Dr. John Flynn


6 August, Saturday

Getting here was free of hassle. Stepping onto the plane, which wasn’t full, I showed two stewardesses my pass and behind me my mother said,

“I’m with him.”
“Lucky you,” said Barbara, the chief.
“He’s my son.”

Soon B. came down to us and said we could move forward into an empty row. The taxi was cheap to the centre and I found the narrow street with the hotel (Albergo delle Drapperie) handily enough on foot. Out on my own come midnight, I wandered around photographing Bologna at night. I also discovered the Mercato di Mezzo around the corner is open on Sundays. There was a lot of Carabinieri out but they weren’t busy. One carload of the Polizia Municipale turned up too, shooting the breeze on Via Rizzoli.


7 August, Sunday

Hit my knee for the third or fourth time on the knee-high…

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Innsbruck Trains

Innsbruck Trains

August 2016

On the three-and-a-half-hour journey to Innsbruck from Verona, through the Brenner Pass, a north German family of three shared our compartment most of the way. They had just spent ten days hiking south over the Alps. The only scary incident involved having to run from lightning to reach the next rest hut. The wife was a pigtail blonde, predictably a bit literal but kind and young in spirit. Early forties, I imagined. The husband mentioned seeing the Cliffs of Moher on the Irish west coast and then the only other occupant – an Italian woman – suddenly produced a picture of the cliffs on her phone. I hadn’t the heart to mention that they had become a notorious suicide spot.



My card worked without the pin at the hotel in Innsbruck. Nonetheless I needed to compile a few choice phrases for a review inspired by the Verona incident and the charmless reaction at the desk that morning. My mother and I had an OK meal in the Altstadt later but by the time we emerged the odd drop from the grey sky and foggy Nordkette had turned to rain. In the morning at a post office over the bridge I’d pick up €500 sent by my brother via Western Union.




It rained again in the late morning but then cleared up to make a sunny day. Seeing the last of the cloud lift off the Nordkette meant we went up to Hungerburg on the funicular in the afternoon. I made a panoramic short video of the view but stuck my own head into it and later discovered something dark had stuck between two of my front teeth during lunch so it only looked like a visit to the dentist was on the cards.




A lot of Italian could be heard below and a surprisingly large number of Spaniards were in town too. A few too many dogs. Canines. I didn’t think they were all local. Why do people travel with dogs? It was raining again in the morning. We had trouble finding seats on the train to Munich but eventually got in among two young blondes unfamiliar to each other. When a middle-aged English couple with too much luggage later boarded our carriage and couldn’t find seats, it led to talk in our compartment. These two Brits were in shorts and sun hats yet each had a big rucksack and a wheelie bag, each. They caused the good-looking girl at the window to roll her eyes at me as she retook her seat after a quick smoke on the platform. It was time to put some distance between us and the latest arrivals. “Ja, ich habe gehört,” I said, in reference to having heard the woman laughing hysterically and then swearing, at the end of the carriage (“Farking hell… This is farking ridiculous…” etc).

Die sind Englander. Wir kommen aus Irland.

The girl by the window was interested and happy to hear that, as was the gorgeous student with the pigtail and the anatomy book, near the door on my mother’s side. She beamed as she closed the book, took off her black-framed reading glasses and asked in German if I’d liked Innsbruck. I explained that I’d been there before too, on my own (2015), when the snowy landscape on the line from Salzburg was most enticing.


I’ll always remember the first time heading up Maria-Theresien Strasse at nightfall, with a royal blue sky reflecting off the white Nordkette. No camera can convey how the mountain chain towers over the city, where the shop fronts glowed though all were closed.


I went on to outline the Verona hassle to both of them. Was it Juliet’s revenge or Juliet’s curse? We didn’t go to see her bloody balcony but everything was going OK until I paid the hotel bill. We’d seen a lot that morning. There were lots of tourists there speaking German and French but not many Americans or Asians. Or Brits. Having passed the amphitheatre we crossed Ponte Pietra below the huge cypresses on the Roman theatre hill.



Back at the hotel a young Gianna Ten-Thumbs at reception pressed something she shouldn’t have and somehow locked my pin. She looked like she didn’t know what she was doing and a sweet one (a bit older) had to give some guidance before they were, eh, finished with me. My worries started when I went out then to get some cash. It was all hassle after that. I should have brought more cash but at least my mother still had €327 in her bag.

I’d thought I wouldn’t retaliate online but the dismissive attitude of the young manageress with the glasses quickly changed that. (Hotel S. later got a roasting.) The defensive aggression kicked off with her saying (a) it wasn’t nice and (b) it was a serious matter to make such an accusation. I wasn’t accusing anyone of a crime or deliberate wrongdoing. I said it was clearly a mistake but, given she wanted to talk about seriousness, my “Siamo nei guai a causa di questo” (‘We’re in trouble because of this’) was only met with another contemptuous, f*ck-you shrug.

I told them to be careful in case it happened again but didn’t rear up on the little charmer because I still needed to get the other (sweet) girl looking on to call us a taxi. It was pissing rain outside. There had been lightning in the night, in the distance. Early that morning, heavy rain had thumped some nearby roof or awning and that woke me at half past six. Once I got back home and simply changed the pin code at the bank, the card worked as normal. There was nothing wrong with it that hadn’t happened in Verona.

The two girls in the compartment on the train to Munich in contrast were very sweet and curious. The one beside me had lovely varnish on her toenails – somewhere between pink and orange – and expensive sandals. These ladies were open-mouthed again when I explained that we lived on the south coast and so I’d have to drive 200 km after Dublin. The girl with the anatomy book got off at Kufstein and sweetly said Auf Wiedersehen not just to us but also to the one beside me, who softly replied to her with Tschüss.

There was a chap in mountain boots on my left who never said anything except one whispered “F*ck” at his phone but he didn’t look like another Englander. He even smiled once or twice, for example when I had to stick my head through the compartment doorway to retrieve my mother who had walked past after a toilet break. We got off at Munich Ost and the girl at the window bade me farewell twice, to be sure, as I stood in the corridor with our bags, without swearing, waiting for the train to stop.

Inside Rome

Inside Rome

Photo: the only exterior photograph of the weekend

March 2008

On the airport concourse a man in his sixties was gathering passengers to fill his people-carrier and in the throng we shrugged and ran with that. The driver occasionally named something important we passed in the dark, such as “Terme di Caracalla”, but his speed didn’t slacken when he took to narrower streets. When he barely missed a second car I looked around to gauge if this really was normal Roman driving. Over my shoulder a dark young Italian man silently buried his shaved head in his hands.

The two girls had a few drinks while waiting for us and the blonde looked tipsy but with her rangy, athletic frame she wasn’t under any pressure. We had a meal first. I ate very little, needing to unwind after the delayed flight, in the presence of a girl just as attractive as she had seemed in Budapest.

Just a month earlier, on the cold, grey afternoon I got back to our base in Beckett’s, E. was talking to two chaps from Mayo who’d rashly taken over an apartment block development in the Bloc. Two retired sisters from Clare then materialized and bought a bottle of wine. They had acquired American accents on life’s journey. A vivacious Jewish girl, a lawyer working for the Mayo men, got into a conversation with the one living in Florida, who spoke Yiddish and used to sell wigs to the Hasidic Jews.

E. and I were seemingly on our own again by the time we noticed two girls had pulled up to the counter on the other side of us. He quickly discovered they were American. He was the kind of guy who would ram-raid us into situations I could later develop. The blonde (K.) was a Cameron Diaz type and the other (R.) had dark red hair. They had come from Rome, where the latter worked. It was their first day in Budapest. I gave them my Rough Guide and when the subject of going further came up they had a little confer before asking if they could come too.

In a heaving Jam in the Mammut malls in Buda I had to change some euro at the bar after (a) running out of forints and (b) having to get some from K. to make up the payment for the first round. She even gave me her last smoke later and wrote her e-mail address on the back of my hand. The bar taxed a tenner out of the first fifty note but a slight tear in the second meant they wouldn’t touch it. Then a big Hungarian chap standing beside me at the bar said he could do it. He had glasses and grey woolly hair and I asked him for “tízezer” (10,000) in exchange. I turned away with that much, only for him to tap me on the shoulder to say he owed me more. For that I was happy to tell him he was a jó ember (‘a good man’) and thus welcome to the same cut the house took. He said he didn’t want people to think the Hungarians were all crooks. He wasn’t the first or last to say that in my experience.

While the redhead was at the toilets, K. had to say something confidential (“It’s you that I like”) and my balanced attention shifted to extreme closeness to her on the dance floor. R.  got wrapped in a local in a black t-shirt but later, when the girls were ready to leave, together, at the end, he was cast aside. E. was going on to his own date with destiny at a famous club called Piaf but I got them a genuine taxi outside and gave K. my black cap in the cold. The redhead had to vacate the space between us by getting into the car first and it was then I got the smacker on the lips. She was my Valentine, in a city in which the last thing I expected was a kiss.

That’s how we ended up in a restaurant in Rome. Then there was a long taxi spin to somewhere with a bunch of clubs. In a place called Coyote, the redhead was true to form, messing with Italian gropers, while K. stuck very close to me. E. disappeared on more of his own adventures and, in the end, the blonde and I had to wait while R. was neither fish nor flesh to a couple of Italians outside. “They’ve asked her what I’m doing with an older guy but f*ck ’em, I don’t care about that,” my squeeze murmured. Finally I got both girls to agree to come back to the hotel, which had for some reason upgraded us to a suite with a terrace.

The taxi driver’s Italian I could grasp. He looked like a decrepit version of Benny in Crossroads. In the back seat, the redhead started on about her car, which she’d parked near Piazza Venezia and which she didn’t want towed away. Then, at the hotel, the night porter wouldn’t let the girls upstairs without passports. Even the theoretical mention of money wouldn’t make the issue go away. I should have simply put down Miss Smith and Miss Jones as an addition, when checking in. As this was going nowhere, K. sighed and said she’d do the driving and rescue the car. She kissed me goodnight in a way that doubled the issue. She asked me to call the next day. I was still only on the first few steps of the stairs when E. got back. When he heard what had just happened he gave the porter a long and very large piece of his mind.

“I have never been so insulted in my life!”

“But, Jesus Christ, I keep telling you, it was obvious they weren’t prostitutes. Couldn’t you see that?”

“Why you keep talking about prostitutes?”

It was then that E. picked up a pen from the counter and threw it at him. I told my barrister to take it easy and apologized for the flying biro (“Sorry about that”) but added that I had informed the porter’s colleague when checking in that we would have company later but all he had done was nod and smile without mentioning any Italian law or cops or passports.

Then we went out again and found a couple of bars on a street within sight of the nearby Santa Maria Maggiore, which was lit-up, all alone across the square. Though I’ve technically been to Rome, the Mezquita in Córdoba remains the most impressive building Ive ever actually been inside.

Spain may never be one of my favourite countries but there is something awe-inspiring about the key sights down there. I didnt get into the Alcázar – the queue was long – and so missed the gardens but the triangle the fortress forms with the Mezquita and then the Calahorra tower across the Roman bridge over the Guadalquivír is sensational. The Romans took the city from the Carthaginians in 206 BC. The Moors took it from the Goths in 711 AD. The Christians took it back from the Moors in 1236. The great mosque, youd almost get religion in there, in the sense of understanding it.

The next Roman afternoon we went to Piazza Navona and he found a place called the Abbey Theatre bar where he’d been at the time of his sister’s second wedding. Watching sports and getting hammered was the order of the day. It was the last year I made any kind of habit of that. Two years later I quit smoking for good.

The girls didn’t show up until the early evening and before long E. took it upon himself to take K. outside for a nominal cigarette, to explore her intentions. He came back in and said “No” (“He’s too old for me”). It was a bit like a nut in the face. I investigated further.

“Why did you say what you said to him instead of me?”

“Because he asked.”


“If I were even five years older, there’d be no problem.”

“Why, how old are you?”


“Oh. Oh God. Now I understand. I thought you were, maybe, twenty-seven, and I was willing to chance it.”

I was forty-three. One can’t always be sure about the age of Americans. When I told her I wouldn’t have asked her to marry me she looked at me sceptically and smilingly (“Come on, John”). I changed my story to say I wouldn’t have asked for a while and the look that passed between us then said it all. We kept in contact for some time afterwards and then she got married in a land far away and more power to her for that.

In the morning E. introduced a new comrade with whom he’d stayed up all night. This was Jim, a wired American tour guide, and a passport carrier. We went to a place called Finnegan’s after checking out of the hotel. There was no mention of any nocturnal pen-throwing and I even got my phone handed back. I’d left it in the taxi that had brought me home but I remembered tipping the driver well, from relief at getting out of a long night, and praising his good job, his buon lavoro.

There were always tour guides in and out of Finnegan’s. Shooting the breeze of trivia for the afternoon, I showed off by naming every emperor up until 235 AD. There followed thirty-five years of havoc until Aurelian knocked some sense into that world again from 270. Jim said I could be a guide too, no problem. He added the codicil that he tended to tone down the anecdotal content of his tours if there were children present.


A Thunderstorm in Florence

A Thunderstorm in Florence

Dr. John Flynn

Florence is an anthill. Swarming with tourists, especially Americans, it can be difficult to get out of but the last time I was there, I wasn’t the only person showing some exasperation. A tall American father was pulling his little son along past the Duomo and the kid was singing or chanting something – something very repetitive, I guess – and the American dad looked down at him and pleaded, “For Christ’s sake, will you knock it off!”

That last time, on a waiting train at Santa Maria Novella, my head and torso melting after a hot Florentine afternoon, I was giving out about a young prick from Portugal or Brazil taking up three seats with three cases. His two nearby buddies removed theirs but, just then, we got seats behind him, directed by a cooling suggestion from three Italian women seated together in the carriage. Later I enjoyed seeing him…

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Lucca, June 2013

Lucca, June 2013

17th June, Monday

Going commando in the shorts was a good opening move for the trip to Lucca, where the heat was intense.

Jean Italy 2013 023

Jean Italy 2013 027

On Piazza San Michele, I fell for the buccellato bullshit (€18 for two grande loaves). They weren’t even fresh. My mother and I later stopped at a café outside the Puccini house.

Jean Italy 2013 035

She’d mentioned leaving (the Puccini house) first but I have to wonder if working there with the constant piped music in the background would lead to undying hatred of the maestro.

John Italy 2013 021

A German sat down beside us with a Middle Eastern guy and the latter’s kid. When we mentioned a flight from Cork, the German knew of Ryanair but then he said that he was only the driver and the others were off a cruise ship at La Spezia. The client’s (American?) wife had f*cked off – shopping – but he and his kid were kind. The boy offered some of his Pringles to my mother. The man then said, “What about him?” He meant me.

John Italy 2013 023

Jean Italy 2013 029

Escape from Italy

Escape from Italy


10th August, Sunday

Fiddlers Cross [a short film, co-scripted] won first prize for Best Screenplay in Rhode Island. My mother and I had boarded a train to Pisa in Santa Maria Novella in Florence when D. rang briefly with the news. I’d just been giving out about a young f*cker in shades and a baseball cap who had taken up three seats with three cases (“Uomo gentile! Tre valigie sui tre posti!”). His two buddies removed theirs but we got seated behind him upon a cooling suggestion from at least three Italian women sitting nearby.

Later I enjoyed seeing him bang his head off the overhead rack, blinded by his cap and shades. I don’t think he was even Italian, just some twat from Portugal or Brazil. My head and torso were melting after the hot Florentine afternoon; like an anthill it was, apart from the relaxing couple of Bacardi & Cokes (a fiver each) at an Irish pub called The Fiddler’s Elbow on Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

I wasn’t the only person showing some exasperation in Florence today. A tall American father was pulling his little son along past the Duomo and the kid was singing or chanting something – something very repetitive, I guess – and the American dad looked down and said, “For Christ’s sake, will you knock it off!”


The hotel here in Pisa is more like a hostel and we had to cross the river to find a place to eat; somewhere that looked better than it tasted, at least where my plate was concerned. I was just demoralised, having to walk that far and for some sh*t (prawns) too but what was I thinking? My mother was a bit happier with her (tough) steak choice (with homemade… crisps!), after I’d wondered would she ever find something on the menu. We’re tired of Italy now and this time Pisa looks or feels more like C.W.’s verdict (“a dump”). She even slipped off a step near the hotel on the way back but thanks be to Jesus neither she nor her camera broke anything. Even if I sleep a few hours, this last leg always seemed like it would be a chore.

11th August, Monday

Up very early to get out of the kip of a ho(s)tel, we were still stuck with a plane an hour late, so again we were spared the Ryanair on-time fanfare on landing in Cork, where the pilot must have fancied he was doing it on an aircraft carrier.

Orvieto, August 2014

Orvieto, August 2014


6th August, Wednesday

We had to wait two hours for a train in Siena but getting to Orvieto took a little less than that. Up we went on the funicular to this table-top town in Umbria and I took the luggage as we marched up Via Cavour in the heat. The Valentino is a nice hotel. We got air-conditioned rooms with a view, though not over the edge.




In Italy you could spend your life with a crick in your neck, looking up at church ceilings and other lofty positions. In the Duomo my mother spotted The Preaching of the Anti-Christ (“I thought it was Our Lord at first”) before I came across it in the Rough Guide, which has a lot more numbers in the key than in the actual diagram (I filled some in). In the background the original men in black seem to be rampaging around the temple.



After that I brought her down to the vertiginous wall near San Giovenale but went back there on my own later to make a video that captured the drop. On one of the narrow, stony, shady lanes a guy passed whistling Baker Street very melodically. His day was done.