Day 6: FEED ME
My earlier ‘rain day’ in Arco had turned out not to be a day off at all, but this time, I needed a day off. My knees have never hurt the way they did that morning, and I had no problem aborting vague plans to explore the hiking trails around Limone in favour of eating all the food I could possibly dredge up in town.
It went okay.
After a breakfast of more crumbled-wafer porridge, I set out for a look around. *Some* places were open this day, at least, including a café with some anemic pre-packaged prosciutto & cheese sandwiches. Well, I wasn’t feeling picky.
Limone itself is just stunning – mountains towering overhead, clear sparkling lake lapping at the edges, picturesque alleyways and medieval walls winding up the hill – and I can certainly appreciate why it’s a big tourist attraction. There must be a sweet spot, after the deadest deadness but before the height of the tourist invasion, when restaurants are open but the streets aren’t yet overrun. Right? Surely. That must be a truly wonderful time to visit Limone.
Suppertime arrived, and my AirBnB host told me that there would be one restaurant open that night. I duly spruced myself up, hydrated in case of wine, and stuffed my pockets with euros. I had some major caloric deficit to make up for tonight.
The restaurant was closed.
I found a shop that sold me some Pringles, at least, and used that little energy boost to repeat the previous night’s ravenous exploration of the town. After perhaps half an hour, I poked my head hopefully into a café that looked like it might be open. The friendly server informed me that they were closing in 15 minutes and were only serving drinks now.
I don’t know what depths of sorrow & despair my face betrayed upon hearing that news, but it worked. The server dug around and mercifully offered to warm up a(nother) prosciutto & cheese sandwich for me, and brought a little bowl of chips (as in crisps, not frites) to go with the carafe of wine I had immediately ordered. So on my day off in Eataly with an empty stomach and several days’ food budget burning a hole in my pocket, the only food to pass my lips was Desperation Porridge, chips, and prosciutto & cheese sandwiches. I got wine out of it, at least, and was in fact profoundly grateful for that last sandwich. What on earth would I have done without it? (More bloody porridge is the answer.)
The server turned out to speak quite good English (I could have cried), because he has family in Edmonton and has even visited over the winter. We chatted amicably about how cold Canada is while I devoured the little meal he’d so kindly thrown together for me. I popped the last bite of sandwich into my mouth three minutes past closing time, thanked him from the bottom of my heart, and left a 40% tip despite his protests.
Day 7: Limone to Bergamo
This was supposed to be a non-day. I was supposed to pack up, catch the 10:30 bus to Brescia, where I’d catch another bus to Bergamo airport, and fly home to Prague. Things went royally south, of course, but I did accomplish my stretch goal of befriending an Italian in the end. So there’s that.
My day began promisingly when I found myself standing inside an actual, open, bustling café, successfully ordering food in Italian. Glorious.
I’d bought a bus ticket the day before, and verified the schedule at the tourist info centre (considering that there isn’t even food here, imagine my surprise when I learned that the tourism office was open year-round). I turned up about 30 minutes early for the bus, and there was one guy already waiting. He said something in Italian, and we went through the now-accustomed routine of checking for shared languages (“Français?” “No. Español?” “No. Uhhhhmmm…Deutsch?” “No…”). Though the answer turned out to be negative, that didn’t stop us chatting away. Basically, he spoke Italian, and I would listen with fierce concentration until I figured out what he was talking about and then improvised a response in made-up Latin-Italian. We got along famously.
He told me that he’d been waiting there for hours, and two buses that should have come by hadn’t turned up. That wasn’t promising, because the 10:30 bus we were now awaiting was the last one scheduled until that evening. And naturally, 10:30 came and went with no coach. My friend inquired at the tourism office, and apparently the company claimed that the buses had indeed passed through the town. But that’s not possible. We hadn’t gone anywhere, and we hadn’t seen any buses.
My friend wandered off to deal with his frustration in solitude. Half-panicked, I went into the tourism office myself, where the man thankfully spoke English. I asked how it was possible that we could have missed the bus. He didn’t know, but mentioned that it wasn’t so much a *bus* we were waiting for as a *van*…
We were on a busy street. You’re supposed to flag down your bus when it comes, but because we weren’t looking for a van, it’s entirely possible (indeed, almost certain) that it just drove straight past.
As the realisation dawned that I really had missed my bus, the tourism man (bless him) really cranked up the sympathy. He asked when I had to be at the airport. Not for hours, but that had been the last bus (“bus”) until the evening. I asked him if there was any way to get to the airport from here on time. He said maybe, but his eyes told me it would be impossible. I was trapped. I was trapped and alone in a town with no food, where just making small talk with a stranger pushed the very limits of my focus and intellect.
Chin quivering, I asked if hitchhiking was legal in Italy. Once I’d explained what ‘hitchhiking’ meant, his face fell and he came up with a last-ditch suggestion. Why not take a taxi to a town where I could catch another bus? It would cost €40, but should get me there on time.
I dug through my pockets, counted my change, and came up with €38,50. Taxis don’t take VISA, and there wasn’t a bank machine around that would take my card. He helped me exchange my bus ticket for a slightly cheaper one, bringing my tally up to €39,50. He phoned the cab company and talked them down to €35. This could just work. I thanked the tourism man a thousand times and stepped back outside just as my friend was returning to the bus stop. Somehow, I managed to convey to him that I had a cab coming, and did he want to split it with me?
Yes! Yes of course he did!
And when the cab came, my friend talked the driver down even further to €30! Turns out I had been quoted the anglo tourist price. Just like that, in 10 whirlwind minutes, I went from ‘completely fucked’ to ‘paying €15 to fix everything’.
We drove maybe half an hour to a town that had more…predictable…bus service, and within just a couple of hours, to my astonishment, I found myself in Bergamo airport with time to kill and plenty of money left for lunch (even for the massive lunch my empty belly was demanding).
So when I use ‘self-reliance’ to describe this time, you can see how totally misleading that is. What really happened was that I realised I simply couldn’t function, I couldn’t solve every problem, without sucking it up and talking to people. I needed directions, I needed food, I needed to get to the airport as cheaply as possible, and the only way to get it done was to get over my isolation and anxiety over speaking Italian. And it went great! People are lovely, even when you butcher their language!
Incidentally, this knowledge made my next trip, Provence, sooooo much easier…