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I’d like some help planning trip in Italy

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I will be a visiting fellow at the University of Bologna Sept. 16 - Oct. 13. I booked my husband’s flights last December (because I had Lufthansa miles that were expiring the end of the year) and, for reasons I don’t recall or may not have thought through at the time, booked the flights to and from Rome. We arrive in Rome on Sat., Sept. 15, at 6:15 pm and would like to be in Bologna by early evening the next day. My current thought is to rent a car at the Rome airport, spend the night at a relatively inexpensive hotel outside the city (e.g., the Ibis between the airport and the city; $80/nt.), and then drive to Bologna the next day (a Sunday) and drop off the car. Do you have suggestions of other relatively inexpensive lodgings that I should consider? I found car rentals from Hertz at $80-100 through CarRentals.com. Are there Italian car rental companies that I should also investigate? If possible, I’d like to drop off the car near the University of Bologna, but we could take it to the airport, which doesn’t seem to be very far from the university (and that may be the only drop-off place that’s open in the early evening). What are some good things to see and do on the way from Rome to Bologna?

We will be in Bologna for 4 weeks and would appreciate recommendations of things to see and do there as well as out-of-town excursions on weekends. E.g., my husband might enjoy taking some cooking or Italian-language lessons in Bologna.

We will then have 8 days for travelling within Italy before leaving for home from Rome at 9:30 am the morning of Sunday, Oct. 21. Our current thought is to rent a car and go to the Amalfi Coast/Naples/Vesuvius area. I would ideally like to stay in one or two places and fan out from there for day trips. I’d appreciate suggestions of what would be a good base (or two) and recommendations of things to see there and on day trips from there, and along the way there from Bologna (or back to Rome).

By the way, we enjoy nature, good museums, opera, and city walking tours, but are always open to new experiences.

Thanks in advance for your help.

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