We had viewed an apartment for the winter ski season, which had a large parcel of land to the side. “IMPOSS-I-BILE!” was the very Italian reaction to our commitment to pay a deposit straight away if we could leave our caravan parked in a discreet corner of the land over the winter.
I said last time that Italian property rental is very different from the UK. The idea was dismissed out of hand, without consideration. There was not even any attempt to negotiate; to seal the deal and get the money in the bank, months in advance. Two foreigners and a caravan? It was all just way too far out of the ordinary.
We had been waiting around in Monte Rosa for two things; to hear back from the landlady of the apartment about parking the caravan and for a pair of sandals to be delivered. My utility sandals had broken on the strenuous climb up to Alpenzu, for which I really should have worn boots. Although we turned the caravan upside down, my back-up pair of flip flops seemed to have vaporised. I suspected that they had fallen in love with the Auvergne and decided to make it their home.
The new sandals arrived on schedule (HURRAH!) but I had somehow ordered the wrong size (BOOOO!) which left me with the puzzle of working out how to return shoes from Italy to Amazon.de! Unfortunately, it was too late to order another pair before we left – although to punish my incompetence, Amazon had applied a swift and significant price increase to sandals of the correct size!
Although we had liked the apartment, we were not too downhearted with the flat refusal to our proposal. Now that it came to it, the thought of being tied down to an actual PLAN was a little distressing. We had browsed some rather tempting apartments with sea views in Sardinia and Crete which were available for the winter season. For the princely sum of €450 per month, we were wondering whether to opt for a warm winter of windsurfing as a change from skiing.
In any case, we reasoned, taking the caravan back to the UK would solve a number of issues. We had been unable to get insurance for storage abroad, so even up a remote mountain in the snow, we were not keen to have caravan Kismet stored anywhere that was not within our sight. Big Blue would need her MOT and Kismet would need her service – and it would also assuage our guilt, since we could fit in an extra visit to our elderly parents!
These caravan cogitations did little to take our minds off the horrendous drive from Gressoney to Verona. Since we were leaving the mountains and every alternative route was tortuous, we braved the toll roads. We had just the three near-misses due to enterprising Italian driving.
One aspiring Andretti shot past us in the fast lane, just inches from the car in front. When the traffic slowed suddenly, he neatly avoided rear-ending the victim of his tailgating by swerving directly into our path. We executed two further emergency stops when lorries in front of us were forced to slam on their brakes by tiny little cars cutting straight under their wheels without warning.
In the interests of moderation, we try to drink alcohol only at weekends. However, when we arrived at our campsite, the warmth and the full moon hanging in a pastel sky just demanded that a bottle of red be broached.
It was 9pm and I was still outside in a bikini, listening to cicadas. We were relaxing on the lawned area to the front of our pitch, admiring the vines growing opposite, while the dogs chased around. We had struggled to find any campsites in the area other than those around the Italian lakes. It was peak season, so we knew that these would be rammed and cost upwards of €40 per night. Then we found Agricampeggio Corte Comotto, a small site just 5km from Verona, which offered pitches for less than €20 per night and was quite clearly run with the utmost love and care.
By mid-morning, the temperature had reached 41°C as we drove into Verona. We are not towny people, but the compact city of Verona has never lost her charm for us. We came here for our first wedding anniversary and just driving in, I realised how much I had missed her. Twenty years is too long to leave a beloved. Verona is a GOB (Get Onyer Bucketlist) – particularly the famous opera festival.
The railway station was only a short walk from the campsite, so we had investigated taking the train into the city. However, only one dog per passenger was allowed and dogs were charged at half price and had to wear muzzles. We don’t have muzzles, we can’t bear to subject our fur babies to muzzles!
Once we had parked, we strolled into Verona, keeping to the deliciously cool and shady sides of her narrow streets, which smelled of ancient, musty mortar. I was on a mission to find replacement sandals. Needless to say, many of the shops on the main shopping streets were closed for a couple of hours. It was that most important of Italian times; pranzo – lunch! (Sometimes you will find that restaurants in Italy close for lunch. “When do you suppose the staff will get to eat?!” is the perfect logic proffered to explain that one!)
We wandered over to Piazza Erbe and treated ourselves to a pizza, under our namesake, the Torre dei Lamberti – Lambert’s Tower! It was really fun – our waiter, Alex, had enticed us in by promising ‘free drinks for the dogs!’ He was as good as his word and less than €10 later, we had enjoyed a delicious pizza in the centre of Verona, complete with entertainment from our waiters, who joked around with everyone.
With lunch having cost so little, our witty waiters deserved their generous tip!
We had made arrangements to meet up with some friends from the UK at the Arena in Piazza Bra. It was wonderful to see them and it felt so exotic and jet-set to have engineered a rendezvous in a foreign city! We went to a beautiful, old fashioned Pasticceria for coffee and a cake. It would have been romantic to sit outside on the pavement, but was so hot that we decided to go inside and take advantage of the air conditioning. The interior was all cool tiles, chandeliers and aged, dark wood – and the management didn’t bat an eyelid when welcoming four dogs into such genteel environs!
“I want some shoes that are a cross between sandals and hiking boots.” I announced to Stephen. He nearly choked. “And you are looking for those in VERONA?!” I had to admit, it was a big ask.
For a couple of years now, we have been ‘away from it all’ and the only aromas that have assaulted our nostrils have been natural; herbs, hay, cut grass, pine and the clear air that you find in the mountains or by the sea.
As we walked along the marble flagstones of swanky Via Mazzini, I was struck by the overpowering, manufactured scent of expensive perfumes; as unnatural and repulsive to me now as the cloying, petrochemical stench that you get when passing an oil refinery.
“All this stuff we don’t need!” I said to Mark as we passed window after window of designer emporia. Once, I might have been beguiled by the high fashion, the beautiful shoes and the soft fabrics, but that desire has left me completely. Being entirely happy with your lot. It is a lovely way to be.
We saw tourists tramping round, weighed down with logo-ed bags. We wondered if what they had bought would make them any happier. That’s consumerism for you. Mind, I have to admit to an uncontrollable urge to own that new pair of outdoor sandals…
My recent full-scale loss on the sandal front had forced me to walk around in 40°C wearing a pair of trainers. Despite the discomfort, this footwear choice also added nothing to the designer appeal of my summer dress in the mean streets of fashionable Verona!
On the up side, we did manage to score an Italian Pay-As-You-Go Data SIM card, which gave us 30GB of Data for €15 per month – twice the allowance of our UK SIM for the same price.
Although Italy is famous for her footwear, our shopping exploits were not successful on the Utility Sandal front.
Like parking a caravan next to a ski apartment, buying a pair of outdoor sandals in Verona.
I would just like to add that, having made the decision to repatriate Caravan Kismet for the winter, we did enquire about the apartment a few months later. As a reflection of perfect business acumen, it was no longer available for seasonal rental, because it had been let for a week over Christmas!