Under Police Guard

Day 4. 24 June 2006

Saturday. A slightly sleepless night last night – humidity was overpowering and I was woken early by the sound of pigeons on the balcony opposite my window, and of refuge collectors on the canal below. I take my last breakfast in Locanda Silva before returning to my room to pack my bags, repacking it for a bus journey rather airport check-in, leaving my hiking boots ready for a quick change later. Then I head out into the still-cool-in-the-shade but already-baking-hot-in-the-sun early morning.

Making directly for the Rialto bridge I stock up on cherries and walk through the fish market once again. Back up onto the Rialto, and I am just looking at some leather bound sketch/note books, hand-made upstairs, when I receive a text message from Sarah. She is 10–15 minutes away from San Marco and apparently wearing a pink top and ‘the only person in Venice with walking boots on’.

As I approach the waterfront and the bus stop, I see someone who I think might be here, but it is a few minutes before I decide to approach. When I do, it is Sarah.

We stand in the shade of a pine tree watching the boats go by, and eeating cherries, dropping the stones into the lagoon. After a while we get a message from Jenny – she will be across the lagoon at about 1pm. We wander back through the town, via Fressaria, to the Rialto and I show Sarah the fruit and fish market, before we settle down in the shade of the old orange market to talk some more and eat cherries, flicking the stones into the Grand Canal.

At one o’clock we return to the waterbus stop at San Marco and await Jenny’s arrival. For the first time in four days I navigate my way from Rialto by the main ‘road’ to San Marco, emerging out into the piazza under the clock tower. Almost as soon as introductions and pleasantries are over, it is decided: it is lunch time. A fantastic plan, Jenny agrees. And so, almost immediately we navigate our way back to the restaurant that I found on my mooching yesterday for a welcome pizza, washed down with beer and wine, at Aquila Nera on San Bartolomeo.

An hour passes of eating pizza, drinking wine and beer, and chatting, before all too soon, it is 3 o’clock and we wind our way back through the Venice streets to my hotel and I collect my bag before leading Sarah and Jenny back to Marco Polo. Leaving Sarah to refind the Astoria hotel and retrieve her bag, Jenny and I go on ahead to the waterbus stop to buy three tickets and wait. In the end we miss the 3:25 waterbus and have to wait half an hour by which time Sarah has found her way back – having taken a wrong turn at the wrong tobacconist.

Across the lagoon and as I stick my head out the head-sized front hatch for air my phone rings. Retreating inside I am too late to answer. A few minutes later I get, as does Jenny, a text message from Kate, our leader. She will be late to the pickup due to an ‘interesting incident’. What’s the interesting incident, we speculate? Still, at least we won’t now be late…

At the airport we find Carol and John already at the meeting place, and I find Sarah Jane by the doors. Kate soon joins us, with news that the ‘interesting incident’ was that our driver was stopped by policeman on the motorway, and they were dressed very smartly with knee-high lace-up boots! All assembled and introduced, we are led through the car park, past shining new vans with sleek lines and air conditioning to the Commune d’Alpago Rugby Club bus – the oldest, noisiest, bone shaker of a minibus that has ever been. And so begins our hours journey up to the mountains, chatting, sleeping, and eating cherries – the road to Alpago is lined with cherry stones (or at least it is now).

Arriving at Lamasano, the nursery school is on the way out of the town and halfway up a hill. On two floors it has a colonnaded entrance and when we arrive, the entrance is flanked by police officers, who seem amused as our van, slipping on the ineffective handbrake begins to roll slowly back down the hill as we fight to release the over-effective door catch.

We do manage to escape, thanks to our driver – who has worryingly left his seat and gone to attend to the door; and before long we are settling into our upstairs apartments, reachable via a rather grand staircase. Gathering on the sofas in the lounge, Kate outlines the rules and regulations of the holiday, and tells more about what is to come – which seems to be just about whatever we want and/or can fit in – to be interrupted at eight o’clock by the bells which ring out an unknown hour for an improbably long length of time, and goad all the neighbouring bells to chime in their contributions. Apparently Lamansano church does this every day at 7am, 3pm and 8pm. This is except for Sundays when Sunday rules apply…

Day Five: A mountain, a concert, and a party with the locals…