Tag Archives: playing tourist


15 Oct

Perhaps somewhat foolishly, I decided to go to Rome for a few days without fully recovering from my trip to Siena. Oh, poor Valerie, too much traveling around Italy? I know, but it’s true. I had the rough night in Florence and only a couple days before I was getting on another 5:15 a.m. train to do a full day of sight-seeing.

Anyhow, I’m back. Pictures and stories tomorrow, or maybe even later tonight.

Day tripper: Siena

12 Oct

My friend Leah and her fiance, Aaron, invited Colin and me to spend some time in Tuscany with them this past weekend. Colin was swamped with reading and declined, but I joined them on Saturday in Siena.

Wanting to make the most of the day, I caught the early train at 5:15 from Bologna. The station was pretty well deserted, but I still got hassled by a young woman for my change after buying my ticket.

Leah met me in Piazza il Campo for breakfast as the sun peeked into the square. We debated continuing on to San Ghimingani, a nearby UNESCO World Heritage Center, or simply exploring Siena. Aaron added his input an hour later when he woke up, and the consensus was for Siena.

We got the all-inclusive pass to visit the Duomo and spent most of the day using that up. The cathedral was super cool—lots of white marble carved in gothic style. The bell tower was layered with black and white marble and looked like something out of Beetlejuice. The arched ceiling inside was dark blue and peppered with stars, and the marble we walked over depicted religious scenes.

The facade of the cathedral

One of the floor mosaics that displays the historical factions of Italy

One of the highlights of the cathedral was the Piccolomini Library, which was added in 1492 and houses volumes of illuminated choir books. Everyone was looking up at the frescoes on the ceiling, which were gilt and spectacular, but I could barely contain my excitement over the 520-year-old books.

We visited the museum, the crypt, and the baptistery, but the cathedral competes with the old archway adjacent to the museum for the highlight of the trip. We climbed two tight spiral staircases to get a phenomenal view of the city.

Piazza il Campo

I should have illicited some restaurant tips from a friend who’d studied here a couple years ago, but we made do. We spent the late afternoon soaking up the remaining sunlight at the Medicea Fortress before settling into a few bottles of wine and a orchestra in a piazza.

Caramel and dark cherries

I said my goodbyes around 8 to catch a bus and then train back to Bologna. I hit a minor snag at my first of two transfer stations, opting to go find a restroom with only a few minutes before my train arrived. Sure enough, I missed it. Thinking the train coming in 20 minutes would still probably allow me to make my second connection, I held off on the panic attack.

Well, you’ve probably guessed that I wouldn’t be writing about this at all if I’d made that second connection. I spent the night in a Florence train station, an hour away from Bologna, until a train came at 4:40. It was not my most comfortable night, but I made it through and got to listen to most of The Portrait of Dorian Gray.

I’ll tell you, though, I’m still tired.

Long-legged misery

22 Sep

As a budget traveler who needs at least 30 inches of inseam, this article makes me feel conflicted and, well, cramped. At a recent airplane tech show, some company unveiled a new “stand-up” seat with about two-thirds of the space of a regular coach seat. The writer described it not like “riding a horse,” as the manufacturer suggested, but like being wedged in a stand-up roller-coaster seat.

It’s one more incentive not to get on a damn airplane. No one has actually installed these yet, but the airline I’m likely to fly on when we do any traveling here, Ryan Air, is chomping at the bit to put these in.

Honestly, I’d be happy limiting the trips that require flights anyway. I wouldn’t have expected that three-month trip to have any lingering effects on my psyche, but I get almost anxious when we go away for the day. Luckily, Bologna’s in a pretty good location to explore a lot of Italy; I could even get to Rome in just over two hours on the train.

I do want to take advantage of being in Europe, of course. I’d like to go back up and explore the Baltic states, and Colin and I are talking about going to Croatia for his spring break. We discussed a trip to Germany in the winter, and apparently a group of students are planning a school-related weekend trip to Morocco. Colin will have three-day weekends every other week during the first semester, so we’ll have a few opportunities to go a little farther than Parma and Pisa.

Just a few photos

10 Sep

Nothing amazing. Imagine if I had a really stellar camera and a less-shaky hand, though. Then these would be amazing.

Bologna used to have rivers running through it, but they were pushed underground to make way for automobiles. Here is a sample of what it must have been like.

Neptune in all his watery glory. There used to be a big market in the piazza he gazes at, and fruit vendors would wash their ware in the fountain until a pope came to town and disagreed with the practice. He ordered the small fountain that the man in the very bottom of the frame is drinking from.

The statue of the pope-looking man is, in fact, a pope. However, when Napoleon came on the scene with his anti-Catholic Church views, the quick-thinking citizens of Bologna assured him it was actually a statue of St. Petronius, or San Petronio, the patron saint of Bologna. It fooled Napoleon and saved the statue's neck.

I've seen a few film crews around the city, and it's now dawning on me they were probably all for the same film, "AmeriQua," about Robert Kennedy III's life in Bologna.

This is one of my favorite streets in the city. You step onto it from the bustle of a busy street on one end or the glare of the piazza on the other, and cool, fruit-scented air is so calming.

Further down on the fruit street is a cheese shop so nice, it inspires embraces.

Checking must-sees off my list

4 Sep

Poor Pisa almost got forgotten. Before Colin and I even made it to Corsica, we stopped through Pisa for a picture and a pizza. Due pizze.

And then last weekend a small group of us went to Verona for the final show of their 2010 Opera Festival. Originally we expected to just be three, but we ran into a handful of SAISers at the Bologna train station and ended up being nine.

Some of the group was new, so there was a lot of the getting-acquainted conversation at lunchtime. Distracted by the best gnocchi I’ve ever had, I didn’t take part in much of it.

We split up again to walk around the town a bit before meeting up for a quick bite before the show. The staff at the restaurant we ate at had some fun with us.

Juliet's balcony

The only other people at the restaurant who got crowns (and later, balloons) were around 7.

The opera was Aida, and the plot was mostly propelled by arias sung by individuals on a near-empty stage for three and a half hours. I knew what was going on because of a synopsis the couple next to us had given me, but would have otherwise been pretty lost. The stage and set were really fantastic, though, and it was certainly an enjoyable night.

Our original three, Colin, me, and Simone, from Germany, had made reservations at a guesthouse, but the other six caught a 3:30 a.m. train back to Bologna to get to class at 9. Unpleasant.