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Down and Out and Up in Parma


June 17, 2013 by Dan

We weren’t supposed to spend the night in Parma. Our plan was to hop on the train at Vernazza, do a two-step, get to Parma, drop our stuff at the left luggage counter, hang out and eat some ham, then get picked up by our friends Grant and Ellen at the train station at 8pm, at which point we would head off for a wonderful agriturismo weekend. The best-laid plans, as they say, never survive contact with the enemy; in this case, the enemy was weather and British Airways.

When we reached Parma it was cold with occasional spitting rain, the kind that feels like the sky gods are angry with the ground. The train station was under construction, so we made our way to the temporary terminal – an outdoor mishmash of white clapboard with a ticket office, a couple of cafes, a bookstore, a Parma culture space, a tobacconist…

“Where is the left luggage?” I wondered aloud. Then I wondered the same thing to a ticket agent. Her English was fantastic.
“No let luggage,” she said.
“Is there anywhere to leave a bag?” I asked.
“No,” she said.”

I got the feeling she was asked this quite a bit. I also wondered what happened to the left-luggage guy while the construction was going on. Did he just get to hang out for a few years? My questions bounced around in my brain with nowhere to go.

After a quick, dispirited conversation, we decided to walk downtown and see if the tourist office could help us. Me being me, I also made us stop into a hotel to see if I could charm the front desk attendant into letting us keep our bags there for a few hours.

“No,” she said. “I can’t do that.”

Parma 2, us 0.

The walk downtown was cold and damp. Our path to the tourist office took by the Palazzo della Pilotta, where a few sad tourists were wandering with their down jackets and umbrellas.

Palazzo della Pilotta

The tourist office was a nice modern space with automatic glass doors, brochures about the city, and a monosyllabic young woman who said “No” when I asked about bags, and not much else.

“Crap,” I said.
“Parma is awful,” said Julie

We went and got coffee from a piazza cafe. It was three in the afternoon, a dead time in Italy when the restaurants are all closing and the shops haven’t opened up yet. We were two of the three customers, and we shoehorned our bags into a corner table, trying not to take up too much space. I figured we could waste an hour there, play cards, then maybe find a bar and waste two hours, then dinner, then gone. So much for Parma.

Then the phone rang – it was Ellen, calling from England.

“You’re not going to believe this,” she said. “A plane caught fire at Heathrow and they cancelled a bunch of flights, including ours. So now we’ve got another flight to Milan, but it leaves tomorrow, and we’re driving to Edinburgh to catch it. Are you guys going to be able to find a place to stay?”

I laughed. “Sure,” I said. “Today was already crummy. Might as well spend some more time here.”

Julie was listening to this conversation with a look of terror. I said goodbye and hung up the phone.

“Bad news,” I said. “We have to hang out here for the night.”

What happens next? Tune in tomorrow for sadness, depression, and a dramatic rescue of a day!


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