I Go to Pieces — An Italy Trip Report

Old Mar 23rd, 2014, 06:38 AM
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I Go to Pieces — An Italy Trip Report

I Go to Pieces — An Italy Trip Report

26 February–11 March 2014

BACKGROUND

My previous Italy trip report from 2011 included a week in Venice, followed by time in Florence and Siena. (Click on my screen name to read "How Do You Know They Are Not Killers?")

Soon after that trip, I took a new job, which left me disoriented, challenged, and exhausted. I loved the job — and still do — but so much was new to me in those first months. I returned to Venice in 2012 and 2013 because it was an easy choice, a perfect break from my busy job that would require little planning on my part. My two visits in early March were just what I needed, a quiet week just after Carnevale to ride boats, take long walks, climb bridges, and have nice meals. No big experiences or information to share in a trip report, just relaxation in one of my favorite places.

A March vacation fits perfectly into my work schedule, and I love the less tourist-filled time. Yes, the weather might be cold or rainy, but I’m in Italy and there’s always a bar or cafe or church nearby to get out of the weather and relax.

As Christmas 2013 approached, with work going full tilt, I began to consider my vacation for March 2014. Should I return to Venice? Should I try something new? Mentally I reviewed the map of Italy in my brain, moving south from Venice, thinking about where I might go. Bologna was already on my mind, since my last visit there had been many years ago. My thoughts jumped to Ravenna, the city of mosaics that I had visited once as a day trip from Bologna and once as a two-night stop. From the recesses of my Ravenna memory flashed an image of a storefront I had passed, with people inside the shop creating mosaics. Mosaic school!
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Old Mar 23rd, 2014, 06:42 AM
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Great start! Can't wait to read more!
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Old Mar 23rd, 2014, 07:04 AM
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Ohhhh... Can't wait for more!
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Old Mar 23rd, 2014, 08:55 AM
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PREPARATIONS

I googled “Mosaic School Ravenna” and found a school that offered five-day workshops in English. An email inquiry about the first week of March supplied important details and my spot was reserved. No deposit necessary — surprising, but it IS Italy.

I decided to fly to Rome and immediately train to Bologna rather than wait around the airport for a few hours for a connecting flight. After a few days in Bologna, I’d head to Ravenna for the workshop. After the workshop, I’d train back to Rome for a few days before flying home.

On December 30, I booked my flights — award tickets on Delta, though the flights were a codeshare with Alitalia. The departure times were excellent, but I hadn’t flown Alitalia in years, and one hears so many horror stories . . . Combining Alitalia with arriving at sometimes-crazy FCO could mean a difficult arrival day. I’d wait to buy train tickets until reaching Italy since anything might happen.

My busy season at work, which usually runs through mid-January, extended into mid-February. I had hardly any time to think about my trip or plan anything beyond reserving my hotels. Like my past two trips, aside from the workshop, there would be no plans, no expectations, no checklist, just the pleasure of doing what I felt like at the moment. La dolce vita.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2014, 09:03 AM
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Ah, I think I understand your title now. How fun to try a Mosaic school! I can't wait to hear how it all turned out. The no deposit part, however, is making me wonder...
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Old Mar 23rd, 2014, 09:07 AM
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ellenm - your "how do you know they're not killers" thread has won me lots of laughs over the years.

looking forward to learning more about this trip!
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Old Mar 23rd, 2014, 10:50 AM
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Wonderful, ellenem. I too remember your killer Venice thread but will re-read it. What a great idea to go to mosaics school--can't wait to read on.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2014, 02:19 PM
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Looking forward to hearing of your adventure in Ravenna ... it's on my itinerary for a two night stay in April (first time)!
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Old Mar 23rd, 2014, 04:04 PM
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Such a great start . . .

I have to be away from the computer all day tomorrow, so you don't need to rush ;-) but don't delay beyond that!
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Old Mar 23rd, 2014, 04:08 PM
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Sounds terrific already.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2014, 04:14 PM
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DAY 0: Wednesday, 26 February 2014

When heading from Manhattan to JFK Airport during rush hour, I usually opt for the subway plus AirTrain. I’d rather be moving in the subway than paying a lot of money to be stuck in traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway. With a flight at 10:00 pm, I left home just before 6:00 pm so I could arrive at the airport 3 hours early. I like to arrive early, and wanted plenty of time because I’d once experienced a 90-minute security line at Terminal 1, which serves Alitalia and many other airlines.

The subway seemed like an excellent plan until my jam-packed 6 train stopped just short of the platform at Grand Central. The train sat in the tunnel for at least 15 minutes while they tried to solve a door problem. To my mind, the Van Wyck wasn’t looking so bad. When the train’s driver came squeezing through our carriage to walk to the back of the train to fix the door, everyone groaned. Then we had to wait for him to return the same way.

When we reached Grand Central, I got off that train and walked the 10 blocks to the E train rather than chance more delays by going one more stop on that line. The E train was an express, but also sat in the tunnel for five minutes as we neared Jamaica station. The few of us in the near-empty train began sharing subway horror stories, including some about incredible delays on the E train the previous night. Greatly relieved to be off the subway, my trip on the AirTrain to Terminal 1 was uneventful.

My flight award ticket was issued by Delta with a Delta confirmation code, but it was on an Alitalia flight, so at booking I couldn’t choose my seats. After booking, I immediately called Alitalia to have an agent choose seats. He also gave me the Alitalia confirmation code for my booking so I would be able to check in online. I had used the code and successfully printed my Alitalia boarding pass from the Alitalia website.

With my all-carry-on luggage and boarding pass, I walked past the check-in counters and straight to the security line. The security agent said I had the wrong boarding pass. I said it was from the Alitalia website and pointed to the title, “Alitalia Boarding Pass.” She said they have a different one they prefer to use, that I must go to the counter and check in there. Fortunately the line was short, so within five minutes I presented the same security agent with my new boarding pass.

These two instances — the delayed train and the silly boarding pass mixup — seemed a portentous beginning to the trip. Signs of things to come?
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Old Mar 23rd, 2014, 04:50 PM
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I am really enjoying your report! Looking forward to more.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2014, 05:53 PM
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Loving it so far.
Don't believe any signs. Things might seem portentous on the way to Italy,but nothing bad can actually happen while in Italy. And if it does, have a glass of vino. Or two...
Then write about them.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2014, 06:56 PM
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Andiamo!!
can't wait for the next installments...
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Old Mar 24th, 2014, 05:10 AM
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DAY 1: Thursday, 27 February 2014 — Rome to Bologna

My other big concern had been about my luggage. I was unclear how strict Alitalia would be about the size of carry-ons. I had a 21-inch rollaboard and a mostly-empty shoulder tote. My purse fit inside the tote. With FCO craziness in my mind, I did not want to check luggage if I didn’t have to do so. There was no problem carrying on my luggage, and we departed on time at 10:05 pm.

The flight was uneventful, aside from the person in front of me who reclined fully as soon as we reached altitude and remained so through both meals and until our descent to Rome. During the flight I came to a realization: I’d paid nothing for my flights and taken the subway to the airport. From this moment on, I decided I was going first class.

We landed 40 minutes early, at 11:45 am. The plane taxied and parked away from the terminal. We had to descend stairs to the tarmac and load onto a bus to ride to the terminal. The weather was slightly overcast mixed with sun, spring temperatures. New York had still been cold and snowy when I left. (New York was still cold and snowy when I returned.)

Immigration was quick and customs was a nothing, so I rolled right out to the terminal and followed the signs to the train station. I purchased my tickets from the window — only one person ahead of me. The clerk chose the next train to Bologna after my train to Rome would arrive, explaining that I would not have enough time to walk to an earlier train departing just minutes after reaching Roma Termini. My 12:37 pm Leonardo Express would arrive Roma Termini at 1:09 pm, in plenty of time to make my 1:50 pm train to Bologna Centrale.

For those who wonder how quickly one can get off a plane, through the airport, and to the station at FCO, the validation stamp on my ticket reads 12:24 pm. I think 40 minutes from touchdown to train station was extremely fast, considering the bus ride. I prefer this good experience as a sign of things to come.

I was delighted to discover that the arriving track for the Leonardo Express had been moved to track 24, so much closer to the front of the station since my last trip through Rome in 2008. I also noted that there was a booth for Leonardo Express tickets at the head of the track, very handy for traveling back to FCO. I grabbed a coffee and a bottle of water before boarding, and watched for my track posting while enjoying the familiar chant of arriving and departing trains.

In other posts I’ve described my love for train rides. I live in New York City and I don’t drive, so I often find myself on trains. I always bring a book, but invariably I find myself staring out the window, watching the world go by, studying the houses and hills and valleys, noting what is blooming in the fields or stacked in a backyard. This ride to Bologna was no exception. First class is arranged with two seats on one side of the aisle, and a single seat on the other. Even though I had virtualy no sleep on the flight, from my single seat I was excited to watch the hills of Lazio, Umbria, and Tuscany roll by. I was surprised to see some fruit trees in bloom in late February and noticed rain puddles on some fields and roads.

When we stopped at Firenze SMN, I thought of my friend R who I would not see on this trip. We’d spoken on the phone the week before. She would be traveling during my visit, but said to expect warmer weather because the winter had been mild. After Florence, there were more tunnels than views, so I settled in with my Italy Michelin guide on my Kindle to refresh my meory about Bologna.

I’d reserved a single room at Hotel Internazionale on Via Indipendenza, just a short walk from Bologna Centrale. Fodorite Holly had mentioned that she sometimes saw special offers for this four-star property. The rate of 201 euros for 3 nights (Thursday and Saturday were 70 euro and for some reason Friday was just 61 euro) included breakfast and fit my budget. My room was small but had a twin bed and a little sofa and coffee table facing a flat screen TV. The modern bathroom had a stall shower big enough to bend and pick up dropped soap without opening the door — not one of those teeny showers that make you feel like you’re in a curio cabinet. The water pressure was low and slow to become hot, but it felt great to shower, change clothing, and relax after all my travels. I also logged in to the free WiFi to report to family about my safe arrival and to friends who would visit me in Bologna the next day.

I set out on a before-dinner stroll to Piazza Maggiore, straight up Via Indipendenza. I like Bologna, with the portici covering the sidewalks, cafe tables and chairs set in the arches in front of each bar. R had mentioned the exhibit, but I was surprised to see how many shops were hyping the visiting exhibit featuring Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring.” Stickers on the sidewalk showed the way to the exhibit venue. Shops featured displays of pearl jewelry surroundng images of the famous Vermeer. I passed the exhibit entrance, which featured an impressive amount of signage and crowd control barriers, but no crowds at the moment.

On my oh-so-long-ago visit to Bologna, when we reached Piazza Maggiore, there were displays describing the famous Fontana di Nettuno there, how when he was first erected (double meaning intended), the statue was considered so virile it was feared women might faint in the street. My group was excited to see this sexy Nettuno, only to realize that this display was actually scaffoding and Nettuno was under restoration and under wraps. Now I saw him in all his languid glory, never mind the nereids at his feet squirting water from their breasts. Some say that viewed from just the right angle, his outstretched hand could make Nettuno seem even sexier.

I strolled under the arches of the piazza and eventually sought dinner at nearby Trattoria Gianni. Traveling by myself on this trip, I never made reservations. Instead, my method was to arrive right at opening time. A table was usually available, or I was offered a table if I “could be done by 8:30.” This worked well as 90 minutes was just about right for me to have a nice dinner. Plus, I was keeping student hours, since my class would begin at 9:00 am every day, so an early dinner was perfect. I began with lasagnetta di carciofi, layers of creamy luxiousness — crepe layered with bechamel sauce and artichokes. For a second course I couldn’t resist the coneglio al forno con patate arrosto, roasted rabbit swimming in a puddle some evil rendered animal fat that I mopped up with each bite. I tried the traditional sweet rice cake of Bologna with mascarpone cream for dessert. With a glass of house wine and a bottle of water, the bill came to 40 euro.

I had not slept since New York and was happy that the 10-minute walk back to the hotel was all downhill. My twin bed was comfy.
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Old Mar 24th, 2014, 06:31 AM
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As usual, a descriptive account of your travels, ellenem! Feels like I am alongside you on this journey. I am enjoying every word of it and look forward to more!
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Old Mar 24th, 2014, 07:31 AM
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Wow! I feel like I'm traveling right along with you! A very enjoyable read, looking forward to more!
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Old Mar 24th, 2014, 07:43 AM
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Thanks for sharing your adventures. Love your style!
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Old Mar 24th, 2014, 08:19 AM
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Can't wait for more!
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Old Mar 24th, 2014, 11:38 AM
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I love reading about your exploits, ellenem, keep it coming.
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