I am currently in Modena, and later today I will be going on a tour of a traditional balsamic vineyard. I will then spend all my money on balsamic vinegar despite only arriving yesterday evening, and will have to stretch out about €10 to last the rest of the time I’m here.
I was a little nervous about getting on a plane again – it’s been a couple of years since I went abroad – but as soon as it started down the runway I remembered how much I loved it. And then we got up above the clouds and it was beautiful.
I landed in Bologna in the late afternoon. Normally I’m good at planning my trips beforehand – not what I’m doing each day (I like to wander around, get a bit lost and end up doing impromptu things), but the basics such as how to get from A to B. This time I hadn’t done that.
I arrived in Bologna airport and picked up my baggage – the first time I’ve travelled with a checked bag! I normally just use a carry-on, but because I plan to bring back balsamic vinegar, olive oil and wine, I bought a special wine suitcase from Lazenne to travel home with. I will let you know what I think of it when I get back.
Bag safely collected, I walked towards the exit and then realised I still had to get to Modena, which is about an hour and a half from Bologna, and I had no idea how. Luckily I found a coach that was going there, so I paid the fare and hopped on board. “Which stop do you need?” asked the driver. “I don’t know,” I replied, “I’ll have to google it while we’re travelling.” He looked amused.
I did my googling and discovered that the train station was the closest stop to my Modena hotel. I got off there, then realised I had no idea where the taxis were, and I didn’t feel like lugging two bags around in the dark trying to make my way there by myself. Assuming the station would have a taxi rank somewhere, I walked around it until I came across a single taxi with a woman standing outside it, leaning against the door and smoking. I said the name of my hotel and she got in the cab, so I got in too and we arrived at the hotel a few minutes later.
The hotel is pretty basic.
I posted that picture ^ on Instagram because the rest of the pictures I’m posting will probably be pretty: the balsamic tour, the opera (SO EXCITING), the various little places I’ll find when I’m wandering the streets. But this is the other side of that; I’m staying in a hotel that looks like it hasn’t been decorated (or deep cleaned, but I’m trying not to think about that) since about 1970. The hotel smells a bit musty, although the bathroom is spotless which is very important. The restaurant smells of wet dog and old grease, but Hussain the proprietor serves up Persian cuisine that’s pure comfort food: hearty soups and rice dishes. I also tried Persian ice cream for the first time yesterday and I quite enjoyed it.
The reason I’m staying in this place that’s a bit of a dive is purely financial. I could have opted for a better hotel, but then I wouldn’t have been able to spend as much on balsamic, and I’m not expecting that to be cheap. This is the constant toss-up of travel (and life in general): what are you willing to sacrifice in place of what else?
So many people seem to want it all, and I think that’s largely because of the way things are presented on social media. I could have just posted the beautiful tours, and people would have looked at them in between the photos of other bloggers staying in posh, beautiful hotels and eating out every night, and their minds would have gone “Look! These people stay in beautiful hotels AND eat out every night AND go on lovely balsamic tours!” and then they would have felt like they’re failing at life because they couldn’t do all of those things.
But that’s just not the case. I’m staying in a frankly quite crappy hotel, and I won’t eat out every night: I normally buy a couple of basics from whatever local supermarket I find and spend most mealtimes in my room. However I will splash out on the balsamic tour, and I will probably take myself for dinner on Monday night just before I head to Florence for the conference which is why I’m in Italy in the first place.
Of course being able to come here at all is an immense privilege and one I’m grateful for: I couldn’t travel last year because I was too unwell, and I’d never been on holiday at all until I was twenty-two years old, because when I was a child we were too poor to have a house some of the time, and food a lot of the time, let alone any kind of vacation.
But I am here, and it is nice, even if the hotel is stuck in the 70s. Maybe I’ll put on some punk rock, dress up as Siouxsie again and go full 70s for the duration of my stay in Modena.