I really should have stayed longer.

10th June, Bergamo.

I know this will sound like yet another ludicrous exploit in what was becoming a somewhat absurd trip but, attractive as Bergamo was, I was heading to Rome and then a vague notion of Napoli and Sicilia which I have long wanted to visit. As always only a vague outline plan but it needed to be done as I had a hotel booked. I had already checked and the trains were regular with a slow train first to Milano and then one of those whiz-bang intercity type things that virtually flies to Rome. However, more of all that later.

Why did I have a hotel booked, you may ask.  Bloody good question and the answer lies, as always, in perhaps one beer too many.  I had been looking for a hostel in Rome and may have mistyped  hotel for hostel or maybe it just came up as a cheapo on one of the websites I regularly use for cheap places.  As a bit of a travel insight I do recommend the following for my type of travel.  I usually start with Hostelworld, which, despite the name, offers many non-hostel options at the budget end and also hostels with private rooms should you want a little more privacy than a dorm.  As I have said before, there is no right or wrong way to travel and everyone has their own requirements so if budget is a consideration then give them a try, you’ll be surprised what you might find.  Other favourites include Laterooms which, as the name suggests offers last-minute deals if you are looking for somewhere very last-minute.  I have had great results there.  Think about it logically, a hotel / guesthouse / B&B would rather have you staying in a room for half the published price than nobody staying there from which they do not make a penny.  It is the way the hospitality game works.

Even now I am struggling to find a “style” for this blog and, indeed, am not even sure if it needs one, so I am still very much in travel site mode and giving advice from my 40 or more years travelling and, if it helps anyone out there, then so much the better.  A couple of other options are booking.com (works best for the UK, I have never used them overseas) and hotels.com but obviously I shall, yet again, caution you against the criminally evil Tr)padvis£r.

Somehow or another I had managed to score a ridiculously low rate for a really upscale hotel in the middle of Rome and I had been doing well with my budget so I thought a couple of nights of luxury would not hurt and Rome was the destination.

Due to to my earlyish and relatively quiet night the evening before I awoke at a reasonable hour. When I say quietish I speak in relation to my activities as the dorm was anything but and was home to several men who could have snored internationally for their respective countries. That is an occupational hazard in hostels and you just get on with it.

I have included above a few images of this hostel which was certainly one of the best I have stayed in.  My travel Gods had given me some great steerage all the way from Holland where this whole crazy escapade had started what seemed like a very long time ago and I thank them.  I was effectively just ricocheting from one town to the next like a pinball with the machine about to tilt and I was loving it.

The train situation left me in the fortunate position of having just about a full day in Bergamo which turned out to be an utter delight as my friends had promised. I had stowed my kit in the secure locker room so no worries about that and I set off for one of my standard and completely uncharted rambles. I certainly did see that it was a very beautiful city with some wonderful architecture and some fascinating back streets for me to explore.

This being me there had to be a couple of pit stops on the way to rehydrate and they met with varying results. I now Bergamo is a pretty touristed city but they really do know how to load the prices even for pretty average beer in an establishment that is really nothing special and buying a decent artisanal beer on any of the main streets will require a second mortgage. I reckoned the smart thing to do was have a couple in the hostel before heading up to the station which is literally ten minutes walk away. The hostel is not called Central for nothing.

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No problem getting there, scoring my tickets, finding the appropriate train, that was all easy. I even had time to briefly admire the station which is well worth a look. It is when I got on the train and was looking round for a luggage rack that the problem occurred although I stress it is no fault of the train operators.

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The doors started to close when I felt a sharp pain in the back of my ankle. I turned round to find what can only be described as a mindless and anti-social thug wedging the door open with the front wheel of his mountain bike so the train could not depart and in the process had ridden his bike straight into my Achilles tendon. Then he and his two “associates” (I really do not care to swear here so I will call them that) calmly loaded their bikes onto the train when the doors re-opened. Needless to say he got a right mouthful although whether he could understand it or not I couldn’t say but I think he got the message. Not a word of apology, he just shrugged his shoulders and I went down into the carriage. It was only when I looked later that I determined the full extent of their ignorance. Have a look at the image above to see where they had decided to abandon their machines. The third one was blocking the other door so it didn’t matter what side the train pulled into the next station. I never saw the like of it.  Even in my advancing years I am well capable of teaching three little punks like that manners and it is a minor miracle I restrained myself but I just did not want the hassle of dealing with the local polizei or the Carabinieri if I had done too much damage (they are the big boy’s police in Italy).  Just not worth it.

However, I was on my way to the eternal city, sore ankle or no, and everything was looking good. Yet again I shall break here so everything stays in place.

I arrived in Roma Terminii which is the large central Railway station fairly late in the evening and so straight to the hotel for a wash and brush up. I knew a major international city wasn’t going to shut down entirely before midnight which later proved to be the case. It was a mere ten minutes walk from the station with my little rollalong which was by limping rather than rolling along on a partially broken handle but it had been a cheapo anyway. What I am going to tell the reader may make them question my sanity even further if such a thing be possible and it certainly made me question mine both then and since.

I had been thinking maybe a couple of days in Rome which is why I had booked myself into the Hotel Quirinale on the Via Nazionale and at a ludicrously good rate, as I mentioned. That Via was the first “street” built-in modern Rome and stands on the Quirinale hill for which it is named and which forms one of the seven hills on which Rome is famously founded.

Consider the circumstances. In four nights I had slept in a charming Bavarian three star, a very average Austrian student dorm, an excellent Italian hostel and now this four star right in the centre of Rome. It really was turning into one heck of a ride. The night, however, was, youngish and so a quick wash and brush up was called for which was certainly no hardship given the room I was in.

Off out into a lovely, balmy Roman night in search of the necessaries and must have had to walk at least 30 yards to find the  which turned out to be as much bar as cafe. Lord George Byron was one those poets of the Romantic movement who lived completely to excess, scandalised everybody and just did about what they pleased. He visited Italy although rather perversely spent his time learning to speak Armenian and so I suppose that is the connection. It was a place I was to return to on several occasions and, as always,a full review to follow.

I really did want to try out that lovely bed and so didn’t stay out overly late and turned into a most comfy berth.  Let me tell you about the hotel now, which I think I should as it was brilliant.

Firstly, the location is excellent as it is on Via Nazionale which is effectively the main street here running down the hill from Repubblica. It took me ten minutes to get here from the main train station even with luggage.

It all started at the front door opened for me by a very smart chap I and I went to reception to check in. I looked like a total scruff, complete with bandanna and massively frayed denim jacket yet not so much as an eyebrow was raised. Check in was quick and courteous and I was directed to my room on the first floor which I went to up the stairs rather than take the lift just to view the magnificent decor. I believe the building dates to the 1880s, and it does have that lovely period feel about it despite having all mod cons.

The room was absolutely delightful and beautifully presented. All the little touches like bathroom slippers, trouser press, fridge and the like. A quick shower in the bathrom which boasted lashings of hot water at a good pressure and I was completely revived. I hope the images do it justice. The bed was huge and very comfortable when I eventually got to it and, although it is on a busy main road, traffic noise was never an issue.

I really did enjoy my stay there although it was a bit expensive for me. Everything was as it should be and the staff are a delight.

As is my way I was to get a bit marooned in Rome so plenty more to come.  Stay tuned and spread the word.

Moving again, albeit regretfully.

I quite liked Innsbruck and so I thought I would day another night and so I went to the reception to be told the price had gone up from €65 to €70 without any reason given. Sorry, I was not going to pay that kind of money for that kind of room. I can do better in London. Frankly, I can do better by getting myself slung in jail!  Thankfully, I had arisen pretty early and so didn’t have to dash immediately so I took to the internet in search of options.

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Goodbye and good riddance.

There were several less expensive places which looked a lot better appointed but they were all miles away on the outskirts of town. I suspect they were off-season winter sports places trying to fill beds. There was just nothing to suit me so I packed up and prepared to make a move but where to? Well, the vague idea was still generally South so Italy was looking likely. On the back of one of the Virtual Tourist Euromeets many members whose opinion I trust had raved about Bergamo as a destination so that sounded as good a plan as any.  I had not managed to make that one.

A bit of trek but not too bad brought me to the station where I went to the very helpful lady on the information desk who told me it was indeed possible but I would have to change at Verona. OK, that is no problem and so I left with a full printed itinerary and rather a large hole in my budget. Like everything else there, they know how to charge for it. I know walk up fares are always obscenely expensive in Europe but this really had been a spur of moment decision.

The first part of the journey was a comfortable OBB (Austrian) train and all went smoothly although one thing of interest did occur. At the crossing point in Brenner / Brennero (it is right on the border), there were certainly a few police and border officials knocking about but nothing too heavy.  Before I was to leave Italy, the Austrians had blocked the road crossing here with the Army and armoured cars to stop the huge influx of economic migrants and refugees into their country as they seek to move further North in Europe (my country and Germany in particular). I found it slightly odd that things had moved so quickly to the point that the two neighbours were involved in a full-scale diplomatic rumpus.

I have to say that the journey from Austria was through some absolutely stunning scenery, it was a complete delight.  Sadly and stupidly I didn’t manage any images of it!

The second train was on rolling stock from Italian Railways and obviously slower than the OBB (Austrian) train but it was perfectly acceptable and I was delivered to Bergamo with no problems. Well, perhaps just one problem in that I had no clue where I was staying that night, it was gone 1900 hours and I was in a city I had never been in with no map and not the faintest idea how to access one on my mobile ‘phone. OK, resort to SOP’s (Standard Operational Procedures) and find a bar. That way you can get a much-needed beer, possibly score some wi-fi that you can use your laptop on to check for hostels or ask the bar staff on the principle that there is no substitute for local knowledge.

I had a choice of maybe three of four major roads to walk so I picked one literally at random. I passed a couple of bars as they looked terribly posh with the beautiful people being terribly stylish as the Italians seem to do so effortlessly. Your humble narrator was in serious scruff attire which was getting scruffier by the day due to his total lack of laundry facilities and was looking for an establishment that looked like it might perhaps not throw him out on his ear and it seemed that that would be easier said than done.

I have mentioned the “travel Gods” many times on this blog before and people do tend to scoff a bit when I write or speak about it but I have no other way of explaining the really lucky things that happen to me so often. Here they were walking, riding, flying or whatever it is they do right beside me as the next thing I saw was a billboard advertising the Central Hostel BG not two hundred yards distant. What are the chances? All I had to do now was hope they had a bed.

Straight round without even stopping for a beer which is unimaginable I know and up to the desk where the charming young lady told me I was in luck, there was one bed left. Job done. She then ran me through a list of the facilities. There was wi-fi in the public areas, a cafe / bar which immediately called for a beer before I had even stowed my kit. Very best of all they had a laundry room which transpired to be a beauty.

After a long day’s travel and the laundry a pressing need (again, no pun intended) I decided there would be no harm in doing a little internet, a few more ressonably priced beers in what was to turn out to be an expensive city and a bit of personal admin before retiring for a relatively early bed.

More of Bergamo tomorrow so stay tuned and spread the word.