I left Belgium on Ryan Air from “Brussels South” airport. It was my first time flying Ryan Air and as an airline, it is by far the worst I have flown. I booked the tickets through a promotion they had where the flight from “Brussels” to “Milano” was 10 Euros and the flight from “Milano” to Fes was 24 Euros.
Classic bait and switch. The taxes and fees (10 Euros for checked bag, 5 Euros for online check in, etc etc) and by the end, the cost was 200 Euros for both tickets. Plus, it turns out “Brussels South” is actually more than an hour from Brussels by bus so that is another 13 Euros, plus they never bother to say that the airport is this far from actual Brussels. Same thing with flying to Milano, it is about an hour train trip to Milano. On board the flights, they try to sell you everything…nothing is free on Ryan Air. No in flight entertainment, no magazine (unless you pay for it), no free snacks (not even water or peanuts), and if you simply try to get into a book, the flight attendants are hawking make-up, lottery tickets, and other things every five minutes during the flight. Maybe next time I’ll take a Rome Holiday. We’ll see.
Sure, overall pretty cheap and efficient even with the fees, but not what they are advertising and as for the feeling of flying being special, it is less special and less comfortable with Ryan Air than it is on good old Greyhound.
Okay, the view of the Alps as we flew over beat anything from a Greyhound…
With that rant out of the way, I had been unable to find a couch in Milano because there was a convention of interior designers there during the period I was going. I figured, I would find something when I arrived, but I figured all the hostels and hotels would be full too. So when I realized I was right next to Bergamo, which I had never heard of, I decided it was better to go there. The bus was a couple of Euro, Ryan Air had been selling tickets for 10 Euro. Shysters.
Anyway, I used the internet in the Italian airport and found that e-fascism is alive and well in Italy. You have to register with your passport if you use a computer in the airport or in an internet cafe. Not only that, it is expensive. Anyway, I paid a Euro for five minutes, found a hostel address in Bergamo and set out.
Bergamo was incredibly nice. Beautiful in fact. The hostel was full, I was referred to the tourist office who told me everything was full because of the interior design thing, the lady at the Bergamo tourist office called a second hostel that was 3 km outside of town. They had one bed left and she reserved it for me. I literally got the last bed in town.
She gave me directions to get there and finally I arrived by bus. Absolutely beautiful hostel and setting. Again, expensive internet, but I wasn’t complaining. A hostel in Milan would have been 45 Euros and probably not very good, here it was 18 Euros per night. They managed to do some juggling and booked me for 3 nights, each night in a different room. No problem for me.
I asked the clerk to suggest a walk to me and she told me to walk to the Cialto Alta, the high city. It is a world heritage site. Very very nice place.
I noticed something in Italy that surprised me. The sky is different there. It really looks like all the paintings of the old masters. I always thought it was a style, but no, the sky is a little different color, the clouds are different. It’s really really amazingly beautiful.
So that was the first day. In the morning I woke up and trying to avoid all the interior design students the place was packed with, I sat on the Terrace while they sat inside and enjoyed a very nice breakfast looking across the valley at the Cialto Alta.
Then I walked to the train station and took a train to Milano (Milan). It cost about 4 Euros each way. I spent the day walking around Milan and to be honest, I was not impressed a bit. Milan has some decent but not spectacular architecture, in terms of the other places I’ve been, it was really a fairly flat, boring, not very interesting place. The main thing in Milan is the fashion houses and I could give a rats ass about them. I did buy a dress for Hanane while I was there and some scarves for her sisters, but that was all I had to do with fashion.
I visited the interior design expo for about 5 minutes and decided to leave. Some very snooty people all dressed to impress each other and really not looking all that great. Maybe I’m snooty too.
Milano is filled with men in suits that look too small for them.
I wandered into a down and out outlying area and found a pizza shop where they spoke no english and got a nice slice of pizza. Okay, it was amazing. Not as good as Lily’s Pizza in Raleigh, North Carolina, but better than Chicago or New York pizza.
Then I caught the train back to Bergamo, stopped and had the best ice cream I have ever had. Italian Gelatto is the best in the world…at least in my experience.
My last day I was happy to wander around Bergamo reading a bad science fiction novel I had picked up in Brussels, sitting in parks, going to an archeology and natural history museum,
going inside one of the most beautifully painted cathedrals I’ve seen anywhere,
and doing a lot of people watching. There was a jazz festival I was thinking of checking out, but by the time I got back to the hostel, I had done a lot of walking and decided to simply do my laundry, shower, finish my book, and then walk to the nearest pasta place to get some Italian pasta.
Where is the water? we both asked. (Me and the monk in the picture)
This was one more strange experience. For some reason, nearly everything was closed but I finally found a pasta place that was open. I was surprised when I went in, it looked like a very nice place but all the waitstaff were Japanese girls that spoke no Japanese, only Italian and Spanish. They weren’t sisters, not related. I had gnocci and shrimp with pesto, a nice glass of wine, and sadly, they were out of Tiramisu so I ordered something from the dessert menu I had never seen.
I swear it was deep fried Mochi filled with peanut butter. Delicious, but I seriously doubt it is a real Italian dessert, Japanese maybe…anyway, real Italian pasta will have to happen another time.
Back to the hostel, a shower, packing, went to bed, and in the morning, woke up and took a bus to the airport where I caught a flight back to Fes (yes another Ryan Air flight, just as bad). Arriving in Fes I was met by Hanane and our friend Yassine. I made it through customs first since I was apparently the only passenger with his own pen, and here I am….it’s nice to be home….
(Originally posted 26 APRIL 2009)