Following the directions on Hitchwiki we get the number 6 bus off Venice isalnd and navigate our way to the service station, despite mis-spellings of several roads.
We’re both nervous about hitching in Italy. It’s illegal to hitch on the motorway, and this extends to petrol stations and service areas. But it’s ok and despite some surprised expressions and a few rude people who just ignore us completely, most people are friendly. After repeating our now well-learned mantra “Mi scusi, dove e diretto Bologna?” seemingly several hundred times to bemused drivers, we get a ride first to a bigger service station 10km away, then in two seperate cars to another, 5km short of Bologna. Here we reconvene, much to the astonishment of the women from David’s lift, who can’t understand how he could possibly have met up with a friend from Britain in a seemingly random service station. I drink a coffee and David table-dives some chips, then we get a lift together with a father and his young teenage son to the railway station in Bologna.
Unlike Venice, here we come prepared with written directions to a couchsurfers house. Diana greets us at the door, “Welcome, this is your home.” She reiterates this as she shows us around. “This is your home – do as you like, don’t ask for anything. There is not much food, but what there is you can eat it. Here are your keys…” She hands them to us and puts the kettle on. “Ah, you’re one of those couchsurfing hosts!” I hug her thanks and kiss her cheek. We sit together on sofa and floor cushions, discuss travels, politics and love. I make pasta, Diana opens some wine and we continue chatting until midnight.
In the morning Diana has to work early before I get up. I take advantage of the spacious living room and that gap of time alone before David gets up to practice some yoga. I realise I need some space.
We travel by bus together to the city centre and hunt down Tourist Information to precure some maps before going our seperate ways for the day.
Bologna is very orange. It’s nickname is apparently “La Rossa” (The Red One), referring to the colour, but also the citiy’s Socialist reputation after World War II. I don’t think it’s red. It’s orange. The historic centre has some beautiful (orange and yellow) architecture, but otherwise I find the city unremarkable. I feel this is good – I need to be somewhere unremarkable for the moment, take time for myself without the push and pull of tourist urges.
Writing my diary in a vegetarian (and fish) cafe, I’m interrupted by a Nigerian man trying to sell me a pair of socks and asking if I might buy him a coffee. I refuse politely and explain I’m a hitchhiker, travelling cheap. He wishes me well on my journey and leaves. Then I feel ridiculous, and mean. The guy only wants a coffee. How many people give me lifts, buy me coffee, feed and house me out of generosity? I go out and look for him, but he’s already out of sight.
I meet David and Diana at the “Anarchic Circle”, inside one of the city gates at Santa Stefano. There are two social centres, including Atlantide, which I had already heard of. They’re opposite one another, either side of the place where the gate once stood: old buildings with Roman columns, very impressive – but closed. This is becoming a theme for us. We go in search of other social centres, directed by a group of older generation anarchists, who tell us the younger ones are harder to find these days as they’ve had problems with “diggers” – undercover intelligence gathering police. They tell us the best place to go is Xm24, so we cross the city to get there.
It’s like some kind of old hangar, covered in graffiti and dogs. A punk gig is about to start downstairs and a crusty of indeterminate gender is asleep with their head on a table. Ah yes, this feels much more like home. We drink a beer at the table and listen to the punk through the floor, begrudging paying the €4 entry fee, though actually it sounds really good. Suddenly it’s midnight, time to jump the last bus home.
Tuesday we planned to go to Rome, but at 2am Monday night we still don’t have a couch there. This combined with a late night and late morning means postponing the 400km hitch for the following day.
Walking into town I see a familiar face: it’s the Nigerian man from yesterday. We greet one another like old friends and I apologise for not buying him a coffee. I offer him one now, but he’s already taken two today and says if he has another then he won’t sleep. He hints subtly and with astonishing politeness, humility and tact that he would actually like some money – without directly asking. I give him a euro, feeling slightly ridiculous as it’s such a small amount. We chat a while. He asks about my travels and I ask how it is for Nigerians in Italy. He says there are many of them, just getting by. Things are difficult without documents. Well, I already noticed that – in Italy it’s illegal even to use the internet without identification. We speak about Schengen and fingerprints. He wants to get papers here and then a visa for England. He thinks England won’t see his fingerprints because it’s not in Schengen. I’m sorry to inform him otherwise. “Shit shit shit, oh fuck!” I’m so sorry. We talk some more and he says goodbye. I wish him luck, sad to think he’s going to need it.