very friendly and truly it showed they have a fondness for the Japanese. We spent a whole day exploring the "Sassi", it is a lot of climbing up and down, some caves have been renovated and lived in, other are still in their decrepid state waiting to be worked on. There were cave churches at every corner, some still has frescoes in them. I shall always remember Matera, it is a truly magical place. I love the mezzogiorno; people are friendlier. Being Asian I have experienced hostility in France. I've never experienced any in Southern Italy. While in Matera we wanted to buy from "frutas", the elderly Italian couldn't speak English and he decided it was easier to close the bus ticket counter, locked up and show us in person the Salumeria next door. That was so sweet.