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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.