Euro 2, 2008

Bond drove listlessly down the Cote d’Azur… sorry, wrong story. I’ll start again…

Alessandro struggled back up the hill towards the campsite office. It was hot, humid and Camping Serenella was 90% full. This time of year there were always problems to deal with. In an average day he would have to repair broken equipment, resolve disputes between neighbours in the tightly-packed community and sort out situations like the British couple that insisted their Range Rover had been broken into overnight because their Tom Tom was missing, A veteran DIY expert and blessed with a calm and logical disposition, Alessandro had quickly figured out that without any signs of forced entry, it was more likely the device had been misplaced during a tidy up. He was right of course but it didn’t stop the couple from approaching divorce-point over who was to blame. Alessandro could have divorced himself from the problem and simply called the police. But this being Italy even that would not be simple…

In Italy, there are several separate police forces (all with impressive hats). Your choices are the Polizia – the state police (large guns and blue Fiat cars), the Carabinieri – military police but omnipresent as they perform civil duties, (menacing guns and larger Fiats or Alpha Romeos with a lightning-flash logo), the Guardia de Finanza – fiscal police but with full police powers, (very small guns but enormous calculators and any car-type they can justify on expenses), the Polizia Municipale (small guns and dusty Lancias), Polizia Locale (guns but no bullets and Opel/Vauxhall/Holden Astras without wheel trims but very impressive lights), Vigili Urbani (bullets but no guns and Mum’s Fiat Bambina). But wait, fancy a larger selection of law enforcement officials? Well your choices don’t end there. Depending on your preferences for uniforms/weapons/modes of transport, you can call the Polizia of other hues such as the Polizia di Stato, Provinciale, Regionale, Penintenziaria, Costeria or Forestale. There are of course marine divisions of these forces (and for all I know airborne divisions too) so who are you gonna call? I have no idea and when you have made the decision, all of these forces have different emergency numbers! (My apologies to members of any other Italian Police forces that I have neglected to include. I’m sure there must be several more and yes, your hats and uniforms are simply fantastic).

“ Alessandro to the office please…” echoed around the campground as the receptionist again paged Mr. Fixit. This time it was Jane’s turn for assistance. Jane had opened the door of the front-loading washing machine before it had emptied, not from choice but in a desperate attempt to extract our washing from a machine that had decided to cease functioning completely. She had been to the office several times and the various solutions suggested by reception (and a maid mopping the office floor) had all been tried. Hitting the box where the tokens go in, thumping the machine on the top, inserting another token and waiting longer to see if it would start working again had all been tried but had not produced the desired results.

Alessandro heard his name being called over the public address system again. He raised an eyebrow, shifted his cap and scratched at the perspiration droplets on his lined forehead. He wrapped his tools in the greasy cloth he used to carry them from crisis to crisis and thus suspended repair of the leaking tap that had vexed him on and off for the last three days. He trudged back up the hill to the office to find out what the next problem was. It was a Dutch couple that had slipped on the smooth marble flooring of the laundry area due to a large amount of water around one of the washing machines. They were threatening legal action. He took over from where the receptionist had been explaining Camping Serenella’s position, until the ringing telephone had drawn her away. Alessandro explained calmly that their footwear (smooth-soled Crocs) was inappropriate for a camp ground. Especially inappropriate in the bathroom and laundry areas where water on the floors could and should be expected. He was surprised (but didn’t show it) when they accepted his explanation and withdrew from the office.

You would think buying the requisite tokens for washing machines and dryers and getting a couple of loads of washing done would be a straight-forward proposition. We had guessed that a couple of hours would be required and decided to accomplish this task here at Lake Garda before pressing on to Venice. We had bought 4 tokens to cover 2 loads of washing and drying and I had been forced to retire for a lie-down to contemplate the combined cost of 32 dollars, but not before I had pointed out to the receptionist that I really only wanted to wash and dry our existing clothes and not purchase entire replacement wardrobes.

The laundry for this large campground consisted of 2 washing machines, (old domestic Italian machines) and 1 drier – a condenser model with no heating elements (not that we found that out until it had been running for 2 hours and the wash was still as wet and cold as when it went in – gosh that was worth $8 and 2 hours). The first washing load went in and the machine (eventually) on. The machine washed for 2 hours and then stopped. It turns out the timer that takes the token runs for 2 hours and then cuts the power to the machine, but at that point the washing machine still hasn’t finished its cycle – it is part way through rinsing and still full of water – hence the flying Dutchman and hence the call “Alessandro to the office please…”

Italy is delightful, the people are charming and stylish, but it is not synonymous with efficiency. We had learned from experience that checking in at a campground in San Remo required the surrendering of our passports, the selection of a site and the choice of how many amps we wanted for electricity connection. On this occasion we had (hindsight would suggest foolishly), wanted to vacuum the van and this meant waiting on the site for a maid to arrive by bicycle who then unlocked the electrical connection box, plugged us in, locked the box and then disappeared on her bicycle before we switched on the vacuum cleaner – only to find we tripped the supply. I then walked back to the office, negotiated an increase in supply, promised to pay (on departure) an increased amount, signed an appropriate form and walked back to the van to await the maid’s return on her bicycle to replace the circuit breaker with one of higher amperage. Nothing happened for quite sometime, so I returned to the office to see if they had forgotten we were waiting. We hadn’t been forgotten, it was just that the maid was rather busy cycling around the campground, locking and unlocking power boxes for other arrivees, so I returned to the van and waited. In due course she did return but I shouldn’t have been surprised, there had been a breakdown in communication. She simply reset the existing circuit breaker rather than replacing it, which of course tripped again as soon as we switched the vacuum cleaner on. I reappeared at the office, explained the problem and because the receptionist thought the circuit breaker had been replaced with one sufficiently powerful to supply a small village, concluded that there must be something wrong with our van. To avoid making this story even longer, let me summarise by saying we did sort out the problem but it took 4 staff, 3 hours and 4 visits to the office to get to the point where I could actually vacuum the van – which took 10 minutes. We eventually left that campground after waiting for the maid to pedal over and unlock the power box so we could regain ownership of our power lead. Naturally this final step doesn’t occur until after you have paid your bill and signed for receipt of your passports – 6 signatures for 3 passports. Italy is like that.

Guglielmo Marconi (or Googly as his Irish mother (Annie Jameson – the granddaughter of the Irish Whisky magnate), called him), is popular around the Lake Garda area. I never knew why as he went to university in Bologna, did most of his early experiments in England and became accepted by the international scientific community as the father of radio (or wireless telegraphy as he called it) in St. John’s Newfoundland in 1901 when he made the world’s first transatlantic radio broadcast from Cornwall. Generally, sources record that first broadcast as being either; a series of Morse code renditions of the letter S, (he was a terrible stutterer) or the short verbal message “Are you ready?” (ready for what has never been explained). I now realise that the reason Googly Marconi is so popular in Lake Garda is because it was recently verified that the world’s first transatlantic radio broadcast on 12/12/1901 was… “Alessandro to the office please…”

We grew to know Camping Serenella over 3 days but I wouldn’t say we grew to love it as it costs over $100 per night for a campervan and 3 adults. The sites are miniscule, bumpy and muddy when it rains. There is no lake view, rather you have an uninterrupted view of your neighbours at very close proximity. The walk to the toilet blocks is lengthy and when you do get there you knew there was something nagging at the back of your mind. Yep, there is no toilet paper and you really should have brought it with you before you started the trek. Oh and don’t forget the soap and a towel – you won’t find any of that sort of convenience in these conveniences. Electricity is however included and is completely adequate providing you weren’t planning on running anything more demanding than a low-energy light bulb or perhaps a small cage-warming blanket for the budgie. The showers are included too and there is hot water for washing dishes outside, but don’t expect a kitchen, TV room, children’s playground or more than 1 tap per 1,000 campers. On the plus side, we enjoyed all the facilities and were very pleased that we didn’t pay those kinds of prices as we were staying next door in the Parking area that had a very nice view of the lake.

And finally tonight an animal story…

Walking around Garda one evening we saw a pair of swans with the female carrying the baby on her back. Baby would at times be completely hidden from view and then a wee head would appear to a chorus of “Aaah!” from the scrum of shore-bound signet snappers. Picture by William.





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