Italy Itinerary: Bologna (Ravenna), Orvieto (Citta di Bagnereggio and Bolsena), Montepulciano (Pienza, Montalcino, Sant' Antimo, Assisi), Como
I did not expect to return to Italy so soon after our 2005 trip (and a 2007 Great Britain trip), but I threw a coin in the Trevi Fountain and, dang, it worked!
Plus, we had enough frequent flyer miles for two people, so I figured before the airlines go belly up, another trip to Italy was in order for DH and me. I started planning with the idea of keeping it simple and cheap (fewer bases, train only), but then we felt guilty about leaving our older son behind, so we switched gears. DS is 21, is a high functioning individual on the autism spectrum, and has a zest for travel and new experiences. When he was younger, as is often the case with autistic children, he had a narrow range of foods he would eat: chicken nuggets, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and, for a vegetable, ketchup. Occupational therapists worked with him to expand his options, until one day, when he was about 12 he decided to try shark. After that, there was no stopping him as he moved on to the usual meats, plus alligator, rabbit, octopus and the highlight of our Great Britain trip, haggis. Knowing we would be doing some serious eating, we figured we would have to take him along.
The mosaics of Ravenna
The porticos of Bologna
The duomo in Orvieto with Luca Signorello's frescos
Our first glance of Pienza, coming up from the south on the SS2
The view from our apartment (Politian) in Montepulciano
Pumpkin stuffed tortelloni with butter sage sauce at Trattoria Mariposa in Bologna
A salumi misto platter with lambrusco at Tamburini's
The ribolitta at Diva e Macao in Montepulciano
Dinner at I Sette Consoli in Orvieto
Pecorino+honey+walnuts=delicious (who'da thunk?)
An ice cream sundae with marrons glace at the Pasticceria Monti in Como
Wednesday, October 8
After a 4 hour drive to the Philadelphia airport, we depart on time and enjoy an uneventful flight. Worth mentioning because we are, after all, leaving from Philadelphia and flying on USAir'a potential double whammy. The plane is only about 2/3 full, which certainly helps with bathroom breaks, noise levels, and general comfort. We touch down in Milan shortly before 7:00 AM on Thursday morning.
Thursday, Oct 9
'We'll be staying at the hotel next to the sex shop'
After taking the train to the Milan Centrale, we park our suitcases at left luggage. We decide to walk to the Duomo to clear our heads and see what Milan has to offer. If you are wondering what they are wearing in Milan (and Bologna) the answer is skinny or boot cut jeans paired with a dark jacket (often black leather). Young, old, male, female.
We do not have a good map of Milan and are basically using the metro entrances as a guide. Before long, though, I realize that we are standing in front of La Scala, and over there is Galleria Victor Emmanuelle. We stop in the Galleria for our first cappuccino and cornetti and some people watching. Lots of Asian tour groups coming through.
We look around the interior of the duomo, which is somewhat interesting, but not to my taste (kind of dark and somewhat austere). The roof, though, is worth the trip. Lots of areas to wander about and we take many pictures of the statues of saints, gargoyles, and spires. It reminds me of sandcastles we used to make at the beach'the kind where you would drizzle wet sand to make tall, fanciful towers.
When we are back at street level, DH needs to use the restroom and points out the Rinasciente department store across the street. I take a step, not realizing there is a curb, and land awkwardly on my foot. Very painful. I am not sure if it is sprained or perhaps broken. I have heard that sprains are more painful, so I am leaning toward that; however, a bone density scan recently confirmed osteoporosis, so I am equally certain that I have broken a fragile bone. I hobble in pain into the store and up the escalators to the floor with the restroom. I can't begin to think of the hassles of trying to find a doctor and the thought of my vacation going up in smoke has me in despair, so I can barely check out the store. We take the subway back to Milan Centrale and I sit with my foot propped as DH and DS get our luggage and a bite to eat (I can't even think of food, I am so worried about my foot). I am kind of cool to Milan, but that might be the early hour and sore foot talking.
The train ride is uneventful and not particularly scenic. Our second-class seats are comfortable. My foot is still throbbing as I limp towards the hotel, but at least I can limp.
I chose the Zanhotel Il Canale (Via Bertiera 2, http://ilcanale.hotelsbologna.it/) because of positive reviews on trip advisor, price (115 E a triple) and the availability of a triple room. Also, because of curiosity about the sex shop next store, which reviews say is not really a bad seedy sex shop. (This is true'it is very benign.) Not that we go in there.
Our room (no. 24) is spacious and clean. The bathroom is a nice size; the shower itself is small by American standards but not bad by Italian hotel standards. I decide to put my foot up for a bit and read (nap) while DH and DS head off to explore the Due Torri, the two leaning towers of Bologna, apparently making it to the top of Asinelli, the taller tower.
When they return, we ask the desk clerk for a recommendation for dinner, and she directs us to Trattoria Dal Biassanot (via Piella, 14; Phone: +39051230644). This is a fine local restaurant with friendly service on a quiet side street. We start with salumi misto and vegetable misto platters. DH has the gnocchi verde e gorgonzola and DS has the veal Bolognese. I can't make up my mind and so go with a dish that offers 3 pastas: tortellini, lasagna and risotto. All good. The highlight is the gelato with Modena vinegar that my son orders. The vinegar is a thick, tangy syrup that contrasts nicely with the gelato. Near the restaurant, one can catch glimpses of the canals that still lie beneath Bologna and which were once used to help power silk and wheat industries. We peer through a window at the canal scene, although by crossing the street, you can get an unobstructed view of the same canal (I think).
We continue walking and head towards the University district, which is busy with tons of students. Bologna is really hopping in the evenings, and it is fun to stroll along all of the porticos and enjoy this lively city. The students especially seem to be everywhere. We live in a college town, so I am used to seeing lots of pretty young things. But Milan and Bologna seem to have an abundance of really beautiful young men and women. I mean heartstopping good looks. It's been a long day (actually a long 40 hours), so we head home to the hotel.
Friday, October 10, Tour Bologna
'The longest portico in the world'
We wake up slowly at around 10'for the first time in probably 30 years, I have slept 12 hours straight. Fortunately, my foot is feeling much better after a night's rest. We open the window to check the weather and hear what sounds like a parade. We peek down the street and see students marching. Later, we ask the desk clerk what the parade was about, and he shrugs and laughs as if to say 'Bologna'students'what do you expect?'
We have missed the hotel breakfast and so head out in search of a cappuccino and roll, and then we are onto the food markets. Touring the food markets in Bologna requires a great deal of restraint, since there are so many temptations. As I pass the fruit stands, I am looking for figs, remembering the ones I had in Campo di Fiori 3 years ago, which I swear were almost as big as my fist. We must be past fig season now, since not many figs are to be found, but I do eventually locate some tasty normal-size versions.
The fish markets are particularly intriguing, with items not normally seen at our home stores. Ditto the meat markets, with their displays of poultry, heads intact. We buy some mortadella and a Casciotta d' Urbino at a busy cheese market.
We head to the Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica de San Petronio. The church's façade is incomplete, so it is not particularly striking from the outside. I like the inside, though, because it is open and airy feeling. One of the interesting elements in the church is a sundial in the form of a meridian line inlaid in the floor. It dates to the 1600s and is the longest sundial in the world. There is an oculus (small opening) in the ceiling that lights the sundial.
Lunch is at one of the outdoor tables at Enoteco Tamburini. We order one of the mixed meat and cheese platters (Parmigiano classico), and, inspired by previous postings by Fodorites, a Nivola lambrusco. The meats and wine do go down well together. As we sit there, the usual newspaper and flower vendors pass by. I am fascinated, though, when a well-dressed Italian businessman at the next table offers the leftovers on his plate to one of the vendors. I watch as the businessman carefully puts together pieces of bread, layers slices of meat and cheese, checking the portions of each with the vendor. I think this is charming and very kind, especially since my own reaction tends to be to brush off these vendors immediately with a stern 'non, grazie.'
We had planned to tour San Stefano, but we arrive there during the hours it is closed (12-3:30). We decide instead to take a bus to via Saragozza to climb to Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. We walk along the 666 arches of the longest portico in the world. The portico is a relatively new construction in Bologna'built in the 17-18th centuries!'and is almost four kilometers long. As we walk, we pass a large group of Eastern Europeans who stop intermittently to sing and pray. We, in turn, are passed by joggers heading to the top'showoffs! The long hike up ends with the church and a nice view, although today it is hazy. The church, which was built in the 1700s, has a lovely interior.
Dinner is at Trattoria Mariposa,Via Bertiera 12, a small restaurant just down the street from the hotel. The torteloni zuca con buerre e salvia (torteloni with pumpkin filling in a sage butter sauce) is magnificent, with a wonderfully light pasta dough. I follow it with an insalata misto. DH has the tortelini en brodo (very good) and a pork dish. DS has a mortadello appetizer and cavallo (horse) for his secondi. The prices are reasonable'it is my favorite meal in Bologna.
Saturday, October 11, Ravenna
'When planning your next palazzo, think mosaics instead of frescoes. They hold up so much better.'
We manage to make breakfast today. There is a nice selection of breads, yogurt, lunch meats, boiled eggs, fruit and juices, as well as a cappuccino machine. We fortify ourselves, then head to the train station for the ride to Ravenna. It is uneventful and not particularly scenic, but still pleasant.
Ravenna and the cathedral in Orvieto are the only 'must-sees' on this trip and I am really looking forward to seeing the mosaics. I realized after a humdrum experience at the Roman Forum without a guide, that sometimes it pays to spring for one to make what you are seeing come alive. (And so you don't have to keep your nose in the guidebooks but can listen and look.) I made reservations in advance for a Ravenna tour with the Associazione Culturale Guide Adarte (http://www.ad-arte.com/). We planned a 3-hour tour with our guide, Paola Golinelli, which includes San Vitale, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, piazza del Popolo, Dante's tomb and the basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo. We meet Paola at San Vitale and begin our tour. The mosaics are a wonder to look at, but the tour makes them even more enjoyable, as Paola points out the symbols to look for in each piece, such as those for each of the evangelists and St. Paul, and explains their meaning. San Vitale is a beautiful church that is as interesting for its architecture as it is for its mosaics. It is a central plan church, featuring a double-shelled octagon, with ambulatory and gallery. It is unique architecturally for Italy. Despite the popular mosaics (those of Emperor Justinian and his wife, Theodora), the church still imparts a sense of serenity. Beautiful.
Entering the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is like being in a blue velvet-lined jewel box filled with glittering diamonds, rubies and emeralds. This had the 'wow' factor that for some reason escaped me when I saw 'David' and also the Sistine Chapel. (Crowds definitely get in the way of my enjoyment!) Certainly the most stunning piece of real estate I have ever seen.
It is interesting to learn that Ravenna is sinking and that the mosaics are now seen much closer than intended'this certainly helps with the viewing. We enjoy more mosaics at basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo and make our way to Dante's tomb, stopping at a local shop to see some modern day mosaic making and view the tools of the trade. We say goodbye to Paola and decide to get a gelato as we head back to the train. We are about to stop by one spot when two older women pass by and say something. DH thinks they say, 'don't eat there because it is not good gelato,' but I think from the way they are tittering they are saying 'don't eat there because you need gelato like you need a hole in the head.' At any rate, we move to another gelateria.
We arrive back in Bologna and ask our hotel clerk to recommend a place for dinner. He directs us to Ristorante Diana, Via Indipendenza, 24 +39 51 23 1302) which is very close to the hotel. I am surprised when we are able to get a table outside on a Saturday night. The service is good, as is the food, although it reminds me of the Old Bookbinders in Philadelphia. That is to say, a nice restaurant that serves all the old staples nicely. I start with a prosciutto con melone e fiche. Next is the tagliatelle with truffles and the wonderful earthy smell precedes the platter. I finish it off with an insalata stagione. DH has a tasty pasta fagiole followed by bindo Diana, which is a tukey cutlet with prosciutto. My son has the pasta frutta di mare and chicken livers in Madeira. A very pleasant dinner.
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Italy Itinerary: Bologna (Ravenna), Orvieto (Citta di Bagnereggio and Bolsena), Montepulciano (Pienza, Montalcino, Sant' Antimo, Assisi), Como