Wednesday, July 03, 2013

kindness of strangers

On Tuesday, we leave Slovenia. Such a simple statement, such a difficult set of steps to take! I'd fretted about it long before we even left for Europe: how to be on time for the train to Milan and how to then be on time for the Easy Jet flight back to Barcelona.

You say -- get up early! Oh, but I do! I've been leaving too little time for sleep in my effort to fit in every last bit of trip stuff. The thing is, I don't want to leave too early, because that would force our Slovenian hosts to rise early to fix us breakfast -- they do those kinds of good gestures. So I push back our departure to 7:15, with breakfast at 7 -- an hour earlier than their usual, but at least not at an indecent time.

Follow along with the tedious details of time and place here, on Ocean and you will understand how singularly incredible this day was. Otherwise, if travel details bore you, just look at the photos and call it a day!

Daybreak. The mountains pick up the color of the rising sun.

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Up, showered, packed, with photos tediously loaded onto flickr for a post to be published later, in Barcelona.
Ready? I ask as we glance over the now empty room. Let's pack the car to give them a little more time with breakfast.
Have the car keys?
On the table.
Nope, not on the table.

Then where?

Maybe I put them in a pant pocket. Unpack suitcase. Not there. Damn.

Of course, they have to be somewhere, because the car is here. It's not like losing your house keys out on the beach and wondering if they can ever be recovered from under all those grains of sand. And Ed does find them -- I'd left them in the ignition -- a habit I have with the old clunker at home and I guess one I carried over to here. But the search set us back ten minutes.

Breakfast. Urska has made the coffee, put out the breads, jams, cheeses, yogurts.


We eat quickly, then look for her to say good bye.
And now she hands me a little packet. Embroidery from her grandmother.

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They are lovely pieces! How much do I owe her? -- I ask.
No, I told you, she doesn't charge for her work. Nothing. A gift from her.

I'm so touched by this! How are these people so kind, so giving of themselves to strangers?
I thank her and promise a note to Taja when I get back home.

And we're off. 7:25. A tad off schedule, but hey, google says the drive from Kobarid (just down the hill!) to Monfalcone airport in Italy, where we'd picked up and now must return the Fiat pig, is only 72 minutes. (Italy itself is so very close -- just 10 kilometers from Kobarid.) Plenty of time to make the 9:05 bus from the airport to the train station -- for a 10:01 train to Milan. Cannot, cannot miss that one, or else we miss our flights home the next day.

A wispy fog settles on the Soca Valley. The sun will burn it off, but not yet, not this early. I think about this quiet place of gentle mists and peachy sunrise hues, of Alpine flowers and grazing sheep and cattle, and about a grossly turbulent series of events that placed it in history books even as it would have liked to remain as quietly anonymous as the next Alpine village in Switzerland or elsewhere...

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We stop for gas in Kobarid. We'd estimated that the car can go for 80 kilometers before the gauge shows a drop. So filling it up now, 70 kilometers from where we drop it off makes sense.

And then step on the gas pedal! I have packed my camera so that nothing will distract me. Focus on getting us out safely, quickly. The road is nearly empty in these foothills of the Alps. Easy stuff. I make good time.

But it's not a straight shot and even though we pay attention (well, mostly we do: Ed is in the backseat fixing the zipper of his 45 year old back pack (I kid you not) -- it broke, spilling everything. Not the first time that I have seen him working on aligning the teeth and getting it to stay put) -- so, even though we mostly pay attention to signs, we miss one turn off somewhere and we lose five or ten minutes getting on track again.

And then it's just a race to the finish. We approach the airport, five minutes before the bus is to leave for the train station. But what's this? Shit! The gas gauge has gone down! How could that be?? To fill, or not to fill... Let's do it! I pull up to an Agip station, Ed fills and throws some money on the counter and we're off again, glancing nervously at the clock. Two minutes until bus departure.
At the airport, you take the keys to the agent, I'll take our bags to the bus and stall it a bit!

We pull up, quickly get out, take out the bags and witness the blue bus pulling out and leaving the airport.


It's not a tragedy -- there is the Very Expensive Cab as a back up plan. But what a shame. Missed the bus by less than a minute. Slowly we empty the car and... but wait -- what's this? Another bus has pulled in. Could it be that we witnessed the departure of the wrong bus?


I run to the rental agent, Ed goes for the bus with our packs. I throw the keys on the agent's desk, run back -- the driver is sympathetic, but he has a schedule -- hurry, hurry, he tells me as I climb on and collapse in the seat.
Bravo --- this from Ed.

From the mountains of Slovenia, to the needed bus, without a second to spare. Remarkable.

And the genial driver does us another favor: he pulls over to a city bus in downtown Monfalcone (where we will catch the train) and shouts many rapid Italian words to the driver. Then to us -- get out now and go on that bus. He will take you directly to the station.
Kindness of strangers. Thank you. Thank you so very much.

And so we are at the station in plenty of time -- enough time to pick up a coffee at a cafe bar across the street. All in red.

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A leisurely stroll and we're at the track, watching the train come in (as couple a few feet away says a poignant goodbye).

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The train is lovely, there is a plug for the computer, I write my post. Good. All that I need now is to slap the words and photos together when I'm again online and click "publish." In Barcelona.

Now, this one and only morning train to Milan would have us in Milan with five hours to spare before our flight leaves for Barcelona. Even figuring in the hour for the bus ride to the distant airport, that's too much Milan time. Why not break up the journey and spend a couple of hours elsewhere, arriving in Milan later -- just in time to make our various connections?

All these decisions were made way back -- in Sorede, in fact. The tickets for the trains, roo, where purchased in France. So easy -- buy anything for anywhere, get on the train and go. So now, after three-fourths of our train journey, we get off at Descenzano -- the least city-like stop along the Trieste-Monfalcone-Milan line.

Descenzano. You wont remember it, but it is the town at the tip of my beloved (from March travels) Lake Garda. And so now here we are, on a sunny warm day -- in Descenzano. True, with two packs and a small wheeley, but who cares -- life has been brilliantly good to us on this day and it continues to be so.

We walk down from the train station to the waterfront. Descenzano's streets here are delightful, with plenty of color...

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... and in case that doesn't satisfy you, there is also an incredibly vibrant market.

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how big can a cheese be?

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how many tomatoes can you fit on your bike?

Ed suggests that we pick up some fruit and take it for a lunch by the water. And we do just that. Cherries and strawberries.

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There are deep mists over Lake Garda, so that you cannot see the mountains that slope down to its shores -- only faint contours of them as they twist toward Gargnano and beyond.

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And I have to say, it all feels a bit unreal -- I come to the lake in March, when no one walks in shorts and few flowers are blooming. It's entirely different now, in the thick of summer.

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On the little square just off the waterfront, we find a cafe where we have part two of lunch: A shared dish of ice cream (three flavors: berry, coconut and melon -- you see a lot of good will toward the other in that combination) and an Aperol Spritz. Because.

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A hike back to the train station, where we wait for the local to Milan and then  it's just boom, boom, boom: so straightforward! Get off in Milan, hop on the bus to the airport, wait in the tedious Easy Jet line (it's always just one line for all flights), board the plane, take off more or less on time (this is important: Easy Jet has notorious delays; we see on the screen that only half of tonight's flights take off within three hours of scheduled departures), land in Barcelona at 9:35 (on time!) and I breathe a sigh of relief. Not only will we make our connection tomorrow, but -- perhaps equally importantly, we will have time for a dinner, a beloved dinner in our beloved Barcelona.

And here it gets even more remarkable: we are on the fantastic, efficient and stopping quite close to our hotel airport bus and walking now through the rhapsodic light and love filled streets of the city...


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...checking in at our preferred little hotel -- the Villa Emilia (where I snagged a cheap rate just on the one day this spring that they posted it!) in such good time! 10:30 and we throw our packs down in our room.

We're jubilant.

The day has been a miracle of, in the end, perfect connections. So many could have fouled the mood. None did. Risks taken, rewards reaped. You don't often get such a run of good dice rolling.

We head out for dinner. Not far -- it may not be late for Barcelona, but it is late for us and tomorrow we have a rather early start again.

We go to our nameless favorite. With the friendly proprietor and the sympathetic waiter from Honduras. I am sure there are 100 places in Barcelona (the capital of fantastic eating) that are as good, maybe better, but this place has been a reliable friend and it remains so today. Across the street, down the block and we're there. Ed and I drool over the menu, then share tapas and a seafood paella and Ed is so in the mood to roll with the flow that he even sips on the house Cava with me. Rare.

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It's close to midnight. Life has treated us well today. We go upstairs to our spiffy room. Almost ready for sleep. Almost. Just one thing left: slap those photos and text together and press "publish." (Meaning -- post on Ocean.)

And the Internet proceeds to shut down and not work.

Well now. We patiently try this, try that. Nothing.

I go downstairs and talk to the desk persons. I'm feeling a tad incredulous. Far in the mountains of Slovenia, in a hamlet where cows and sheep are led to pasture for the summer, I could post. Here, in high tech Barcelona I cannot.

Perhaps I should have let it go, but the irony was too great, my frustration too strong. I have the text, I have the photos -- all worked on during a day of tight movement. And now surrender? No.

In the end, the staff makes a few calls and the Internet hiccups it's way to some form of functional status so that in the haze of sleep and no sleep I am able to finally, at a hugely late, or early hour -- depending which part of the day you straddle, press "publish" and have it take.

There is a moral in there somewhere. More than one perhaps. Something along the lines of letting go, about not sweating the small stuff. But as I think back to the history of Ocean -- all the years when it was so hard to find any Internet service at all, when daily posting required the kindness of strangers and finding corners on the floor somewhere where a phone line would reach, I have to say -- spending "only" half the night trying to successfully "publish" an entry is really not a big story at all.

The next morning, this morning, in fact (I'm caught up!) the smooth sailing resumes. Leaving the hotel at 8:30, walking the Catalan walk one last time to catch the bus...

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...being at the airport in plenty of time for one last unhealthy breakfast...

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 ...and for the flight to Atlanta.

I'm posting from Atlanta. And hoping that the Madison flight wont be too delayed. We'll be home soon. Home to Isis, to the mosquito population born in our absence, to the farmhouse. Home.