We left Lake Bled about midday on Friday amid a heavy rain shower. I wouldn’t call it a storm exactly. There was no wind or menace really – just a lot of rain. Kind of like that heavy but background rain you get in Connemara. The roads in this part of the world are excellent and so we made great progress. Lena was surprised how quickly we breached the border into Italy. Again there was no great fanfare, no customs officers but we did get a ‘Benvenuti in Italia’. With all the current talk of isolationism in the world, it would be worth bringing some Brexiteers and their ilk through these European borders and then showing them archive footage of how things used to be. Collectivisation of countries has its drawbacks but lack of wars, free movement of people, services and goods ain’t too bad either.
This part of Italy is very wealthy and its general infrastructure bears this out. Everything east and north of Venice is also more Germanic in character than Italian. Again, when you note these points, the idea of nations seems more and more ridiculous. A figure that you see a lot while visiting any of the towns of Italy, north or south, is Garibaldi, the leading figure in the unification of Italy. Before Garibaldi, Italy was a melting pot of city states. Manzoni, the author, made it his life’s work to do the same with the languages of Italy. Before his drive to standardise the language around the Florentine dialect, there were around 1,500 dialects in use along the peninsula and in the adjoining islands. And in many cases these dialects were entirely incompatible with the ones in use in the surrounding villages.
We arrived into Padua in the late afternoon as has been the norm on our trip. Padua is a beautiful Medieval town but as with many European towns and cities, in order to find the beauty of a place you must peel back its less beautiful suburbs. We were staying in the Hotel Giovanni located in one of these peripheral zones and while it got great reviews, it didn’t look so promising on arrival. To further increase my sense of unease about the place, I forget to put the car into park and we rammed headfirst into the back wall of the hotel.
We left the bags in the room and drove to the edge of the mainly pedestrianised historical centre. Padua, which is famous for its Giotto frescoes, is really quite magnificent and there is much less of a touristy feel about the place than is the case with a lot of its neighbours. We stopped off for a tea at the Cafe Pedrocchi, which is situated inside what looks to be a replica of the Ara Pacis in Rome; at least, they’ve gone for a fairly similar Augustan decorative style – all Carraran white marble, bucrania and cornucopia. We then continued our wander and bought local salami and pecorino cheese in the markets beneath the fabulous Palazzo della Ragione. We ended up seated on some steps overlooking a lively Piazza dei Signori eating pizza slices and arancini.
And then it all started to get a bit strange. We made our way back to the hotel, tired after the day’s travels and ready for bed. The hotel was quiet as during the day but once the lights were on and the curtains drawn it looked fairly comfortable. I read for a bit and then turned the lights off. Lena was already asleep as I drifted off. I woke up I’d say no more than 30 minutes later to… how to put this, energetic sounds coming from somewhere in the building. This went on for an hour or so and when Lena woke and I asked her if she could hear anything, she confirmed that the source of the sounds wasn’t my head. Anyway, the night continued in this way with the odd scream thrown in for good measure. The next morning I half expected to come out to a scene of a cult massacre but instead everything seemed fine over breakfast and all the staff were very pleasant. I checked my phone in the breakfast room and saw that I had received a message during the nigth from the hotel. It contained a single dot.
We had thought about staying one more night at Hotel Giovanni and using it as a base to visit Verona, which is just up the road, but with all things considered, we decided against it.