A frustrating day
Thursday, 19 May 2016
An Italian working on the race had explained to me a few days earlier why he could not see himself moving back from England any time soon. ‘Nothing works,’ he said. ‘It’s so hard to get anything done.’
I’d been trying not to be too harsh on the Italian hotels, partly because so many of them had been incredibly, unbelievably cheap. My room in Catanzaro, down in the south, cost €28 for the night so I didn’t mind in the slightest that the wifi didn’t work or that the breakfast was a bit quirky. But as we worked our way north, the prices rose (admittedly nowhere near as high as the chain hotels in France) but there were still the same flaws. There was the ever-running toilet in Maranello, the weak, dribbling or sometimes cold showers, wifi that just didn’t work or breakfast that consisted of a cup of coffee and that weird toast-shaped biscuit that turns to dust on contact with a knife, or butter or jam.
Several hotels and restaurants also did not accept cards, which is fine if they let you know in advance. After all, I’m well aware the card companies apply fees and charges, even on debit cards, which nibble into the profit margin.
What is most irritating is when a hotel says it takes cards but then the machine doesn’t work, and this is what happened in Trebaseleghe. With a 1pm start to the Giro stage a short drive away in Noale we were looking forward to a relaxed start to the day. Daniel worked on his latest episode of Kilometre 0 for The Cycling Podcast and, because my laptop had run out of battery and Daniel’s power charger was not compatible with mine, I had a lazy morning sitting around in the hotel. We had bags of time and I used it to recharge my own batteries.
When it came to check-out, my card refused to work because the hotel’s phone line was down and the card reader was not connecting to the bank.
Although the hotel owner was flustered, we both knew the inconvenience was going to be shoved across the desk in my direction. There was no way we could just drive off and say whatever the Italian equivalent of ‘hard cheese’ is. ‘Formaggio stagionato,’ perhaps?
I ended up driving a 25-minute round-trip to the nearest town to withdraw cash, by which time we were running late.
After watching the Giro roll out of Noale, we took a minor 60-mile detour to visit an out-of-town shopping centre near Venice so I could spend €89 on a new charger for my laptop. I’d felt completely out of sorts since leaving my charger in the hotel in Maranello. This Giro is the third grand tour in a row I’ve managed to do this, so I’m well past being angry about it and am more resigned to one moment of costly forgetfulness per race.
Then it was on to Bibione, on the coast along from Venice, where the stage finished with a third victory for the German sprinter Andre Greipel. Not being terribly familiar with this part of Italy, I wondered out loud to Daniel whether Bibione would have some beautiful beachfront restaurants serving wonderful seafood to go with stunning views of the blue sea. Daniel scoffed.
I thought he was joking until I saw the run-down buildings and a shabby-looking funfair on the horizon. Bibione looked like a cross between Blackpool and Coney Island which had fallen on hard times.
Fortunately, we were staying a little way inland from Bibione, up towards Udinese, rather than in the rather tacky seaside town. We arrived at our hotel at around 9.25pm and walked into the restaurant and bar area to check-in. I had high hopes that I’d be able to grab a quick pizza and then be in bed in under 10 paces, but the way the waitress was wielding the broom concerned me. She looked like she’d done all the serving she was going to do for the evening.
Surely the restaurant would keep the kitchen open another 15 minutes or so to ensure their new arrivals did not have to go to bed hungry.
We asked whether we could have a table for two but the lady doing the checking-in said we were too late. Never mind, she said, there was a restaurant 500 metres up the road which would still be open. Probably.
It immediately annoyed me to be told, while standing in the middle of a restaurant watching people finish their desserts, that we’d have to go to a restaurant just up the road but that was nothing compared to the lengthy faff and palaver of the checking-in process.
I understand now that hotels in Italy are required by law to take a copy of every guest’s passport but it adds to what is already an inefficient process. I never understand why it takes so long to check in at a hotel. Usually the booking has been completed online and the hotel, or the booking agent, knows pretty much everything about me already – name, address, credit card number and so on – so why do they have to take many of the same details again? And why do you have to sign something? What’s the point? Has anyone ever run into a dispute with a hotel that has required some sort of adjudication whereupon the hotelier produces a little piece of A5 paper and the prosecutor says: “This is your signature, Mr Birnie?”
Anyway, my manners had pretty much deserted me as the clock ticked towards 10pm and I began pacing around like some sort of demented bear in a zoo wondering why the keeper hadn’t delivered dinner yet. Daniel demonstrated remarkably good humour as the lady photocopied the passports, fished around for the keys, explained where the rooms were and told us where breakfast would be served in the morning.
Just when we thought we were done, she offered us a glass of some sort of sweet wine as a welcome drink and I, rather unfairly, said: “I’d rather have some dinner.”
Although they weren’t thrilled to see two people walk into their restaurant at gone 10pm, we managed to get a meal, although I suspect they got their own back on us.
Having become accustomed to Italian waiting staff making suggestions and bringing what’s good, we agreed to the idea we should have the beef tartare. It was excellent, the waiter said, and we were in luck because there were only two left.
It was excellent, but later on, when I realised we’d been charged €15 each, I felt like we’d been taken for a couple of chumps who’d help them make a decent profit on a couple of dollops of raw minced beef to save them having to scrape it into the bin. This is the sort of thing that happens in France – they casually point you in the direction of the special, which turns out to be the most expensive thing on the menu.
By the time my pizza arrived, it was gone 11pm and so I struggled to finish it, which made me think back to all my fretting about missing dinner and wonder whether it was worth it. Let’s face it, I’m not going to waste away if I go to bed hungry one night.
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