Two months of train travel & family visits in Italy behind us, finally the day had arrived for us to leave our comfort zone & step out the doorway – giddy with excitement and several skips in our steps – down that long well-worn road to ‘Full-Time Travel’.
Shame that no one told the weather gods about our plans.
As soon as we left Franca’s family home the water immediately came down in buckets of water. Not fine rain, or just a light drizzle – the whole ‘soak you right through to the underwear’ deal. Even with such a small walk to the train station, hitching a ride from Franca’s dad was an option that took very little consideration.
Arriving at the train station, the water was cascading down faces (either as tears or raindrops, who knows?) but not for long as we threw ourselves inside briefly to the warmth of the ticket desk followed by a few minutes under the platform canopy.
Finally our train arrived, and not a second too soon as the water kept rising & rising to an ankle drowning level. The train was to be just the first step in our journey from Bari, Italy to Dubrovnik on Croatia’s southern coast. A popular tourist destination, picking Dubrovnik was an easy decision, however, the choice of transport from one to another wasn’t quite so straight forward.
Where possible we want to see the countries we need to go through to reach our South East Asia destination. Rather than take direct flight option, we plan to catch every bus, train or ferry that will save us walking the thousands of kilometers in the way. Taking a bus to Dubrovnik from Bari might have been an experience (I mean, how do they drive underwater?!), and taking a train from Italy to Croatia would have been a week or more than either us – or anyone else – would probably consider.
Last Option: Ferry
Apart from the connecting train from Alberobello to Bari, and the bus from the centre to the port, the total cost of taking the ferry including all booking fees was €116 – about €58/£46/$75 (August 2012).
For the price of your ticket you get passage on the ferry and a airplane style seat to recline & attempt to sleep on. For those who – like me – can’t sleep on seats such as those, there is the slightly more expensive option or paying for a cabin to sleep in for around €65 more (before fees) or you can save a little more than we did & just take a ‘Deck’ ticket. A deck ticket (about €40 before fees) gives you the right to stand on the open top deck all throughout the night & early morning, whether it’s hot or freezing cold.
When we arrived at the port, our bus driver let us disembark only a few yards away from our re-fuelling ferry. With fully packed backpacks, we thought we’d lucked out. Little did we know that we had to check in at the other side of the port, some 2 or 3 kilometers from where our transport was loading up.
‘Oh dear’, would be putting it gently.
We started walking in the right direction, thankful that we follow our own advice of never getting the last possibly train/bus and always catching the one before it. Who knows if your expected transport is going to even arrive, let alone on time? Better to be safe than sorry. Along the way we came across a passenger terminal where people could be seen milling around. Surely this was it?
After we finally spoke to someone who could be bothered to help us (knowing the language didn’t even matter, they just weren’t bothered), we found out that the building for checking in was actually another 2 KM from where we were standing.
’Let’s just stay calm, okay?
Unexpectedly, there was a free shuttle bus! Something for free in Italia – you should have seen the shock of Franca’s face.
Five minutes later, we’re in the queue for our tickets. Even with our email print out, you still have to check that in to claim your paper tickets. Needless, if you ask me, but if it guarantees we can get on, who am I to complain?
Five minutes after that, we’re in another queue but this time back at the passenger terminal. Here we wait for about 45 minutes (including the 15 minutes after the gate was supposed to open).
Eventually boarding the ferry ‘Dubrovnik’ bound for the city with the same name, we climbed stairs & scoured walls for signs of our pre-booked seats. Towards the fore (shipping term for front-pointy-bit) we found our seats….
…and quite a few others.
There I am. You can just about make my arm out in the hundreds of chairs that filled the forward section. Just behind this room, there was another equally large room filled with just as many seats. Incredible amount of space considering we expected so few people to join us from Bari.
Nope, wrong. After about 20 minutes, three American ladies joined us as well as two other Italian looking gentlemen. As for the room behind us – bedlam.
What sounded like the entire broadway cast of ‘Mamma Mia’ joined us on board and filled almost every seat with bags, spare bags & constant chatter. The chatter would carry on to the wee small hours of the night, only to come back with a reprise at around six o’clock – still hours before we’re due to arrive. Luckily for me, people’s favorite ‘The Dark Knight’ was being shown on three out of five working televisions, surprisingly without dubbing or subtitles. Especially surprising considering it was on Italian TV.
Just before Franca fell asleep & the lights went out, she managed to take the above picture of me watching – a position I kept all through the film & pretty much during the entire journey as sleep stubbornly evaded me.
Come the dawn, we arrived into Dubrovnik port some nine hours after departing.
Though I barely slept, I would still recommend taking the ferry from Bari to Dubrovnik should the opportunity present itself. It was an experience to say the least & one I would certainly do again, though a day trip might a welcome change.
But that was just a segment of the journey, finally we were in:
TIP – Follow what we saw our fellow American travellers doing: Bring a sleeping bag & blow-up/memory foam neck pillow. They truly looked like pros.