Back through France and Italy again
Trip Start Feb 04, 2011
54Trip End Nov 04, 2011
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Luca is my main reason for returning to Paris on my way across Europe. As my intention on this trip is to write about ways to acquire a language, I'm interested in meeting with others who share a similar talent when it comes to learning languages. He has his own website and you can find out a whole lot about his methodology and languages by typing in Luca Polyglot and he has a few Youtube clips as well. In one of his clips he speaks eight languages fluently and it's very impressive - and inspiring - to watch someone with such talent for languages. Any way, we met outside a metro station in Paris and went to one of his favourite cafes to chat for a few hours. He's a very interesting and charismatic person and we've arranged to catch up again on my way back through Europe in a few months. Later that evening I had dinner with him and an American friend, Jane, who is also interested in languages. It was a fun evening.
The next morning I had to make my way to Gare de Lyon, which is becoming a familiar Paris station for me and I've lost count how many times I've had to take a train from here. The TGV train took only a few hours to reach Marseille and I had a brief stopover to at least see the old port before catching another train. I made the mistake of taking my luggage with me to the port and taking the local metro. When escalators or elevators see me coming in France (if there ever are any), they stop working. I carried my 35 kilos of luggage down what seemed like a kilometer of broken down escalators. Then it was off to Nice.
The train trip through the south of France was typically amazing and as the train went through towns like Cannes and Antibes the Mediterranean Sea kept appearing between cliffs and beaches dotted with beautiful houses. Shortly after the train arrived at Nice and the perfect sunny weather I'd experienced all day on the train suddenly changed to grey. Nice didn't look so stunning on a gloomy day like this and the beach was actually quite ugly, with cranes digging up holes and not a single person on the sand, or should I say gravel. There was no sand. My hotel was not near the station so I had to take a taxi and although the trip was less than ten minutes with traffic, it cost more than twenty euros. Wow. This place is expensive. One night on the Cote d'Azur is enough for me.
The thing about this particular hotel is that it had its own kitchen in the room so for the first time since leaving home - and weeks beyond that as I'd sold all my kitchen furniture and utensils a week or so before leaving - I was able to cook. I had been craving the chance to prepare a home cooked meal, or in this case, a hotel room cooked meal, and I also wanted to make use of the Harissa spice I bought in Morocco. So after a long stroll along the beach on a dull and cloudy day, I bought some groceries (a word I hadn't used in months) and went back to the hotel to cook. I also picked up a local bottle of red wine and within a few hours, I was happily drinking, playing loud music and eating the most amazing Moroccan meal that, in my opinion, was better than anything I'd tried in Morocco.
The following day I was on the train again and on my way back to Italy. Yes, I'm a glutton for punishment and just to rub it in, the train was going to stop in Milan. The very place where I had to literally escape from a crazy old man's apartment only a few weeks earlier. I was back. But not for long. In typical Italian style, my train from Genoa to Milan was over an hour late which meant I'd missed my connecting train to Bologna. However, I've since learnt to just take it easy and let it go. After all, I'd foreseen this and as I knew I was going to somehow be late arriving in Bologna, I'd arranged for my friend in Bologna to meet me hours later. The plan worked.
I met up with Andrea and his friend Giuseppe "between the towers", as they say in Bologna. Even though I'd arrived much later than I thought, I still had enough time to have a walk around the town before meeting up with them. Also, because Italian trains are so poor compared to other European trains' services, all I had to eat during the seven hour train trip was a very bland ham sandwich that was mostly mayonnaise. Yes, really awful food does exist in Italy and in fact, the worst pizza I've ever had in my whole life was in Rome whereas some of the best pizzas have been in Melbourne, New York and Buenos Aires. That's right - the whole world can make a pizza. So - as I still had almost two hours to kill before Andrea finished work (and I was starving) I thought it'd be OK just to sit in a cafe' and order a small portion of tagliatelle. It was wonderful!
It was easy to find Andrea and we sped through the streets of Bologna in his friend's car while they cursed at other speeding drivers and argued about directions. This is the type of Italy we all hope to see when we arrive. And great food! They were going to surprise me by taking me to a place that was recommended by a friend of theirs who is a food critic and author. This place - I was told - is authentic Bolognese cuisine. Of course, when most of us around the world think of Bologna, we unfortunately think of the spaghetti meat sauce and I'm told that's quite an offense to mention to someone from Bologna. The two main dishes here, both of which were served that evening, are tortellini and tagliatelle.
The tortellini was served in a broth and it was out of this world. As if that wasn't amazing enough, the next course (the tagliatelle) came complete with truffles as a sauce and all this was washed down with a bottle of Lambrusco wine. By this stage I was already completely full, having stupidly heaved down a plate of tagliatelle in a cafe' a few hours before. Then came the main meal - cortoleta, which is basically a cutlet of veal and way too heavy after several plates of pasta. I've decided I'm not much of a fan of the "secondo piatto" as they say in Italian (main meal) as it's quite heavy after already eating pasta as a first course. I've really got to stop eating on this trip! But wait - there was one more surprise before catching my midnight train to Bari. Andrea and Giuseppe wanted me to meet the person who recommended the restaurant so we sped to her house and I was introduced to her. I had a quick chance to look through one of her books and I was so grateful when she didn't offer me one of her books. My stomach is not the only thing that's bursting at the seams. You should see my luggage.
The last part of the Italian leg of the journey was a night train from Bologna to Bari which was to take seven hours and I had a sleeper cabin with three other people. OK - I can do this. Besides, we'll all be asleep and I'll be able to stretch out on a bed. Actually, it wasn't bad. The awkward part was that the train had pulled in from somewhere further north in Italy so I had to go into the cabin and wake up the other three men with my suitcases. Then, when the train reached Bari in the morning, I was the only one who had to get up so I again had to wake everyone up. Yes - I was a popular passenger. Trust Italy to have overnight trains that aren't express and allow passengers to hop on and off. It kind of defeats the purpose, really.
I arrived in Bari, which is a port on the Adriatic Sea, and I felt the way someone usually does after being woken up on a train at six o'clock in the morning. I had a whole fifteen hours to kill until my ferry left that evening. Fifteen hours! I left my luggage at the station in the luggage department, half wishing someone would just steal the whole lot. I was so over carrying those suitcases. Just take them. As it was still very early in the morning, I found somewhere that served breakfast and I went for a walk around the port. A few times I stopped for a rest and I dozed off on a park bench. It felt so good and the sun was coming up and warming up my face. I must have been asleep for half an hour when I was woken up by the police. "Are you OK?" So I responded, "I will be when I can get a bed and a shower". They just looked at me puzzled. It was at that point that I realised they thought I was homeless. Well, technically, I am. And I wasn't looking my best when they found me, scruffy, unshaven, hair all messed up and sleeping in a park. So I explained to them that I was waiting for a ferry and if they see someone sleeping on another park bench somewhere in twelve hours from now, it'll probably be me as I have a lot of time to kill.
The ferry was like an oasis and I arrived at the ferry terminal hours earlier because, well, I was just so busy and all! Fifteen hours in Bari - there's only so many times you can walk up and down a port. Luckily I arrived early because there's an idiotic rule at this terminal. You need to go and pick up your ticket from an office a few kilometers away. I gazed at the guy who said this to me in that Italian way of shrugging shoulders and facial expressions that spell out messages like "I don't give a shit. I just work here." I could feel a volcano erupting and this guy was going to be the last person in Italy to get a whole heap of my anger. And then it erupted.
"So you're telling me that although this is the ferry terminal and this is the office that sells the tickets, I have to somehow find this mysterious office somewhere across town because you and your colleagues can't be arsed to even suggest to your superiors that something is not quite logical about all this". He just shrugged his shoulders again and made that little sound with his mouth that suggests, "your problem - not mine". Just walk away, Wayne, walk away. After all, I needed to get out of this country and for all I know he could have had a mate checking passports on my way out. Arrggghh! Just let it go. As I walked away, I said to myself, "How cool. Did I just say all of that in Italian?" I love this place.
Even though the ferry didn't depart until 10pm, I was able to board early and by the time the ferry left the port of Bari I was already in bed, after a nice hot shower in my own private compartment. All good things come to those who wait. I slept like a log until the ferry arrived in Dubrovnik the following morning. I was out of Italy, yet again. But I'll be back! So look out! I'll be wearing a cape and on a mission to stamp out incompetence, ineptitude and anyone who pulls a face like a constipated child taking a crap.