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Tales from Venice, Bologna, Pienza and Rome

Tales from Venice, Bologna, Pienza and Rome

Old May 18th, 2013, 07:15 AM
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eastave,

thanks for that tip!
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Old May 18th, 2013, 07:18 AM
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Sorry, but one more thing I keep meaning to say (and I don't mean to interrupt this trip report) but Caffe Florian serves spectacular espresso, and you can drink it at their bar for a nominal cost. If you like coffee, it is an outstanding brew, of extremely high quality and well made.
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Old May 18th, 2013, 07:52 AM
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Very enjoyable TR, caze17.

DH and I lucked into one of those family places in Bologna on our last night and had a really special meal. Not to mention that everyone had an arm out to catch the grand dad as he shuffled, wobbling, from the front of resto to the kitchen. In the few hours we spent eating there, he made 3 successful trips.

More, please.
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Old May 18th, 2013, 08:28 AM
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This is my first time visiting the Fodor's forums.
Lucky me, I ran across your post!
I can't wait to read more ~ love the details.
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Old May 19th, 2013, 11:45 AM
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TDudette,

Which restaurant are you talking about?
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Old May 20th, 2013, 06:52 PM
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Interesting discussion you all are having on Bologna’s restaurants – good opinions for future travelers!

@annhig: We did not eat at the I Portici restaurant. I read mixed reviews and decided against it, though I don’t remember the particulars of why at this point.

@DAX: I wasn’t aware of the noisy reputation of our hotel, or I would have made a room request at check-in. I didn’t notice the noise until after we were settled in, so I decided it wasn’t worth it to move at that point. I had my trusty earplugs and my husband can sleep through anything so it worked out fine. In regards to the food presentation “plopping,” we had the same complaint by the time we left the city! But like you, we found reasonable prices almost everywhere and very friendly service.

@eastave: I can’t believe that did not occur to me. Great tip for other travelers!

@stevewith: I agree on all points. Great observations.

Thanks to all for reading along!
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Old May 20th, 2013, 07:02 PM
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MONDAY, APRIL 29 – BOLOGNA

At this point, we were really getting into the groove of our vacation after two great days. We hoped it would continue as today was our food factory tour with Alessandro of Italian Days.

http://www.italiandays.it/

We woke up at 6:30AM, threw on some clothes and ran across the street to an open cafe to get a quick Americano and croissant for each of us to go (4E – so cheap compared to Starbucks or our local places). I swear the guy helping us sighed at my order – an Americano “va portar via” – so unItalian! We headed back to the hotel, where we were picked up at 7:10AM.

I first learned about this tour on these boards from Low Country Islander. (Major thanks to her for documenting her travels to Bologna, and whether she knows it or not, I heavily plagiarized many portions of her trip!) Doing follow-up research on the tour, it seemed like something that would definitely interest us, so we booked it. (145E each)

This tour was a great way to see the factories that produce the specialties of the region in a seamless way. You could certainly try to arrange these factory tours on your own, but I appreciated that the logistics were taken care of and that we had a personal guide. Alessandro is a hoot! He is knowledgeable and passionate about food and it really shows through during the tour.

We were picked up in a minivan with others in the group. We drove about 30 minutes out to the countryside and met up with another minivan of folks (12 total were on the tour) at a parmigiano reggiano factory. The tour started so early to give you the opportunity to see the fresh milk being added to the vats, allowing you to actually see the cheese-making process. We were all a little groggy, but it was fascinating learning about the craft. And viewing the storage facility for aging was amazing – ceiling high rows of giant cheese wheels! If you are not interested in the actual production process, you may be a little bored in parts, but once you start the tasting, you should be fine. We tasted a few different types of parmigiano reggiano, and were also offered little sandwiches and lambrusco. Why not have wine at 8:30AM?!

Next, we went to an estate where they made balsamic vinegar in the attic. For all of these products, learning about the regulations involved in qualifying something as DOP was incredible. You would not believe the detail involved! This was my favorite tasting that we did. We started with the type of balsamic vinegar that you probably have at home – which of course, we learned did not even resemble real balsamic vinegar. Tasting a few drops of that on its own was brutal. We then progressed through the various levels of the real stuff – all the way up to one that was about 50 years old and was as thick as honey. Then we tried the good stuff on ricotta and gelato. Amazing! Once you learn about the painstaking process, you don’t think the prices are unreasonable at all.

Lastly, we went to a prosciutto factory. The smell was a little overwhelming, but I certainly loved the tasting. I did wish that I had brought a sweater because going into the meat lockers was no joke!

Alessandro’s longtime girlfriend is German, so he liked to make jokes at their expense. A couple of times, Alessandro joked about German time (punctual) versus Italian time (always late and longer than you say), but I wanted to tell him – hey, I was just in the Frankfurt airport and Germans seem to be taking cues from the Italians now! He also said that they used to do the tours in German, but the German tourists would never laugh and joke like on the English-speaking tours, so they stopped because it was no fun.

At every location, we were offered the opportunity to purchase the products, but certainly not pressured into it. We bought two 1lb wedges of cheese (I think they were 13E each), one for my parents as a gift for watching my daughter, and one for us to enjoy during the rest of our trip. We passed on vinegar due to liquid restrictions in carryons, and you can’t bring meats home at all, so no one purchased there.

There were a few moments where the explanations got a little longer than my ADD-generation-brain liked, and my back (young but traumatized from carrying my daughter around) was hurting from standing in one place so long. But those small complaints were completely outweighed by the benefits. Especially because we were about to have an unforgettable lunch!

We drove to a restaurant still in the countryside – though I have no idea where or what it is called. I *think* that we were in the Modena area. Unfortunately, the weather was drizzly and we could not sit outside, so we took one big inside table. We started with a platter of delicious sliced meats, followed by three pasta courses and then veal cheeks. We finished off with several desserts to try. The food was incredible, though my viewpoint might have been a little skewed by the copious wine and the good company. We really enjoyed speaking to our fellow tourmates; again, always a treat to meet new people from all walks of life. An older couple that we clicked with asked if we wanted to get dinner or drinks later that night, and we gladly agreed so we exchanged cards. At this point, I felt that we had more than gotten our money’s worth between transportation from Bologna, three factory visits with Alessandro as our personal guide, tastings at each location, and an abundant lunch with great company.

We were such a gabby group that we took an extra long time at lunch and didn’t wind up back at our hotel until 4:30 (usual is 3:30). My husband and I were tired from getting up so early and completely stuffed, so we immediately crashed once we got back to our room. We slept until a little after 6PM, then did a little bit of reading, showered, and met our new friends for a drink about 8:15PM at a bar off of Piazza Maggiore. We were all so full from our late lunch that we split a small plate of bruschetta and that was it for food. They were great to chat with and we were glad that we met up.

We walked back to the hotel about 10:30PM, and my husband decided to run out to a market for a bottle of wine, some beer, and a snack, which we enjoyed in bed. We went to sleep a little after midnight, having had a wonderful day!
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Old May 21st, 2013, 02:55 AM
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Loving your report!
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Old May 21st, 2013, 09:49 AM
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Could you remember the name of the Parmesan factory?
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Old May 21st, 2013, 12:47 PM
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Enjoying your report!

We leave next week and I'm now making making room in my luggage to bring back many of the cheese wedges you mentioned : )
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Old May 21st, 2013, 12:57 PM
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Very much enjoying the report!
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Old May 21st, 2013, 05:16 PM
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@DAX - I'm looking at the package of cheese and it appears to be named Spilambertese. Its phone # is 059 798759. I don't know if tours are offered to the public at that particular factory, but I'm under the impression that you can certainly tour some of the factories on your own.
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Old May 21st, 2013, 06:33 PM
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Thanks, it's good to have the name & number just in case. We're going back to take our friends in Sept, our agenda is already full, but who knows. Many of the Parmesan factories were severly damaged during the horrible earthquake when I was there last May.
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Old May 22nd, 2013, 07:39 AM
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Love reading the report! All the details are fantastic. Never met a long trip report I haven't liked. I tend to write tons of details as well, so greatly appreciate yours and the time it takes to write them.

Very glad to hear the Steves tour of the Grand Canal worked out well.

Thanks!
Tammy
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Old May 22nd, 2013, 12:33 PM
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Still really enjoying this, caze17!

@stevewith, da Bertino was the resto. We sampled from the boiled and grilled trolleys. We stayed in a Sofitel near the main station and it was about a 10-minute walk from there. Out of the center. Although we did use Bologna as a base for some other train travel, we loved it and would recommend Bologna as a place for tourists. We had a so-so meal at the type of business man's, tour bus place you mention above but I think those exist any place in the world.
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Old May 22nd, 2013, 02:22 PM
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Thanks, Tdudette. Da Bertino is in the historic center, actually, within the old walls. It is just in a direction most tourists don't walk toward, since most people are focused on the piazza Maggiore. I also very much enjoy Bologna and recommend it to all travelers interested in Italy.
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Old May 25th, 2013, 11:22 AM
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Busy week at work and I've been slacking on my report. As this is my first time writing one, I now have a new appreciation for everyone that takes the time to do this. (Though I know that I'm doing myself no favors by writing every little detail!) But I will finish, not to worry.

SUNDAY, APRIL 30 – BOLOGNA

After an early morning and late night yesterday, we surprised ourselves by sleeping over 9 hours. Good thing I had set my alarm on a whim the night before, not thinking we would use it! Today was our market tour and cooking class with Raffaella of Bluone, and was the thing I was most looking forward to in Bologna.

http://www.bluone.com/

Again, I found this class through Low Country Islander on this forum, and after follow-up research, decided it was perfect for us. We booked “12 Hours in Bologna” at the cost of 180E each (though the price has since increased to 200E, just to warn you). I believe that Bluone’s primary focus is on longer vacation food tours, but this one-day class is great for those like us who were just looking for a taste.

We grabbed another quick Americano and croissant and walked to the Two Towers to meet our group at 10:30AM. There were two other American couples in our group – two sisters who were each married to a man named Bob. We roamed the market area with Raffaella as our guide. We stopped in various specialty markets, hearing details about various products – pasta, cheese, vinegar, meat, etc. Because we had been on the factory tour yesterday, it was a little redundant, so I spent more of the time just poking around each shop that we were in. Raffaella’s descriptions weren’t as in-depth as Alessandro’s, which was good or bad, depending on your viewpoint!

We stopped at a café for cappucini and to decide our menu. Raffaella gave us several choices for each course and we all decided together. For our pasta, she offered tagliatelle alla ragu or ricotta-stuffed tortelloni with butter and sage. For the main, we chose between stuffed zucchini and meat rolls. And for dessert, we chose between tiramisu, panna cotta, and zuppa inglese. For a variety of reasons, our group landed on the tagliatelle, zucchini, and zuppa inglese. I had really wanted the tortelloni but seemed to be the only one, so I just went with the group – no big deal! Next, we went to a few more shops and purchased a few of the items that we would need for dinner.

The group went our separate ways for lunch. My husband and I stopped at a random place with outdoor seating on Via Clavature. We didn’t want to eat too much since Raffaella had warned us not to! So we just split some bruchetta and tortelloni with butter and sage (since I knew we wouldn’t get it later). The tortelloni turned out to be delicious, and was my favorite restaurant pasta dish of our time in Bologna. With a glass of wine for my husband, a bottle of water, and the coperto, the cost was 24E. Then, we went back to the hotel for a short rest.

At 3:30PM, Marcello (Raffaella’s husband) picked us up in his minivan at our hotel. We drove a short distance away to their adorable apartment. One thing that drew me to this particular cooking class was the fact that it was in someone’s apartment. Many are in commercial kitchens, but one of the best things was feeling like we were just heading to a friend’s house for dinner. When we arrived, we were introduced to one of their sons, and well as the grandmother who lived with them. Later, we would meet their gorgeous and charming daughter Francesca, who helped with the class, and their other son. All three kids (ages 21-30) lived with them as well as the grandmother. It’s such a contrast to the direction that the US has gone, and again, I appreciated this little peek in Italian life.

Upon arrival, everyone in the group was given a logo’d apron and a handmade cookbook with many recipes, not just the ones that we were going to make. I can’t wait to try a few more in the future! We started right in with the cooking, splitting into groups when needed, getting instruction from Raffaella and Francesca and generally enjoying ourselves. We had a ball talking to the other couples in our group as well. One of the couples had a college-age son studying in Siena and it was a running joke throughout the night that they were trying to hook up their son with Francesca.

The ragu was surprisingly easy to make, as was the stuffed zucchini. Making the pasta was a little exhausting but very informative – I now know what I can do to improve the dough I’ve made in the past…and am even more grateful for the pasta-maker attachment that goes on my stand mixer. I did wish that we had a little more wine or appetizers earlier in the evening, though Raffaella commented that if we started drinking too early that we wouldn’t finish cooking! Eventually, we did take a break to enjoy prosecco and fried zucchini blossoms (which we also ending up making) on their small balcony. It was a gorgeous day and everything felt perfect.

After our break, we finished up the pasta making. I was thrilled that we were shown how to make not only tagliatelle, but all different types of shapes and filled pastas. I was going to get a little tortelloni after all! We set the table for the 12 of us, including all of the family. Again, what a treat to be welcomed into someone’s home this way.

We began the meal with a platter of meats and cheese from the markets that were delicious. Then we have tortelloni with butter and sage, followed by the tagliatelle alla ragu, the meat-stuffed zucchini in tomato sauce, along with extra meatballs made out of the stuffing, roasted asparagus, and we finished up with dessert. The wine was flowing throughout the night – I believe that we had four types, including a Piedmont wine produced by a friend of Marcello’s that was wonderful. Unfortunately, it is not available in the US or we would have already tracked down a few cases. There was so much food and wine but we couldn’t stop because everything was so delicious. The pastas and zucchini were truly out of the world. This is what we came to Bologna for!

We were having such a good time, chatting with everyone, drinking too much. It was getting late, but then Marcello pulled out various digestifs that he insisted we try. So we pushed on but eventually, when it was after 11PM, everyone needed a bed. Marcello offered everyone a ride home (which the others accepted), but we wanted to walk since our hotel wasn’t far, the weather was nice, and we could use a little exercise after all that food. So we offered effusive thanks to Raffaella, Francesca, and Marcella, said goodbye to the Bobs and their wives, and took an evening stroll home. It was a great experience and one I would highly recommend.

Because I was addicted to my book, I decided to finish reading it and didn’t go to sleep until 1AM. Since tomorrow was our “vacation from our vacation,” I knew that I could sleep in. Such are the pleasures of vacations with no kids!
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Old May 25th, 2013, 11:23 AM
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Oops - not that it matters, but it was really Tuesday, not Sunday.
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Old May 25th, 2013, 01:13 PM
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This is why I love reading trip reports. I may never have found Bluone on my own, and now I'm sitting here drooling about the idea of their 5-night Bologna Tour! Could turn out to be part of our Fall 2014 vacation!

Thanks for the great report Caze!
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Old May 26th, 2013, 07:39 PM
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WEDNESDAY, MAY 1 – BOLOGNA

After a busy start to our trip, today was just the opposite! It was a national holiday – Labor Day. When we originally planned our itinerary, I thought that we might take a day trip to Florence, Parma, or Modena during our stay in Bologna. But once I realized it was a holiday and that museums in Florence were closed, as well as the restaurants I wanted to visit in the other places, we weren’t sure what to do. We could have gone ahead to Tuscany. But we thought we might enjoy a break and then found out there were free outdoor concerts, so we just decided to enjoy the holiday in a lazy way like the locals. It turned out to be a fantastic decision.

After staying up late the night before, we slept in. Seriously slept in. As in I did not get out of bed until 11AM. It is so nice to have some guilt-free days like this when you truly have nothing scheduled. I highly recommend giving yourself one or two when you are on a trip of 10 days or more. After we got up, we went to the café next door and sat outside enjoying coffee and pastries (4.4E). We were right on Via dell’Indipendenza (the main drag), and while we were sitting outside, a demonstration parade came by heavily guarded by police. I think it was a teachers’ union. Another interesting peek into the local life.

We went back up to our room and lazed around for awhile, reading and such. We finally decided to motivate mid-afternoon and walked up to Piazza Maggiore. I was planning to go to Rossopomodoro to try a pizza slice, but they were closing right as we got there at 3PM. So we went to a place across the alley (Pizzeria Nettuno) and grabbed a slice there. My husband also wanted a soda so he opened the refrigerator to grab it, where he was promptly shooed away by the lady behind the counter. Apparently, it was not self-serve like you might think at some places in the US! For two slices and a soda, the cost was 5.10E.

We ate on the steps in front of Basilica di San Petronio in the piazza. The church was being renovated and had scaffolding out front. It humored us that the scaffolding had an image of the church draped across it to try to convince you that nothing was obstructed. There were a lot of vendors and entertainers out in the square and the concert was just getting going. We enjoyed people watching for awhile.
Next, we explored a little bit of Bologna using a combination of pages I had copied from a Fodor’s guidebook and the itinerary from the official Bologna tourism website.

http://www.bolognawelcome.com/en/pla...f%20our%20city

We walked through the university area for a bit, stopped by the Two Towers, and briefly went into the Santo Stefano church and the Basilica di San Petronio. This took us less than 90 minutes total because we weren’t spending too much time in any one place. It was great that I had researched some options, but that we didn’t feel obligated and were at our own pace.

After walking around, we stopped by Tamburini (it was one of the few shops open on the holiday) to grab some sausage to enjoy during the rest of our trip. Then I got some gelato and we walked back to the hotel to shower and rest again. Like I said, it was a vacation from our vacation so there was lots of lazing around today!

About 7:30PM, we ventured out again in search of a glass of wine before dinner. We ended up at a place on Via Clavature whose name I failed to note. We sat outside as the weather was finally on our side. My husband ordered a whiskey/ginger cocktail and I got a glass of white wine, plus we shared some bruschetta. In a role reversal, I got a second drink and my husband did not. My wine was excellent (probably why I got two glasses) and it just felt amazing to be outside enjoying our vacation. Our total was 20E.

Then we went next door for our 9PM reservation at Da Gianni. I went around and around on this reservation, almost choosing Cesari or Serghei, but ending up here. I liked the dining room – smallish and rustic. The waiter helped us pick out a bottle of red wine (we always just ask for a recommendation whenever we eat out). We ordered tortellini in brodo and gnocchi with pomodoro sauce, and I enjoyed both. The pomodoro sauce was particularly good, showing off the fresh tomatoes. Craving something green, we got an insalata mista, which was standard. For the main course, we had braised (or roasted?) lamb, and it was excellent, falling off the bone and well-seasoned. The broccoli and potatoes that came with it were adequate. For dessert, we ate some type of chocolate mousse cake that was delicious. Overall, a very enjoyable meal. Not necessarily one for the record books, but quite good (and certainly much better than da Nello a few nights before). With a bottle of water and the coperto, our bill came to 80E.

I was feeling the perfect amount of tipsy as we walked back towards Piazza Maggiore to head home. At that point, it was about 11PM and the headlining band of the night was playing on stage. It was an Italian band but they played Irish rock – think of the Pogues or the Dropkick Murphys. The square was packed and the music was fun, so we joined right in. It was a wonderful serendipitous moment of our trip. How fun to be dancing at an outdoor concert surrounded by mostly young Italian college students in the middle of Bologna? A memorable way to end our last day in Bologna.

Tomorrow, we were headed to Tuscany. We had a great time in Bologna and the factory tour and cooking class were just what I had hoped. Perhaps unexpected was that we really liked the feel of Bologna itself. So much less touristy that any other place that we visited and just had a good city vibe going, without feeling too crowded. Plus the porticos were gorgeous (and would have been very practical in the rain). And because it is a university town and less touristy, we didn’t feel like we were getting price-gouged everywhere! Just felt like you could understand what it might really be like to live in an Italian city, since Bologna doesn’t depend on tourism for so much of its economy.

For a longer trip not shackled by a holiday, I could see that people who don’t enjoy cities as much might consider basing elsewhere (Parma, etc). And if we went back, I would certainly take day trips, particularly in search of some of the allegedly better restaurants in the region. In fact, I would love to do a future trip focusing on E-R and Piedmont.

At any rate, our time in Bologna was coming to an end, and tomorrow we would be braving Italian roads on our way to Tuscany!
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