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Trip Report Day Trips by Train from Bologna: Florence, Faenza, Ravenna

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Bologna is a major train hub, and between the high speed and the regional trains it's easy to get a lot of places in Italy from there. On my recent trip I made three day trips: Florence, Faenza, and Ravenna. I had planned to go to Parma, but that morning decided to go to Faenza instead, because I really wanted to see the ceramics museum. I had been to Modena a few years before, and liked it, though in many ways it seems like a smaller version of Bologna, so it wouldn't be my first recommendation for visitors to Bologna, unless you wanted to eat there or see a specific sight (and it is only a 30 minute train ride). The regional train tickets i bought cost from 4-7 euros each way. A ticket for an express train (that makes fewer stops) costs more than a local train (that makes more stops).

The Bologna train station is easy to navigate. There are several ticket machines, which were simple to use. I bought my high speed train ticket for Florence before the trip, so used the machines for regional tickets to Ravenna and Faenza. The tracks are easy to find and clearly marked. There is a board in the waiting area listing departing and arriving trains. There is also a board next to each track listing the train departing. Remember to validate your ticket for the regional train. There are several validation machines in the hall that leads to the individual tracks in Bologna, and they were easy to find at the smaller stations. I only had my regional ticket checked once, but was glad I remembered to validate.

The only snafu I had, was in Faenza, the machine wasn't working when I went to buy my return ticket, and the agent had trouble understanding which train I wanted a ticket for. There were two for Bologna coming fairly soon. Finally I thought to write down the number for the train I wanted.

FLORENCE

Florence is a 35 minute ride by high-speed train. I bought my ticket well ahead of time, though there were plenty of seats available on the train (this was January). You only need to show the conductor your PRN number. I had printed it out and also wrote it in a notebook for backup. I took a 9:00 train, and from the train station I walked straight to the Uffizi, which was my main reason for going. I was there by 10:00. There were only about five people in line. (This was early January.) I can't express how great it was to be in the galleries without crowds. There were a couple of small tour groups, but they moved on pretty quickly, and I often like to catch some of what the guides are saying, anyway.

After a few hours there, including a coffee and brioche break, I took a meandering walk to the gorgeous Duomo (didn't go in) then to Santa Croce and Santo Spirito, two of my favorite places in Florence. I was surprised how crowded with tourists Florence was considering it was early January. The morning wasn't bad, but as the day wore on, I kept seeking out quiet streets. The Santo Spirito area wasn't bad and I had a good late lunch (sandwich) at a cafe right on the square. From there I walked back to catch a 5:00 train.

FAENZA

Faenza is only a 25 minute train ride (regional) from Bologna, on the same line that goes to Ravenna, so both places could be seen in one day if you want to visit both and time is limited. I wanted to see The Museum of International Ceramics (which is mostly Italian ceramics) and am so glad I did--it is a world class museum. It's about two blocks from the train station. And I was the only visitor that day! It's huge and well laid out. The first part is a collection of Majolica (also known as Faience) from Faenza from the 14th to 16th century. The displays are wonderful (in English and Italian) and very well laid out. Next is ceramics from the Italian centers of the Renaissance, displayed by region. Then Italian ceramics from the 17th to 19th centuries. There is a new building with a large collection of modern and contemporary Italian Ceramic art, another of contemporary ceramics from around the world, and finally small displays of Classical, Islamic, Far East and popular and devotional ceramics.You don't have to be a ceramics lover to enjoy this fine museum--anyone interested in Italy, Italian, history or art would get something from it. (Museum ticket was 6 euros.)

Beware that the winter hours are limited. It closed at 1:30 the day I was there. I had three hours and it was just enough for me. I then strolled into the charming town of Faenza and had lunch at a cafe. (There is also a bar near the train station for coffee, brooch and sandwiches). I noticed there were many shops with ceramics, old and new. I would have loved to visit them, but they closed at 2:00 for the afternoon, and I didn't feel like waiting around until they reopened. I considered going back, but the timing never worked out.

RAVENNA

Lots of people have written about Ravenna here, so I won't go into detail about the sights. It's a 1 hour and 20 minute train ride from Bologna, mostly past vineyards. The ride went faster than I expected, and I read and dozed. Much of the first couple blocks from the train station are newish ugly construction, but don't be put off, you will soon be in the charming old city. There are signs that point you to the major sights. I went to three of them and am so glad I did. The Byzantine mosaics are glorious, and historically fascinating. Make sure you go to The Basilica di San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placida (on the same property). I bought my ticket, which is good for several sights, at a ticket office close to the Basilica. They also sell guide books to Ravenna, as does a nearby souvenir shop. I had lunch and saw the Basilica di Sant' Appolinaire D'Nuovo. Lunch was at La Piandina on Via IV Novembre--a paninni on a regional flatbread. It was good and fast. I had three hours from train to train and that was just enough. I had a commitment later in the day or I would have liked to stay longer and find a way to see the one sight that is a few km out of town.

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