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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: Chapter 79 - A Long Meal In Bologna

...All the food was delicious. We, and actually more probably me, ate more than I should have because by the time the seventh bowl had appeared I was full to the brim. It was so embarrassing for us because the chef appeared. “You don’t like?” he asked...

Gayle Woodward concludes her entertaining account of a whistle stop tour of Europe.

We had the longest meal I have ever had in Bologna. The Thorn employee given the task of looking after us took us to his local restaurant. “You would like to sample some Bologna food?' he asked. “Oh yes”, I gushed. He spoke to a waiter and the first of about ten courses appeared in front of us. We were oblivious to the amount of food which would be on offer and eagerly began to eat.

All the food was delicious. We, and actually more probably me, ate more than I should have because by the time the seventh bowl had appeared I was full to the brim. It was so embarrassing for us because the chef appeared. “You don’t like?” he asked. “Oh!’ was all I could say and mimed the very full stomach. Mime is an international language and there was relief and laughter all round.

It was soon time to leave Bologna and we collected a hire car again and drove off to do some exploring together. We arrived in Venice on a rainy day, took pictures in the famous square, ducking pigeons as we strolled, watched the empty gondolas lined up at waters edge and drank bitter dark Italian coffee in a café.

We were expected at Diane’s house in the town of Udine. Diane is a sister of my friend Carol, and had an Italian husband, the second of two actually, and two Italian children. She taught English in an International school and would put us up for the night. To get there we had to travel on an Italian motorway and it raining still when we came upon a Toll Gate. There were countless lanes spread across the entire width of this motorway, most of which had signs which declared Auto. One lane only said Solo. I urged Woody to drive through the Solo lane because I thought, and rightly so it turned out, that Auto lanes would be for cars that paid automatically. How this would happen I did not know but it didn’t matter because he drove confidently into a crowded Auto gate. The female collector screamed at us. Woody desperately tried to offer money to her as the drivers behind us, annoyed at having to wait, flashed their lights and had horns blaring. The noise around us was amazing. Finally the woman gave us a slip of paper and gestured that we should drive over to the side of the motorway and wait. We did so and waited and then waited some more, ever more anxious as the minutes past.

At last we decided that no one would come to take our money or come to our aid and we drove off. When we reached Diane in Udine she was astonished to read our missive. We could be in serious trouble if they found us, she said. We hoped the hire company would pay the fine at least. Diane’s mother in law lived below them in a two storey attached house. She was a little old lady dressed in black who scurried around doing housework and did not talk to us. Diane and her husband showed us to their bedroom where we would sleep that night and then took us all to eat in a family Eat All You Can restaurant. I decided that some parts of Europe were just like home.

The next morning we were on the move again. This time crossing more Alps, driving on wonderful roads through amazing mountainous scenery. We crossed into Austria which made me homesick, so green and beautiful were its hills and valleys. We found a cute room in a boarding house with window boxes at the windows which looked out at snow capped mountains.

That night we walked into the town centre to find some dinner. We came across a Pizza café. We asked if anyone spoke English and a young man answered “A little.'' But by then we had seen pictures above us and were able to select the pizza we wanted by pointing. But only a few words were needed for the young man to ask if we were from New Zealand. He told us he had spent the last year back packing through our country. What a great surprise this is, to find someone who knows of our little country. We had heard no news of New Zealand since our departure from there and phone calls home had been about the children.

The very Austrian looking room we had rented turned out to be less homely than expected when at 5am a freight train trundled past, sounding its horn for the fun of it! We had looked out past the window boxes to the mountains beyond, never once glancing at the railway tracks metres from our room.

Our next tourist stop was Vienna where we joined a bus trip following the Sound of Music story. Woody was taken aback when I cried out, “Oh, there’s the gazebo!” We ate apple strudel in a little café opposite the church where Maria was married, batting wasps away while we ate. I loved the prettiness and orderliness of Vienna.

I sang Sound of Music songs all the way into Germany as we sped along the Autobahn. We were heading for Munich, where we would spend the night and part of the next day before flying back to London. I had a map and kept abreast of our travels on the motorway. I kept seeing signs at exits saying ‘Ausfart’ There seemed to so many such signs and we decided it must be a huge place. Only later did we discover the word meant Motorway Exit!

We met a young boy in the street who told us we could have a room in his house. He spoke perfect English and took us to his mother. She did not have the same ability to speak English but showed us to a lovely room with bathroom (and no railway tracks anywhere near). Breakfast would be included in the tariff. And what a breakfast this was. The most delectable cheeses and cold meats and fruits laid out on a pretty tablecloth for us, the only visitors. I decided that I liked German food, especially the breakfasts.

There was only time for a visit to Dachau camp. A very sobering experience in an eerie place which meant we walked around in silence. We came upon a group of secondary school aged children sitting with their teacher in one of the derelict barrack buildings. They were learning, we were told, about what had occurred in their town.

Back in London, we knew, that the same day Jeff would arrive there from his Contiki camping trip through Europe. We left our suitcases in our tiny hotel room. With the two of them stored at the foot of the bed there was very little room to move. As we moved out into the crowded street, we saw Jeff walking towards us, huge pack on his back and huge smile on his face. His request to leave his pack in our room for the day made us smile. We agreed but the only place for it was on top of our bed! We spent the rest of that day in a bar, with Jeff and his Dad drinking beer and me listening to all his stories. It was good to see him again after so long.

A quick trip on the Tube took us to the theatre to see Starlight Express and I am afraid to say that my husband fell asleep as soon as he sat down, the day’s excesses catching up with him. He did wake to see the second half of the performance.

Soon it was time to say goodbye to Jeff who was travelling on to Ireland and time for us to head out to Heathrow for the long 24 hour trip home. Once one arrives at the airport for the return home, one can think of nothing else and I became rather weepy at the thought of seeing my own house, sleeping in my own bed and seeing those teenagers again. It was a slow and arduous flight and the two hour stopover in a Los Angeles transit hall is an experience I don’t want to repeat. However, we had experienced a marvellous whistle stop tour of Europe which gave us memories to last a lifetime.

**

To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/life_is_too_short_to_drink_bad_wine/

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