29 May 2018

With Venice to return to normal after we leave tomorrow, we had a vaporetto day, in which we rocked and rolled our way around the Grand Canal and other waterways on the pubic water busses. These are long skinny craft with growling diesel engines that stop every hundred metres or so at designated vaporetto stations which are themselves afloat, with a rocking rhythm all of their own and not coordinated to the rocking rhythm of the vaporetto. Those getting on and off appear drunk; probably some of them are. In contrast to our FAB captain who loved to tie up so gently that you were never quite sure when the ship touched the wharf buffers, the vaporetto captains take delight in banging their boats into the stations when they make a stop. There are no rubber tyres to soften the blows, just the satisfying crunch of steel boat against wharf.

Our first port of call was Murano where the only thing of importance is glass – from tiny beads to huge rearing horses and every shape and colour in between. Every shop sells glass. There are glass factories and glass designers and glass blowers. I noticed some girls sitting outside a dimly lit shop with a sign ‘A Touch of Glass’. I don’t know that that was all about. Anyway, it all wears off pretty quickly, especially if, like me, you’re not crazy about glassware. We vaporettoed our way back and left again on a random trip in the opposite direction. This took us deep into canal land with wonderful buildings in that special ornate Venetian style. Because of the long twilight, we went down at dusk and back just as the canals transformed themselves into patterns of dancing, reflected light.

Wednesday May 30

We thought our suitcases were manageable until we caught a water taxi from the hotel to the train station. Suddenly they are twice as heavy and twice as big. Tour director Senorita Michelle planned that our Italian tour would avoid air travel. I had reservations about training it, but all that changed when we got on the fast train from Venice to Bologna. It was like business class in an aircraft, with a big seat, a waiter to serve lunch and as smooth as silk. So relaxed we became that we nearly missed getting off.

We booked in at a boutique hotel, the Orologio (sounds like a throat complaint). We were given a deluxe room – deluxe because it overlooks the olde worlde square, but anything but deluxe from a size point of view. If we had an oversize room in Venice, we paid it back here. Apart from the bed, the biggest piece of furniture in the room was the mini bar – which wasn’t working anyway. We couldn’t unpack because if we opened a case it would fill the available floor space. I went to open the wardrobe which turned out to be the bathroom. The room has other excitements too. If you turn off the lights, the air conditioner goes off as well, meaning that you either have to sleep with the lights on or run out of air in the dark. The solution is to open the little double doors at the end of the room (which is very close to the beginning of the room) to let in a combination of air and the sound of a badly played saxophone in the square.

Michelle is going to cast the dreaded Trip Advisor spell on the hotel, especially because the internet keeps dropping out. In order to escape from duo-confinement we took a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of a city that specialises in colonnades. It is historically delightful, except that after we hopped on it rained, meaning that we dripped off.

Hotel toaster review

Hand held clamps seem to be a favourite in Italy. This model, the Milan Toast (red crest special limited release) has four hand clamps with nifty opposing mechanism enabling the insertion of the bread with one hand while opening the clamp with the other. Rookie users try to stuff the bread in without waking up to the nifty opposing mechanism. You then plunge the loaded clamp into the infernotron, dial up and wait.


This man had not realised that you have to set the infernotron dial before toasting will commence

Food tour de force it down

Michelle organised for us to go on a food tour of Bologna. We, along with 12 other chompers, met with the chompee at 10 am. She was a slightly built local, and came equipped with an erectile microphone, a black plastic speaker slung below her waist and Kermit the Frog on a pole. The amplification system didn’t really work, and she spoke very softly anyway, thus I missed much of the commentary. She gave the impression of a personality on a children’s television show with the volume tuned off. However, we set off for what turned out to be an enlightening tour of the city, with the emphasis on food. The tour was better value than we’d anticipated. It came endowed with no less than five stops in which the chompers were fed local fare. We should not have had breakfast. We began with chocolate and were told that it made its debut in Bologna in 1833 with the arrival of the first machine to monster the cocoa bean into submission. Both the King of England and the Pope declared themselves partial and stayed in Bologna for six months becoming chocoholics. Then came a sit-down meal with sausage, cheese and wine – which we thought was lunch but were told after we’d pigged out that lunch was our next stop. That comprised pasta and more wine. The chompers were showing signs of eaters’ fatigue at this stage, but we had yet to get through cakes at the bakery and then gelato – another invention of Bologna in 1927. Along the way we passed buildings of historical importance, and kilometres of colonnades, which included the world’s oldest wine bar which had been plonking along since1465.