My last week in Italy had some highs in low places and lows in high places and a continuance of an adaptation to life on the road. The two towns I visited, Riva del Garda and Alesandria, each had their own beauty, albeit one a little more dramatic than the other.
The trip to Riva was a little crazy. I was supposed to meet my Dad and Stepmom at the Cruiseship docks in Venice, so I went to the port a half hour before the official docking time of 9 am just to be on the safe side. From the docks, we were going to get a rental car and drive up to Riva. This was one of the reasons I absolutely needed to have a cell phone in Italy, to connect with my father. Now whether because of the steel of the cruise ship or the fact that my dad rarely turns on his phone despite me getting him to promise it would be the first thing he did when he woke up, we didn’t connect and I kept getting sent to voicemail. Fun European fact – countries don’t have roaming agreements, so my Italian phone number calling Dad’s German phone number burned right through my credit just calling and leaving voicemails. Also, with heightened security, you’re not allowed in the port unless you have a ticket. So there I stood, searching every taxi driving by for my parents, outside the gates of the port, in the hot sun for over four hours. My parents in meantime, didn’t see me when they got off the ship and assumed my plans had changed, boarded a bus to the AIRPORT to pick up their rental car. They didn’t see me as they were leaving the port and I wasn’t even looking at busses.
Right before noon, some crew members from my parent’s Costa ship were coming through the gate – not a good sign. Crew usually can’t disembark until the passengers have been cleared through customs. They confirmed that passengers disembarking were gone. At this point, I figured my sister would have been notified if there had been a medical emergency and she would have gotten me some information, so I figured I should make my way up to Lake Garda. After going back and forth between Venice train stations, I find the train which will get me 3/4 of the way where I then had to navigate local bus time tables (not provided). Ok! Right before I get on the train, my phone starts ringing. Hooray – in coming calls don’t seem to go against my nonexistent credit. My father’s photo “Secret Agent Man” starts ringing.
“Hi Daddio, where are you?”
“At the airport! Where are you?”
“At the train station! Maybe you can come pick me up?”
Well, it’s not as easy to drive back into old Venice as I hoped. I already had the ticket so why don’t I meet them at the end point. Even though it takes a little longer by train, they haven’t eaten and my step mom’s blood sugar is always in question. I figure 2 1/2 more hours is a small price to pay for a missed connection.
Fast forward 2 1/2 hours and my dad is not at the train station.I figure lunch probably took longer than expected. I can’t call him, but I have just enough data to text my sister and have her call him. However there is a 6 hour time difference and she is juggling my 2 and 4 year old nieces. My dad calls right after the last bus for the next 3 hours leaves the area.
“I’m here at the station.”
“Oh shit. We couldn’t find the station, so we headed to our hotel.”
“No worries – I’ll find my own way up into the mountains,” I may have said, many decibels above normal.
And so I had dinner at the McDonald’s across the way. McDonald’s and or Burger King seem to have bought every piece of real estate available near a bus station in Italy. And they are cheap (at least out in the sticks). I thought about the mess over high grade European fast food burger patties and espresso and a chocolate coronet. I had been “Hangry”. I had a banana that morning and now it it was 6pm. This never leads to great decisions or communication. Both my dad and I were working under technology assumptions – that I would have this awesome unlimited phone plan and my dad would have data on his phone (something that never ended up working, not only affecting communication but also his ability to navigate). One bad day. Time to reset and and make the next day great.
Easily done around Lake Garda. The location is idyllic with breathtaking mountains surrounding a pristine clear lake. I had a great and flexible host. My dad and I were able to connect devices to wifi. We got some hiking in as planned. We had some wonderful Italian food and gelato. I got in a good run. My host took me to his period dance class where I leaned to do a couple fancy dances from the 1800’s. A petty good time, even though it ended up being the culmination of a couple busy and stressful weeks.
The comparison to the Easter weekend couldn’t have been more different. Many friends and complete strangers have asked “Why are you going to Alessandria?” This is not a big town or a UNESCO heritage site. It was exactly what I needed. I was traveling there to see hosts that I had stayed with 24 years ago while I was in a cast of Up With People. Although I lost their contact information in a flood 20 years ago, Franco and Francesca had tracked me down on Facebook a couple of years ago, wishing for a reunion. I couldn’t be traveling in Europe without saying hi. However, even they apologized for not having the time to leave their own city. “I wish we could make time to go to the coast or another big city you haven’t been to”. As if their city didn’t have enough to entertain me. I explained they were the sole reason I came and if we played cards in the basement all weekend long I would be just as happy.
But Alesandria is in Italy and by nature, looks beautiful to me, with it’s old buildings and beautiful design and wide open shopping and eating districts. I had time to get in a couple of long runs and relax and get some work and correspondence done and we got a lot of time together, eating and telling stories, and watching photos. Clearly 24 years had past but there was still an amazing pride at having affected each other’s lives so long ago. After 3 weeks of mad, hectic dashes over the Italian countryside, I truly felt I got some rest and focus and energy from peope who continue to care for me – first my dad and then some friends that proved that time is an illusion to the heart.