One of the advantages of freedom of movement and open borders is the possibility to book last minute trips and travel around Europe. Or the world, even – but only if you are lucky enough to have a Western passport and thus can get visas on arrival to practically anywhere. As someone who comes from Lebanon, a small country bordered by war-torn Syria on one side and a not so friendly neighbour Israel on the other, I love my newfound luxury to travel freely to various European cities.
The Lebanese passport does not make things simpler. Its current global power rank is at 85, same as North Korea according to the passport index list for 2016. This gives you a pretty good idea on the bureaucratic “torture” Lebanese citizens have to endure to be allowed into almost any other country- unless of course, they hold a second passport from the US or EU, which many do. Being Lebanese means having to apply for a visa (long) in advance, through foreign embassies in Beirut, for almost every destination EU citizens can just hop on a plane to. Only 39 countries, which you can find here, give us a visa on arrival.
Some Lebanese blame it on the Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants who, they say, is not doing his job including, but not limited to promoting and maintaining positive diplomatic relations with other countries. Others say it’s because of Hezbollah who, let’s face it, dominates many of the Lebanese government’s decisions and is not appreciated by a considerable number of countries worldwide. But I won’t linger on this. What matters here is that I used my access to those open EU-borders to have a short hop of my own, to pretty Milan and Bologna!
Italy was the first European country I ever visited. I was fourteen when our high-school director organised a two-week trip to Rome, Florence and Venice. More than fifteen years later I went back to visit other Italian cities. All I had to do this time, was show my Dutch residency and get on the plane. It was probably the smoothest trip I’ve ever had. Although an hour and a half away only, temperatures were considerably higher, making me feel right at home; it was an actual real summer. During the six-day trip, all we did was walk around, visit museums and of course churches, attend musicals, eat and drink. In order to avoid putting on two or three kilos, I highly recommend you do a lot of walking; enjoying the Italian cheese and charcuterie delicacies at the many ristorante, trattoria and osteria comes at a high price.
Between Milan and Bologna, I fell for the latter: the small streets, the pinkish and yellow buildings, people’s generosity and sense of humour. Bologna is a very charming place, away from drunk and loud tourists. Calmer locals, calmer tourists, calmer everything. But most of all, the Italian language. It is simply so beautiful to listen to that you end up speaking English with an Italian accent. I’ll definitely go back to Italy again soon.