When you travel independently not everything goes to plan. A missed train or botched reservation is livable, but once is a while something happens that nearly ruins your holiday. For me the freedom of independent travel outweighs the chances of things going seriously wrong.
In my travelling career I have survived near-drowning in the Indian monsoon (see Nainital journal), serious sea-sickness on the Dover-Calais ferry, and a mugging after a day with Mickey Mouse when I was returning to the hotel in Orlando. But in Italy I was seriously ill and ended up in Casaulty (Emergency Room) in Bologna's excellent Ospetale di Orsolo. But despite the pain and aggravation I was very impressed and my opinion of Italy and Italians reached new levels of affection.
It started on the last day in Rome. The Eternal city, as we all know, is very beautiful but very wearing on the feet. That last evening I began to feel twinges in my knee joints. At night this became incredibly painful and awkward because the next day we were travelling to Bologna. It wasn't until the Sunday morning that I could stand it no more and decided to see a doctor. The only one available would be at the Casaulty (emergency room) at the Ospetale di St Orsolo. So I got myself in a taxi and then hobbled up the stairs to reception.
Maybe because it was Sunday morning, or the sun was shining but everyone was smiling and cheerful. Without waiting, I was seen a by a sweet nurse who took my name and passport number and then put me in a wheelchair. How embarrassing? (My travel companion found this very funny). After five minutes I was shown into orphapeadics and the ministrations of a cheerful Bolognese doctor, his assistant and a jolly fat nurse. His English was fractured and my Italian non-existent. So through mime and pointing - which made us all laugh - I was diagnosed with 'water-on-the-knee'.
"Too much walking.." said the doctor, "But I'm going to Venice next.." I answered, which seemed to make them laugh all the more. I didn't mind this until he started to syringe my knee, I then prayed he would keep a straight face so that the needle wouldn't wobble. So after ten minutes, I was treated, bandaged up and exchanging jokes with the doctor and his crew. The efficiency of the Italian health service was fabulous. Mind you, this was Sunday morning, it would be different mid-week in a busy city like Rome or Milan. And it was all free! I wasn't charged a lira! As a European citizen I get free healthcare in Italy. God bless the European union!
After an afternoon of rest, after which I was feeling much better, we decided to hit the nightlife in Bologna. Italy isn't great for nightlife and its cities aren't as rocking as Madrid, London or Berlin. But Bologna is an exception probably because of the population of students. We can recommend 'The Comic bar' near the Porta Saragossa which was very stylish. And 'The Olde Dubliner' an Irish pub on the Piazza Martiri. I don't like cod-Irish pubs, they always seem a bit false, but for 5,000 lira for a pint of Guiness we enjoyed ourselves. If you want to find the nightlife in Bologna follow the crowds down the Via Nostradella to a handful of late-night venues.
But of course you must dress like an Italian which means tight jeans, flourescent day-packs, goatee beards, spiked hair and sunglasses. Italians must not leave the house without looking absolutely gorgeous.