97 Days Adrift in Europe
Part One – Leaving on a Jet Plane (to Bologna)
Leaving Australia for three months in Europe, even after 60 years of travelling I am still able to be hornswoggled at peoples’ attempts to make their holidays as unenjoyable as possible.
What do people take with them? My ‘hold’ luggage is just under 10kg, for 3 months away, and of that at least 2kg is shoes and miscellaneous bits of electronic crap such as adaptors designed to deal with the fact that, 140 years after the first electricity networks and 42 years after the first mobile phone, the geniuses that run our societies have still not managed to adopt a universal electricity socket or recharging socket in electrical devices.
There is a rule which airlines apply, in Australia, that the more people who need to check in the fewer check in desks are open. The couple in front of me have now been occupying one of the two open check ins while they debate what to do with the more than 10kg of excess baggage they are each carrying. Yes that’s right..for their week in wherever they need 30kg of luggage each.
Presumably, in addition to the 10 kg of make-up that the woman is already wearing, she is carrying about another 10kg of cosmetics in her bag. The guy? Who knows. A change of shirt, jocks, trousers for every day of the week plus evening wear? 10 pairs of board shorts so you don’t have to wear the same pair twice? Mother clearly never taught him how to wash clothes.
For Australians air travel is the modern day form of the Inquisition. You can’t escape it. The people who work in the air travel industry want to know everything about you and are determined to punish you for even the most minor indiscretion or infidelity. Every single aspect is designed to hurt as much as possible with as little logic as possible.
Where to start? – online booking sites that were clearly designed by autistic sadists. Hate paperwork? Ok, we’ll make you fill out endless useless and complex forms that, most often, no one looks at and are just dumped in bins minutes after you have completed them. Ideally you will need to do them on board requiring extreme yoga positions to fill them out without elbowing your neighbour. Queues? No worries, we have not just one but at least four with which to frustrate you. Surly staff? No problem. Maddening regulations and surcharges? Easy. Confiscate that expensive set of bike tools, Sir? Ok, yes we know you couldn’t kill a two day old baby with them, but we’ll remove them and give you a nice sharp knife to eat with onboard. You may murder the captain with that.
Still, there are strategies to ease the pain and get a degree of revenge, providing you are prepared to withstand the Julie Bishop type ‘look of death’ from fellow passengers. Yes, the errant passenger that the desk staff have been frustratingly calling for ten minutes – that is me. Because if you are the very last passenger to board you can take the pick of any empty seats, knowing there is no one else behind you. For this it is worth holding up an entire plane load of passengers and being thought a dickhead by everyone watching you coming down the aisle.
The only downside is, if there are no empty rows, there are also no empty lockers and in addition to delaying 400 people you have displace the two people who are in the middle and aisle seats in order to climb in. Best then to have booked in the very last row because (a) the back of the plane is more likely to have empty seats and (b) you only have to endure the caustic looks and comments of one row of people.
Ten hours after boarding we descend into Bangkok. The Thais have, very cleverly, managed to build a brand new airport that looks if it was built in the 1960s. They appear to have let loose some crazy Soviet era architect with an instruction to leave no spare bucket of concrete unused. The contrast with Dubai’s new airport could not be starker. Here, some petty tyrant clearly decided that too much marble was barely enough, preferably enhanced by falling water or plants. It is a luxury hotel without beds though I’m sure those exist somewhere.
The only downside was a bus commute that would not have been out of place in downtown Manila or Jakarta. It takes half an hour in a queue of buses, cars and other airport vehicles including baggage trains to get to the terminal leaving us enough time to admire Dubai’s oil revenues made stone and then re-board the plane.
We are heading for Bologna. I admit I had never considered, in my ignorance, visiting Bologna. It won the lottery when Emirates offered $1400 return fares to a choice cities in Europe…Amsterdam (cold), Paris (cold), Stockholm (cold)…..Bologna (warm). So here I am in what turns out to be one of the world’s oldest contemporary cities dating back as an urban centre to the Etruscans.
As it turns out this is a great choice. Bologna is relatively small, elegant, interesting, beautiful. I have found an AirBnB, in Via del Pratello not 500 metres from the main square where each building is older by itself that ten of Australia’s oldest buildings.
To get to the main square I must pass on foot down an old cobbled street, forcing myself past a line of cafes, bars and restaurants all full of carousing Bolognans busy ensuring nothing sleeps before 3 am and nothing starts before 10 am. Life as she should be lived.
On my first morning descending from my room with a view over Bologna’s red tiled roofs I am greeted by about 10,000 yellow shirted Bolognans on a fun run or some other version of running torture.
From here I pass along the Via Ugo Bassi, one of Bologna’s famous colonnaded roads. The colonnades were added when the city became the world’s first university town and the students were aaccommodated in the rooms above the colonnades. Now, almost every street is adorned with these beautiful tiled walkways. Bologna’s central square is dominated by the town hall and the Massive Basilica di San Petronio. It would have been bigger but for the Pope decreeing that it was not be larger than St Peters.
Just down the road, literally a stone’s throw, is the world’s oldest university founded in 1088 and one of the centres of enlightenment medical studies – including the original lecture hall in which bodies were dissected in the middle of the watching students.
The city also boasts a myriad of ancient towers which rich families build, so far as I can tell, largely as status symbols, many of them still intact and able to be climbed to get magnificent views over the city and surrounding hills. Topping all of this off is its great artistic, political and musical traditions all still alive today in live music, left politics and great exhibitions…leaving aside the street art. This includes an exhibition of some of the world’s great street artists such as Banksy and Blu…
A circuit of central Bologna by bike takes only a matter of hours and you can hire bikes just of the square for a few euros…following the landmark towers, canals and churches. All topped off by a long walk up under the 666 arches of the world’s longest colonnaded street to the famous Madonna San Luca.
The full archive of the selected images used in this post can be found on Flickr below: