20 hours in Italy

Friday, 16h45. Get on a plane at Brussels airport with my daughters, bound for Milan.

18h20. Wait half an hour for luggage handlers to bring my case a few hundred metres from the plane to the terminal.

19h00. Spend an extra half an hour, on top of the usual two hour drive to Genoa, in a traffic jam on the outskirts of Milan.

19h30. Unscheduled pitstop in an Autogrill. Forced to use one of the most disgusting toilets I’ve seen this side of the Mediterranean.

20h00. Chatting to my father-in-law, who is driving. Usually my wife is in the passenger seat while I sit in the back with the kids, but this time she’s back in Brussels with our son, so I sit in the front. Notice for the first time how her father’s fingers twitch, flutter and dance as he holds the steering wheel.

21h30. Arrive in Genoa. Leave my daughters with their grandparents for two weeks as I head to our apartment for the night. Stop off at the pizzeria opposite. I order a 56 rosso bis (spicy sausage and rocket) and sit waiting for my pizza, watching the pizzaiolo in the strip of mirror just above his prep area.

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22h30. Read a couple of chapters of my book and go to bed.

Saturday, 08h30. Head down the road to the forno to buy a kilo of fresh focaccia; some for personal consumption, some for the party that night in Antwerp (where, as it turns out, the host jealously hides it all in a kitchen cupboard and declines to share it with any of the guests). The package in my rucksack warms my back for the rest of the morning.

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09h00. Wander a few favourite streets in the old town, passing by the tiny barber shop where I had a haircut once when I used to live here.

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09h30. Stumble upon the street-writing project I remember reading about earlier this year. Start reading, following the text as it winds around the old town. Story tells of a Russian Jew from Odessa who flees during World War II, first to Hamburg, then to Prague, and finally to Nervi (a small town along the coast from Genoa) which was a special zone protected by the International Red Cross. She falls in love with an Italian fascist. At this point the text has entered a more central, more frequented area, so footsteps have rubbed away key sections of the text, and I lose the thread.

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10h00. Wander through the Mercato Orientale. Always interested to see the fresh fish displays, and this specimen catches my eye, particularly the colours and scratches along its side.

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10h30. Second cappucino, just on the edge of acceptability for an Italian. Any later in the day and I’d reveal myself as a clueless tourist. Scanning the newspaper I notice a small square cut out from the back page. The cafe owner complains that the Chinese shop owner from next door always come in and cuts out the sudoku puzzle. Also says that a regular lady customer cuts out the birth announcements section to take home to peruse at her leisure. What remains of the paper is familiar. Predictable stories about traffic accidents (a ten year old in a coma) and continuing controversy over the location of Genoa’s first mosque.

Cappuccino is fantastic: perfectly velvety smooth foam.

11h00. Catch bus to Genoa airport.

11h45. Finally make it to the front of the World’s Slowest Check-In Desk (despite the fact that this is a Ryanair flight, so everyone already has their printed boarding pass).

13h15. Take off.

14h15. Descend through the clouds, and the grey roofs and green gardens reveal that we are unmistakably back in Belgium.