Travel: Arriving in Modena and falling in love with Italy all over again


It’s a good job that the clocks went back this weekend. After taking buses, trains and an aeroplane on Friday, I’ve hit a wall. I was in an easy going quiet village in rural France. The sort of place with just three bakeries and a church. However, it was time for a change, so I boarded my flight and arrived, some time later, in the hustle and bustle of Bologna. This was a detour on my way to Modena, which itself is a detour on my way to Naples. I’m off to meet DeepThought there next week.

Me and my suitcase (worryingly under 20kgs) arrived at the train station of Bologna. I wanted to catch a train to Modena but since I had some spare time, I thought it would be useful to buy some seat reservations ready for my exploration of Italy over the next month. Especially since the Trenitalia website hates me. As you might expect, it wasn’t much easier in the ticket office. There were not enough open desks and it was coming up to rush hour on the Friday evening before a long weekend. Tuesday is a public holiday here to celebrate the dead and Monday is a day off as a ‘bridge’.

To make sure the Italian man on the other side of the counter made the right seat reservations for me, I stood on my tiptoes leaning forward and gesturing at his screen with my pen. I’d written the details of what I wanted in my notebook to help this exchange. Even so, and not unexpectedly, it wasn’t a case of right first time. The ticket booth attendant spoke a lovely Italian. I replied not in Italian, which I can’t speak, but in a mixture of atrociously pronounced French and my tired Yorkshire infused English because my brain has gone poof.

To keep me on my toes, the app on my phone included trains and train stations that didn’t actually appear to exist.

I finally arrived in Modena, where Balsamic Vinegar comes from. It is very near to Ferrari land. In fact, my current host, a most hospitable Italian man who’s got a mountain of his own wondrous travel stories to tell, used to work in the Ferrari museum. As a true Modena man, he’s also the very proud owner of a small collection of real balsamic vinegars. Each is from a local family and tastes completely different. The experience is different to consuming the mass-produced variant. A deep sense of tradition and an attitude that treats vinegar like art results in this ‘black gold’. The bottles are so small that they’d pass through airport security in a sealed plastic bag.

He has an admirable Italian passion for food. We went out and got pizza, cooked by a Napolian chef in the local Modena style with aubergines.

Food matters to a true Italian. To amuse myself, I bought a couple of cachi (persimmon) and a few other vegetables from the fruit and veg shop down the street. Unlike a supermarket, or even a slightly larger grocery store, you must ask for each of the products you want. You do not touch. All the plastic carrier bags are stored behind the counter. The shopkeeper seemed delighted with my choice and particularly with my hesitant but correct pronunciation. I didn’t tell him that I leant the ‘chi’ sound from drinking Chianti. I’ve never had a cachi before, but found them heavenly and highly recommend them. Unfortunately, I spoilt it a bit by saying thank you in Spanish.

To recover from my travels I plan on spending my Sunday relaxing, perhaps going as far as the local art gallery.

  • Naomi Baltuck
    Friday 4 November 2016

    This made me laugh! I also switch back and forth from Spanish to French to Italian when I am saying ‘thank you.’ I do love Italy.

    • Catherine Oughtibridge
      Tuesday 8 November 2016

      I had a particular awkward conversation with a barista in my home town in England on my return from Spain because instead of just asking for a coffee in English, I started with a bright and cheerful ‘Hola’ and proceeded in a mixture of Spanish, Catalan and Italian. It was 7am in the morning and I was tired. Poor woman must have been quite surprised when I finally remembered where I was and spoke with my normal Yorkshire accent.

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