Travel Stories: Experiencing my first earthquake in Bologna

All day yesterday I was basking in the glory of travel.

I was actively relishing the opportunities it has given me, dining out on the joys of discovering the new, learning about the old and appreciating the different.

I spent the day wandering around Bologna doing some "real-time" blogging for, exhausting myself in the best ways possible; food, wine, culture, history. Later in the afternoon we - the other bloggers and I - were then honoured to be invited to the VIP viewing area of the Mille Miglia cars, which were driving through Bologna. Renowned the world over for its glamorous (and noisy!) parade of vintage cars, watching the Mille Miglia yesterday evening was the realisation of a dream I never knew I had. And when we were asked to then greet the arriving cars and stamp their paperwork... Mamma Mia! What a day!It was one of the most fantastic experiences. I knew it was a one-off moment, something I'll never do again and for that reason I treasured every crazy second. Thank you travel! Thank you world!

And then the earthquake struck.

At around 4am this morning an earthquake struck 20 miles northwest of Bologna and it measured 6.0 on the Richter scale.

I was actually woken by the sound of the spontaneous chimes of a nearby church bell but instantly realised I was moving. Once awake I was stunned into a calm shock at how strong and how long the shaking lasted. In my mind I kept asking myself "Is this an earthquake? Is this an earthquake?".

It was as if someone had their hands around the BlogVille house and they were shaking us from side to side, up and down, like a salt shaker. I heard one of my fellow bloggers, Satu, walking around and calling our names before the quake had stopped but I was frozen in my bed half fearing the worst like the ceiling caving in and half marvelling at the whole experience; my first earthquake.

After the moving stopped, which I strangely didn't expect it not to, I got out of bed and joined Satu and our other housemate Jan in the corridor. Satu was holding her thankfully oblivious, sleeping six-month old and in the dim light we discussed what had just happened. It was also their first earthquake. We relived the fear and confusion, nervously laughing and taking it in turns to gasp disbelievingly.

Not knowing if it was big enough to make the news I sent my boyfriend and mother a short message each to say I was fine, I tweeted the BlogVille organisers that all was "tutto bene" with us bloggers and then I focused on going back to sleep. But of course, I couldn't.

Intermittent after shocks kept me awake for a couple of hours and as the adrenaline evaporated away I began to question the whole experience; what if there was a bigger one to come? (We've since found out we all slept through a 4.2 quake two hours prior to the one which woke us and we experienced a big after shock just before 6 o'clock this morning.) What should I do? Was it right to hide under the bed, stand directly under a doorway arch or perhaps under a table? We were on the third floor, should we try to get lower, closer to the ground? I never had to think about these things when I lived in Shepherd's Bush!

And this was the moment I realised that no matter how many days I experience like yesterday and how much pleasure I get from exploring it, the world is always in control.

We woke this morning to hear that the quake has claimed at least four lives, maybe more; a very sobering conclusion to what would have otherwise been a distastefully thrilling experience.

And what about Bologna? This city I came to see. Well, I've just returned from circumnavigating the centre of Bologna's historic city centre searching for cracks in the walls or bricks on the floor but I saw almost no evidence of last night's dramatic events. Locals were walking their dogs, tourists were tentatively seeking out the sights and the police were present not because of the quake but because they were monitoring a new scheme which is pedestrianising the centre of Bologna on Sundays.It's now very ironic that my first impressions of Bologna included the word "solid"; I had no idea that this would be so literally tested.

I must be honest and say I felt a little sombre walking around town just now. Quite frankly I felt a little emotional and selfishly wanted a hug from someone I loved. I was also internally debating whether to keep live-blogging on TravMonkey or not. But then I paused in front of the two towers, the taller of which I enjoyed climbing up yesterday. Their origins date back to the 1300s and they are two of Bologna's most prominent landmarks. They have experienced and survived possibly hundreds of earthquakes of varying magnitudes, not to mention world wars and other crises. Surely, if they can keep standing proudly during and after a hefty earthquake, then I can carry on with what I came to do here; seek out the best of Bologna. So that's what I'll continue to do.

But don't think for a second that I will forget, at least not today, how the world is so much bigger and stronger than I ever imagined it could be, no matter how much I try to see of it.

And likewise don't think for a second that I don't feel incredibly lucky right now because I do and my thoughts are truly with those who suffered much more in last night's earthquake.

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

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