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« Genoa, The Gateway to the Mediterranean | Main | Push It A Little Bit Harder »
Wednesday
Jun172009

A Slice of Humble Pie

If you knew anything about my travel itinerary, you are probably asking yourself, what is he doing Genoa? I often find myself asking the same question David Byrne posed; “Well, how did I get here?” I guess I should back up.

The morning after the party in Westerpark, I went back into town to meet Eva and Noa for lunch and to find and repair the flat tire. Eva and I dropped the bike off and then went for stroll and found a little sandwich place a few blocks from the touristy area.We had a great time walking around chatting about our lives and love, politics, and art. We were both sorry we didn’t have more time to get to know each other but sometimes encounters on the road can be brief but last a lifetime. I failed to mention she has a communications company and I will be doing some editing for her so we have not seen or heard the last of each other.

After I left Eva, Bret and I met up to discuss what our next part of the journey would be. The plan was to go into a travel agency and book a last minute flight to somewhere warm and sunny since it was cloudy and raining in Amsterdam. Our plans didn’t go as planned as we couldn’t find a cheap flight. We began discussing the possibilityofdoing a beer tour in Belgium but my mind was on the Mediterranean and I couldn’t shake it. We decided to hold off on our plans as my friend Kim,who I was house-sitting for at the earliest part of this story, was going to be in Cinque Terre, Italy. I wanted to explore the option of meeting up with her so we decided to chat the following day.

It didn’t take long after I left Bret and began my bike ride home before the tire went flat again. They charged me 17.50 Euro but I’m pretty sure theydid the 7.50 job. I guess that is “typically Dutch” in the tourist areasas Susan would say.

The following day I received an email from Kim confirming the dates she would be in Cinque Terre so I walked down to the travel agency and booked a flight to Genoa, Italy as it was the closest place near CinqueTerreI could get to. I made all my last minute arrangements, packed up, and was ready to go by the time Susan got home that night.

Susan and I met up with Judith that night at the Concertgebouw, which would probably be the equivalent of New York’s Carnegie Hall, except much smaller. It was a beautiful, ornate building with a grand pipe organ in the back and around the balcony the names offamous composers from Strauss, to Wagner,Debussy and Tchaikovsky. Thebest seat in the house was dead-center above Mahler, and if you had those seats and the queen happened to show up that night, well, tough luck.Built in the 1890s, the sound was impeccable. Judith’s boyfriend, Wouter Huzinga, was playing that evening with Nynke Laverman so he got us some free tickets.

Nynke was born in Friesland, a northern Dutch province that more or less speaks their own language and for inspiration she travelled to Mexico and Portugal. What she brought back with her was a hybrid of traditional Portuguese music which she translated into Fries, so even Judith and Susan didn’t know what she was singing about. When I heard traditional music I wasn’t to excited but wanted to see the concert hall none-the-less, however, the music and musicians were quite impressive. It had a gypsy/mariachi feel which wasaccentuated by her dramatic presentation. After the show we had a drink with Wounter, and Susan and I made our way home.

***

The following morning I was up at 6:30am and at Schipol Airport well ahead of my flight. I looked for a book on Italy or a map of Genoa - something that I could ground myself with but to no avail. What the hell am I going to do when I get there? I thought. Dealing with a hint of anxiety, being as I had not been in Italy in ten years, did not know one word of Italian, and had no idea how big or small Genoa was, I gathered my senses on the plane and devised a plan. First, I needed to learn five phrases so I asked the stewardess how to say the following things;

•1. Excuse me

•2. Do you speak English

•3. Hello

•4. Please

•5. Thank you

Yes, that should make my journey in Italy smooth. They either thought I was funny or another jackass-American.

Flying into Genoa, I was surprised that the city was much larger than I had imagined it. I guess when a city is named on a country map, and it is in larger type than any of the surrounding cities, that should be a pretty good indicator of its size.

As I was walking off the plane, I asked a cute Italian girl if she knew how I could get into the city. Turns out she was studying law in New York City and was here visiting her parents. She asked the proper authorities and I found out that there was a bus leaving in 15 minutes. Perfect, I thought. That gives me time to go to the information desk, grab a map, go to the vending machine to get a bus ticket and be on my way. I was so excited at how smoothly everything was going I forgot to pick up my bag at baggage claim. I am a simple man and my mind can only process so many things at once. No matter. The airport was small enough that I could buzz in and out and still have plenty of time before the bus left.

The bus left me off right in front of the tourist office so I went in and gathered some more information. This is great, I thought to myself. I am really getting good at this travel thing.

Patting myself on the back and using some of the knowledge I gained from Bret, I decided it would be foolish of me to jump at the first few hotel I came across. Instead, I made my way into town. After a half-kilometre walk I followed a sign to a one star hotel down a dark alley. I walked in and asked the woman if I could see the room, even though she wasn’t the most welcoming host I have ever come across. I went up to the room, checked the water pressure, checked the cleanliness of the sheets, made sure the fan worked, and all looked well for 35 Euros, with the exception that the shower was in the hallway. I should have called it a day but my head was getting so big I could barely get it out the door. “I’m just going to check one more place,” I told her and I could feel the tension and her angerin the air. I remember thinking, I have probably just insulted her.

I can decide to go to Africa or Europe, or move across the country at the drop of a hat and yet I can’t even decide what to order on a menu, sowhy should choosing a hotel be any different? No sooner had I walked out the door and stood on the street then I thought, what the hell am I doing. I just want to be done with this. It is hot as balls out and I am exhausted. I walked back into the hotel and said, “I changed my mind! I’ll take it!” expecting to be welcomed back like a sailor who has been long out at sea - but no. With people walking in the door she barked at me with her finger wagging, like a good Italian woman reprimanding her child, “No! Now you may not have the room!”

Bitch showed me. That was the biggest slice of humble-pie I’ve ever had.

It had me rattled for a bit and as I walked back into the sunlight from the dark hovel,the sweat poured down my face and it looked like I had just participated in a wet t-shirt contest. From there things just got worse. It was hot, I was dehydrated, tired,and I was having trouble finding hotels in the part of the city I was at. Of the places I did find there were no vacancies.

Finally, I came upon the Bel Sorroggio. Josephine was the kindest woman I have come across in a long time. The hotel was going to be full until about 8pm (because people who bring their boats into the harbor rent the room for certain times) but she offered me other solutions like renting a place at her flat for 35 Euros, but again, she wasn’t going to be off of work until about 9pm and I had to be out at 11am. I just needed to lie down or sit down. We finally agreed and for 65 Euro, I would have a place come 8pm. I went into the small bathroom, towelled myself dry, changed my clothes, went to the corner store and downed three small bottles of water in a row. Bret told me about one time when he got dehydrated in Shanghia and how terrifying it was. I was not that bad but I was not that good either. What did I say earlier; HYDRATE! HYDRATE! HYDRATE!

As luck would have it, when I returned from the water run, she had decided to just give me a double room instead of a single for the same priceso I could go right to my room, shower, and rest for a while before I went out for dinner.

 

July 26, 2007
Genoa, Italy, 11:16pm

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