Sabato 7 luglio 2007

Today, we effected the transition that no-one with any holiday planning skills should effect: cradled in the cold Alps to basking in the heat of northern Italy. We were headed for Vicenza, a small town just up the train line from Venezia (Venice), largely because we wanted to go to Venezia.

This slight change of plan was brought about by the realisation that it’s very hard to book hotels in popular Italian tourist destinations in the height of summer a mere two days in advance. Perhaps someone could have mentioned this to us before we started surfing the Web in blind hope two days previously.

And hot it was. Sweltering. You know the place you are in is truly hot when sitting on a metal crash barrier, in the shade, next to a river in the early evening only makes you cooler because you’ve momentarily stopped lugging your rucksack. The air is hot on your nostrils as the sweat beads on your brow. There’s nowhere to cool down here.

The other thing we noticed as soon as we left the train station was the roads—or, more precisely, the drivers. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true. The Italians are stark-raving-“what’s-a-right-of-way?” mad when it comes to driving. I’m not quite sure how Italian pedestrian crossings work, but stopping at them seems to be entirely optional which, to me at least, doesn’t seem like the safest way to do anything other than strike terror into the hearts of tourists.

The most bizarre thing was one set of traffic lights. We were walking towards them along quite a long stretch of road, and could see them for a good five minutes before passing them and, that whole time, they flashed amber. This didn’t seem to me to be an endorsement of Italian traffic laws. As my “internationally understood light signals” understanding goes, flashing is bad, and red or amber are bad, so flashing amber is probably about one-and-a-half bad (not quite double bad, which would probably need to be flashing red). Throw in a possible misconception from UK traffic lights, and amber says something between “get ready to stop” and “get ready to go”, under which circumstances you should exercise caution doing either.

Add all this together, and the Italian lights seemed to be saying precisely what the Italian driver cliché would have you believe—“stop, go, do whatever, but you’re basically fucked either way, the road ahead is covered in Italians!!”

Having negotiated our way away from the traffic, though, Vicenza is a lovely, if stinking hot, little town. We dined on pizza and wine, and chatted the evening away, surrounded by the bustle of Italy’s café culture, and served by a bloke from Lewisham.

It was with slight regret at our continuing poor holiday planning that we retired to the tacky Hostelling International Vicenza hostel. Why had we only given ourselves an evening here? (Because we’d never heard of it and were just trying to get to Venezia, you idiot, didn’t you read the first paragraph?)

As I tossed and turned in the sweltering heat, I reasoned to myself that it was OK—soon we’d be in glorious, famous Venezia. I would be just like that Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. Except hopefully I wouldn’t have to save my girlfriend from a collapsing building in order to stop her double-crossing me.

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