“I‘m so glad you persuaded me that we should drive to Gatwick last night”,
I mused with a contentedly relaxed sigh as I reluctantly pulled back the warm hotel duvet & chanced the chilly bathroom to fill the tiny kettle for a much-needed cup of tea, as Tony grunted & snuggled further beneath the covers. Sunday morning, & at least we’d caught up on a few hours’ much-needed rest rather than rising at 2am & having to hurry to Gatwick to catch our flight to Bologna. At least this way we could enjoy a leisurely breakfast & make our way to the airport with time to spare.
The airport seemed surprisingly tranquil in the cool brightness of the frosty morning sunshine, with Tony remarking how fewer take-offs & landings there are at Gatwick compared with the airport from which he operates, Heathrow. Inside its’ bustling portals we browsed the surprisingly expensive, exclusive shops – Harrods; a gourmet deli selling almost exclusively caviar (not quite what the UK is famous for); a whisky emporium; & a seafood & champagne bar, decorated with oysters on ice & the most frighteningly enormous crab claws, displayed like the petals of some bizarre & garish underwater flower.
The two-hour flight was uneventful, with clear skies & no turbulence; proferring a stunning view of the Alps, their snowy peaks picked out in delicate shades of coral in the evening sun which made me regret not ensuring I had the camera to hand.
Bologna airport is fairly sizeable for what is essentially a provincial hub; although the arrivals area is fairly modest. There was, however, nothing unassuming about the stunning wooden delicatessen erected in the foyer; packed with mouthwatering comestibles, it made the gastric juices rumble like Vesuvius & gave me an even greater appreciation of why Bologna is one of the great gourmet capitals of the world. Indeed, where better to learn about gelato……?!
The stall was stuffed to the gunnels with simply wonderful foods. Great, fat sausages, salamis & hams hung invitingly from the rustic beams; the delicate, translucent shell-pinks of parma ham & prosciutto were enticingly laid before us; snowy peaks of the biggest balls of mozzarella di bufala I’ve ever seen bobbed in their earthenware bowl like frosted islands in a milky sea of whey; beside the tiniest, delicate hand-twisted tortellini, plump, cheesy pockets of bisque-tinted tortelloni & deep, dark clouds of rich, unctuous bottles of aged aceto balsamico di Modena. Oh joy, those huge wheels of finest Parmesan, its’ perfect, golden, crumbed texture sending waves of almost honey-sweet scent to mingle with the rich, smoky meatiness of the hams; & we positively gaped in awe at the largest salami we had ever seen, stretching almost floor to ceiling & as broad in the beam as an adult. We most certainly had arrived…..
The innate sense of style for which Italian culture is rightly famed, is admired the world over. Attention to detail was apparrent everywhere, even translating to the airport ablutions – which in the UK, are invariably functional at best. Smart, garnet-coloured tiling decorated walls & floors, with a rubicose marble sink top & elegant porcelain fittings. I was however flummoxed by the tap: it was such a modern, elegant design that it took me a full minute to work out how to operate it – & when I did, I managed to liberally spray myself with water. I felt a real country bumpkin, alienated in this oasis of elegance.
Something markedly less stylish however, was the car park: just the simple act of locating our hire car – even with a remote key fob – proved something of a challenge as we scoured the grim, grey concrete entrails of the subterranean car park; which, despite the miniscule size of said vehicle seemed to have been designed by a malicious midget as we precariously negotiated narrow exits peppered with almost invisible half-height bollards.
The next challenge was finding our way to the hotel; for which we had only an address & no directions. Guessing it must be in the immediate vicinity of Bologna we made our way towards the city; & I managed to find at least part of the road on which the Holiday Inn was located on our rather crude map, passing under some alarming bridges with only inches of clearance for the vehicle’s roof – you certainly could not have cycled beneath them. To our relief we eventually managed to locate the hotel; mistakenly parking the car in its’ underground car park rather than above ground, at an unanticipated & unneccessary expense of €47.
Our alarm was compounded on checking in & observing the advertised room rate per night – €420! This would make ours an extremely expensive stay; & we still had not been ascertained the exact cost of the training. To our enormous relief however, our accommodation was provided at a reduced rate for attendees of the course – so we could rest a little more easily. In fact as we later discovered the prestige of training at the Carpigiani University was something of an advantage – mention the name & edible delicacies were immediately proffered; along with generous reductions on any tariff.
As it was late & we were feeling a little jaded, we opted for a simple meal in the hotel restaurant & an early night – as tomorrow promised to be a busy day…..the menu enticed us with some fascinating dishes. I’d never heard of ‘stinco’ before; but according to the translation on the à la carte it is “pork k-cnockle with mushed potatoes”. Mmmm, sounds…..well, I think I’ll give it a miss…….
Closing the curtains on our first evening in Bologna, I learned another salutory lesson in Italian style. The heavy, green-&-red curtains & their accompanying thick, obscuring nets offered no hint of whether they were to be drawn by hand, by cord or by some other device. I could not seem to pull the heavy material; nor could I find a cord. Fumbling behind the heavy folds I thankfully located a button. There was a whirring; yet nothing appeared to happen. Surely my bumpkinishness hadn’t managed to break the curtains already? I pressed again; more whirring, apparently no action. On pulling back the nets I realised what was going on behind the scenes…..an exterior blind was patiently going up & down, up & down.
I never did quite manage to work out how to draw the curtains.