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Published: February 24th 2005
Ponte Vecchio - Firenze
Florence - somehow survived many centuries. Beautiful even with the lousy weather - many of these little houses that line the bridge are now shops selling all sorts of arts and crafts...
The journal of a flying visit to the country of style, food, and the center of the Roman Empire.
"Do as I say not as I do" - my parents used to say this to me often and now I find myself in a position where I do the same. I've spent some time writing a beginners guide to independent travel, yet I find myself making mistakes that if I followed the advice that I'd given, I wouldn't have made. Take this for example: if you are arriving late in an area, book accommodation in advance. So when arriving in Rome on February 18th 2005 at 10pm, I'd ignored my own advice, it's the low season - there will be plenty of beds in the hostels. 3 hostels and nine hotels later I find myself checking into a crumby hotel for an extortionate 50 Euros a night... kicking myself for having been so naive.
I've taken this trip to Italy for two reasons - one - to visit country number two in my 5 new countries in 2005, resolution, two - my friend Savage has flown into Italy for a break from his 2 full time, IT jobs in
Bologna by Night
Taken from Piazza Maggiore
Las Vegas, last time we saw each other we were twelve, his parents were emigrating from the UK to live in a desert in the US, with no correspondence for 16 years, we hadn't exchanged addresses or such, and then an email out of the blue. "do you remember me from..." - hell yeah - I'd often thought of Savage through the years wondering what had become of him - my parents had wanted to emigrate to New Zealand and that same year I'd thought we were going. Because of that I thought savage led some kind of parallel life, what might have happened to me if my parents had been a little more organised or a touch luckier. Difference between me and savage - he typed my name into a search engine and found me. Both ended up ruining a good hobby by becoming IT professionals, both have a huge case of wanderlust - it's going to be interesting meeting in person after nearly a year of emails.
Waking in the crumby hotel five minutes before the alarm, discovering that there was a blanket in the bottom of the cupboard that I'd looked at wondering whilst awake due
to cold in the middle of the night. I decided on my plan of action, get some Euros a real amount not just the 50 I'd changed in Hungary, check the timetable to Bologna - the rendezvous with Savage at 5pm in Niketown. 9.40 - next train 10.30, arriving 15.11, enough time to find a hostel (hopefully) and make the meeting. Breakfast a toasted mozzarella roll, coffee and a can of coke - 5 Euro (hell - this trip is expensive) - and on to the train. Outside the cafe a group of swarthy Italians, stand chatting and eying up the girls that pass by, already the stereotypes.
The Eurostar journey from Roma Termini to Bologna is luxurious compared to the trains I've become used to in Hungary, luxurious compared to the train journeys I try to forget from the UK, an electric socket at every seat, time to charge up the laptop batteries and write.
Guys wearing velvet caps and baseball style sweatshirts with sequins spelling LOVE across the front, Italy truly is the fashion capital of the world.
Young American backpackers trying to fit oversized backpacks into undersized baggage shelves with frantic
Spotted grafiti near by saying - we take the castle tonight!
Italians trying to get them to stop before the expensive jacket is rudely crushed behind. "Attento! Attento!"
Day 2; Bologna. Eurostar luxury travel to Bologna, wandering around the city searching for Niketown - Savage's blast from the California past now works in the music industry, NikeBologna hires a DJ on a Saturday to play in the shop front. So the meeting point was set. I looked around the town for a hostel, around train stations is usually a good bet, with my lonely planet being 3 years out of date I'd hoped something new had sprung up, no luck. So I followed the streams of people back towards the town center, couldn't find a tourist information at the train station. Bologna is red, very red, almost all the buildings are brick, tiled roofs, of a vibrant colour. Home of spaghetti bolognaise, and pretty central to most of the sights of Northern Italy.
I asked two brightly uniformed policemen for Tourist Information, guessing at the Italian for Tourist Information, "tourist informazioni?" - I wasn't far off, but a long discussion followed - after the discussion they informed that the tourist information is in the Plazza del .... - or
Giovanni and his Smart Car
Samantha's boyfriend - he owns a real smart car :)
at least it used to be, maybe it would still be there, it was maybe 50m from where I'd asked.
In the center of Bologna, Piazza Maggoire is a large open pedestrianised space, surrounded by the cathedral, (Basilica San Francesco), some government building and one of the many towers that dot the city, a statue of Neptune dominates the square, with voluptuous maidens at his feet streams of water issuing forth from their nipples. Tourist information, one hostel on the outskirts of Bologna.
A few hours wander, and then the search for Niketown, after asking some pretty girls in a fashion boutique (they should know right?) - found Niketown and arrived almost the same moment as Savage and Sam. I was really surprised how Savage sounded - really American. We caught up over coffee, wandered the city. We headed back, saw Sam and her set in the front of Niketown, and chatted to a few of the guys working in the store. Savage was a hit coming from Vegas, a few of the guys had been on exchange programs. A little of Casanova resides in every Italian male, or at least they like to think so, Pedro extolled
Samantha in NikeTown Bologna
In the shop front... at work.
the wonders of the "very generous" girls of Kansas City for us. "American girls are very generous" - especially to good looking young Italian boys on exchange in Kansas City, he wants to go back.
Sam and Giovanni (her boyfriend/fiancée - "are we getting married?" - "oh, shore!" - wallop!) - invited me to stay with them as well - so didn't need to go to the one and only hostel in Bologna, - it was great to be invited in the the home of Sam and Giovanni, had a great time, they even liked my sense of humour - which is a rare enough thing. Giovanni's mum cooked for us each night, sending trays of tagliatelle and dishes local to Vignola to be consumed in little trays - I wish we'd been able to meet and thank her for the food. Had a great time staying with new friends, chatted late into the night about so many things, shared interests in music, photography and conversation. For Savage the novelty of eating at a table with people that could use a knife and fork was enough on it's own.
Day 3: Florence. 100km south of Bologna, and an
Azonelli Tower Bologna
and it's little brother, don't know what the fuss is about Pisa - all the towers here lean...
hours train ride, is the city of Florence. Renowned for it's flamboyant architecture. The photos should give an idea of the styles, and size of the buildings. Took a walk around St. ...., one of the many churches, 2 Euro, no mobiles, no photos - see ..... (link to follow) for Savage's spy shots, underarm fingers masking the tell tale lights. I can see why churches do this, though find it a shame - my camera is too large to use without being very obvious, but faced with the muppets that walk in to a church, flashes blazing, beeping, snapping, making a commotion in a place where people come to pray or banning all photography - I understand the choice. On the other side, I don't think that any divine being would be offended by the use of a camera, and if everyone took photos in a discreet and sensitive manner there wouldn't be these signs. One final consideration is that postcard sales do contribute a surprising portion of the income of a church, needed for up keep.
The rest of the day was spent wandering the streets and alleys of Florence, find all the trains were booked on
Ponte di Rialto, Venice
Bitterly cold, and boarded up, must come back one day in the spring!
the way home and killing an hour in an Irish bar (the only one open on Sunday) while waiting for the train. All bars in Italy (even the one open on Sunday) have recently become smoke free, which considering the proportion of smoking Italians is a really brave move. The result is great clear fresh air in bars and restaurants, something I'll miss on my return to Hungary.
Day 4: Venice: The sinking city. Snow had fallen overnight, temperatures dropped to below freezing, and the wind had picked up. So much for a Mediterranean climate, Venice was beautiful but cold. On arriving by train we decided for a tour of the city by water bus, and then to wander back through the labyrinth stopping at the sites. Riding the water bus up to St. Marco square, we were treated to almost deserted waterways, aquatic alley ways, thousands of bridges - every gap in the buildings opened up some new wonder, houses rising 4 stories, leaning over canals, with bridges arching over the waterways, tall enough to allow the non-existant gondolas to pass underneath. Shops serving tourists with snacks, jewelery or masks were common, Venice is famous for it's carnival
No idea which canal this is...
of the masks, it had taken place a week earlier. Surprisingly the prices for coffee and pastries were much the same as in Bologna, I'd expected double the price of the ordinary cities, though Sam informs me that since the Euro just about everything has doubled in the ordinary cities, Venice must have been the only place not to experience this inflation - too damn expensive to hike up the prices any further.
Day 5: Verona: North of Bologna a city famous for it's Roman Arena and being the setting of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" - even has the balcony. The arena was great to see - thousands could have sat on the stone terraces, and considering that it's over 2000 years old must have had many many bottoms sat on each space, the mind races to work out if 1 person sat in each seat each day for 2000 years, thats 120,000 buttocks that must have rested on every seat - they've worn really well. Much of the rest of the city is a fashion shoppers paradise, Gucci, Emporio Armani, Versacci, Prada - line the streets, visiting in February has it's advantages, the place was nearly entirely empty
of tourists, only maybe 80-100 Japanese tourists in the square with the impressive tower - gotta find the name of that - found it - "Piazza delle Erbe"
Day 6: Bologna: Though we were based closest to Bologna of all the cities in Italy, we hadn't actually done any of the tourist sites. Time to change that, nice also to be spending a lot less time on the trains. The weather had taken a turn for the worse, from bad to terrible. Snow and sleet, and sludge under foot. Not a novelty for me but Savage walked around with a grin the size of Nevada for most of the day. Bologna turned out to be one of the highlights, bar the 5 euro coke - more later. We climbed the 11th century 97m, Azonelli Tower, looked out over the city, turned white from the weather - apparently a really unusual site. The Basilica in the centre, beautiful inside, (again no photos). The church was surprisingly plain, but still extremely elegant, I was impressed with the size.
Day 7: Rome: A trip on the eurostar down to Rome, time to update the journal on the train, and then
a rainy tour of the major sites on foot. I'll add another entry soon - but now it's time to upload the photos...
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