Bologna Summary

Three nights: Sunday, May 6 to Wednesday, May 9

Our three nights in Bologna mark the end of our Italian leg (though we may swing back through). We didn’t have much of a preplanned itinerary, so it we played it by ear. The first thing about Bologna that stood out for me was the architecture – a lot of large, impressive buildings and they almost all had porticos which were these domed overhangs above the sidewalks. This ended up being a nice bonus, since we ran into one pretty heavy shower during our stay (and we’ve so far refused to buy and carry an umbrella).

Of course, one thing we had to experience was the food. We ate out a few times and came across the requisite tagliatelli al ragu (i.e. with bolognese sauce) as well as some mortadella (much better than Oscar Meyer bologna). As a nice surprise, the trattoria where we had dinner one night was located next to one of the few remaining, uncovered canals in Bologna. Apparently, the city used to have a canal system much like Venice, but most were eventually paved over.

  

Probably the most adventuresome thing we did had nothing to do with Bologna per se: we both got haircuts (plus Donna’s color). There was bit of a language barrier, but I thought it seemed to go OK. And then I ended up with probably the shortest haircut I’ve had since the Navy. Oh well, it’ll grow. Donna’s experience went OK, though the color turned out a bit darker than expected. You can see the results in her blog post.

Finally, one interesting thing we came across was a multimedia exhibit in the Bologna city history museum. It was nominally about the city’s relationship to water and silk, but was this funky, dark room with Tron-like walls and a projection of water on the floor. If you moved over the water, it reacted by swishing around. I didn’t see the point, but the environment totally amped up my anticipation for working on our WarTron application on the 20th!

Bologna, Italy

Bologna’s tower
Leans ever so slightly, but
Is taller than yours

Bologna's Torre Asinelli

Torre Asinelli

Torre Asinelli height marker

Inside Torre Asinelli, you see one of these each time you exceed the height of another Italian city's tower.


Today’s adventure?
Haircutting with few shared words
Here are the results

Jeff Hair

Jeff, who asked for something "un po' più corto"

Donna Hair

And my hair, after confirming that I wanted it dried "riccio".

Massa Lubrense Summary

Five nights: Tuesday, May 1 to Sunday, May 6

After a busy four nights in Florence, we headed south to the Bay of Naples for a five-night stay in the small town of Massa Lubrense. Besides seeing Pompeii and the island of Capri during out visit, we were looking forward to spending a little down-time in a scenic, seaside locale. We were not disappointed!

As it was a little off the beaten path, getting to the apartment was more involved than usual. We took the train from Florence to Naples, then hopped the regional Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento and planned to catch a bus from Sorrento to Massa Lubrense where our host Tiziana and her husband Ciro were to meet us to take us to the apartment. However, when the bus was running late, they drove up to Sorrento and took us directly to the apartment – just a sample of the great hospitality they offered us during our stay.

Speaking of the apartment, it was on the lower level of an amazingly scenic Italian villa next to Marina della Lobra, overlooking the Bay of Naples. Surrounded by lemon orchards, with multiple patios and direct access to the beach below, it was the perfect place to relax a bit.

The first couple of days, we took it easy: lounging on the patio, reading books and enjoying the view. We also hiked about a kilometer uphill to check out the center of Massa Lubrense, which itself was a small, quaint town.

We saved the more active activities for our last couple of days. On Friday, we hiked up to Massa Lubrense Centro, caught the bus to Sorrento and took a half-hour Circumvesuviana brian ride to see the ruins of Pompeii. This ended up being one of the most impressive sights on our trip to date (despite my winding up with a bit of sunburn). While some of the earlier Roman ruins we had seen were impressive (Pont du Gard, Arles, etc.) Pompeii was an extensive and amazingly complete site.

On Saturday, we walked next door to the marina and hopped a boat for a tour of the island of Capri, which was just about five miles off the Sorrento Peninsula from us. The weather was finally being less than perfect, but we had some amazing views of the island despite the chill. We circled around to Marina Piccola, hopped off and spent the day on Capri. The towns of Capri and Anacapri were chocked full of shops (many quite expensive) and it was hard to find a good view other than the death-defying bus ride up the hill to Anacapri! After a tasty lunch of Neapolitan pizza, we caught the boat for more sightseeing along the island’s coast before heading back to the marina at Massa Lubrense. Overall, it was quite scenic and I can see why Capri has been a vacation spot for over 2000 years.

Massa Lubrense, Italy

Villa to ourselves?
Let’s go to Pompeii later.
Time for some lounging!

On the patio

Relaxing afternoon on the patio below our apartment.

 


Like Roman ruins?
An entire city of them?
Pompeii is the place.

Pompeii forum arch

Jeff in one of the arches in Pompeii's forum - note Vesuvius in the background!


Island of Capri
Stunning grottos, winding roads
And expensive shops

Capri Beach

On the beach in Capri

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy –
Renaissance art, awesome views
And standing in line

Reservations Line

Uffizi Gallery line to get reservations for the following day, allowing us to skip the ~2 hour line to get in.

Jeff on the Cathedral Terrace

On the Cathedral Terraces tour, enjoying the views and the sense of satisfaction from skipping the incredibly long line to get into the cathedral.


Notte Bianca
The streets are overflowing
With crowds and music

Notte Bianca band

Jazz band outside the church near our apartment.

Notte Bianca

Crowds in the square outside Palazzo Vecchio.

Notte Bianca

Building near the river with DJ and light display.

Florence Summary

Four nights: Friday, April 27 to Tuesday, May 1

After a relatively quiet visit to the small town of Alba, we decided to spend four nights in Florence. As a city, it had a good deal of atmosphere and a lot of interesting things to do (and eat). After checking in to our apartment on Friday afternoon, we went on our usual orientation stroll. We had heard that there were great views from Piazzale Michelangelo, so we headed across the Arno river and climbed the hill up to the piazzale. Sure enough, we ended up with great panoramic views of the city!

In terms of sightseeing, we were underwhelmed by the Uffizi Gallery. Despite being perhaps the best collection of its kind in the world, I don’t think Renaissance art is my thing. That said, it was cool to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus in person.

Despite interesting architecture and sheer ornateness, I don’t usually get a lot out of churches either. However, there were two that we really enjoyed in Firenze: the Basilica of Santa Croce and the Florence Cathedral.

The Basilica of Santa Croce was primarily interesting due to the famous people either buried there or who have funeral monuments inside. Probably most famous is the tomb of Galileo (though not all of him is buried there, see my later comments). After that, you’ve got Machiavelli and Dante (who’s actually buried in Ravenna). Surprisingly, we came across two monuments (not actual tombs) that were not even mentioned in the basilica’s handout: Marconi and Fermi!

 

The cathedral was an impressive building, huge and made of green, white and red marble. Maybe even more impressive were the massive lines of people waiting to get in! However, there was a special, not well-advertised tour you could get tickets for at the nearby museum that allowed you to bypass the lines as well get access to the rooftop terraces (normally off-limits to regular visitors). The views from the top of the cathedral were stunning and made this tour one of the highlights of our visit.

 

Earlier I mentioned that not all of Galileo was buried in Santa Croce. We found this out when we visited the Museo Galileo, which primarily displayed various scientific instruments that had been collected by the Medici family. While many of the artifacts were cool (instruments and tools related to navigation, biology, astronomy, electricity, etc.) they also had on display a few of Galileo’s mummified parts: fingers, a tooth. Ewwww!

The food in Florence was good. We checked out the central market one day and picked up some fresh veggies, pasta and mussels (€3 per kilo) that made a nice dinner that night. The restaurants we tried were all good, plus I came across a surprising number of locally brewed Italian beer. One place I found some of this artisan beer was the Slow Food Market – an outdoor market with a lot of food vending booths.

Finally, we just happened to be in Florence for a special all-night celebration that took place Monday night. It was called Notte Bianca and was basically a big party the night before the May 1st holiday. We ended up staying out until past 2:00AM – this made catching our train the next morning a little rough, but we had a good time!

Alba Summary

Three nights: Tuesday, April 24 to Friday, April 27

The train ride from Nice on the French Mediterranean coast to Alba in northern Italy was quite impressive. We went from bluffs along the sea to a steady climb through mountain valleys, tunnel after tunnel opening up to impressive vista. Eventually, we seemed to reach a high plateau, with snow-capped peaks in the near distance. This gradually changed to more of an agricultural backdrop, with small vineyards clinging to the slopes of the rolling hills. The train finally pulled into the Alba station and we began our first visit of the trip to Italy.

Small town as seen from the train on the way to Alba

Alba was a nice, small town with an historic center that we could easily walk the perimeter of (much like medieval Avignon). There were not a lot of sights per se, so we decided to take it easy. We continued our pattern of enjoying both restaurants as well as the local markets. One evening we had a great dinner in an informal osteria (a never-ending antipasti course, skipped the primo, cinghiale (wild boar) for secondo and a passable panna cotta for dolce). Also, this area is famous for a few types of wine, so we enjoyed that as well.

To our surprise, we found out that the second day of our visit fell on Liberation Day, basically the Italian Fourth of July. There were Italian flags flying from every balcony and many businesses were closed for the day. That afternoon, there seemed to be more visitors than the day before. It turns out that this holiday is popular among Italians for making day trips and Alba is a convenient destination from Torino.

Since Alba was relatively small and quiet, we spent a good deal of time strolling about. One day, we came across a fairly large outdoor market, selling everything from underwear to squid ink sacs. We continued our stroll around the town, past the sign pointing to the nearby Ferrero factory (source of Ferrero Rocher candies, Kinder brand candies and giant tubs of Nutella). At one point we saw signs for a 4.2 KM bike trail we decided to try and hike. However, once across the river, it quickly became quite sketchy (low-end trailer park, menacing youths) so turned back before we were mugged. Adventure!

Overall, Alba was an enjoyable town with good food and an overall pleasant environment. Now off to Florence for a little more culture before heading down south for Pompeii and additional downtime along the Amalfi coast.

 

Alba, Italy

Bye, Riviera
Heading north into the hills
Little mountain towns

Mountain town

One of the many small towns we saw heading into the mountains on the way to Alba.


Alba, Italy
Truffles, salumi and wine
So much tasty food!

Mushrooms

Storefront with mushrooms.

Alba Shopping

Various food from the shops around town.