Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Day in Bologna

This post would really be more correctly titled ‘A Long Day, a Different Office & a Hotel’ but that wouldn’t scan so well.

Since we got back from the States, things have been busy but good. A big project that was being planned through the second half of last year is now underway and I’m trying to manage my time well enough to keep on top of that as well as my regular management duties. One of those duties needed me at our Bologna Office and yesterday was the appointed day.

Given that I’m now into my second very early start in a row, it all seems a bit of a dreamlike fugue. The earliest train, being worried about making the connection at London Bridge, Gatwick being a seamless transition to an almost empty plane, the taxi ride to the office with the driver spending most of the time with mobile phone pressed to his ear… In the end I needn’t have worried about the connection; I only had to cross from one side of the platform to the other to make it and, at the other end, I survived the drive unscathed.

Our office in Bologna is spacious and new looking; although based in one of the imposing old buildings that line the colonnaded streets towards the centre of town, it’s salons of old have been turned into high-ceilinged office space. I was there mostly to help with the transition after losing a member of staff who had been very involved in their IT and office administration. It involved a couple of meetings with the senior staff and lunch with the Operations Manager, all of which was pleasant and productive.

Once the working day was over I hopped into a taxi to my hotel near the airport; I was overnighting at the Bologna Sheraton before catching an early flight back to London. The hotel was an interesting experience; a combination of an international brand with some stereotypical Mediterranean mañana attitude. It is a modern conference centre amid derelict lots on the outskirts of the airport; the foyer is clad in acres of marble and above your head floating bridges link one sinuous wing to the other. The rooms are spacious and nicely furnished and have all the modern conveniences – although the free Internet didn’t work and the only free channel on the television was the one that told you how to pay for the rest (and since they were all in Italian anyway there was no chance of that!)

Dinner in the restaurant was pleasant, although my tasty portion of taglioline with smoked salmon and asparagus was a little on the ‘nouveau’ side for the price. I ordered a cake for dessert to help fill me up but I suspect something was lost in the menu translation as what I was served was closer to a thick biscuit; again, a little bit smaller than I’d have hoped, but impeccably presented. The waiting staff had laid knife, fork and spoon for me when I ordered, clearly not wanting to be accused of limiting my options for how to eat the thing. The spoon seemed an unlikely choice – I had visions of dessert flying tiddlywink-like off the flatware and into the soup of the glamorous lady at the next table – so I set-to with the knife and fork. This wasn’t really practical either but at least I managed to divide up the ‘cake’ into bite-size chunks without any projectile incidents. From there I proceeded with my fingers, which seemed more sensible than trying to scoop up the fragments with either fork or spoon. Dignity is all in the mind and today I was a positive thinker.

I got as early a night as my body-clock would allow and, once asleep, slept well.

That body-clock of mine is a strange thing though; on a regular weekday my alarm goes off at 06:30 and it is a struggle to stay awake long enough to get up. Both days of this trip my alarm has been set for 04:30 – which today was effectively 03:30 – and yet both days I have snapped awake a few minutes before the alarm was due to go off and had no trouble immediately getting out of bed: The human mind once again displaying its peculiar flexibility I think.

This has got to be the only hotel I have ever encountered where breakfast service begins at 04:45. I suppose it makes sense for an airport hotel though and it suited me fine as I needed to eat around 05:15. The lights were still dimmed when I came down, the few guests in evidence moved like silent grey ghosts, accompanied only by the hum of the wheels on their carry-on bags and occasional, subdued conversation at Reception.

I mused as I sat in the foyer awaiting the courtesy bus about the attempt at oriental styling that I hadn’t noticed the previous evening. It only amounted to a few large bonsai and some bamboo furniture and I wondered if perhaps it was part of the Sheraton brand that the Italians just couldn’t be bothered with; it seemed too half-hearted an effort to have been a real intention of the hotel’s interior designer.

Although the airport shops were all closed (so no pannetone gifts for the team or my sister) the airport was a breeze; In the past I’ve not done much travelling in the mode of jet-setting businessman but between printing your own boarding pass at the office and travelling with just a carry-on, it’s all fairly painless. (On Tuesday I had even managed to find a branch of Boots which stocked travel-size toiletries, so I came equipped with the full range of bathroom paraphernalia in sub-100ml containers; far nicer than making do with the cheap hotel-provided bodywash and shampoo.)

The flight was uneventful and being chased by the dawn gave it a certain beauty; all textured horizons and cloud peaks tipped with peachy-pink morning sunlight.

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