It began very well. The forecast was fine and warm, and from the aircraft the lagoons surrounding Venice glinted, the canals forming a complex maze within the web of islands.
The golden facade, the bronze horses and cupolas of San Marco shone in the evening light as we disembarked the traghetto and as every visitor must, fought through the crowds en route to San Polo and the delightful Ca’ San Rocco bed and breakfast
So far, so good. We used the next morning to find our bearings and explore and admire the sights in the quieter calle, to visit Santa Maria dei Frari, and to purchase some very superior socks….
We followed the advice of a friend and took the vaporetto to Giudecca to have lunch on the almost empty quayside with the water lapping by our side and one of the most famous and beautiful views in the world before us.
The sun shone the day long as we hopped from side to side of the Grand Canal, enjoying the views…..
We booked queue-free tickets for San Marco for early the next morning, and decided on the evening ristorante (David having stumbled on a half price deal, we continued to eat very well – perhaps too well)
What’s not to enjoy?
Well, David’s abdominal pain on Saturday morning 1st April, for one thing.
Not much of an April Fool’s joke…
Stoicism has some virtue. We still made it into San Marco for 10 o’clock, briefly stopping to admire this fabulous relic of the ancient world : the Tetrarchs – looted from Constantinople in 1204 having stood there for eight centuries already. (The missing foot in this distinctive porphyry has only recently been discovered in a Constantinople dig)
Once inside we were wowed by the Basilica’s extraordinary and uneven beauty; grateful to the ancient priest whose Mass we sat through; grateful for the seat, the calm and the quiet, moved by his faithful, anonymous devotion to his calling.
A very old hand, doing a very familiar job – beautifully – in the thick of a thousand tourists. It struck me then just how embracing and ambitious the Christian story is: saecula saeculorum : world without end
We paid our respects to the Pala D’Oro, left the crowds behind and headed home for a rest, hoping to take in a glimpse of La Fenice – the Opera House – en route, if we could find it in our fragile state.
And we did! And what’s more we bought a couple of returned tickets for the afternoon’s performance of the spanish director Calixto Beieto’s production of Carmen; set in 1950s Morocco, with no less than five classic cars on the tiny stage as part of the build-up to the bull-fight denoument of act four.
The fantastic performance and glittering interiors served to distract us for a few hours from the continuing pain which, despite our hopes, was not going away…
Supper was cancelled. We headed home, ironically via L’Ospedale, with me taking particular note of the waterborne ambulances moored alongside. It would make a good story…….
Sunday’s journey by car (both of us listed as drivers) to Gorizia and the company of friends seemed within our reach, despite the unrelenting pain. This medium-sized provincial centre has a serious history and a population of long-standing ethnic mix. The present border with Slovakia runs through the town, rich in architecture more reminiscent of Austria.
David’s appetite had deserted him, as had sleep, but we made it to the booked supper at the Ristorante Al Chiostro, and to some wineries the following morning just outside Cormons: Tenuta da Angoris, Livio Felluga; and near to lovely Cividale del Friuli, Alessio Dorigo.
Wonderful visits – as the photos show:
but David was hanging on by his fingernails
We headed back to the hotel, unable to eat, to rest or to sleep and at three o’clock the next morning gave up the struggle to soldier on, alarming the hotel’s night porter by creeping into the underground car park to drive the well-researched kilometre through the silent town to the emergency department of Gorizia’s lovely, large, new hospital.
Needless to say, it’s my favourite hospital in the world right now. David was seen immediately (pretty quiet place at 03.00) on the production of his faithful EHIC card, and in the course of a few hours, bloods were taken; he was was x-rayed, ultrasounded and CT scanned, dosed with anitbiotics and admitted to a two-bedded en suite room on the surgical ward with acute cholecystitis (gallbladder).
Yet another (serious) reason to lament the folly of Brexit….I’m going to apply for EU membership, or move to Scotland….
I was ordered ‘a casa’ at 06.00 to get some sleep, with the instruction to return at 11.30. It was a beautiful morning and the sheer elation of finding him treatment in such a convenient, local place carried me back on foot to the hotel in time for breakfast with our perplexed friends.
Conservative treatment with antibiotics made no impression, and by Wednesday morning the lead surgeon, despite David’s pain having exceeded the time limit guidelines, declared: ‘Opero! Stamattina!’ to cheering from the patient and his wife.
Sinatra (and West Life!) may have left hearts in San Francisco; leaving your gall bladder in Gorizia doesn’t have quite the same ring. No matter, we were glad to be rid of it.
Of course, being in hospital and in pain is not alot of fun. But we were given such excellent care, treatment and kindness that the six day stay passed uneventfully eked out by two great reads: ‘The year of reading dangerously’ by Andy Miller for David and Adam Nicholson’s ‘Why Homer matters’ for Janet, as well as the utterly indispensable iphone, ipad and associated downloads, podcasts and talking books.
The lonely car remained in the hospital car park for the duration. Walking was much more……grounding. After careful negotiations, kind people from the Europcar depot at Ronchi (for Trieste) airport came to take it away. One less thing to worry about!
‘Una dieta leggera‘ – a light diet – turns out to be a regime of mashed potato and chicken burgers, followed by fruit puree, with the occasional semolina brodo thrown in. But we have no complaints – only praise for the expertise and skill of the doctors, the nurses and the orderlies. (One of us got in trouble for not wearing anything on our feet; we should have known better was the message)
So thank you, thank you to the Gorizia Ospedale de Giovanni di Dio; the surgeons involved (especially the one who first declared David’s condition un disastro! and then took a personal interest in us throughout – listing wineries he thought we should visit) and all the staff of the Chirurgico department.
Thank you too to the hotel staff of the Gorizia Palace, and those at the Pizzeria Peperino opposite who made me welcome and found me a corner to eat every night at 21.00 when I returned from a day in the hospital. And thank you to the kind friends (including our very own medical adviser) and family who sent emails and texts (and photos) of support.
Infirmiera (nurse) Valentina Mari deserves a special mention! Having spent two years nursing in Preston, Lancashire with her english boyfriend, she was perfectly positioned to explain all the bits we didn’t understand. Thank you
David – relieved to be back at the hotel after a week inside.
Both of us glad to have learned italian – and now better versed in vocabulario medico. Giving VinItaly (already underway in Verona) a miss this year!
Next challenge: chasing the insurance company, responsible for transfers and new flights and special assistance. Alexandra (somewhere in Farnham) is doing her best on the late shift this evening. New boarding passes have just arrived!
Tomorrow: hopefully, home sweet home. Fingers crossed!
11 April 2017
POSTSCRIPT: arrived home safely at 20.00 on Wednesday 12 April, just in time for a full Easter convalescence. Hurray!