Archive for April 26th, 2012

Bologna to Vienna

Word count: 134 Step count: 12,880

Awakened by alarm at 7:00 after Very Strange Dreams. Washed up, packed up, mailed postcards, checked out, had breakfast (sausages replaced with some kind of yummy cheese-egg-polenta-pesto thing, plus scrambled eggs). I made a complete sentence, with a subjunctive verb and everything (“Vorrei un cappuco”), which I’m overly proud of though the server knew what I wanted before I said a word. Now I can forget Italian again for another few years.

Cab to airport, checked in for flight, through security, all painless. The Bologna airport was very recently renovated; the security lines were equipped with a return thingie for bins, like the ball return at a bowling alley. I had hoped to make a blog post at the airport, but though my phone had a strong signal from the airport’s free-with-SMS-authentication wifi (amusingly, the network name was “Marconi,” a local boy and the name of the airport), my computer only had a weak signal from a password-controlled airport network. I’ve never seen such a difference between the two devices; I wonder if the “Marconi” network is somehow limited to mobile devices. I could have blogged with my phone, I suppose, but there are limits to what I’m willing to do with that little keyboard. Spent the time going through my Bologna photos, anyway.

Took off on time and had a lovely flight with great views of Venice, the Alps, and Vienna from the plane. We had little sandwiches from Trzesniewski at the Vienna airport for lunch, then spent about an hour at the airport all told, getting bearings, calling the owner of the apartment we’d rented to arrange a rendezvous, and determining the best way to get there. We wound up buying a Vienna transit/discount card at the airport TI, then took a cab (saving 10% on the cab fare with the card).

As the cab entered the city, driving past huge ornate building after huge ornate building, I was inversely reminded of our Eastern Oregon trip last year when each town we visited was smaller than the one before. Venice has a lot of history, but it’s really quite a small town even by comparison with Bologna, never mind mighty Vienna.

We waited at Cafe Wirr with free wifi, a cappucino, and a “Bio Krainer mit susser Zenf” (organic sausage with mustard, and a crusty roll) until the apartment owner’s mother showed up to let us in. Then we had to look for a bank machine so we could pay the balance on the apartment in cash. Then the Guys came to replace the water heater, which just happens to have failed right before we arrived, and someone had to be here until they were finished. I could not get on to the apartment’s wifi with the provided password, but an Ethernet cable to the router worked so I was able to make a blog post that way. Unfortunately I had to sit within two feet of the router to do so, and there’s only one electrical outlet there so I couldn’t have Internet and charge the laptop at the same time.

While I was posting, Kate was researching, planning, and plotting as she does. Eventually we decided to go out, have dinner, and hit the Kunsthistorisches Museum (open late on Thursdays), so we called the owner’s mother to come and watch the Guys. His fiancee also showed up; I asked her about the wifi, also another key, and she said she’d look into it.

We headed out in search of food… looked at the nearby Schnitzelwirt but somehow it didn’t appeal… wound up at Dots Experimental Sushi (Mariahilfer Strasse 103) where we had an expensive but very intriguing dinner of shrimp chips with an onion dipping sauce (unfortunately similar to Lipton French Onion Soup dip); mango salad; and three “experimental sushi” rolls: rainbow roll (“unbeschreiblich gut,” said the menu), spicy duck roll, and green chicken roll. All three rolls were very good; I think the spicy duck was my favorite.

German is so much more comfortable than Italian even for me, and for Kate it’s like slipping into a warm bath. But I’m appalled to find myself saying “grazie” (etc.) to Germans… I could barely remember Italian in Italy, but now it refuses to leave!

During dinner we used the restaurant’s free wifi to download some Vienna-specific apps, including a transit app (qando) that told us how to get to the museum. The first thing we did when we got there was to see the Klimts: in honor of Gustav Klimt’s 150th birthday, the museum has erected a scaffold so that you can climb up and get a good look at some wall murals he’d painted back in the 1890s, 12 meters above floor level. Then we wandered through the picture gallery, seeing lots of well-known favorites including a bunch of Breughels (particularly cool to see his Tower of Babel), several of Archimbolo’s faces made of vegetables and such, and a whole room of Durers. There was far more than could be seen in an hour and a half, but we left satisfied.

The qando app, Vienna card, and Kate’s memories of the Munich transit system got us home in good time. When we arrived we found our requested extra key, the correct wifi password, and a working water heater, yay.

Tomorrow, Schonbrunn Palace!


Word count: 0 Step count: 13,753 + 14,091

Tues 4/24 – Venice-Bologna

Awake 6:00, and Kate had been up since 4. Packed up, ate, made little sandwiches of the breakfast rolls and the cheese we bought the other day, then paid up and checked out (3 euros per person per day Venice city tax must be paid in cash, because our host has to put it in the slot at City Hall every day in cash. “Boca de leone,” I said (referring to the ancient Venetian tradition of dropping anonymous denouncements of fellow citizens in the mouth of a carved lion) and got a laugh.

Dragged our bags through rainy and increasingly crowded streets to the train station. We were way early for our 10:52 train and thought we might be in time for the 9:52, but alas, there is no 9:52, so we waited. Tried to use the bathroom, paid 1 euro to get in, found it full of women, scrambled out in terror; I think the men’s was under construction and both sexes were using the same facility, but the signage didn’t help at all.

Slept most of the way to Bologna. We took a cab to our hotel (it would have bene a 30 minute walk otherwise). Our room wasn’t quite ready but we were offered cappuccino while we waited, which we accepted gladly. How civilized! After settling in (the room accessed via one of the most claustrophobic little elevators EVER),we headed out to get our bearings. Highlights of our little walking tour included: many cool old arcades (most of the sidewalks in the old town are covered with these medieval porticos; see photos below); courtyard of University of Bologna, one of the Western world’s oldest, with crests of doctoral students and subjects of their theses; enormous San Petronio basilica (5th largest church in the world) with Cassini’s Meridian (an extremely long sundial that was once used to calculate the distance to the sun) and many amazing/appalling artworks, also a Foucault pendulum; streets of classy shops; and a cool old deli and other food shops. The weather was sunny but unfortunately cold and very windy, the city much noisier than Venice, and of course there are cars. We tried to scope out a place for dinner but the places we checked weren’t open yet or we couldn’t find them. Back to room, fell over until 6:30.

When we awoke from our nap, we asked the front desk clerk to call some of the better restaurants we’d identified for a reservation. The first one he called didn’t answer their phone, and the second was fully committed… but then they called back a minute later and said they could squeeze us in at 7:30. Yay! With 45 minutes to kill, we checked out a nearby church with 2 gazebo-tombs (!?) outside. We also walked past Drogherie della Rosa, a very highly regarded restaurant in a former pharmacy which we hadn’t found before. They were open and gave us a reservation for tomorrow night, yay! Then, on the way to our restaurant for tonight, Kate tripped on an uneven bit of sidewalk and bruised her already-bum knee. Bummer.

Osteria al Quindici (Via Mirasole 15)’s decor was heavy on owls and the number 15. The owner offered us the choice of an English or Italian menu; Kate asked for one of each, but apparently the Italian menu is him, so we got two menus in something resembling English. We managed to order and get ice for Kate’s knee. The meal consisted of a pre-appetizer (we didn’t ask for it, it just came) of white beans on crostini; an appetizer of fried bread (2 kinds, puffy (crescentine) and flat) with ricotta and caramelized balsamic vinegar; tagliatelle with ragu (the classic Bolognese dish); garmigna (“hipster-earring-shaped” pasta, unique to Bologna) in a sausage-based sauce that looked like the Bolognese but tasted distinctly different — this is the real dish of which Chef Boy-Ar-Dee is the shadow eaten by the people in the cave in the story of the people in the cave by the Greek guy — green salad (it’s a vegetable, it comes after the pasta); a very simple grilled steak, very rare, with rosemary & peppercorns. I don’t think that last was what we ordered, but damn it was good.

Limped back to the room about 10:00, poor thing. Very tired, no wifi, so no writing and no blogging.

Weds 4/25 – Bologna

Woke up about 8. Had breakfast in the hotel’s basement breakfast room, with a similar selection to Venice but laid out for a crowd (with additions: pain au chocolat, sausages, cold cuts, cereal, fresh fruit, yogurt, etc.). Could not avoid conversation with Americans at next table; American accents seem so harsh to me now.

Today is a holiday, so some places were closed, there were buskers on the sidewalk, and more pedestrians than yesterday. Went out looking for a cane for Kate, but when we found an open pharmacy, one of the few open on the holiday, it was too crowded to deal with, so Kate just decided to hobble along as best she could.

We visited the Museum of the History of Bologna at Palazzo Pepoli: very new, huge, packed with interesting info… all in Italian, but we could puzzle a lot of it out. We left there in time to catch the transit of the sun at Cassini’s Meridian at 13:15, but we stopped for gelato on the way and when we arrived the church was closed for lunch (we arrived at 13:13 and the posted closing time was 13:15, but they might have closed half an hour before that… we’ll never know).

The first place we tried for lunch was booked up, but a place down the street called Clive T. (Via Clavature 17) looked good and was: pumpkin tortelloni in a balsamic reduction was fabulous, cotoletta Bolognese (breaded veal cutlet with ham and cheese) and grilled vegetables were not as amazing but still good.

After lunch we visited the city’s two famous medieval towers, half-covered in scaffolding but still impressive. Then we went to the San Stefano church complex but found it closed for lunch until 3:30 so headed to the Archaeological Museum with a brief stop at a bakery on the way. Passing through Piazza Galvani, I wondered if the statue on the pillar might be him, and indeed it was, holding a pair of frog legs and all. At the Archeological Museum we found that the entire second floor (Etruscans and Romans) was closed, but we saw a great collection of plaster casts of Roman sculptures and a lot of plundered Egyptian artifacts (“provenienza ignota”), but somewhere around the 5th Dynasty Kate admitted she was too pooped to go on.

On the way back to the hotel we passed gelateria Cremeria Funivia (Piazza Cavour 1/de). Noting the line out the door and well into the street, we decided that this would probably be a good choice for our last gelato in Italy. It was tough to choose flavors; Kate’s choices of chocolate cake and strawberry were better than my coffee and “Contessa” (almond and amaretto) but they were all good.

We napped until about 6, then visited the hotel’s roof terrace (under construction, but no workmen today on account of the holiday) and a bookstore before our dinner reservation at Drogheria della Rosa (Via Cartoleria 10).

As soon as we sat down we got the question “flat or fizzy?” (meaning: of course you will be having mineral water, do you want still or sparkling), which we expected, but then two small glasses of white wine and a “piccolo antipastini” of mortadella, prosciutto, and salami appeared, which we’d neither ordered nor expected. The waitress then asked us, in English, if we knew what we’d like to order. We pointed out that we had no menus and she said “I’ll be your menu.” (My guess is that the menu at Italian restaurants in Italy is consistent enough that many people just walk in and say “I feel like tortellini con pesce today” and the restaurant either can make it or can suggest something else, so there are no printed menus except for the tourists.) In any case, we had tortellini in brodo, eggplant ravioli with tomato and basil, a roast Guinea hen, and slices of very rare steak with salt and rosemary — all fantastic, and accompanied by roast potatoes and mixed vegetables. A sweet dessert wine then appeared unbidden. For dessert we split an orange semifreddo with candied hazelnuts and a strawberry sauce, which was divine. Three different people then asked if we wanted coffee, wine, or grappa. We told them all no, but the last one (the owner, I think) came by with two tiny glasses of the house special grappa, with tiny strawberries floating in it, which was flavorful but too powerfully alcoholic for me to finish. We finally staggered home around 10:00. What a meal!

Again, no writing nor blogging, as we had to rise early the next morning. This entry was not written until we arrived in Vienna, but that’s a tale for another blog post.