Thursday, March 21, 2013


In October 2011, my friend Lea and I met in Rome and, after a week trying to live and sightsee on a seriously restricted budget, picked up a car (at Roma's Termini rail station in the city's heart, but that's another hair-raising tale) and, after a couple of hours of wandering in the wilderness of the beltway(s), headed east.
We visited a lot of places which few Americans get to see, including the Adriatic Coast where I had this romantic vision of pristine beaches with the mountains of the eastern shore barely visible. What a delusion! It was mile-high condominiums and not a single sight of the beach for all the solid-fenced concessions. Don't let anyone tell you America's all about money unless you point out Italy's Adriatic Coast; makes Ft. Lauderdale's Galt Ocean Mile look pretty good.
So...a couple of weeks into the trip, staying in youth hostels and no-star hotels as is our habit, we made a reservation through an internet hotel booking company that touted this 4-star place as on the edge of Bologna. We passed it three times on our search, fetching up in an industrial park that had seen waay better days, and at last found the hotel - at 4PM - behind a defunct stripper bar. It was cold and overcast, and the hotel did not show its better face (but how could it with old newspapers blowing across the weedy pavement, and cement trucks crashing past on the near-by road?).
By a miracle of kindness, the hotel staff agreed we should not stay there. But where would we stay? Our internet search (in the despised hotel's lobby) led us to - gasp! - the Hilton Hotel Bologna.
"No, no, no, a thousand times no," I said. "I will not stay in an American hotel while I am in Italy."
"Oh, so you wanna stay here," my friend Lea asked, looking around the empty lobby. "Besides, the Hilton's only 50 Euros a night."
So, we drove another 45 mintues south, asked directions at five or six places, and got to the Hilton when it was just getting dark. The recently-cleaned glass walls gleamed. The building was new, low slung, the immaculate parking lot filled with late-model cars. I was, literally, on the verge of tears. How humiliating! What a come-down! Staying in an American chain hotel!
Parking was free, unlike other places where we'd had to run out every four hours and move the car to an impossible-to-find blue zone (a Euro per hour on the meters, by the way). In charming Treviso, for example, much though we enjoyed the center-city hostel and all the fabulous sights around it, our car wound up stashed twenty minutes away behind a dumpster.
Inside the Bologna Hilton, however, all was polished marble and fresh flowers and faux-rosewood and multi-lingual uniformed staff, and a happy hour with nibbles at the bar. We checked in, trundled our battered rollaboards down the endless carpeted (well-lit! silent! clean! carpet not ravelling!) halls. Two lefts and a right and we were there. The key card (silent! efficient!) opened the heavy rosewood (faux, but who cares?) door and there it was: America, transplanted to central Italy.
Two huge beds with four plump pillows on each. A tiled bathroom with walk-in shower the size of our last no-star hotel breakfast room. Thick towels, white as snow, on the heated towel rack. Refrigerator. TV. Phone, of course. Table with two chairs. Business center en suite. Hangers in the closet. A trouser press. Down the hall, a laundry. And out front, the public bus to whisk us into the heart of Bologna in only twenty minutes.
Welcome to America. We loved every minute of it. Next time I'm in Bologna, that's where I'm staying. If you can get in it, you should too.

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