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Parma to Val Camonica – Day 1

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The hours until 8am passed reasonably quickly. I spent the first three hours or so in this French-style bar, until the security gates opened. Before I went in, I of course went through the routine of taking out all of the ‘liquids’ in my bag and putting them in a clear plastic bag to show at security. As I went through the x-ray scanner, the beep went (don’t we all dread that!), and I was asked to take off my shoes and undergo a body check. The security guy mumbled something while he was doing it, and then, a few seconds later, in a louder voice, asked me to “Just say no.” Then I realised he’d been talking to me earlier and asking me if I had any metal objects on me. Ah, the downside of staying awake too long!

Just when I thought all was clear, I noticed my bag had gone into the second conveyer belt, to be examined by the security staff. What now? Last time, in Ancona airport, they’d flagged up the scissors in the first aid kit. Was it the same thing again?

I had to wait and wait until my turn arrived. A group of young Italians had their bags examined, and it turned out they hadn’t bothered to pack their liquids correctly. I mean, come on. The security guard chastised them for wasting their own time by not paying attention to the rules. Then, my turn. Sure enough, the lady opened up the first aid kit, but it wasn’t the scissors she was after. Instead, she fished out the tube of antiseptic cream! Funny how this was the first time anyone had picked this up! Oh, but they missed the case of razor blades which the guy at Ancona had complained about, and they also missed the tiny cologne spray. This all goes to show just how hit and miss these security checks can be.

Finally through security, I went to the departures lounge and sat down for the next part of the long wait. I went into WHSmith to purchase some magazines and healthy travel sweets (well, OK, jelly babies and fruit pastilles…). When paying for them at the self-service checkout, you had to scan your boarding pass, which I had on my smartphone. It had worked fine at the entrance to the security area, but this scanner refused to pick up the barcode. There was an American lady at the till next to me, and she noticed me struggling. Playing to national stereotypes (which she freely admitted, by the way!), she shouted out to the staff that some help was needed.

The hours passed slowly, and at one point I became really tired, and probably could’ve fallen asleep in my seat if I’d allowed myself. I think at one point I entered that grey zone between being wide awake and fully asleep, and stayed there until it was time to head to the gate. Once on the plane, I went back into the grey zone and had my eyes closed more or less until we were about to land in Parma.

At the airport, I caught a taxi straight to the apartment I’ve booked through Airbnb. When we got to the street, the driver got confused and said he couldn’t find the number I’d told him. I decided it’d be easier if I just walked down the street and found it myself, so I asked him to just drop me off when he could. Funnily enough, I realised he was right and the number wasn’t there. Worrying I’d got something wrong, I checked the address on my phone. Well, what do you know–I’d switched the digits of the number!

Hmm, second strike against staying awake too long!

Anyway, I found the right apartment door and waited for the landlady to arrive at noon. She showed me into the flat, which is on the first floor, and handed me the keys. She explained a bit about Parma, and the various places to head to. Basically, the city is quite small and it’s easy to just get around on foot. It’s divided into four general parts: the historic ‘centre’ in the north west, a more residential area in the north east dominated by a large park (the Parco Ducale), another residential area in the south east, and a mixed area in the south west, marked out by the Parco della Citadella, a pentagonal shaped walled public park. She explained quite a bit about the city’s history, including an interesting episode about the French wife of the Duke, who had Parisian style bridges and buildings constructed so she could feel more at home!

Ah yes, bridges. I hadn’t realised a river ran through Parma, and I asked the landlady about this. She explained that there wasn’t really a river, but a ‘torrente’ that passed through the city in autumn and winter, but dried up in summer.

After she left, I took a shower and had a change of clothes, before heading out to explore the area. Thankfully, the apartment is very near the city centre–about 10 minutes walk–which makes it very convenient to pop out and come back in again to drop off shopping or catch a quick rest.

It was now around 2 o’clock and it was really hot outside, though not in too uncomfortable a way. I visited the Piazza del Duomo and saw the cathedral and the baptistery (battistero)–both 12th century era. I then headed to the large Piazza Garibaldi, which has the town hall (Palazzo del Municipio) and the old governor’s palace (Palazzo del Governatore). There are plenty of good shops and restaurants here as well.

Shops–there are definitely plenty of small ones along the streets that lead to the various piazzas. Generally, I think Italy still has far more small shops–be they cafes and tabaccherias, or fashion boutiques–than we now have in the UK.

I noticed plenty of people cycling, and indeed there is generally little traffic here in Parma, though this may be due to the fact that it is August! There is a cycle hire scheme in place, though you need a special card of some sort. I wish they’d make it easier to use these sorts of things–with the one in London, all you need is a credit card.

I spotted a supermarket along the way, and couldn’t resist heading in to buy my favourite Italian goodies, and also to catch a respite from the overhead sun! I dropped off the bag at home and had a quick panino, before heading back out and walking east.

I arrived at a bridge, and was totally surprised at what I saw flowing underneath it. Nothing. Not a drop of water to be seen anyone, just a wide space full of greenery and some white rocks. A bit surreal, really. I guess some water must flow along here later in the year.

On the way back, I popped into a small department store and bought a new moka pot. Now, I already have one at home, but this is supposedly a special model that actually produces crema–the creamy light brown layer that you get on top of a good espresso. The normal moka pot wouldn’t produce this, and I was interested to try it out.

Back in the apartment, I immediately filled up the pot with water and some coffee I found in the cupboard. Minutes passed, and not a pip from the pot. Very odd. Gradually, I noticed some water coming out from the sides, which is worrying. After fifteen minutes and plenty of stream shooting out, I turned off the gas. Hmm.

A second attempt and still nothing. Not a drop of coffee came out from the filter. Maybe it’s a dodgy model, or there’s something wrong with this coffee. I think tomorrow I’ll buy my own and try again.

After making myself some pasta and tuna, I caught some rest and then headed back out for a late after dinner stroll. There are many street lamps here fixed to the walls of buildings, as well as the more common ones on poles. I walked down to the Piazza del Duomo, which was much quieter now, dotted only by a few people chatting on the steps of the cathedral, and a couple of families out for a walk. I really like these kinds of calm late evenings in the piazza–they’re so relaxing.

Further onto Piazza Garibaldi, the city came back to life with lots of people out in the cafes and bars. I got back just around 1am, and turned in to a good night’s sleep!

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