PART 2: BOLOGNA AND FLORENCE
We stayed at Hotel Il Guercino, located within walking distance to the train station for 59 € for a double room. We really liked this hotel. The rooms were small, but adequate and I thought the bathrooms were really nice. We really enjoyed the breakfast and thought that the price of 7 € was a real bargain, particularly since they offered a great variety of meats, cheeses, eggs, pastries, yogurts, fruit, cereal and fresh juices. Most importantly, they had a self-serve espresso machine that made several types of espresso drinks, so I was a happy camper! It might have been nicer to be nearer the city center, but we didn't mind the 15 minute walk from the hotel to one of the main restaurant/shopping districts.
BOLOGNA DAY 1:
By the time we arrived at our hotel, it was early afternoon on a Sunday, and we were all in agreement that we would take a "day off" from sightseeing and enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a nearby trattoria and a wonderful afternoon "siesta." It was lovely. The hotel had a nice terrace outside, so after we were all refreshed from our siestas, we sat outside and enjoyed the warm breeze and some vino.
For dinner, we had a delicious dinner at Trattorie il Rosso. Taking a break from pasta, I enjoyed one of their specialty dishes of roasted pork shank and potatoes. It was outstanding, as were the other dishes we tried, including Lasagna, a pasta dish with sausage, and a yummy antipasti plate with various meats and cheeses.
BOLOGNA DAY 2:
After checking out of the hotel and storing our luggage at the train station, we wandered around Bologna on one of the tourist "hop on, hop off" open top buses. This gave us a great overview of the city while at the same time was easy my parents’ aching legs and feet. Near the Piazza Maggiore, there were lots of merchants selling the famous wares of the region including Parma ham, prosciutto and tortellini. We purchased some delicious salami and fresh tortellini to take with us to Florence for that evening's dinner (it was delicious). We then headed back to the train station to board our 4:58 PM train from Bologna to Florence. We also purchased these tickets in advance on Trenitalia’s website for 9 € each.
We rented our apartment on VRBO: http://www.vrbo.com/325526. It was a very spacious 3-bedroom, 3-bathroom villa. The apartment is a short 5-minute walk from the train station and located almost across the street from the Medici Chapels. The location is terrific; located in a lively neighborhood filled with restaurants and shops and a large indoor/outdoor market. It's also located directly across from the neighborhood garbage bins; not a bad thing at 4:00 PM, but come midnight when the nearby restaurants are dropping their glass bottles in the chute and the garbage trucks arrive to empty (which they do several times a day) it can be VERY noisy. We're also in a lively square with lots of merriment going on until the wee hours of the morning. Honestly, the first night, this was kind of bothersome and kept me awake, but we did get used to the noise. I would definitely stay here again as it was very nice, despite not having a well-equipped kitchen (it was a large kitchen, but very sparsely equipped for cooking) and not always great wireless Internet. We paid 950 € for 4 nights. Also, the owner, Cat, couldn’t have been nicer. She met us as the train station and on the day we departed, kindly offered to drive our luggage (and our parents) to the Hertz rental location since the zone-traffic-limited restrictions made it almost impossible for a newcomer to navigate the zones effectively and travel back to our apartment with a vehicle.
FLORENCE DAY 1:
We spent the morning touring Florence on one of the “hop on/hop off” tourist buses to get a good overview of Florence and to please my Dad. We hopped off near the Uffizi Gallery as we had a 1:30 reservation. We wandered around the Pallazo della Signoria for a while and grabbed some lunch before our scheduled entry time. The gallery rooms inside the Uffizi were very crowded, so it was difficult to catch even a glimpse of some of the more famous pieces. Naturally my Dad was looking for the gallery with the "cars" and since we only going to be looking at mostly Renaissance-era art, he was pretty much done with the visit in the first 5 minutes. In hindsight, I wish I had hired a guide for this museum. With so much to see and crowds to navigate through, I felt we just walked through a maze and saw some "nice paintings" but I didn't really know WHAT I was looking at. So when I return to Florence on “That’s Another Trip”, I will exercise a "mulligan" and visit the Uffizi with a more knowledgeable guide.
After our visit, we hopped back on our bus and saw a few more sights of Florence before returning to our apartment. For dinner that evening, we ate at a small Trattoria in our neighborhood called "Trattoria Il Porscopino" and so far, this has been our best meal of the trip .Our server joked around with us the moment we arrived and after a brief discussion of the Seahawks and the Oregon Ducks, he asked us what we wanted to eat and my husband, sister and I all say "Pasta" at about the same time. My husband then adds, "I want Pasta with meat sauce" to which he replied "Meat sauce?! This isn't Olive Garden!" He then suggests that we just close the menu and he will bring all of us the specialties of the house. So we did, and honestly, we were just a bit afraid as we didn't want this "special treatment" to come with a "special price." The food was lovely. We started with some bruschetta and fried zucchini blossoms, which paired nicely with the bottle of Chianti he brought. For our pasta dishes, we had 3 different kinds on our plate: a beautiful large "tortelloni" filled with some kind of cheese (maybe a mixture of Ricotta and something else?) with a light buttery sauce; a penne pasta with a meat/cheese sauce and spinach gnocchi. Dad had a "Florentine" steak which was topped with a cheese sauce. The steak was delicious, as were all of our dishes. Most importantly, the meal was reasonable; including the wine, it was 148 Euros for all of us. I thought that was a pretty good bargain.
FLORENCE DAY 2:
Our plan today was to wander over to the Duomo, perhaps do a little retail therapy and then visit the Gallerie Accademia at 1:30. We'd already given Dad and Joan a pass on the museum since they evidently weren’t interested in seeing any art (although in the planning process they gave a “thumbs up” on both the Uffizi and the Accademia) and planned to sell their pre-paid tickets to someone standing in line who didn't make a reservation in advance.
The weather was just awful; lots of rain and capris and sandals isn’t exactly the attire you want to wear in this kind of weather, so we didn’t spend too much time visiting the Duomo and only wandered a bit into a few shops. After a mediocre lunch of pizza and my daily Aperol Spritz, we left our parents at the apartment while we went to the Gallerie Accademia. Luckily, we didn’t have any problem re-selling the two extra tickets we had. The museum isn't that large, so we were through it pretty quickly. They had a special exhibition of some pretty old musical instruments, including a rather large collection of Stradivarius violins.
Michelangelo's David is a lot larger than I expected and the detail of the anatomy is amazing (and I'm not talking about David's package). The veins in the hands, the fingernail and toenail detail, the muscle tone on the legs, abdomen and chest; the details are pretty remarkable. It's definitely impressive to see. I thought the unfinished works by Michelangelo called "the Prisoners" were interesting in that you could see the progression from a slab of marble to the outlines of a statue.
When we left the Accademia, it was still raining pretty steady outside, so we headed back to the apartment to wrap up our day in Florence. Fortunately for my travel partners, they have someone along with them who enjoys cooking, so for dinner, I made Chicken Milanese with pasta, a delicious green salad and some bread. Not bad if I do say so myself and we didn't have to go back outside in the rain.
FLORENCE DAY 3:
My husband was returning to Seattle on this day from Pisa, so we all decided to take the train with him to visit the infamous leaning tower. It was a beautiful sunny day and perfect walking weather, so we really enjoyed this little side adventure. We arrived mid-morning, toured the cathedral, took some very touristy photos of each of us “holding up” the leaning tower, had an OK lunch and took a 2:30 PM train back to Florence. We spent the remainder of the afternoon doing a little retail therapy around our apartment and ate dinner “in” that evening and packing up our things for our early AM departure.
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Our 5-Week Italian Adventure (plus a few days in Paris, just because!)
PART 2: BOLOGNA AND FLORENCE