Showing posts with label Bologna Italy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bologna Italy. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Mamma mia! An Italian Escapade

The mist descended like a shroud over the old historic square, softening shadows and silhouettes cast from streetlights. We pulled our wraps a bit tighter and picked up our pace as we crossed Piazza Maggiore on that late November evening. It was rather empty and somewhat eerie; definitely atmospheric as we made our way to dinner. 

Just a couple hours later, under clear skies, we sipped wine at a table to the side of the square. A fickle Italian winter's night, to be sure.

Winter's night in Bologna, Italy

Winter isn't a time recommended by guidebooks to visit Bologna, Italy. But when have we done exactly as was recommended by guidebooks? We were ready for a getaway and Italy was a two-hour flight from Athens. Covid contact tracing paperwork was completed and pre-travel testing was done. We were off!

Bologna's Neptune's Fountain

Looking back, we think early winter was a perfect time to visit because there were fewer tourists, easy access to restaurants, historic and cultural exhibits and hotel reservations were easy to obtain.  

Street scene on a November night in Bologna, Italy

As it turns out we also completed the trip just before Omicron, the new Covid variant, caused a tightening of travel restrictions in December.  Now just keeping track of the near-constantly changing rules for entry into countries has kept us homebound in Greece. 

The appetizers were free, with the two glasses of wine

I chose to call it an  'Italian Escapade' because escapade refers to something daring and adventurous, which in many people's minds is any act of travel in this 'Time of Covid'. (I can assure you it was in reality neither daring nor adventurous - it was delightful.)

Nighttime in Bologna was magical no matter the weather

Our 10-day escapade began in Bologna, considered the culinary capital of Italy. We had a night in Verona and spent the remainder of our visit in Venice. 

Bologna, a city of just under 400,000, is the capital and largest city in the Emilia-Romagna region. Parmesan cheese, Parma ham and balsamic vinegar are among the specialties from here.

So much food and so little time. . .

We gave ourselves three days in which to taste and tour this once-walled Medieval city that boasts the longest continuously operating university in the world. The University of Bologna opened in 1088.  We could have stayed twice as long and still not seen and tasted all that this city has to offer. Our first morning's tour aboard a Hop-On, Hop-Off double-decker bus convinced us we'd never get to all the places we'd like to have spent more time. 

The Scout is to be credited with picking a hotel that put us in a perfect location, footsteps from Piazzas Neptune and Maggiore.  A hotel that was not only luxurious but also one with a bit of the remains of a Roman road running through its lower level.  Breakfast was served in a dining room at that level and gave us a chance to view a bit of Roman history up-close and personal.

Remains of a Roman road in the basement of the hotel

Breakfast was included in the room rate - which is often the case in European hotels. This was a feast served in an elegant dining room. So much food that we didn't need to eat lunch.

What a treat to drink coffee from a china cup at breakfast

Note I said, didn't need to eat lunch but sometimes in this foodie town, one couldn't resist eating lunch. Even the tuna sandwich stacked with thick slides of cheese, tomatoes and lettuce, from a sidewalk cafe was a gourmet feast!

Stacked tuna sandwich - couldn't be beat

I was researching a magazine article about Bologna with a food focus, so we quite often found ourselves in delightful markets that offered some of the most tempting selections. 

So many taste temptations in the Quadrilatero market area

And we sampled local wine, Sangiovese, and red blends from the Emilia-Romagna region. My favorite was a Pignoletto, a white wine from the area that came with just the slightest bit of bubbles. 

The Scout sips wine in the Quadrilatero 

The city, although considered the nation's culinary capital, is equally famous for its Medieval towers and porticos, the latter just recently nominated for UNESCO Heritage status. We love those ancient towers (after all, we live in The Mani region of Greece, also known for its towers.) In Bologna more than 100 towers once made up the cityscape; now just two dozen are left.

UNESCO nominated porticos lace the old town

One can't miss the town's two most famous, the Due Torre (Two Towers). The tallest, Asinelle at 97.2 meters, is open to the public and a climb of just under 500 steps gets you to the top. We passed on that. The shorter, Garisenda, is under renovation and is closed. 

Bologna's Due Torre

We were so enjoying Bologna that we considered extending our stay and skipping Verona, but then we'd never been to Verona, so we packed our bags and headed to the train station for what turned out to be a great introduction to a city we hope to return to one day. It will be the topic of the next post.

Before signing off, I must tell you that two of the smallest things made for the biggest culinary memory of Bologna. One evening I was looking for 'just a little sweet' as I told the waiter. He didn't hesitate and within minutes of my request we were presented with these two white chocolate topped strawberries each sitting on a tiny chocolate chip cookie.  

As always, our thanks as always for the time you spent with us today. Safe travels to you and yours!

Monday, December 20, 2021

Italy ~ All Aboard!

 I am almost convinced it was that train ride in August that brought us back to Italy in November. 

Milan's  train station

That summer taste of Italian train travel from Venice to Milan was what made us want to return for more this fall. To our way of thinking, half the fun of Italian travel is getting to ride their trains!

Rome a mind-blowing number of tracks and trains

Italy was one of the first European countries we visited oh-so-many-years-ago, and our introduction to train travel began in Rome. I recall being overwhelmed by the enormity of the station, the bustle and the number of tracks and trains there.

Our train arriving in Cortona, Italy

On subsequent trips to Italy we've tried to include at least a train trip or two.  Trains played prominently in our last, pre-Covid, trip  to the Tuscan town of Cortona (yes, the one Frances Mayes put on the tourist map). We took the train both to and from the small village with its equally small train station. There was no confusion about getting the right train there ~ there was only one!

Masks are required in Italian train stations/trains and distancing encouraged

When finally last month we decided to return to Italy, we made train travel key to our 10-day adventure. We began by spending a few days in Bologna then we hopped a train to Verona for an overnight stay. Another train transported us o Venice where we spent the remainder of our time. 

That Amazing Italian Train System

Waiting to board the train to Verona

Italy, a country about 3/4th the size of the state of California, has a railway system of 24,227 kilometers, or 15,054 miles.  And with high speed trains that can reach 300 kph, or 186 mph, it has come a long way since its first railroad was constructed in 1839. That line between Napoli and Portici was built to connect the Royal Palace of Naples to the seaside. Now rail lines lace the country and trains travel with such frequency that picking a time to travel isn't difficult.

Trenitalia ticket offices

We purchased our Trenitalia tickets at the train stations.. Self-service machines also dispensed tickets but we took what we consider the easier route and used customer service. Staff spoke fluent English so we could ask questions about the options available to us and not guess using the self-service machines..

In what we assumed was an attempt at maintaining distancing, customers waited outside the ticket office until their number (generated by a small machine at the entry) was posted on the sign (to the left in the photo above).  It isn't unlike the process used at cheese and meat counters in Greece. 

Ticket to Venice for less than 10 euro

The tickets are easily understood. Using our trip to Venice as an example, the ticket showed both our destination and from where we were departing. Estimated times of departure and arrival were also provided. Perhaps the most important thing on the ticket was the type of train and its number. Tracks can change at the last minute so it is important to know which train you are looking for. 

 The class of travel and the price paid is also printed on the ticket. The QR code, that ubiquitous part of travel, I wrote about in an earlier post, was scanned by the conductor as he made his way through the car.  

Second class on this modern train looked like this

We were impressed that certain of the cars were designed with space to park bicycles and included charging ports for electric bikes.

A train car with space for bicycles

Dogs, cats and other small domestic animals are welcome on board Italian trains. For a portion of our journey to Venice we watched this four-footed passenger be assured, kissed and caressed by his human who sat on the floor with him. (His owner muzzled him only when the train started and removed it the minute they stepped off the train.)

Pet-friendly train system

One tricky thing to remember is that the train you are riding might have started long before the station from which you are departing and may be traveling beyond your destination. You need to pay attention to the screens in each car showing the next destination and listen to the announcements made in Italian and English, prior to each stop. 

Monitors throughout the car show 'next stop'

This photo of one of several monitors in our car was taken on the train from Bologna to Verona, and shows the train began in Rome and was ending in Bolzano. We were riding just a segment of the trip and needed to be alert to when the train arrived in Verona.

Binario or platform may be outside or inside

The good news is you don't check your bags on Italian trains. 

And the bad news is you don't check your bags.  So you'd better be able to lift and carry and stow the baggage you have with minimal effort. You may need to hoist the bags up or down when entering the train car while balancing on a narrow step that doesn't quite fill the gap between the platform and the train. (Fellow passengers don't sympathize with those who block their way.)

Train stations, the larger ones, are built like subway stations in the U.S. with trains and tracks at ever increasing depths. The track you want may be many levels below the ground level. Escalators and elevators are easing movement but still there is the occasional need to haul your bags up and down stairways the old-fashioned way, as we've too-often found when the one going the direction we are is not working.

Our travel juices flow when riding trains. . .

Train travel, for us, is a much more relaxed way of traveling. There are no security checkpoints to clear, no emptying pockets and pulling electronics out of hand baggage. You need not arrive hours in advance of departure as you can board the train right up to departure. You don't need to turn off mobile devices and you are free to get up and move around.

Countryside views from the train window can't be beat

Much like airports in Europe, you are required - during this time of Covid - to wear a mask in train stations and while aboard the train unless drinking or eating. You must also show proof of vaccination (our CDC issued cards were accepted) or proof of a negative Covid test.

We'll bring this journey to a close and be back next week with another Italian tale. Until then our wishes for safe and healthy travels. Thanks for being with us today! And welcome to our new subscribers!!

Linking soon with:

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Italy ~Travel in a QR Code World

Our destination was Italy.  It was a trip to a neighboring country, less than two hours away by plane. Yet, it didn't take long to realize that while we knew where we were going, we were definitely traveling in a whole new world: the world of the QR code.

We'd flown from Athens to Bologna, the start of a 10-day trip, on a brisk November day two weeks ago. After unpacking it was time to get to the business of what we had come here for: eating and drinking Italian food and wine. 

The Scout, the wine and the QR code menu - Bologna

We were seated at a popular bar in Bologna's historic market district, on which two-inch by two-inch laminated cards with a QR codes served as the menu.

Italian wine - Mama Mia!

Now, I can't tell you how much we love Italian wine and how much we dislike QR codes. If you've followed our adventures for very long you know we call ourselves, 'techno dino's' for good reason. We are dinosaurs in a world of technology that long ago moved beyond our skills and understanding.  We are people who - heaven forbid! - often leave their mobile phones at home.

It turns out that  QR codes, short for 'quick response' codes, were invented back in the 1990's by a car manufacturer to track the components in car production. In the last year they have become the access point to menus, shopping, travel and are being used by any number of industries. The little black and white graphic squares hold far more information than the 'old' bar code.

No QR codes here - Yay!

Some retail stores place bar codes in windows so shoppers can make purchases without entering the store. Tickets for public transportation sport the little guys. And since the pandemic turned the world upside down, public health agencies on this side of the pond use them in contact tracing efforts --  notifying travelers of possible Covid exposure.  

We concede that in this Covid-influenced world, we must credit QR codes for providing a 'contactless' means of conducting business. And as a result, we techno-dino's - out of necessity -- have been forced to learn how to point the camera of a mobile device (aka smart phone) at them to access the information we need.  

So many wine bars from which to choose - Bologna

Information like the wines available at this bar we'd chosen in Bologna. So I aimed my Android device's camera at that small Italian square and read: 

'No network connection.' 

"But, of course!! (Fisica!) as we say in Greece. . .our Greek phone network doesn't work outside the country - so we had no way of accessing the mysteries of the menu in Italy. 

Explaining our dilemma to the 30-something waiter, we asked for a menu.  

Problem was, he explained, they didn't have a printed menu. With frustration causing greater thirst, The Scout, sought to solve the problem by saying, 'We will have two glasses of wine.' 

Well, that was far too simple a solution. There were choices to be had. A menu would be found! Within minutes our young waiter  presented us with a phone borrowed from a staff member - and on its screen was the wine menu. 

Yay, for the printed menu!

I am happy to report not all trattorias and bars have moved away from the printed menus and that made the trip a whole lot easier! But our experience at the bar highlighted the impact of  the QR code when traveling these days in Europe.

Don't leave home without it

One of our many QR codes for travel

'Check in now for your flight' came the email notice from Aegean Airlines, the day before our departure. Following instructions we promptly had two emails in return each with a QR code that needed to be shown at the check-in desk. 

Worried that we wouldn't have internet access in the airport (which is a well-reported problem for many travelers, as is the 'dead phone battery') we took both our Greek phones, charged them overnight at the airport hotel and opened each of them before we left the hotel to display a QR ticket code - The Scout on one phone and The Scribe on the other.

As if presenting gifts we placed the two phones showing the QR codes on the check-in counter. (Opening them and having the code displayed really was a gift in our minds.) The ticket agent glanced at them as he asked for our passports and then using the passports typed our names into his computer and said, 'You are going to Bologna?'  

With little attention paid to our QR codes, he printed paper boarding passes for us with the baggage claim tickets stuck on the back, just like in the 'good old days'. 

Off to Italy - PLF QR code in hand

The European Union rules for travel require completed the EU PLF's (that would be, European Union Passenger Locator Forms) for entry into each country. And each country has a slightly different take on them. Italy required one per passenger, Greece requires one per family. Forms are to be completed on-line prior to travel. 

The form is a lengthy document requiring, in some cases, details down to your seat number and the exact hour and minute your flight is scheduled to arrive.  Others aren't as detailed. The purpose of each however is to know how to reach you should it be determined you were exposed to Covid.

Immediately after submitting that form. . . .(you guessed it). . . a QR code is sent via email to your mobile device.  Our QR for Italy provided a link for downloading as a PDF document to our phone, which could be accessed without internet. We tried several times to download but got no further than the message reading, 'We are experiencing difficulties, try again later.'  So, we'd also opened those PLF QR codes before leaving the hotel and left those pages open - as they also had to be shown at check-in..

Rejected for not being 'official' enough. . .

Greece allows travelers to print the PLF but it comes out as only a QR code on the paper with a small letterhead. We had our printed copy rejected by an airline agent who said it didn't have enough proof of being issued by the Greek government.  Thankfully we found the PDF on the phone with printed information and QR code - it was accepted.

I should mention that you don't get beyond the check-in desk at the airport without showing that QR code, so it is a step key to travel. 

Green Pass -- QR code in hand

United States version of the 'green pass'

The European Union 'green pass', as the Covid vaccination record here is called, is another QR code on a mobile app provided by each EU government. You must show it to travel, for access to tourist attractions like museums, restaurants, bars, to shop in retail stores - nearly every public place you want to go these days.  

Those of us vaccinated in the United States, carry a card that has information about our vaccinations on them. While we don't like QR codes it would be so much easier to travel (and to go about daily life for that matter) if we did have them only a phone away.  

On several occasions in the last couple weeks I have found myself holding out the cards to a perplexed gate keeper, pointing to the notations of our three shots and saying, 'American, Pfizer, ena, dio, tria,' in Greek and 'American, Pfizer, un, due, tre' in Italian.

Our CDC cards were checked by the airline, train and three of the four hotels in which we stayed. Museums also scrutinized the cards. The cards were accepted by all who reviewed them. 

But not once in the 10-day trip were we asked by an Italian bar or restaurant to show our cards. Other customers were being asked to show green passes on their phones. We reasoned that either we looked and sounded like tourists, who wouldn't have been allowed in the country without vaccinations or they didn't want to deal with our cards and matching the names and date of births on them to that information in our passports.

Trains, ferries and buses - QR codes 

QR code on train tickets

Train tickets in Italy carry the QR code which is quickly scanned by the conductor as they make their way through the train. We purchased tickets from a ticket counter and received paper tickets, had we done it on line we would have had e-tickets.

The ferries that shuttle people through the canals of Venice also have gone to an optical reading system, no longer time and date stamping the tickets but using electronic coding instead.  

Paper tickets sold at the ticket office

We traveled on the airport shuttle bus between the Bologna airport and train station, where electronic readers have also replaced the time/date stamp of the on board validation machines.

While traveling in the techno-world is still a bit of a challenge for us, we can't tell you how nice it was to travel again.  There were plenty of tourists and folks out and about but none of the crowds of pre-Covid travel. 

We are wondering what your travel experiences in the QR code world have been like?  Have any of you been contacted by an airline or government agency using the PLF information after a trip? Shoot us an email or tell us about them in the comments below.

Hope you'll be back next week when we'll have another serving of Italy for you. Thanks, as always, for the time you've spent with us today!  

Linking soon with:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In Pursuit of Passion: Those Who Dare

Travel, for us, is pursuing a passion.  It is about risk-taking; leaving our routines and comforts to experience  new cities, countries and customs. 

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“You are so brave!”

So often that is the response when we talk of some destination or our plans for reaching and discovering it. (That's us high above Dubrovnik, Croatia in the photo above.)

No, not brave.

Just passionate about seeing the world while we are ‘young’ enough to do so.

Along the way we’ve met others who haven't let age or health deter pursuit of their passions. As the year draws to a close, we've been remembering some of those folks who’ve inspired us along the way:

~~~Ravenna, Italy~~~

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The two ladies in the photo above finally paused long enough for me to snap a photo of them while on a stop in Ravenna, Italy. They were fellow cruisers who had been a continual source of inspiration from the moment we first noticed them aboard the ship.

Their white-hair and frail-frames masked the spirits of a couple of independent travelers who were constantly on the go;  never missing a port of call – nor an afternoon of reading at poolside when on the ship.

~~~Poros, Greece ~~~~

Two years ago, on the Greek island of Poros we visited one afternoon with self-taught artist Vasilas Poriotis as he sat in his sidewalk gallery.

As our visit ended we told him that we hoped to return one day and find him there.  He said he would be  "if I am not dead." Then with a sweeping gesture over his work, he added,  "I am not focused on the end - I am not afraid of it when it comes. . .it is what you leave behind that matters. And I have left something behind. . .It is important to leave something behind."

~~~Adriatic Sea~~~

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John Koruga, who splits his time between Seattle and Mexico, has pursued his travel passions for decades. But it wasn’t until this fall, at age 86, he tried  the world of cruising. He flew from Seattle to Rome and boarded the Celebrity Silhouette, the cruise on which we also ‘looped Italy’s boot’.

SilhouettePt12012 329Age and health are not topics John readily discusses (although he had both knees replaced a few years ago); he’d prefer to talk about the next trip he’d like to make and he’s got quite a few on his list. In this photo he was teaching me the art of bocce ball.

~~~Bologna, Italy~~~

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It was  Anna Maria Monari, the 72-year-old owner of Trattoria Anna Maria that inspired during our visit to Bologna, Italy. She founded her restaurant 24 years ago in a smaller location a few blocks from its present site. Back then, Anna Maria was both waitress and chef, serving menu items created from her mother’s recipes.

She’s not entertaining thoughts of retirement either, as she told us,  “I am here every day.  Where else do I have to go? This is the party.  . .Mama Mia!”

~~~Mascota, Mexico~~~

It was on our stop last spring at  El Pedregal Museo, The Stone Museum in Mascota, Mexico the town high in the Sierra Madres near Puerto Vallarta where we met the owner, curator, and artist  Don Francisco Rodriguez.

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Pero, por que piedra? (But, why stone?), Joel asked of the 76-year-old artist as he explained how he goes to the river and searches for rocks, loads them into a wheelbarrow and hauls them.

Porque es mi pasion, (Because it is my passion),” he answered simply with a shrug and a grin.

~~~Kastri, Crete~~~

“The colors of the sea”  is what I told him when he said he wanted to make me a gift. But  the real gift was the time I spent with  Georgios Chalkoutsakis on that warm spring afternoon on Crete’s southern shore. Georgios is a glass bead artist whom some might label as 'handicapped', but I would call him talented! 

He is wheelchair bound as a result of a premature birth.  His hand movement is a bit limited but that hasn't kept him from perfecting his art of glass bead making. My colors of the sea are pictured on the left.

Yes, we believe it all comes down to daring to pursue a passion.  Will 2013 be the year that you begin pursuing a long-put-off passion?  Or will you simply step up the pursuit of an existing one?

Stop by Budget Travelers Sandbox today if you need a bit more travel inspiration.  And if you want to receive TravelnWrite posts in your inbox, sign up in the box on the corner,become a friend by signing up below that box (where our other friend’s photos appear) or follow us on Facebook. We'll get back to the Winter Western Road Trip this weekend.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

TPThursday: Travel Guilt or Gratitude?

Thanksgiving Day is being celebrated throughout the United States today with traditional acts of gluttony and, hopefully, with some time spent on gratitude (the day’s original purpose).

We are bypassing the culinary gluttony this year for. . . What else? Travel gluttony.  So, as I was stuffing our bags instead of a turkey, I was thinking about how grateful I am for the freedom and ability to travel as well as the joy it brings.

I recalled a passage from Paul Theroux’s  book, “Pillars of Hercules”.  Thanksgiving seemed the perfect day to share it with you:

“Did the traveler, doing no observable work,

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                             (Early morning Milano, Italy’s train station)

freely moving among settled, serious people, get a pang of conscience? 

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                             (Afternoon Bologna, Italy)

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                           (Evening Cetona, Italy)

I told myself that writing – this effort of observation – absolved me from any guilt;

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                             (Squero di San Trovaso, one of Venice’s few remaining gondola workshops)

but of course that was just a feeble excuse.

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                              (Wine store in Venice, Italy)

This was pleasure.

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                         (A piazza in Milano, Italy)

No guilt, just gratitude.”

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Happy Thanksgiving ~ we are grateful to all of you for stopping by on this Travel Photo Thursday. Remember to stop by Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair travel.

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