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Solo in Italia once again: Venice, Bologna (Ravenna), Ortisei, Bolzano, Verona

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Sep 11th, 2018, 04:12 PM
  #1
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Solo in Italia once again: Venice, Bologna (Ravenna), Ortisei, Bolzano, Verona

This trip, which began at the end of August last year, has now aged sufficiently for its report to see the light of day. The verdict on reflection: a good trip with some great moments.

Itinerary including flights and hotels:
Outbound: LAX-Frankfurt-Venice (Marco Polo)
Inbound: Verona-Frankfurt-LAX
Airline: LAX-Frankfurt-LAX: Lufthansa, Airbus 380, Premium Economy

Venice: 4 nights Locanda Orseolo
Bologna: 3 nights Hotel Corona d’Oro
Ortisei: 3 nights Garni Dr. Senoner
Bolzano: 2 nights Hotel Greif
Verona: 3 nights Hotel Accademia

This was my third solo trip to Italy, the first in 1969 as part of a followup to a summer study abroad program in France and the second in 2015 to Naples and the Amalfi Coast. In between were a couple of jaunts to Sardinia accompanying my husband to meetings and family trips to Umbria/Tuscany/Liguria and Sicily. All of the destinations on this trip were new to me and easily accessible by public transportation. Many thanks to all those whose trip reports or comments helped to guide my way. They were especially helpful as my planning took me farther north to the Dolomites and Bolzano. My community college Italian, last exercised in 2015, was rusty but still served me well along with my diminutive Langenscheidt Italian dictionary.

After the boarding zoo in LAX’s Bradley Terminal, my premium economy aisle seat—good legroom and seat pitch, footrest, in its own P.E. compartment, restrooms at the rear—was restful and a distinct upgrade from coach. The professional, attentive service e.g. hot towels and frequent beverage solicitations, made the journey to Frankfurt more than pleasant.

Arrival in VENICE: I knew that after all those travel hours and with the specter of bridges and luggage (22” spinner and tote), I would want to take a water taxi to the hotel. However, I am super seasick prone and in the previous year had had a second episode of vertigo that I wished to avoid at all costs. To avoid traveling over the open water, I took a land taxi to the Piazzale Roma (€40) and then picked up a water taxi to the hotel. The taxi driver got out and accompanied me to the canal front—if there is a grazie beyond mille, it belongs here—to try to locate Venezia Taxi, the service recommended by the hotel. Didn’t see a taxi with that name so took another that quoted a rate of €80 which was €10 less than I’d expected. For that, however, I did not wind up going down the Grand Canal but another way round and then up the G.C. toward the Rialto Bridge before turning off into a warren of small canals.

Hotel: I look for character, charm, comfort, cleanliness, and convenience with a strong preference for privately owned over corporate. I like the feeling of being tucked away with easy access to nearby action, and a view is always a plus. The Locanda Orseolo, (superior double with canal view, €240/night) located just a few minutes from P. San Marco on the Orseolo Basin, a gondola roosting area, lived up to its good reviews. I don’t need a lot done for me, but I liked the idea of starting off in a cozy, personal place where everyone did, in fact, greet me by name. When I needed an ATM, the staff warned me off the bank nearby and suggested another in the Campo San Luca.

My room, L’Arlequino, was at the top of the first flight of stairs. The small sitting room with wardrobe and the adjacent bedroom both had windows looking out on to the canal. Lots of red and gold, gondolieri and delivery boats gliding by under my windows. Breakfast was served in a charming space facing the canal with a variety of freshly prepared offerings including their specialty, crepes made to order.

Sights: Chosen, in part, to sample some of the different sestieri at a reasonable pace to get over jet lag. With three full days following my day of arrival,

Day 2 Secret Itineraries Tour of the Doge’s Palace, ticket obtained in advance

This is the tour that includes the torture room and the prison cells in the dungeon as well as the nicer ones under the roof. When we were in Casanova’s cell, our guide told us that we would not have been allowed in two weeks prior due to the excessive heat. You leave this tour in the elaborate public spaces which you can then wander on your own. I enjoyed this visit which gave me a feel for Venice at the height of her power.

Day 3 Rialto Bridge and markets, the Frari, Guggenheim Museum

Food and craft markets are always high on my list of attractions. I got to the Rialto markets in mid-morning so, admittedly, not at prime time. Even so, a disappointment, they paled in comparison to those seen later in Bologna and Bolzano. On my way to the Guggenheim by way of the Frari, I went gift hunting in and out of the little shops in San Polo and Dorsoduro, liked the feel of these areas. My best purchase was a pleated silk scarf accented with a Murano glass bead from Venetia Studium. Loved the contrast of the Guggenheim and its collection of modern art to its surround. Traghetti are working gondolas that ferry back and forth at several points along the Grand Canal. After a full day of sightseeing, it was €2 for the S. Maria del Giglio traghetto to take me back to San Marco. A short but quite fun experience.

Day 4 Jewish Ghetto and Basilica San Marco

Another study in contrasts, starting out in the area of San Marco that could be any upscale shopping mall anywhere and wending my way to the Jewish Ghetto in Cannaregio, which had a more authentic, less touristed feel. Our guide for the Ghetto, who noted with some pride that he had toured both Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Henry Kissinger, took us to three of the five synagogues. The experience was of a living memorial, its streets largely unpeopled and quiet. I returned via the vaporetto which took me down much of the length of the Grand Canal.

Returning at around 4 to San Marco, the lines into the Basilica were short and moving well. The interior was fairly dark. I’d thought about making a special effort to be there around noon when they light up the interior but the timing somehow didn’t work the day of the Doge’s Palace tour. Not the dazzling experience of the Capella Palatina in Palermo or the impressive sites to be seen later in Ravenna.

Food: In our division of travel labor, I always researched the sights and the hotels and my husband, for whom a mediocre meal was a tragedy, handled the restaurants. He has now hung up his travel spurs and, while I do care about what I eat and did, in fact, survey Chowhound, Elizabeth Minchilli, and others, I don’t bring the same intensity of focus to food that he had.

Days were devoted to being out and about, and I don’t typically linger over lunch at home unless I’m with someone else. I soon realized that all the highly regarded dinner options I’d scoped out in Dorsoduro, San Polo, or Cannaregio weren’t going to happen. While I have a decent sense of direction, a three-minute walk from the hotel and I was turned around. In short order, of course, there was always a sign to the Piazza San Marco from which I could easily get back to the hotel, but by the end of the day, I wanted easy.

The one restaurant remaining at the intersection of my researched and doable lists was Osteria Alle Testiere in Castello. It is tiny and was closed for much of August when I tried to make a reservation from home, due to re-open the week of my arrival in Venice. The staff at Locanda Orseolo came through, securing a reservation for me on my third night. I had clams with ginger (excellent), gnocchi with tomatoes and olives and a red tuna sauce (a bit strong for my taste), and a nectarine tart for dessert. The intimate space, mostly delicious, unpretentious food, and warm service reminded me of Armando al Pantheon in Rome.

Recommended by the hotel: Al Gazzettino, sea bass perfectly cooked, loved my introduction to sgroppino; Vino Vino, forgettable
My last night, Black Jack on the Campo San Luca, sat at the bar and had cicchetti; finished up with gelato, a cup of hazelnut and mascarpone with candied figs, in the P. San Marco.

Overall Impressions: I admired Venice’s spirit of reinvention. The Biennale was on when I arrived and the film festival was to begin shortly. For such a heavily touristed city, I was amazed at the high levels of courtesy and helpfulness I encountered everywhere. A bit of good fortune—the cruise ship schedule was light during my stay. In addition to some of the positive experiences mentioned earlier, the scenes of everyday life—the delivery boats, trash collectors, the ambulance boat picking up a resident at the nursing home in the Jewish Ghetto—were fascinating.

In the end, though, I never did fall in love with Venice. Certainly a factor was the lack of a sense of vitality around the Piazza San Marco and the markets near the Rialto Bridge. While at times I enjoyed making my way through the mysterious labyrinthine calli, at other times it was simply wearisome. The bridges alone were not an issue, but I felt the need to be extra careful with the lack of railings in some places. The Piazza, busy but not crazy busy during the day with tourists, reminded me of a dying downtown at night.

All that being said, I’m glad that I went. Venice’s place in art and literature alone would have made the visit worthwhile.
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Sep 11th, 2018, 05:35 PM
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I look forward to reading the rest of your report, esp. hearing how you got around in the Dolomites. BTW, I've been to Venice three times and liked it less each time. I think it's one of those (sadly increasing in number) places that was more enjoyable 20 years ago.
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Sep 11th, 2018, 06:20 PM
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Enjoyed your honesty about Venice. In contrast, I love Venice, and after 3 visits, each one better than the last, I would love to go back, but likely won't be able to, for various reasons.
I'm interested in your take on Bolzano, and did you see Ötzi?
Looking forward to reading more.
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Sep 11th, 2018, 07:02 PM
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Thanks to you both. Jean, I did wonder if I was 10 to 20 years late to the party. Travlsolo2, yes, absolutely, I saw Ötzi—more on him later.

Last edited by bon_voyage; Sep 11th, 2018 at 07:11 PM.
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Sep 12th, 2018, 07:50 AM
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Hi bon_voyage,

Signing on for your adventure. Did we take similar trips just a month or two apart? I think so.

Looking forward to more!
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Sep 12th, 2018, 02:01 PM
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Hi Leely! Yes, I was right on your heels and, in fact, had waited with anticipation for your comments on the Dolomites after your return. Your favorable comments on the Hotel Corona d’Oro tipped it as my choice in Bologna so thanks for that.

And, Jean, I will be covering my public transport logistics from Bologna to Ortisei and then on to Bolzano.
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Sep 12th, 2018, 08:26 PM
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Some of my favourite places we also had a similar trip.
Love reading other people’s impressions.
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Sep 12th, 2018, 08:49 PM
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Adelaidean, I read your trip report with care--thank you!--as well as those of Jamikins and Bikerscott, isabel, and ms_go which you had also referenced. I, too, love to read others' impressions of places I've visited.

I'm going to post a few Venice photos shortly, fingers crossed that they are right-sized.

Last edited by bon_voyage; Sep 12th, 2018 at 08:55 PM.
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Sep 12th, 2018, 08:55 PM
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Venice Accademia Bridge


Venice between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge


Venice Piazza San Marco
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Sep 13th, 2018, 03:49 PM
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In transit to BOLOGNA: My train, a Frecciarossa for which I’d purchased my ticket (€19.90) a couple of months prior on the Trenitalia site, was to depart at 10:25 a.m. The hotel recommended walking to the vaporetto stop at the Rialto Bridge where I’d get the #2 line which would have only one stop before the train station. There had been a thunderstorm the night before and there was a steady, light rain that morning. As much as I didn’t want to spend €80 or more to get to the train station, a water taxi might have been the smarter move given the combination of luggage, bridges, and rain.
I had booked a single seat in Business Silenzio which was as comfortable as I’d remembered it from my last trip from Naples to Rome. At Bologna Centrale I purchased my ticket to Ravenna and then took a taxi from Bologna to my hotel in the historical center, about 10 minutes.

Hotel: The Hotel Corona d’Oro (single room, €165.00/night), well located on a pedestrian street, turned out to be an excellent choice after an inauspicious start. Cinderella would have been right at home in my first room, a small, dark rectangular single far from reception whose window looked out on to the nearby wall. When I inquired about the possibility of a brighter room, I was told that they were fully booked. I went out briefly but realized I’d forgotten my iPhone and so returned.

I decided a rest period was in order and didn’t put the room key in the slot which controls the electricity. Suddenly there was a man entering my room. It was the manager, Sig. Michele Piazzolla, thinking the room was unoccupied because of the empty slot. I took the opportunity to ask again about a brighter room, not so isolated, closer to reception. He said perhaps tomorrow, he would check. In five minutes, I had a call back, would I like to see another room? Room 103, my new room, was perfect. It overlooked the street in front of the hotel and, more square than rectangular, it felt spacious, with herringbone wood flooring and soothing tones of beige, taupe, and cafe au lait with blue accents. Breakfast was served downstairs and offered an extensive selection. My notes singled out the juice press for fresh orange juice, the prosciutto, and the rice cake for special mention.

Sights: Arriving on a Friday, I had a good part of the afternoon into the evening to get introduced to Bologna, a major food center and home to one of the oldest universities in the world, the University of Bologna. Again I’d picked a small assortment of places of interest to visit:

the Anatomical Theater, reconstructed after being heavily bombed in WW II, where anatomy was taught beginning in the 17th century

the Compianto sul Christo Morto at Santa Maria della Vita, a powerful lamentation composed of a tableau of terra-cotta sculptures, worth seeking out

the Quadrilatero, a wonderful warren of food shops and stalls; the downside of staying in hotels was that I couldn’t take full advantage of the delectable offerings that I saw in the markets; I did buy a peach for later that was all a peach could be

Saved for Sunday, the Sette Chiesi, also known as the Basilica of Santo Stefano, several interconnected religious structures with parts dating from the 5th century; a service had just ended in the Church of Saints Vitale and Agricola, the fragrance of incense lingering in the air. That afternoon I caught sight of sign of a hand on a side street, the Via S. Simone, across from the hotel. It was a marker of the former Jewish Ghetto of Bologna. I walked a few of the tiny byways. Nothing much left here.

Ravenna: Transported by the mosaics I’d seen in Palermo, a visit to Ravenna was a goal of this trip. While not religious, I am drawn to sacred sites. I picked the Saturday, thinking that the city would be livelier on Saturday than Sunday. There were also more trains scheduled that day, in particular, one departing at 8:52 a.m. that made only two stops before Ravenna and so took about an hour. Beginning with the Khan Academy’s Smarthistory, I studied up on the web to gain a better appreciation of what I would be seeing and took along pages from the Michelin Green Guide and Rick Steves which offered a helpful map.

I began at the Arian Baptistery, which is not included in the combination ticket that you purchase to visit most of the other sites. The mosaics here are simpler than those in the other monuments but this visit was to become an indelible memory. A man and woman entered, and the man began crisscrossing the Baptistery, singing Gregorian chants. Over the course of several minutes, he would find a place on the perimeter, chant a bit, and then move across to another area. Just lovely.

I then visited in turn the Basilica of San Vitale, the the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Chapel of St. Andrea and the Archiepiscopal Museum, the Neonian Baptistery, and the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo. Seeing these exquisite mosaics in such varied contexts was a highlight. The Basilica of San Vitale, whose mosaics depict scenes of both historical and religious importance in a powerful yet serene space, was my favorite.
The Sant’Andrea Chapel offered an unusual depiction of Christ as warrior, seen stepping on both a lion and a snake, symbols of evil. I wished that I could have returned to San Vitale and the Mausoleum to experience them at different times of day, especially the Mausoleum, an intimate space that was easily crowded.

Plan A for lunch had been to sample the local fast food, a piadina, from Profumo di Piadina, but it was closed on that Saturday. With relatively little time in Bologna, I wanted to return before evening, and Plan B lead me to the green and white piadini stand near the train station.

Uh-oh moment: A dear friend who traveled the world from a young age through her years with USAID once said, “it doesn’t get interesting until something goes wrong,” a statement that has offered comfort on more than one occasion. This time it was after dinner on the Saturday night in my hotel room when I managed to break the right temple from the frame of my glasses. No spare. After all, in twenty plus years, I’d never before broken my glasses had been determined to pack light. I had tucked a copy of my prescription in my wallet. But, what would be open on a Sunday?

After breakfast, I took my glasses to Marco at the front desk who was most helpful in locating three possibilities on the Via Independenza. The first sold only sunglasses, the second was closed, fortune smiled, the third was open and more of a full service operation. The man at the shop, who spoke virtually no English, pronounced my glasses unrepairable. While my glasses did everything—near, middle, far, sun—I realized that, having no need to see street signs well ahead while driving, I could mange with readers. So, after showing him my prescription, red-framed readers were selected, problem solved.

Food: After reading so many swooning accounts of Bologna’s fresh pasta, I figured I couldn't go too far wrong...

Trattoria da Gianni: I ordered the tagliatelle al rage, good but a little heavy on the nutmeg, came with spinach that seemed to have begun frozen; the rice cake for dessert was not as good as what the Corona d’Oro served at breakfast.

Il Tinello: a recommendation from Atti e Figli, tortellini in brodo (insufficiently tender); lamb chops with roast potatoes were good.

Ristorante da Nello: a recommendation from the hotel; sat outside where I could watch the passing parade on the little side street as well as the Via Independenza; the most successful of my three dinners, fried squash blossoms and veal scallopini smothered in porcini mushrooms

RIP: I ate a lot of gelato on this trip, the best an amarena at the Cremeria di Sette Chiesi in the Piazza Santo Stefano which now seems to be closed.

Overall Impressions: Then and now, the deep red stone arcaded historical center of this working city felt like one giant coffeehouse. Especially at night, the young people on the streets, spilling out of the restaurants and wine bars, gave Bologna a buzzy, energetic vibe that was very appealing.
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Sep 13th, 2018, 06:31 PM
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Sounds like ups and downs. Solo trips can be that way. On the bright side, no bickering!

I'm so relieved they gave you a better room at Corona d'Oro--mine (perhaps 103 or 203 or 303?) was much as you described your second room, spacious and comfortable for a single, with a view on the street.

I think I had a great lunch at Da Gianni a few years ago, especially the salumi. So sorry it didn't pan out for you.

The mosaics in Ravenna are truly sublime, and I'm glad you got a chance to see them.

Love your Venice photos. I never made it to that Hockney exhibition, even as a contemporary art lover with eight days in Venice. But I was focused on Biennale.
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Sep 13th, 2018, 07:17 PM
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Leely, thanks for your comments!
I was so relieved also on the room change. I suspect staying in that first room would have severely colored my experience of Bologna. Felt snug as a bug in 103 and found myself thinking about how nice it might be to live in a hotel.
D’accord re the bright sides of solo travel—what you want to do, when you want to do it. Whining alert here—other than my hit-and-miss meals, the main unexpected “down,” realized in hindsight, was dealing with the luggage.

And I see that spellcheck strikes again with tagliatelle al rage.
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Sep 13th, 2018, 07:35 PM
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Yeah, Bologna at night is happening!

Thanks so much for the photos, they are fun to see.
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Sep 14th, 2018, 10:46 AM
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Yes, the photo posting feature is a fun one! Photos from Bologna/Ravenna coming shortly.
It will be several days before I'm able to get to Ortisei, but I'll be back.
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Sep 14th, 2018, 11:33 AM
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Bologna does sound like an interesting city, looking forward to Ortisei.
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Sep 14th, 2018, 05:06 PM
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Adelaidean, yes, Bologna has a lot of elements in the mix—the food, the medieval, the intellectual (from my notes “bookstores are like Starbucks”), the presence of all those students, the business side that I didn’t see—that help to make it it an interesting place to visit.
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Sep 15th, 2018, 02:22 PM
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Photos from Bologna and Ravenna:



Bologna Compianto sul Christo Morto Santa Maria della Vita


Bologna Map of the former Jewish Ghetto


Bologna Via Indipendenza on a Sunday evening


Ravenna Basilica di San Vitale
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Sep 15th, 2018, 08:55 PM
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Wow, stunning basilica.
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Sep 16th, 2018, 01:38 PM
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Was your luggage too heavy or too bulky? On my trip this summer my luggage didn't arrive until nearly three days after I arrived. After three days of extreme minimalism, I spent the rest of the trip wondering why I'd packed so much.

Love the photos and I really loved Ravenna too. I want to return, as on my day trip there from Bologna I felt a bit rushed, and I would have liked to linger over the mosaics a bit more.

Looking forward to more when you get the chance.
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Sep 16th, 2018, 09:05 PM
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Leely, I carried the 22” Lipault and Baggallini tote that served me well in Campania two years prior. I think there were a couple of factors. Traveling to the mountains meant my bags were heavier, and I was dealing with a lot more stairs than on my trip in 2015 when I had a nonstop flight to Rome followed by private drivers for the first three transfers. The assessment from PT was luggage plus torque on the facets in my back (my mind goes back to the narrow steps up to the train compartments and the bridges to the vaporetto to the train station in Venice...) were not a good combo.

Adelaidean, stunning is an apt descriptor. Thanks, y’all, for following along.

This anniversary trip report (it felt like now or never) is proving to be more enjoyable than I’d anticipated, and I’m looking forward to Ortisei, too!
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