I am on a Summer holiday on my own for the first time in 27 years.
It’s not been the best organised event in my life.
Less than a week ago it didn’t exist at all, except that I’d managed to organise a reasonable gap in my work diary for three weeks starting on Saturday past. The weather at home didn’t help in the sense that for the first time since 1978 (when we had a Labour Government, so that shows how long ago it was) I was tempted to take my chance on a holiday in Scotland.
But I remembered that holiday with some caution. On the day my mate George and I departed from Queen Street up the West Highland line, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, only for it to rain constantly for the next two weeks; for Uig Youth Hostel to burn down while we were on route; for us to nearly get hypothermia on Raasay and for us to be forced to listen to the 1978 World Cup Final on the radio as there were no pubs open, or even it appeared televisions functioning, in Stornoway on a Sunday. I’ve never had a Summer holiday in Scotland since.
So, panicked by that sudden recollection, last Wednesday, I bought a flight to Pisa. But I still arranged nothing else. For want of company, I’d take in the sights, I reckoned, starting with Pisa itself which, despite passing through many times, I had never actually visited.
But by Friday night even that had not been organised and I had concluded, at least for the moment, that I’d stay where I was and, after all, put to the test the old adage that “you can’t beat Scotland when you get the weather”.
Only I couldn’t get to sleep, not just because of the heat at home. I always go to Italy in the Summer. I had a flight arranged. Maybe I should just take a chance?
When I awoke abruptly at 5.30, my mind was made up for me. This was a sign. The iPod and the Kindle were already fired up, T-Shirts and the rest easily dumped into the Ryanair compatible bag and, an hour and a half later I was entaxied to Croy on my journey to Prestwick, thanks to the wonders of the internet arranging accommodation ahead on my phone as I went.
And by mid afternoon I was installed in a wee hotel in the warm South. The too warm South as it quickly transpired.
There is a reason the Italians don’t hang about in their cities in the high Summer. Pisa was baking. And, whether for that reason or otherwise, it also left me a bit underimpressed. The Field of Miracles lives up to its name, no doubt about that. The leaning tower would be immensely impressive even if it wasn’t leaning. The Baptistery is astonishing and, even as something of a connoisseur of Romanesque Cathedrals, I was nearly overwhelmed by that on offer in Pisa. Particularly with its added attraction of the black and white stripes.
But the rest of the town was simply too hoaching with.... tourists, I confess rather self-consciously. And seemed worryingly indifferent to them other than as a way of making an easy buck. People talk about the big three of Tuscany as being Florence, Pisa and Siena but, even allowing for the Field of Miracles, I’d place Pisa a poor third. Not much, if at all, ahead of the supposed also rans such as Lucca and Arezzo.
Anyway, it was too hot. So by last night I had decided to head for the beaches. Which is from where I write tonight.
Till the weekend, I’ve got a wee hotel in a typical Italian seaside resort called Tirrenia. It’s brilliant. Well the resort is anyway. Nothing posh, it is certainly not Viareggio, but the typical mix of lidos, beach bars and trattorias “specitalita pesce”. There’s even a gigantic seawater acqua park which, if I was ten years old, would probably make me think I’d died and gone to heaven. I suspect however the “Spiaggia Siria” might be contemplating a closed season change of name.
I had a proper frittura for lunch. Not just prawns and squid but fat sardines and wee red mullet all cooked together in a light batter and all so much immensely improved for being served within sight of, and against a background smell of, the sea itself.
After a post prandial siesta, I had my first dip in the Med, the free beach being, as always, not entirely easy to find but worth the effort. The water, after all, is just the same.
And that’s how I now propose to spend my time till the weekend. Eating, reading, lying on the beach and taking in the sun. There will be time for a bit more sightseeing in due course.
I end however with a note of mystery. That’s about the Hotel here. I may investigate that and report further in due course.