Train Travel in Italy

Train travel is the way to go. We went to Florence, Venice and Milan (for getting to the airport) and took the "slow" train each time. Don't bother with the awkward online interface. Go to the train station and use the ticket kiosk. Click on the Union Jack (if you speak English) and then search for your destination. What you'll find first are all the bullet train fares which are Very Expensive! but click on "search other options" and you'll see the 1st and 2nd class fares and the slower, regional trains. Going from Bologna to Florence takes about an hour and a half (on the regional train). Why would you need to get there any faster? Plus, the price of a regional train ticket is not that low when you factor in a family of four.  The stops are always announced and the trains are very clean and comfortable, not at all like our Metro North or Amtrak trains in the US.

The electronic board at the station tells you the track numbers. Before boarding, validate your ticket at the machine located at each of the gates. But don't freak out if a conductor never comes by and takes your ticket. We could have saved even more money if we had just skipped the ticket purchase altogether, if we had only known when we'd get asked for the ticket and when we wouldn't. But you didn't hear this advice from me!


Best Pizza and Food - Pizzaria La Stella

Go here: La Stella di Spinazzola Gennaro Pizzaria. You will have a wonderful time with happy wait-staff and fantastic food. Save room for dessert.

Directions: Via Marco Emilio Lepido, 49, Bologna, Italy. Take the 13 or the 19 bus west to Borgo Panigale.

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Just Be Nice

While here in Italy and looking to travel to other cities, I've read several Tripadvisor reviews for hotels and many of the negative reviews mostly complained of rudeness on the part of a proprietor. I have not see that. If you act friendly, try to speak Italian, and apologize for not speaking Italian "mi dispiace, non ce pusca italiano," you will be met with a better experience than if you start to rattle off your English (or whatever your language s) and wish your server, hotelier, bus driver, shop keeper, etc, knew what you are trying to ask. Be a mensch. Say thank you "grazzie" Greet people "buongiorno" first then ask your question. There: a life lesson for you. As Patrick Star says: "It's first grade, Spongebob!"


What to Eat, When to Eat

In Italy dinner is served after 7pm. If you're walking around town at 5pm and you're feeling the hungries, good luck! Find a "bar" and get a coffee and a sandwich to hold you over until the trattorias, osterias, and ristorantes are open

Shops close between noon and about 3pm. This is when you should look for a restaurant, sit and eat. People watch. Practice your Italian.

The food is great! In Bologna eat the local specialities: tagliata al ragu (above) and tortelloni in brodo. These are not vegan. But you can have any pizza made into a vegan pizza just by eliminating the cheese (senza formaggio e mozzarella). Gelato is from Bologna (at least that's what a tour guide told us, that the university of gelato is IN Bologna). Eat gelato because it is amazing and you can get vegan varieties at the better places. Go to Venchi. See street view and map below. But you should also check out (as we did) Cremeria Santo Stefano which is excellent and has vegan options as well.

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Venice is Spectacular

We went to Venice today and first off, bring lots of room on your camera device. Venice is so picturesque you will be snapping every which way you turn.  It's that gorgeous.

Get the water bus pass, especially if you're staying overnight (get the the 12 hour one). Venice is a walking city and a boating city. But a single afternoon is not really enough time to see much of the insides of places (museums, cathedrals). The city is very crowded (see the picture of the water bus). This is only chilly January and we saw crowds everywhere, I can only imagine what it's like in high season.

The streets are not so well marked and what I saw on Tripadvisor was that people had a hard time finding there hotel/hostel. If you can arrive to Venice during the light of day, you'll be in better shape for finding your accommodation than if you roll in at 10pm. Dark alleys are everywhere. During the brilliant light of day, they are charming and romantic. In the chill of night, those alleys can feel creepy and foreboding.



Bologna had a lot of graffiti which added to the character of the city. There was graffiti in other places too, like on the trains. And there was also some #occupy action.

Bologna's Synagogue - Hard to Find, Well-protected

The experience of finding the synagogue in Bologna, in the dark, on Shabbat, was one that we hadn't met yet. It was the Comunita Ebraica di Bologna. Difficult to find in the evening, it was a surprise to be asked questions to get in, told to leave the backpack in the anti-room, and see armed guards out front and in the back of the building. Once inside there was a pleasant and small group of people studying Torah and celebrating the Sabbath. We went on another day and walked by in the light of
day. The guards were still there and the only sign that this building was a synagogue was a Star of David viewable at the back of the building, in the alley, and Hebrew at the front door threshold.

Note the Star of David on the peach-colored building


What to do in Bologna if You're Visiting Over New Year's

Last night was New Year's Eve and I thought for certain the windows were going to be blown out on our apartment. It was super loud and almost scary. We're not staying in a busy neighborhood and we're not right in the center of Bologna so I did not expect the spectacle that ensued. But I was, in fact, warned...

This afternoon we thought we'd take a low-key and leisurely walk up to the "church on the hill" or the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca but nearly all of Bologna did the same thing. It was wonderful to see everyone hiking up the portico-covered hill and by hiking, I mean many folks where wearing workout gear. I think this a "thing" in Bologna and that people go to the Sanctuary for fitness (and perhaps reflection). It was a beautiful and cool day and a great activity. Walking up is more strenuous than I expected and coming down took about half the time as going up. On a clear day, the view is probably incredible.