Sometimes you just get lucky. It can be cold and wet on the northern side of the Alps and the sun shines in the south. Last week I found myself on the sunny side of the Alpine street.
Thank goodness. Due to a numerically traumatic birthday, I was taken away to pretend to be young and rich. We took the train to Stresa on the Lago Maggiore – a town which strikes horror in the heart of a true juvenile. It is staid. It is calm. It is quiet and refined. It is full of old palazzos and old fogies. As one matures, one appreciates these very qualities. Plus, there is the bonus that you can always easily spot someone older than yourself.
The grand hotel is a splendid specimen of European opulence. Its new spa jetted us full of exciting bubbles and gave the illusion of exercise as we gazed mindlessly into the pink of the evening. Dinner was as elegant as a cut diamond and so empty (the chocolate and pear dessert was a smear of chocolate on the plate, and a possibly homeopathic drop of pear essence on a miniscule cream rosette) we talked about ordering a pizza as we walked along the painting-lined corridor back to our room-with-a-view.
Things came down to earth the next day as we struggled to reach our final destination, the fishing town of Chioggia. We had to catch the bus from an obscure site in the urban chaos of Padova and squeeze our suitcases between teenage bodies that were spread and clinging like octopuses to the seats.
The next day, travelling along the Lido into Venice, bus seats were again at a premium. You were supposed to have a crutch or be about to give birth to merit one. Fleet-footed passengers snapped them up and immediately studied their phones as though hypnotized, ignoring the white-haired hunched-over people groaning all around them.
When that particular bus unexpectedly rolled onto a ferry, we clutched our day ticket even tighter as the elements were suddenly mixed. At that moment a true holiday was achieved. Perhaps lost, we had the wealth of time and transport to find our way back home.
As the days slipped past, meals and walks and boat rides relaxed into the quotidian. We learned that John Cabot–bumping into Newfoundland in 1497, but thinking he was in Asia–had lived here. Then there was the Chinese-run restaurant down by the clam boats: the way to the washroom was lined with slot machines and the players wished you “Buongiorno!” as you went past.
And the surprise of the Thursday market along the Corso Popolo was absolute—the mountains of leather, clothes, shells, bicycle horns, shoes, culminated in the ladies’ underwear section. No trying-on was necessary or attempted. The saleslady sized you up, held articles against the appropriate body part, and extolled the merits of a strong hefty article that was fit for purpose.
She brought golden optimism to her bras and bloomers and her customers all left smiling. They had been sold luck.