I woke up at 7am. It was still dark. I packed up my stuff and very carefully pulled my soiled trainers on to the ice sculptures into which my feet had become transformed overnight. I stuffed my dew-damp sleeping bag into my rucksack, traipsed back to the bus stop that would take me back to Madrid, and proceeded to walk backwards and forwards like a man in a film about mental illness till five past eight. Then the bus came. And I got on it.
I ate an apple on the bus, made a film of a sun farm and a few flocks of geese, then slept till 10.30. Back at the hostel, I repacked quickly and got out in time to pick up my ten-euro deposit. Then a couple of hours in an excellent little bar on Calle Olmo with wifi and brie-and-honey-based comestibles, and I was ready to make for the airport.
On the way to the airport, I got lost. Stupidly. Really stupidly. However, because I’d given myself plenty of time, and because it was such a lovely day, it really didn’t matter. I was heavily weighed down though, and had walked an unnecessarily long way, and my blisters were biting. So I bought a bottle of Fanta and started walking in the right direction. That bottle of Fanta was one of the best things I have ever drunk.
I made the airport in good time, checked in, found a ridiculously expensive ‘restaurant’, bought some sandwiches and wine and wrote some stuff.
The plane was painless. There was an air-hostess who – to my mind – personified physical perfection. I yearned for a moment, as my instinct decreed, then I allowed myself to drift off to sleep. I think I should really sleep less when I travel and use my time more productively, but the motion is just so conducive.
I woke up as we were dipping into Milan. It was dark already.
Just about every time I write something online, I instinctively imagine what might come of it. For example, if I write: ‘Crumbs. I wish someone would pay me to write a weekly column for the Guardian Travel section’, then part of me, if only fleetingly, will imagine someone at the Guardian reading it and thinking: ‘By Christ, why aren’t we employing this guy? Metaphorically speaking, he is a tennis ball machine with the knob set to pearls!’ I imagine it because these things happen. Not that one obviously. But some things. Life is full of possibilities, that’s all I’m saying. And if you put stuff out there, sometimes it comes back at you.
However, I must admit, when I mentioned in a blog post I’d written in Spain that I might be forced to sleep rough in Milan, it never occurred to me, even for a second, that someone in Milan might read my words and take pity on me. But a man called Andy did. And I was very pleased to make my way to his delightful home on Thursday evening, and then even more pleased to eat pizza frutti di mare con la mozzarella and olio piccante (even if the olio wasn’t that piccante) with Andy and two of his delightful friends in a local restaurant. And let us not even speak of the pleasure sleeping on his sofa afforded (as opposed, that is, to sleeping in a doorway in Milan train station, where I have slept once before, and where another man tried to take my shoes from me). So I had a thoroughly wonderful evening, thanks to some complete strangers and frankly, the whole experience filled me with hope for the next however long I happen to be away. I know there’ll be times when people turn on me, but just knowing that there are other people, ready and willing to be so utterly, selflessly nice… it means everything.
The next morning Andy went to work frighteningly early and I left with him to explore Milan. One thing really struck me. Two things actually. The fascist architecture was one. And in a good way. The other thing, however, is the alarming lack of internet-friendliness in Milan, and Italy in general. In Madrid I got to know an Argentinean called Paulo. Paulo carried a very expensive umbrella and told me that Madrid was terrible for internet cafes and wifi availability in general. He was wrong. Wildly wrong. Madrid was amazing. Milan, however, is truly abysmal. Not even at the giant train station is there wifi capability. I asked. The information man laughed. ‘Not yet,’ he said. Milan! Not Almonacid de Marquesada. Milan! So I had to wait till I arrived in Bologna some time after lunch.
And here – in Bologna – I remain. I have just about exactly a hundred quid left of my overdraft facility. I should really be sniffing round for a proper job about now, were it not for one thing. The thing with feathers. Ah yes. I have been promised a couple of sums for writing stuff from my travels. One of them in particular should set me up for a couple of months. Naturally I am overjoyed, but – naturally – I am nervous. Things go wrong. Words are meaningless. Promises fade and disappear like smoke. So I wait. A couple of days and I’m hoping this money will appear in my bank account. And just as soon as it does… BOOM! Yes, boom. That’s when this trip can begin in earnest.