From Lucca I spent a very pleasant four hours or so on a train through Tuscany and up to Parma. It's an inexpensive and relatively stress-free way of getting around the country: a ticket to get from London to Huntingdon cost me £21; getting from Bologna to Parma - almost the same distance - set me back just a fiver.
In 2008 I visited Bologna and I liked the place a lot. I thought of going back there this time but went to Parma instead, another city whose name screams food. And I have to admit I pigged out a bit. Pizzas, pasta, gelati, plates of ham and cheese. I also bought ham, cheese, salami and balsamic vinegar for Gran who turns 88 on Friday, and (now this is a real rarity) a few items of clothing for myself. I even managed to find a cheap hotel, a place that did have two stars but one of them had been Tipp-exed out. It was only €35. I made a note of the hotel in case I ever visit Parma again.
My first taste of Parma wasn't so good. When my train pulled into the station I was dying to use the loo, but the station loos cost 70 cents. That's $1.30 where I'm from. A dollar thirty to have a pee! As they say, in France or Italy you don't spend a penny any more, you euronate. In fact in Europe it's very easy to piss money away full stop, especially if you're a one-man band like me. The cost of accommodation for a single person is a real killer.
A couple more hours on the train and I was in Venice, which was like nothing I'd ever seen before. A fantasy land. If it was simply a giant water maze covering a few square miles, with none of the history, Venice would still be incredible. But around every corner there was a photo opportunity. I found it hard to believe that people actually lived there.