What we did in Italy: Day 5-9

I’ve been taking notes on what we did each day, but I haven’t been able to post much for the last few days because we haven’t had reliable internet (and we’ve been running around doing fun stuff!).  So this post is a long one.

I still can’t manage to post photos though, which kills me because I have photos of just about everything listed below!  Maybe I’ll repost the entire itinerary when I get home with photos.

So… here’s what we did in Italy on days 5-9.  (In case you missed it, here’s what we did on days 1-2 and days 2-4.)

Sun, Sept 19 (Day 5)

Breakfast in hotel

Taxi to Trastevere, walked around and visited the main church there. 

Walking around, visiting shops. Liked the Bodum shop.  Stopped for coffee and water.

More walking, more coffee at a corner bar… only Italians there.  Good peoplewatching.

Walk back across river and to a big home / kitchen store we saw earlier.

Rachel worn out, we took taxi back to hotel.  I went out for lunch, Rachel stayed in to read and nap.

I had lunch at local touristy pizzeria (bar Della Croce).  Moretti beer and pizza tagliatelle.

Walk back to hotel… exhausted.  Took nap.

Out to Giovannis restaurant around the corner from the hotel… excellent food although service was a little frantic.  Shared fettucini with cheese and pepper and veal piccata.

Stopped for gelato on way back to hotel.

Rachel read, Kevin edited photos and planned the driving route for tomorrows drive to Tuscany!  Excited!

Monday Sept 20 (Day 6)

Pack

Kevin went to coffeeshop around the corner for coffee and croissant.  Got funny looks in my shorts and t-shirt from the Italian businessmen stopping for coffee on their way to work.

Breakfast in the hotel.

Kevin took taxi to get rental car.  Taxi drops me off a half mile from the station.  I walk the rest of the way, find Hertz inside the station… then have to walk another quarter mile to a run-down parking garage to get the car from 7th floor.  Took me about an hour and a half to get the rental car.

Driving out of Rome was easy – our hotel is right on the edge of town. 

Drove to Montepulciano (using iphone Google Maps) – made 2 stops at rest stops on the highway for bathroom and coffee breaks.  Loved that even highway rest stops have coffee bars with great espresso.

Lunch in main piazza in Montepulciano (with a couple of glasses of the Montepulciano Nobile Red wine, which we loved), walk around and get lost, finally find way back to car.

Follow iphone Google maps directions to Montalcino (had to make roadside pit stop!).  Lots of beautiful windy, curvy roads.

Find Montalcino, can’t find hotel – can’t believe how small and hilly the streets are.  Finally call the hotel and get directions – Robert gives us directions (we had driven right by it).

We bring suitcases up (2 flights of stairs) get instructions from Robert, and go up to the room.  I say I haven’t stayed at a B&B before and ask if it’s OK to bring food or coffee in.  Robert gives me an incredulous look and says “why would you want to bring coffee in – there’s a coffeemaker in the room!”.  Turns out he means a hot water pot and Nescafe instant cappuccino.  I knew that was a bad sign!

Rachel is scared to touch anything in the hotel!  We go park the car and walk back – the town is so beautiful but Rachel is not sure what to make of it.  We go back to the hotel to get online and check sites for a little while before going to dinner.

Robert and Lucia have already asked us several times to turn off lights as we leave each room. 

We go to the restaurant Robert recommended and the food is delicious but the restaurant is half full of other guests from the B&B… we assume he has some kind of arrangement with them. The restaurant is mostly Americans, some of them loud and raucous.  We share bruschetta, ribbon pasta bolognese and green pasta (kind of like Pesto, more basil).  We share a half bottle of Montalcino red wine.

We go back to the hotel and sit in the living room to use the internet.  We are sitting in the corner, but all the lights in the room are off – so we turn a few on.  Robert comes out and turns off all the lights except the one in the corner where we are sitting. He tells us that that’s all the light we need.  I said we turned on a couple lights because the room was so dark… he says we are sitting in this corner, that’s all the light we need.  Then he turns off the lights to the upstairs and tells us we can turn them on when we walk upstairs, then we should turn them off at the top again.  The light bulbs in the stairwell couldn’t be more than 10 watts each.  There is a sign in the hallway reminding us to turn off the lights in our room.  There’s also a sign in the bathroom asking us not to use too much water!

My eyes start to bother me – turns out I am having a bad allergic reaction to a cat in the house (which no one notified me about!  lol) and my eyes get really red and irritated.  We go up to the room, thinking we should not stay here 3 days – or at all.  The bed is as hard as a rock.  So, now there were four things wrong–the bed, no a/c, Robert following us around turning off lights and a cat nobody notified me about!  I was ready to go.
I was pretty upset and wanted to leave immediately – but we talked it through and decided to leave Montalcino in the morning.  My eyes are red all night and the bed feels like sleeping on the floor.
Finally went to sleep around 2 and decided to leave early in the morning.  I am so happy to leave the bathroom light on and use up lots of electricity charging my laptop, phone, camera and ipad! 

Tues Sept 21 (Day 7)

Woke up early to leave without having to talk to Robert.  Lucilla awake.  Told her about my allergic reaction to the cat.  She just keeps asking me “Do you want to go out?  Do you want to take a little walk?”  Funny.

We leave, feeling like we are escaping.  We wanted to get out before Robert came out to confront us.  We try to leave quickly but we can’t figure out how to open the door downstairs to get out to the street!  We are laughing as we leave the hotel. I went to get the car and thought maybe the police would be there.  Rachel thought Robert might come find her while she waited for me to get back.

We decide we have had enough of Tuscany and we are exhausted.  We stop for donuts and coffee in a small town and decide to go to Siena for the day because I wanted to go there anyway.  We think perhaps we will stay there or move on to Bologna early.

We go to Siena and park in a garage and walk to the piazza.  The tour buses hadn’t arrived yet so it was very calm and quiet.  We sat at a cafe and had a croissant and coffees, plus a tomato mozzarella sandwich and watched the piazza come to life.  We thought about what we wanted to do for the next few days. 

We finally decided to go to Bologna early… so we end up in a Bangladeshi internet cafe where the guy tried to sell Rachel “authentic cashmere from India – only 4 Euros!”.  Nothing worked right – one computer had a virus and I tried to skype on the other one with three different sets of cheap headphones that the guy gave me to use and none worked.

We went to another small cafe, made a list of hotels in Bologna in the back of my Rick Steves book, called 5 of them and booked suite in Bologna for 4 nights.  Once we had that taken care of, we decided to relax and enjoy Siena for a few hours.  We found a pizzaria and had fluffy pizza (with no sauce, just mozz and small tomatoes) and penne bolognese.  Kevin drank 2 large beers… stressful morning!

We explored Siena… visiting the Duomo, walking through some shops and small streets, and finally enjoyed one more coffee on the piazza, which was full of people now, before heading out. 

Walked back to car, drive to Bologna (stop for coffee).  Drive around Bologna feeling lost using Google maps.  Our first impression was that the city looked rough…  we passed about a hundred trash dumps and hundreds of college students hanging out on street corners.  Graffiti everywhere.  We arrive at the hotel (Corona d’Oro)  and we are SO happy to have a beautiful suite with a parlor, sofa, AC, 2 TVs, huge bathroom, etc.  We even use hotel parking for 30 Euros for the first night. 

We really enjoyed the suite… so relaxing after the night in the B&B in Montalcino.  They even had a tray of complimentary scotch and port wine for us.  I walk to a nearby restaurant and get pasta bolognese and margerita pizza to go, and pick up soda, water and a beer from a small market.  We eat on the sofa and relax and love that we are in a living room just like at home. 

We decide that we are done with rustic hotels and B&Bs and we need modern, comfortable hotels from now on!

Wed Sept 22 (Day 8)

Breakfast in hotel… we don’t love it.  The foods are all a little odd to us… desserts that aren’t sweet, breads that are hard, bland cereals, plain yogurt, etc.  I try Nutella for the first time – on a croissant – and love it!  Have to get some at home when we get back.

Walk around, look for guide book and map.  (Turns out there’s a pretty limited selection of guide books in English here.  Normally that wouldn’t surprise me, since we are in a foreign country, but when I was in Florence last year I happened upon a book store that had a huge selection of guide books in English.  I had forgotten that I chose Bologna because it wasn’t touristy – which means it would be unlikely to find this kind of selection!)  Stop for coffee and walk to the main piazza.

Walk around more… visit Tamburini and food shops.  Discover that most stores close from about 12:30-3:30 except restaurants and big stores. 

Walk into the hotel we originally had booked and cancel reservations for tomorrow. 

Stop for lunch at Clavature… Lambrusco wine, ricotta and spinach tortellini with Ragu and eggplant parmesan.  Both amazing.  The Bolognese sauce was the best we ever had.  Of course I end the meal with a coffee (espresso). 

We visit the Duomo and Palazzo Communale.  Shopping at Coin dept store (like an upscale Macy’s) and the big, modern Coop bookstore, where I finally found a guide book in English – Lonely Planet Italy.  The Rick Steves book has been fantastic but he doesn’t include Bologna at all.

Rachel goes back to the hotel to rest, I sat in Piazza and had a beer, then had the car brought back to the hotel so I could park it in a less expensive spot.  Hotel parking is €30 per day, a street parking pass is €7 per day.  It takes me an hour but I find a spot and plan to leave it there for the rest of the trip.
We go out to dinner to a kind of touristy restaurant (Il Calice – not good – disappointing food and service). 

Walked all around looking for gelato, couldn’t find any… back to hotel.

Thursday, Sept 23 (Day 9)

I went out for coffee while Rachel sleeps another hour.  Fascinating to watch the locals stream in and out of the cafe for their morning coffee and croissant.  Must have seen 50-70 people come in, stand at the counter to have their espresso or cappuccino, possibly with a croissant, and then head out. 

Rachel and I calculated how many times I have stopped for coffee on this trip… if it’s 3x a day times 8 days, that’s about 24 coffee stops!  I wonder if the average Italian drinks more or less…

Came back, woke Rachel, and we went to piazza for wifi because we have decided we would like to go to Milan for our last couple days.  The wifi in the hotel doesn’t work very well, and Lonely Planet says that the city offers three hours of free wifi per day to anyone in the piazza.  Free wifi from city hall.  Sat on concrete benches in city hall courtyard and researched Milan hotels. 

After finishing our research (and a doppio macchiato), we head to the section of town where the food shops are.  Tamburini is the most famous and crowded, but around the corner there are about 20 more… some are markets that carry everything, some just have meat and cheese (LOTS of meat here – every kind of sausage and pork product you’ve ever heard of), a few bakeries and a few fruit and fish stands.

I buy a ton of little things to go and bring them all back to the room where Rachel and I have an incredible Italian antipasto buffet, including the following:

Gorgonzola cheese
Brie (french)
Buffalo mozzarella
Bread
Focaccia
Artichokes (yuk)
Olive oil
Balsalmic vinaigrette (to take home)
Sundried tomatoes
Breaded grilled eggplant
Breaded grilled Roma tomatoes
Small onions (yuk)
Sesame breadsticks
Plain pretzels (bland)
Large bottle of cheap Lambrusco wine (yuk)
Avocado (didn’t eat)
Pasta with pesto sauce
Apple cake (Rachel ate later).

OK, so it turns out I probably bought about three times as much food as we needed… but it was fun!

After a bit more research, we booked a hotel in Milan for our last two nights… so we will leave Bologna tomorrow.  One of the hotels mentioned to me that it’s  fashion week in Milan!  Rachel is excited but it seems unlikely that we will get into any fashion shows!

Rachel checked sites on the iphone while I washed some clothes in the tub and hung them up to dry.

I went out for coffee and to visit the big Coop bookstore again.  Rachel came to meet me and we went to look for the car to put new parking ticket in the window.  Had to walk for a full hour to find the car… although I had the spot marked on a google map on my iphone, we had somehow walked down the street in the opposite direction than I had driven down when I parked.  Since the cars seemed to be headed the wrong way, I assumed we were on the wrong street – so we turned around and looked elsewhere.  We finally found it by us following Rachel’s intuition!

Headed back to hotel for a while and then out to dinner.

Went back to Clavature restaurant for dinner.  Amazing!  Had pumpkin tortellini with balsamic vinegar sauce and then ricotta spinach tortellini with butter sauce.  The pumpkin was amazing with a thick sauce that looked like chocolate.  So now we’ve tried the famous tortellini of Bologna three ways – with meat sauce (Bolognese), butter & sage and balsamic vinegar).  We had all three at this restaurant (which we just happened upon a couple days before) and they were all amazing.

This is our favorite restaurant in Bologna, maybe in all of Italy so far.  Our favorite in Rome is Da Francesco. 

A few general notes about the trip so far…

 – I love that you can get carbonated water (frizzante or “with gas”) anywhere – any shop that sells bottled water, any restaurant. 
 – I love the role coffee plays in everyday life.
 – Straccitella gelato is my favorite – but only if it has lots of bits of chocolate in it.
 – My favorite parts of the trip so far (other than spending time with Rachel!) are getting coffee, the food, and people watching. 
 – Reminder to self: buy better olive oil at home!
 – Italy has terrible wifi.  It’s either non-existant, is free and doesn’t work, or works great at $20 per day.

Tomorrow we head to Milan!

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