Puglia journal: Cold beer, a quiet outdoor cafe and view of Adriatic = Kodak moment of foreign travel

Me and my view from the Grottino Grill in Vieste.
Me and my view from the Grottino Grill in Vieste.

There are certain times in a person’s travels when they find the perfect corner of the planet at just the perfect time. The Foggia train station McDonald’s, where I’m writing this, is not one of them.

However, yesterday afternoon I had one of those moments – no, hours – when I was the happiest man on earth. I wondered what could possibly be better than international travel. What could be possibly better than Italy. What could possibly be better than Vieste, Italy?

I had just returned from two peaceful albeit windy hours at the beach near the port. It’s Vieste’s big beach, a long stretch of golden sand on the other side of the port where a few sailboats and pleasure craft were bobbing up and down on the water. The wind whipped off the Adriatic to where I had to turn my head to keep sand from blowing up my nose. The only people I saw was a family of four and what looked like two very pale Scandinavian tourists and a guy who didn’t move from his face down position in the sand. He may have been dead. He didn’t move. My vivid imagination made me think the hot blonde with him had just made love to him until he was half dead that morning.

The wind made laying out very cool and getting scorched on my second day on the beach wasn’t any way to continue a vacation. I walked back and Vieste was as quiet as a country village at midnight. The town had shut down for Tuesday’s holiday of, again, Santa Maria di Marino. The old man in the bus ticket stand even stayed open an extra 20 minutes while I literally ran back in my flipflops to get my wallet for today’s bus ticket to Foggia.

Piazza Vittoria Emanuele was nothing but a bunch of empty chairs and gazebo. The cheese shops had closed their doors. Even the souvenir shops didn’t have a peep come out of them. It was a city of drawn-down steel doors. But as I walked down that charming narrow road bordering the sea back to my hotel, the cute little restaurant I walk by every day, the Grottino Grill, had its door open. A cute, thin blonde enthusiastically bounded out of the restaurant and saw me staring out at the sea next to the four inviting wooden tables. Without taking my eyes off the gorgeous water I said in somewhat of a state hypnotized by the beauty, “Caffe, per favore.”

I sat down on the sun-splashed patio and nursed my caffe. I looked down at the tranquil water, to the ever-present lighthouse standing watch over the city and over to the whitewashed town, as silent as an empty bedroom. Tapes of American jazz singers singing pleasant melodies billowed out from inside the restaurant, providing the perfect soundtrack for my Kodak moment of this trip. I couldn’t leave. I ordered a large, ice-cold German beer from a 12-year-old boy obviously not complaining about violating any child labor laws. He brought out a bowl of small green Pugliese olives to keep me around.

I sat there and soaked up the sun, wind, atmosphere and total peace for two hours while reading Tim Cahill’s terrific collection of adventure travel stories, “A Wolverine is Biting My Leg.” He was sweating his butt off trekking through thick Rwandan jungle for a five-minute glimpse at a rare mountain gorilla. I wonder if Tim Cahill ever wishes he was where I was yesterday, looking out at the Adriatic in 73-degree sunswhine with an ice-cold beer.

People always ask why I travel so much. I say it makes you feel like you’re never getting old. Every day you wake up thinking you’ll see or experience something you’ve never seen before. It’s more than that. Travel makes you feel more alive than you ever have in your life. Your heart beats faster, as if you’ve met the greatest woman in your life and you’re about to see her again. And there I was on that narrow, cliffside path in Vieste, Italy, feeling like I was 22 again. And in love.