So... here's what we did in Italy on days 5-9.
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.
Monday Sept 20 (Day 6)
Kevin went to coffeeshop around the corner for coffee and croissant.
Breakfast in the hotel.
Kevin took taxi to get rental car at the train station. 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.
We weren't crazy about the hotel - only stayed one night.
Tues Sept 21 (Day 7)
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 we called our hotel in Bolonga and arranged for a suite 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.
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.
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 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. We go out to dinner to a kind of touristy restaurant (Il Calice - not good - disappointing food and service).
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 the 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.
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:
Balsalmic vinaigrette (to take home)
Breaded grilled eggplant
Breaded grilled Roma tomatoes
Small onions (yuk)
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!
I went out for coffee and to visit the big Coop bookstore again. 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!