We had spent about five or six days visiting the Aeolian Islands in Southern Italy.
Our last night in the islands, we decided to take a guided hike to the summit of Stromboli, one of the most active volcanoes in Europe. The hikes are scheduled so that you reach the summit – the crater – well after dark, so you can sit on the rim and watch it erupt.
We returned to the base of volcano around 1 am, regrouped, and took a boat back to Lipari.
The return was hectic. We hit high seas, and water poured into the boat. It was pitch black around us, so we couldn’t see for certain, but the swells must have been 10 feet as they soaked the upper deck of the boat. The boat was rocked about the water violently, and all passengers returned to the lower deck. Many vomited. Even members of the boat’s crew panicked. The engines of the boat were cut, and we sat silently amongst the turbulence. After about 15 minutes, the captain started the engines again, and we finished our ride back to Lipari.
We made it back to our room on Lipari around 3 am, covered in dirt and ash. We showered, and crashed just before 4. The alarm went off at 6 am. We quickly rose, and boarded another ferry to the mainland of Sicily. From here, we took a 10 hour train ride up the Adriatic coast.
It took about 10 hours (starting around 8 am, from Messina, the city on the eastern edge of Italy) to reach Bari. We got to Bari about 20 minutes before the last train headed for Matera (and it was a train run by a private carrier, so it didn’t run frequently). It took about an hour or more to reach Matera.
We made a reservation at the Sassi Hotel a few days earlier. Once we arrived at the train station in Matera, we pulled out a map of the city. We were exhausted (it was about 9 pm at this point), and it was dark and hard to read the map. After stumbling around and arguing on the city streets, a stranger led us to our hotel.
Matera is known as one of the oldest cities in the world still inhabited in its original form. Between the 4th-6th centuries, caves, or sassi, were carved into the soft rock on the ravines below the more modern city. These stone dwellings are still used today, now furnished with water and electricity. Our hotel was in one of these cave dwellings.
By about 9:30 pm, we’d checked into our room. We dropped our bags on the balcony, and looked out over the old city glowing in light. It was a cool summer night, and the air was dry and refreshing. It was an endurance test to make it to Matera, but once we saw the sassi, we understood we accomplished something in our travels, and we made it to a totally unique part of the world.