Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Vieni Sul Mar (Come to the Sea)

Shoh, it's all been a bit hectic here at work this morning. Last minute meeting reschedulings, botched room bookings resulting in some serious scrambling to find somwhere as the guests waited downstairs, blissfully unaware of the chaos going on above them. I'm feeling rather overworked and it's not even 11:30am!

Anyway, let's continue with our trip to Italy. On Saturday morning we woke earlier so we could make breakfast, which consisted of freshly baked rolls with various jams and spreads. We would soon discover that this is the traditional breakfast in Italy. Toast and bacon are absent except for in the bigger restaurants, although you can get boiled or scrambled eggs to put on your roll (?), and cheese and ham tend to come as their replacements. By the time we left, we were so sick of rolls, pizza and pasta that we've yet to touch any of them after being home for a week and half.

We picked up our car at the airport at 11:30am, with the intention of cruising along to Lake Garda with the help of our trusy sat-nav. However, this was not to be, as we were informed by a rather indifferent Italian woman that they did not have any sat-navs. We'd booked car with sat-nav almost a month before, and Shoes was enraged that they hadn't even had the decency to phone us and let us know the situation. So we went to the car company next door to see if we could rent a spare sat-nav from them. Then this completely idiotic affair ensued: To rent the sat-nav, we needed to give them a credit card as security. Mark tried his credit card, but it was maxed out with the booking of the car. I couldn't give mine, as the card used had to be the same as the driver's license given, and 2 weeks before Italy I had lost my SA driver's license. We thought we'd hit on a brainwave when we realised we had our South African credit cards, but it turns out they had both expired the previous month. Oh, and they wouldn't accept our debit cards. So there were, with 300 Euros in cash, 2 functional debit cards, one credit card and a British driver's license, and with all that lot we couldn't rent the sat-nav. I think it's quite funny now, but at the time, Shoes was so mad he was practically spitting. He yelled and cursed and stormed all the way to our rental car, sans sat-nav, and was so blinded by ire that he failed to notice the correct numbering of the parking bays, and he went into a fresh bout of raging when he saw what he thought was our car, a Fiat Panda. I timidly re-directed him to the correct parking bay, and ducked behind the new car for fear of another outburst. The outburst never came, however. Instead, there were vague sounds of approval! The new car was a Fiat Bravo (you can tell we're in Italy hey). The woman had muttered something about giving us an upgrade to a bigger car with a diesel engine for the same price, presumably to make up for sat-nav fiasco, but at the time Shoes just growled something about bigger cars costing more to run, and so I didn't think it was good news. It turned out to be a good move on her part though, as once Shoes got behind the wheel, all was forgotten and the sun came out from behind the clouds. Suffice it to say he enjoyed the ride. Of course, what goes up must come down, and by the end of the holiday, he was cursing that car a blue streak, because it really was a tank and he couldn't see the edges, making turning around and parking in the tiny streets of Lake Garda an extremely stressful experience!

Finally we were on our way, Shoes alot calmer and ready for the road trip. Throughout the whole debacle I had kept my cool, mainly because it felt good to be the calm one when usually it is me ranting and raving at someone else's inadequacy. Also, I had to stay calm, as I was the navigator. I had soothed Shoes by telling him the maps were easy to read, and I was sure of where we were going, when in actual fact I was kakking off a bit because none of the above was true. Somehow, on instinct and fear of another Shoes Blood Rage alone, I managed to negotiate us through Mestre and to the highway. We actually took as many wrong turns as right ones on our way to the autostrada, but Shoes doesn't know that and I deserve an Oscar for my convincing performance of Confident and Knowledgable Navigator. If nothing else, I learned this holiday that the secret to map reading is to stay calm. The secret to a peaceful road trip is for the navigator to stay calm and talk in low, soothing tones, and the driver to take hint of this and remain patient and attentive to the navigator. I kept my part of the bargain; Shoes did not keep his. I purred, he shouted. I directed, he freaked out. His pet hate, besides SA losing their matches, is to drive and not know where he is going. Worse, to drive and not know where he is going, and to have to depend on someone for direction who does not necessarily know where she is going either, despite trying very hard. Strangely enough, we were fine for the most part. But the few occasions where we did take a wrong turn, or had to stop and try and figure out where the hell we were headed, were occasions for Shoes to become apopleptic again, to the point where I considered telling him this must be bad for his heart, but refrained from doing so at the last minute. After the 4th or 5th time, I lost my cool and started shouting back, and by the time we arrive in Malcesine on the edge of Lake Garda, I was in a full-on sulk. Despite that, we had a very pleasant journey and all was forgotten when finally we had the bags in our room and the bloody car parked where we couldn't see it.

Malcesine is just gorgeous. Widely known as the prettiest town on the lake, it has cobbled streets, restaurants along the water and a boardwalk that stretches far beyond to the next town over. Put it this way, it's the first time I've felt at home since I left Cape Town. This is largely due to the mountains and the water, of course. We couldn't get over the fact that we weren't by the sea, as everything about it felt like a seaside holiday, except that you swim with ducks and swans instead of cormorants and sea-gulls. Once we got there, it was like we were on a different planet, and our lives in London didn't exist. In Malcesine, everyone is happy all the time, and no-one has any issues - not in a Stepford Wives way, but rather in a If You Lived Here You Wouldn't Have Any Problems Either Cos What The Hell Is There To Worry About way. We spent our time going out for lunch and dinner everyday, roaming the streets of the town and neighbouring Limone, which we got to by taking a ferry across the lake, drinking wine on our balcony and making a few touristy trips, including our cable car ride up to Monte Baldo and our day trip to Verona. I wanted to go to Verona mainly to see Juliet's balcony. For an incurable romantic like me, this is worth the pilgramage to a city which is actually rather ugly, and certainly doesn't have enough redeeming features to make it a must-do on any discerning tourist's itinerary. We also saw the L'Arena, the mini colisseum in the main square (I say mini because the one in Rome is much bigger and far more impressive, even though this one is more well preserved) and the Giardini Giusti, a renaissance garden built back in the 13th century. After sight seeing in Verona, we elected to drive back towards Lake Garda to the thermal baths and get lunch on the way. This was a big mistake. It was Sunday, and we had this great idea of visiting these thermal baths that I had discovered online. They were in a village called Cola on the South East of the lake, and the website made them look like this place of tranquility and peace, where you could take a stroll through the parks and then a quiet dip in one of the mineral springs. Dude, it was like Montagu Springs in the middle of tourist season, but with crowds hand-picked from the middle of Disneyland. There were kids running and screaming everywhere, babies crying, revolting old drunk men in speedos catwalking their wares and seriously over-priced food and drink. Add to that the fact that we hadn't eaten in 6 and a half hours, and I was crabby to the point of being dangerous. I don't do well with no food - "accidentally skipped" meals are not for me; I have to eat three times a day every day at more or less the same time, otherwise Lord have mercy on you. The park itself was pretty, at least, what you could see through the human carpet of shrieking children; and the water was really pleasant, but we only stayed for the hour and half we did as it cost us 21 Euros each to get in, and we couldn't stomach blowing that money completely.

Which brings us to our money situation. Aaah. The joys of going on holiday when you know you can't afford it. Basically we didn't have the spare cash for this trip and we knew it when we booked the tickets. Shoes had done Turkey in May, which turned out to be a VERY expensive holiday; we went to Portugal in August and less than 3 weeks later we were off to Italy, never mind the partying we'd been doing in between. From a financial point of view, we shouldn't have taken this trip. However, if you read my blog back in May while Shoes was in Turkey, you would know that I would happily have robbed a bank to take this trip, and I wasn't going to listen to reason, rationality or common sense. Screw them all, I wanted my damn holiday! Luckily Shoes was on my team (it was us against...???? maybe the voices of my parents in my head) so we went, dangerously close to the limit credit cards and all. During our stay, we juggled like circus clowns; plotting and scheming to make that euro go just that much further, without denying ourselves any of the pleasures we would ordinarily have had, so we could always say we didn't go on such an amazing holiday only to skimp and regret it. What we did regret though, at the very end, with Shoes' credit card maxed out, my own pretty close to it, both our bank accounts empty and only 50 euros in cash remaining, was when my credit card failed to work to pay our accommodation. There was that feeling of icy cold dread; that shock that seeps into your consciousness as your common sense wakes from its dormant slumber and goes, what have you done? That helpless feeling as you realise there is only one way out: phone a friend. Eyes and Scarves rallied like the great housemates they are, and bailed us out with a quick cash transfer, but it was a moment where we genuinely saw our security blanket whipped away on the wind. Turns out you have to phone your bank prior to any international trip if you have a Mastercard, as they need to authorise you to draw larger amounts off it, and we had no idea, having never used our credit cards on holiday before. So we were relieved to find our calculations were correct when we got back to London; we didn't max out both cards - I still had a £150 left on mine! Yippa dee doo dah! I can't bring myself to tell you what my limit is though - some things should remain unsaid for fear of bringing down parental wrath.

All in all it was just the most perfect holiday. We celebrated our 7 year anniversary while away - techincally it fell on 1st September, but because we didn't have the money to go out at the time, we saved it for Italy and had the most amazing dinner our first night in Malcesine. The whole trip we sort of viewed as an anniversary present to ourselves. Of course, when I came back I had plenty of people at work asking to see the ring, but we're not quite there yet; that's another story for another day. The thing now is getting through 4 months of saving and staying home while we try to make back all our zealously spent money, and bumble through what is set to be a very cold English winter, before we go home again for a holiday in January for our first time in a year and a half. No matter how bad this winter gets, it's well worth waiting for!

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