This lot starts halfway through the week in Bologna. Last time I went to visit Bologna was in between my exams when I was studying as an Erasmus student in Trento. It was afternoon, exam season in a student city, and all I remember are empty arcades, closed facades, and an all-pervading dusty orange-red haze.
I don't know anyone in Bologna, so I wrote to a very nice chap on Couchsurfing who agreed to host me, and I hoped that I would finally get to know the city a bit. I've heard good things.
I got a lovely air-conditioned intercity train from Florence at lunchtime.
On arrival in Bologna, all quiet and red. No reply from my couchsurfer, but then it was siesta hour.
I left my backpack at the station and set to wandering the streets aimlessly and waiting for gelato time. Most of the shop fronts were masked by heavy metal blinds, paper notes fluttering, bearing variations on 'Closed for the holidays'. I took some pictures of the deserted arcades and settled down with my giallo to wait for the bookstores to re-open.
No word from couchsurfer guy.
At around six, having successfully raided the bookshop and gelateria and picked up my bag from the station, and after continued silence from Couchsurfer Guy, I decided to check into the youth hostel. There is only one youth hostel in Bologna, and you have to take the 94 bus from Via Marconi.
Guess what? It turns out that the Via Marconi bus stop is podwójny. Actually there were about six different bus stops labelled Via Marconi, and only two of them were actually on the street in question.
Two bus drivers were leaning on an empty parked bus, smoking. I approached them and asked for the youth hostel.
Frowning and scratching of heads.
In August, in Italy, the buses run at one an hour. At least I think that's how it works. According to the timetable, services marked with a letter 'a' run as Saturday service, those marked with an 's' run as on Sunday, those marked with a 'z' run as if on a bank holiday and anything else apparently doesn't run at all.
- Can't I just walk there? I asked.
Snorts of laughter.
Eventually they advised me to get number 20 from the stop two streets up.
I started walking, saw the bus overtake me, and started to run, backpack, Italian August heat and all.
Ahead of me I saw my one bus an hour start to pull away from the stop.... and then halt at the traffic lights.
I gained the front doors and banged on them furiously. They opened and I leapt on, gasping like a fish out of water.
- To the youth hostel?? I spluttered.
- First say thank you.
Said the bus driver.
- Say thank you! For stopping the bus for you!
- Oh. Sure! Thanks, grazie mille! Now about that youth hostel...
Unfortunately the youth hostel was one of those wholesome International Hostelling Association ones. You know the type: capacity for at least 700 scouts, board games in the common room, table tennis outside, complete and utter lack of alcoholic beverages.
In the middle of absolutely nowhere.
The bus stopped three stops before and I had to walk the rest of the way, along the main road, in the heat and dust, with my backpack. No-one offered me a lift.
- Is there anywhere I can get something to eat here? I asked the girl at reception.
- Well... she said ... there's a supermarket three bus stops away, but you've just missed the bus. You could walk...
Seeing my dark look she moved swiftly on.
- Unfortunately the restaurant next door is closed for the holidays. But you could always order pizza.
I took the menu.
- Do you want me to call for you from here? she asked.
- Don't worry about it.
- No, really, I want to ask them something too.
I listened to her on the telephone:
- ... and... I don't suppose there's a tobacconist near you? There is?! Oh... closed for the holidays. I see. Never mind.
Poor woman, stuck in the middle of nowhere, not even a cigarette break in sight...
At 10.30pm, Couchsurfer Guy called...