Twelve Nights in Italy, The Fast Storm

100 metres from the hotel the sky went black and a gusting wind blew up from nowhere. A door opened to our right and a man in a chef’s outfit stuck his head out, looked at the sky, made a gasping noise and hastily withdrew back indoors, slamming the door shut with such force it was as though the four horsemen were fast approaching.

We didn’t need a telegram. We ran.

After 50 metres it started to spit.

After 75 metres, the spits turned into rapid-fire hailstones the size of peas.

From the sanctuary of our room overlooking Lake Garda, we watched as the world outside the window was stripped of colour as if some higher being had clicked the ‘desaturate’ button.

Hailstones launched a vicious assault on the outdoor terrace below our windows and a sadistic wind lifted a chunky wooden table from the patio, dumping it upside down in the lake where it drifted off on an unplanned adventure to pastures new.

Storm on Lake Garda

The table’s flight brought the receptionist running onto the hotel’s jetty in vain pursuit. She watched impotently as the table sailed off; her shocking, and sodden, pink shirt adding a vibrant splash to the greyout.

It was end of the world scenery… for about twenty minutes.

And then the clouds dissipated, the sun came out and colour once again flowed back into the hills, water and buildings around us.

The fast storm was gone. Job done.

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Twelve Nights in Italy, The Hotel Had Good Views…

The hotel had good views. Which was just as well as looking inwards was depressing enough to set off a medley of country & western songs in my head.

Vesio, Lake Garda

Our room was stuck in 1970s blandsville. The décor was bland and the furnishings made by the most bored carpenter in ‘create it out of a pack’ land. As for the village, the only store closed at 7.30pm… on a Saturday night.

Not only that, the hotel insisted half board guest ate dinner before 8pm so they could concentrate on the ‘real’ diners in the restaurant. Second class citizen much.

To be fair, the food was decent even though it felt as though the waiter was trying to break some sort of record for dishing up three courses as rapido as possible.

First thing in the morning we were out of there even faster than the speed at which the waiter had brought us the three cheese ravioli the previous night.

Arrivederci Vesio, you were an Italian blip.

Twelve Nights in Italy, The House at Lake Ledro

Our hotel is immaculate. The grounds stretch almost all the way to the main road at the entrance to the village. They’re manicured and obviously well looked after. The hotel itself is spick and span. And yet right in front of our window is a ramshackle old house whose top floor is completely open to the elements.

I can see right inside. The wooden floor looks dusty and rickety. The roof doesn’t look as though it could deter the lightest of showers. And strung across the glassless windows is a line of washing, drying in the warm breeze. The items of clothing and bedding on it are seriously unstylish. Some look like rags, it hardly seems worth the effort to dry them.

House near Lake Ledro

It’s an odd looking house. Maybe more so because our hotel and grounds completely surround it and there’s a jarring contrast between the two buildings.

Who lives there I wonder? A stubborn old farmer who refused to sell out as the hotel expanded?

It’s curious and shoddy. A blip in the Matrix. There’s an air of defiance about it.

I like it.

Twelve Nights in Italy, Bergamo

We make great time from Milan Airport, even negotiating motorway tolls without causing too many traffic jams. It’s Italy, people expect a bit of unpredictability.

It’s still daylight when we drive into Bergamo ahead of schedule… and then we hit the old town.

It’s small. How difficult can it be to find our hotel? The answer is very.

My instinct tells me we’re close. The one way system tells me we can’t go the way I want.

Old street in Bergamo, Italy

We drive around and around narrow streets. The town is beautiful but I’d rather be on foot than driving around in ever decreasing circles.

One road takes us away from the centre and two joggers point us back the way we’ve come.

We must be close… and then we end up in a tiny piazza with roads hardly big enough to take a Vespa spreading out from the centre like the legs of starfish. I leave the car to seek help in a bar. The waitress doesn’t speak any English but walks with me to a polenta bar where the waiter does.

The polenta bar makes me hungry – wild boar polenta and red deer polenta sound interesting, but I’ve got a hotel to find.

I tell the waiter my problem and he consults two slightly inebriated men tucking into bowls of the thick cornmeal. A debate ensues. They know where the hotel is; however, there seems to be a lack of accord about how to get there by car. I’m glad it isn’t just us then… but it doesn’t help.

No entry, Bergamo, Italy

A plan is formulated. We follow it hoping someone knew what they were talking about. Finally, an hour after we arrived in Bergamo, we drive into a small piazza supposedly near the hotel. It is the second time we’ve been in this piazza.

A no entry sign on the only exit via an narrow arch bars our progress. We double park outside a building with Carabinieri written across the door and I continue on foot.

Our hotel lies just beyond the other side of the arch. So close and yet so far. I still don’t know how to get there. I sweep into reception as though I’m Phileas Fogg on a deadline and tell the receptionist that we’re stranded on the other side of the arch and don’t know how to drive to the hotel.

“Oh, just ignore the no entry sign,” she smiles as though the answer was obvious. “It’s the only way. The police won’t bother if you tell them you’re staying here.”

Ignore a no entry sign as you drive past the police station. How could I not have figured that out?

Benvenuto in Italia.