Florence · Italy

Entraining for Florence

Here we are at Bologna Centrale, three levels underground, waiting to board the train for Florence.

This is Italy’s second largest railway station, and there’s yet another level of platforms below us.

Quite amazing!

Less than forty-five minutes after leaving Bologna, we’ll be heading for our B&B in the historic part of Florence, not far from the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo of Florence–looking forward to seeing that.

Bologna · Italy

Definitely not Venice …

… but Bologna has its own canals. You have to go hunting for them as they’re hidden away and off the beaten track, but they’re there.

This is our last full day in Bologna. We made our way through the crowds in Piazza Maggiore–there was a run-for-breast-cancer event on this morning–and then strolled through the back streets searching for the remnants of the canals that once supplied Bologna with water.

Late morning found us in the shade of a street cafe with a couple of cappuccinos biding our time until lunch. We’d noticed a nice little restaurant in the back streets earlier on, so we made our way back there for our first authentic pizza– a salsiccia pizza, tomato, cheese, and sausage. Despite appearances …

… we didn’t have long to wait.

Here it is, or rather, was:

After lunch, we were happy to find the Basilica di Santo Stefano open, and we spent the next hour or so exploring this four-in-one church, which in its 2000 year history has been influenced by Romans, ancient Christians, Byzantines, and Ottomans. It’s one of the most church-like churches we’ve visited in Italy so far.

The church cat seemed to think so too.

Tomorrow we turn south again and take the regional train to Florence. We’re looking forward to seeing that storied city, but it will be hard to beat Bologna 🙂

Bologna · Italy

Rest day

It was another hot day in Bologna. We ventured out this morning and happened upon a nice hidden gem–a museum of medieval Bologna with some amazing exhibits from private collections.

Earlier, in a chapel of the Cathedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro, we listened in on a priest celebrating Mass with a small congregation.

And instead of joining the luncheoners in the street cafes today, we picked up some bread, cheese, yoghurt, and fruit and headed back to the cool of the B&B. And after lunch, a long nap.

This evening we had lasagna and gnocchi for supper and we’ve now eaten so much pasta that we should both be speaking fluent Italian. That’s how it should work, anyway.

Here are the Two Towers of Bologna, as seen from the spiral staircase leading to our B&B earlier this evening.

Bologna · Italy

Cannolis, dissections, and fountain pens

I’m posting a little earlier today. It’s about tea time here, so on the way back to our room for a rest, we picked up some cannolis and we’re having them with some Earl Grey tea, hot. The items you see in the next picture no longer exist.

Our route today, although ostensibly from interesting thing to see to interesting thing to see, was really from coffee shop to restaurant to bakery with interesting things to see in between.

For lunch today we shared a selection of cold cuts, cheese, and jam–not sure how we were supposed to eat the jam.

As with the cannolis, the items you see in the photo above, except perhaps for the jam, no longer exist, but during their last hours, we were visiting some of the buildings that for the last 930 years have belonged to the oldest university in Europe. This lecture room is still in use today.

Here are some of the books that line the walls, along with a recognizable name or two:

And here’s a view into the main library:

As well as the lecture room above, the lecture theatre for the empirical teaching of anatomy was also open–an oak panelled room with seating on all sides overlooking a marble dissection table in middle of the room. Some statues of great names in the field of medicine, including Galen and Paracelsus still look down on today’s proceedings–just visitors to the university these days, no more dissections.

Between the university and lunch, it was my turn to be lured by sirens, in my case they took the form of fountain pens. This grey beauty was designed and made by Pineider in Florence, a pen maker since the late eighteenth century. It has a resin body, a fine rhodium-plated steel nib, and a magnetic closure. The ring is engraved with the skyline of Florence and the marine-steel clip looks like a quill. Oh yes, and filled with Aurora blue-black ink, it writes very smoothly :-).

It’s a bit early to be thinking about supper, but it will be hard to beat what we had last night–tagliatelle with ragu (the real name for Bolognese meat sauce), tagliatelle culatello (black ham), and tiramisu. Something a little simpler tonight, I think.

Bologna · Italy

Time travel

We’re in Bologna–wow! End of post.

Well, perhaps a few more words to describe the day, which started off at 10:00 this morning at Termini station in Rome. Four and a quarter hours later, we were back in late medieval Bologna. See the three little windows on the side of the building? That’s us.

Here’s how we get up there:

And here’s the view:

We haven’t seen much of the city yet, but what we’ve seen so far is beautiful. On our first recce along polished mosaic stone sidewalks with painted vaulted ceilings, we passed no less than three pen shops, a book binder, and a grocery store. The cheese and yoghurt sirens were too much for Trish, and we spent ten minutes browsing in the cool–not a wise thing to do when you’re hungry.

On the way back to our room, we had the best ice cream we’ve ever tasted–mine was lemon-ginger, and Letitia chose banana. And this was before we’ve had a chance to taste the Vivoli ice cream in Florence. We’ve been assured that’s the best in Italy.

Now it’s time to start thinking about where to go for dinner.

Italy · Rome

Roman soldiers on the Via Appia

  • Well, they were Italian soldiers anyway.
  • Some sections of the original Appian Way have been preserved and we visited one of them in a park on the outskirts of Rome this morning. With my spy camera, I now present evidence that the 2,300 year old road is still in use by Roman military units, not ancient legionnaires of course–although perhaps if we go back at midnight, who knows?
  • Not far from the Via Appia are large remnants of two of eventually eleven aqueducts that supplied Rome with water–a few are still in use in some parts of the city today.
  • It was too early to sample the food, but this trattoria is still run in the traditional way. The owner/chef/chief bottle washer buys fresh meat, vegetables, an so on daily, and then prepares food according to what he bought; so there’s no menu. Not very many like this left, I suspect.
  • We also visited the neighbourhood that for four hundred years from the mid sixteenth century was a Jewish ghetto.
  • And there were reminders of more recent shameful treatment in the stumbling stones dotted about the ghetto.
  • The hot, muggy weather hasn’t really been conducive to much in the way of stops for coffee, tea, and confections, let alone big lunches. We kept things simple again today and shared a Margherita pizza named, apparently, for Queen Margherita, wife of Umberto I.
  • I was able to compare a Roman spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino last night with the version at the old daSergio’s–the Roman version, without question. Trish had spaghetti too–a plain cheese and olive oil recipe, which was consumed with relish. We’ll be looking for something other than pasta tonight, I think.
  • Italy · Rome

    Never again

    This morning we took the tickets we bought a couple of months ago and skipped the queues to tour the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. But we’ll never do that again.

    The paintings, frescos, the architecture, the sculptures and the interior of the basilica are magnificent. And I was particularly impressed by the School of Athens, maybe because it’s among the few artworks I can recognize, but the experience of the chapel itself was spoilt by the crowds, the discourtesy, and the continuous pushing and shoving. We were glad to leave. Looks like the Swiss Guardsman below was glad to see the back of us too.

    After some excellent bruschetta for lunch–we had two kinds, one was the usual tomato and the other was black olive and garlic very finely chopped–we were back down in ancient Rome for a tour of the Colosseum, or, as we now know it’s proper name, the Theatre of Flavian. It’s a busy tourist spot too, but not as bad as the Vatican.

    Tomorrow is our last full day in Rome before taking the train north to Bologna and we’re joining a walking tour of the old Jewish ghetto soon after breakfast. Letitia is looking up kosher bakeries as I’m writing this post for after the three-hour walk :-).

    Heading out soon into the warm Roman evening to find some dinner.

    Italy · Rome

    Senatus Populusque Romanus (SPQR)

    We saw the acronym SPQR all over Rome today, and not in it’s historical context. It seems that the phrase, the ‘Senate and People of Rome’ is still the motto of the city and is displayed on city property from railings to manhole covers.

    The hop-on-hop-off bus proved to be a good way to orient ourselves to the city. We picked it up on the south side of the Ponte St Angelo across from the Castel St Angelo, both built in the first century AD.

    And one of the genuine modern experiences we can now claim as our own, at least from the perspective of spectators, is that of Roman traffic chaos–it has to be seen to be believed. Having survived the bus ride as far as the Colosseum, we hopped off and headed away from our fellow tourists into the back streets of the neighbours a little to the north.

    Not too far away we found what we were looking for, the Basilica of St Clement, the second or third Bishop of Rome, depending on whether you regard Peter as the first.

    The present building is from the twelfth century; it replaced a 4th century basilica, which in turn replaced a first century church, which had appropriated and expanded a building dedicated to Mithras–and we explored all of these today, one under the other. Quite amazing.

    Almost everywhere we look in the old centre of Rome, we’re seeing what people before us have seen for the last two thousand years or more.

    Tomorrow morning, St Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel and then a closer look at the Colosseum.

    And just to show that we’re really in Rome, here’s Trish resting for a minute as we strolled along the Tiber this afternoon.

    After nearly nine hours on our feet, I’m glad the ancient Romans didn’t have cars, otherwise we’d have had farther to walk between the sites and the sights today.

    Italy · Rome


    This was our first time flying with KLM. Our flights were free of the usual frustrations of flying, and we arrived in Rome on schedule. Although we’re tired, we did an hour or so’s recce of the immediate area around our hotel and now it’s time for a rest.

    This is the view from our third story room:

    We’ll be rubbing shoulders with the Pope for a few days; we’ll, we’ll be neighbours at least– looking north from the balcony, which looks almost due east.

    Italy · Rome

    Not strictly Rome…

    These are photos of the foothills of the Alps taken on the way to Rome this morning.

    It was a lovely sunny morning and we had a perfect vantage point humming along at 33,000 feet or so.

    Full marks if you can spot the object I was trying to photograph in the next image–the skies of Europe are like Piccadilly Circus!