Without Ana’s influence, I returned to my style of traveling with no particular plan. I started hitting up Italian friends to see if I could crash at their places. The first person to fall for it was my friend Agnese who had been at Benza’s for New Years. She and I hopped in a car with some guys we barely knew and headed up to Genova where we did a quick tour and had fun being derisive about modern art.
We then caught a train up to the coast to Agne’s home town of Finale Ligure which is right on the sea. She was quick to inform me that it’s the same coast that is oh-so-touristy in France and that most inhabitants of the area were a bit bitter at France’s success. Anyway, her dad picked us up from the train station and took us to their house where they were already halfway through a big ol’ family dinner. As soon as I sat down, everyone was talking to me, asking me questions, and most importantly, offering me food. I can safely say that it was the best meal I’ve had in Italy, and some of the best company.
The next day, Agne helped me plan the next step of my journey and she showed me around the town. We also went down to the beach and had a nice walk in the sun. It almost didn’t seem like winter.
That afternoon, I headed off to Parma. I had no idea what I was going to see, but I knew where I was going to stay. There was a hostel just outside of town, about 25 minutes from the train station. When I arrived, I oriented myself and started walking. Before too long, I made it to the hostel. Of course, the internet, while informing me of the location of the hostel, neglected to tell me that the hostel was closed. And I mean full-on closed. The gate was closed, all the windows were covered and if it weren’t for the little sign outside, I would have assumed that it wasn’t a hostel at all. I called Agne and she started searching the internets to help me find another place. I proceeded to wander back to Parma and then wander the streets asking prices at every hotel I came across. After a couple hours, I finally ended up settling because I didn’t want to sleep on the streets. The receptionist at the front desk was really friendly, and while he said he couldn’t offer me a room for less, he did give me a better room for the basic price. I went upstairs and tried to make the best of my semi-fancy room.
The next day, I experienced Parma in the daylight and found it about the same. So I headed up to Cremona to stay with my friend Beatrice. She, like Agne, was a great hostess and showed me all around her town. Cremona is famous because it’s the hometown of Stradivarius, that guy that made nifty violins a while back. We wandered around, looking at all the different parts of town named after Stradivarius and all the statues of Stradivarius. That night we went out to dinner with Bea’s family and I tried a Cremonese specialty, the Torta Fritta. It’s pretty much pockets of friend dough that you put various meats and cheeses inside. So good! That night, Bea’s dog managed to eat my shoes, so the next day involved some shopping before I went on my way to the next stop, Mantova.
Mantova is known for being the hometown of Virgil, most famous for his supporting role in Hell: The Dante Alighieri Story. Despite a statue, there’s not much to show for Virgil because he has been dead for a very, very long time. There is, however Palazzo Te which is a 16th century palazzo with some beautiful frescoes and a museum inside. I passed most of my day looking at all sorts of neat stuff inside the palazzo and then headed off to Bologna that evening.
In Bologna, I had the good fortune of finding a hostel. It wasn’t exactly in Bologna, but it was within a half hour by bus and it was, according to the internet, really easy to get to the right bus stop from the train station. After wandering the streets of Bologna for an hour or so, I finally found the right bus stop and hopped on. As we were driving along, I noticed that there was no indication of where we were or what the stops were. There were no signs at the stops and nothing was announced on the bus. This concerned me because I was counting on my knowledge of the name of my bus stop to facilitate my arrival at the hostel. After a while I decided that it was worth it to ask the bus driver. I had to do this every time I returned to the hostel because there weren’t even any defining characteristics nearby.
When I got to the hostel, it seemed pretty normal, like any imposing compound in the middle of nowhere. I headed up to my room which was your traditional hostel dorm. What was a bit unusual was my company in my hostel dorm. When I entered, I saw the indication of my two roommates. One bed was in a state of shocking disarray. To say simply that it was unmade would not suffice. There were sheets everywhere. In stark contrast, the other bed was extremely neatly made and resting on the floor in a precise ninety degree angle to the bed was a pair of sandals. Before long, the owner of the sandals returned to the room. As would be expected, he was a very courteous asian man. I would say he was middle aged, but he could have been one hundred like those Tibetan monks that look 16 but hung out with Confucius back in the day.
Later that night, my second roommate came back. He was preceded into the room by his odor. Luckily, he wasn’t selfish and was perfectly willing to share his stink with us for the next couple days. Now, at this point, someone might get offended by my assertion that he was a hobo. Keith, they might say, not all stinky people are hobos, any football player can tell you that. And they’d have a legitimate point. What defined this man for me as a hobo was his charge that he carried with him. He had, on a dolly, what appeared to be a rectangular plastic column in the Grecian style. Every night when he returned from what I can only assume was hobo-ing for the day, he would enter the room with his column and put her gently into his closet, which he would then lock. I had the opportunity, once, to see that the column was hollow. The only object I could easily discern within his column was an almost empty plastic bag of car soap. That’s right, hypothetical skeptic from earlier, he was clearly a hobo.
While I was there, I also saw Bologna.
After three days in Bologna, I headed off for my last night away from home in the famous city of Ferrara. It is not, NOT where Ferraris are from. I got to my hostel, where I was in a room for eight, but literally the only guest in the entire hostel. It was a little spooky. I decided to go out that evening to see a bit of the city and find some food. I walked toward the center of town, and as I rounded a corner BAM, castle. With a moat and drawbridges and everything. The Ferraresi are awesome. It’s like they found this badass castle and thought, ‘How cool is this? Let’s just build a town around it.’ And they did. And it’s called Ferrara.
Then, I went back to Pavia and slept for days.