2006 Day 1. The Eagle Has Landed

After a long, long time spent in the big beer can in the sky, we are finally in Bologna.  The weather is splendid and the trees are shedding their spring seeds. The abundance of floating seeds from cottonwoods is almost as thick as snow flurries and it provides a surreal touch to the atmosphere.

We started the trek by arriving at SFO almost three hours before flight time in response to the usual promoted concern for allowing copious time to clear security. What obsessive baloney that is. We could easily have arrived much later and all would have been well. The upside was no one else was there and we waltzed through check-in and security.

Since meeting Lorraine well over twenty years ago, neither of us has traveled outside the English-speaking world. That is unless you count trips to Chinatown, Miami or the Post Office. Naturally we are excited neophytes in great anticipation of visiting Europe together for the first time. One of the manifestations of this was to buy some Sees candy for our Air France flight attendants in celebration.

I gave away a couple of half pound gift boxes to the first two who greeted us on entry to the 747 and Lorraine gave a tin of Toffeettes to the attendant who was working our seated area. This made for some nice service during our 11-hour ordeal. I might add that the Air France attendants were almost exclusively female with their hair pulled back and up, like models in a Robert Palmer video. A far cry from the weathered battleaxes that used to sulk about the L1011s those many flights to and from St. Louis on TWA in my distant past.

 Our plane change in Paris at Chares deGaulle Airport sure made me appreciate the good old US of A and our A-Type obsession with airport organization, because they have none in Paris. What a sprawling, dog-eared, cobbled-together, chaotic place it is. Our plane landed at least 3 miles from our gate and it took almost half an hour to taxi there. Once we finally got to the gate we needed to hurry to another terminal to catch our connection to Bologna.

There were few video displays with gate information and those we did find had information on just four flights. Explain that to me. This was a matter of concern because we had been given incorrect gate information while on board our arriving flight. The gate we were directed to was a flight leaving for Lisbon. I suppose that would have been all right if wed had the letters of transit signed by Major Strasser, but we needed to go to Bologna.

After asking a couple of quietly panicked gate attendants we finally were told to go to gate D53A, where we found a mob of people crushed around the gate in no particular order or organization. A special bus for loading was late. While the gate was plenty big enough for our Airbus 318, the aircraft was not parked at the gate. Instead they drove an elevating bus to the jet way, and then drove us to our plane, somewhere out on the confusing maze of tarmac. What a screwed up place it was. I feared for my luggage.

We landed in Bologna without incident and were surprised to have encountered no customs check. Just march right into the country and collect all the contraband you have brought with you please. A 12 Euro cab ride later, we found ourselves across the street from the Ducati plant, in the lobby of the Hotel del Borgo. The hotel is a lovely little place that was once some Counts villa. We crashed at the first sight of a proper bed having just spent the night trying unsuccessfully to sleep on the plane.

After I awoke from a three-hour nap, I set out on foot exploring our street for a mile in either direction. Right away I was struck with the differences between Bologna and the US. First was the fact that there are far fewer large people here. Id stopped in a shopping center only a couple of blocks from the hotel where I made this observation. Aside from a few elderly people, there were not nearly the numbers of super sized, beer-bellied physics that have become so common back home.

The next observation was that you could get anything from public vending machines. And I mean public; just hanging from the façade of any given building right on the sidewalk can be found machines to dispense condoms, DVDs, pornography, soda, snacks and even cigarettes.

Also noted is that scooters are king here and they far outnumber motorcycles and bicycles. Further, I suspect that windshields are compulsory, since every scooter big and small had one. We are not talking about classic Vespas and Lambrettas here. Many were the latest, large displacement, freeway-speed capable jobs. Naturally many small cars from manufacturers that are long gone from, or relegated to less than 1% of, the US market are in abundance. Opel, Fiat, Renault, Peugeot, Lancia and others. How refreshing it was not to see a single SUV anywhere.

Lorraine and I ran into Vicki Smith in the lobby after dinner. Vicki is the petite dynamo who generously acts as organizer for the Americans attending the Motogiro. She is something of a Motogiro celebrity, as she was the first woman to compete and finish the Motogiro since its revival. She is happy to share her experience and provide tips to first-timers like us, for which we were sure to express our gratitude. The Hotel del Borgo was one of her recommendations and it has been filling up with Americans ever since our arrival.

Saturday we will explore the heart of town as the weekend builds to the big event on Monday. The Motogiro 2006!