Bari: A Layover Extravaganza
“Where’s the cheapest flight to?” I asked my friend Devra as we sat planning our upcoming trip. In Italy (and other European countries), November 1st is both a religious and public holiday known as All Saints’ Day. For us, that meant a long weekend and the perfect opportunity to travel. With no real destination in mind (I’d already crossed off my two dream destinations, Paris and Santorini, earlier during my time abroad), we decided to find the cheapest plane tickets and go from there.
Turns out, the cheapest flight was to Sofia, Bulgaria for less than $30! We booked it immediately. The only downside: a 5-hour layover in Bari on our flight back home. The more we thought about it, the more we got excited about this layover. We figured five hours is sufficient time to leave the airport, walk around the city, and grab some dinner. If you leave the airport, you can officially say you’ve been to that city (even if only for a few hours) and we wanted to say we had been to Bari (and add it to our list of Italian cities we’ve visited). Our Bulgaria trip, with this 5-hour layover, turned into our Bulgaria and Bari trip.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Bulgaria. I didn’t know the language, culture, or anyone who had visited before. Therefore, I went with an open mind. While it’s hard to pick my favorite place I went to while abroad, Bulgaria is up there. Some of my best memories are from that trip, the highlight being the Seven Rila Lakes hike. But I also enjoyed seeing Dune in the theater (with Bulgarian closed captions), visiting the national art museum, and watching Hocus Pocus in bed with Chinese food in anticipation of Halloween the next day. The Bulgaria leg of the trip was a success. We left early on Halloween for the airport, but our trip wasn’t over. We still had Bari!
Unfortunately for us, our flight to Bari was delayed. Should we stay in the airport or venture out and risk missing our flight? We didn’t have too much time to think since every minute we spent waiting was a minute wasted that we could have spent in Bari. We figured we still had sufficient time to go out, and what’s a Bulgaria/Bari trip without going to Bari? As soon as we landed, we ran to the metro and quickly purchased tickets to downtown Bari. It wasn’t until after we bought the tickets that we discovered no more trains were operating that night. The only way we could get to Bari then was by taxi. The taxi cost more than our plane tickets, did we want to go to Bari that bad? Was it really worth it, especially considering that our time was even more limited due to the delay and train mishap? Setback after setback made us even more determined to go to Bari. So, we took a taxi.
I was immediately struck by how warm it was when we got out of the taxi. Bulgaria was pretty cold (I bought a pair of hand-knit earmuffs, a lifesaver during our hike, to keep warm) and we needed heavy jackets. It was nice to be in a more temperate climate, even for just a few hours. The piazzas we walked through were all lively with kids dressed in costumes. A princess here, a pirate there. I loved seeing all the kids dressed up, though I was a little confused as to why they were. Since we were traveling all day, I completely forgot it was Halloween!
After a long day of travel, we quickly headed to a restaurant we found online. However, it was closed when we got there, and so were the other restaurants we looked into. The holiday the next day impacted the hours, leaving us scrambling to find anything open. Since every spot in the main area where the taxi dropped us off was closed, we started wandering the streets, looking for anything open.
Time was running out. We would have to head to the airport soon. Just in the nick of time, as we were thinking about giving up and eating airport dinner, we found an open restaurant: a little pizza shop that was about to close. We ordered a large cheese pizza and fries to split.
I ate a lot of pizza in Italy, and I can safely say that one in Bari was the worst. It tasted like fast food pizza you get in the US, but somehow (maybe because we were expecting better) worse. But at that point, we were just happy to find anything. We were grateful for that pretty gross Bari pizza. As soon as we finished eating, we hopped in another taxi to avoid cutting it too close to getting back to the airport.
We arrived at the airport with ample time to go through security and head to our gate. When we got there, we heard an announcement that our plane would be delayed for a few more hours. Turns out, Joe Biden was in Rome for the G20 Leaders’ Summit and the heightened security in the city impacted our plane’s departure. To pass the time, Devra introduced me to a game she plays with her family on trips. The rules are simple: head to a duty-free store, set a timer for one minute, and find the most expensive item. The person with the most expensive item wins! I guess we could have spent a few more hours in Bari, but if we had, I never would have been introduced to my new favorite airport game.
This trip really taught me the importance of rolling with the punches while traveling. Not everything went our way (I could write a whole other article on our troubles getting a ride back home from this trip after landing in Rome super late), but this was still one of my favorite trips. With a good friend, some creativity, and a positive attitude, you can make a layover (almost) as eventful as the main trip!