Saturday, July 5th
Saturday was going to be a long travel day. Jan was driving to the airport to pick up a friend. I asked her while planning my trip if I could catch a ride with her to the airport. This way, I could take the bus to Milano Centrale and then the train to Bologna. My other option was to take the train to Alessandria and then wait 2 hours for a 3 hour train to Bologna. Jan's friend was arriving early in the morning and so we planned on leaving at 7am.
Jan knocked on my door at around 4 in the morning. At first I thought I must have overslept. She said that her friend's plane was delayed and so we could leave at 11am. I was glad for the extra sleep since my head was not a happy camper after the 2 glasses of wine. After a couple of tries, Italian wines just don't seem to agree with me unfortunately.
I finally crawled out of bed around 9 am. I went in search of coffee and then headed back to my room. Jan was out at the internet cafè and came back to the room soon after I returned. We decided to start packing up the car and leave a little early. We ended up leaving around 10 am. We got stuck behind a slow driver until we hit the freeway (I know it is called something else here but you know what I mean). The scenery was beautiful. The freeway drive was not as pretty but it was nice not being on a train for once.
Once we took the airport exit, we looked for a gas station. Filling up the gas tank can be in interesting experience. At our first gas station, the gas would not pump. We found a guy that seemed to work there or nearby to help us. He was very helpful. Because we did not have the appropriate card, we could only use euros. The problem was that the machine did not seem to like Jan's euros. After manh tried, the machine finally took 20 euros. That did not fill up the tank. We then tried to put in more euros with no success. Because Jan needed to fill the tank up, it was going to be a guessing game as far as just how many euros she would need. We finally found out that there was another gas station nearby that took credit cards. The second gas station was a breeze. It was a full service gas station where the guy that worked there pumped the gas and afterwards, Jan paid with her credit card.
The next stop was to return the rental car. This was a very stressful experience for Jan. First we came up to a spot where there were 3 different lanes going 3 different places. I did not see the turn in time and was not very descriptive in the correct lane. We circled again and took the correct turn. Then we saw the sign to turn left, but there was a machine that seemd to be like a parking ticket machine. We saw the car behind us trying to back up. Jan tried to do the same thing. I was so glad at this point that I was not driving and this confirmed for me to never drive to an airport. Jan finally was able to back up into the traffic but we then found out that we were in the correct place. She had to turn around and return, take the ticket and then put the ticket in the next machine. This made no sense at all. Once we parked the car, we went up to this little van with a window. Jan stepped on a big cement block and gave the woman the rental car papers. After a 3 hour journy, we we were on our way to the airport.
We stopped in the bathroom and then waited to get in an elevator to head to the baggage area. Again, pet peeve...people not waiting nicely in line - instead cutting right in front as if we were never there. We finally got on an elevatory and a lady almost blocked Jan in the elevator when we tried to get off since she was so determined to get on that elevator. Jan and I said our goodbyes and I went out to catch the bus to the train station. I just missed the bus that was leaving. I got on the next bus. It left about 20 minutes later. It was packed with people.
When I arrived at the train station, I pretty much knew the way around the detour due to construction. I checked out the partenza board and then went to the window to buy my ticket. While paying for my ticket, I heard Jan's voice. She was at another window buying her ticket. I called out her name and surprised her. Her friend's luggage must have come out pretty quick since she was not even in the baggage area yet when I left. As I waited for her to buy her ticket, I looked at my ticket and realized I forgot to ask for a first class ticket. I always buy first class tickets when traveling with luggage. I was going on a eurostar train which is the nicest train, but still would prefer to travel first class when I have luggage. I went back and asked the lady at another window if I could upgrade and she said "NO" in a not so friendly way. Oh well, I have heard 2nd class is pretty nice on a eurostar. I hoped that was true.
Jan, her friend, and I went up the escalator and then checked out the board to see if our trains were listed (I was going to Bologna and Jan was going to Venice), if there was a binario assigned for each of our trains yet, and if they were on time. No info yet. I had to figure out what my train's destination was since it said Napoli on the yellow partenza board and Roma was the eurostar listed at the time my train was leaving. I eventually figured out that had to be my train. This can be confusing for a new train traveler. I stamped my ticket and then wandered around while Jan and her friend went in the bar to get a coffee. We both had an hour to wait. I somehow lost Jan after she went in the bar even though I hung out nearby. The partenza board said binario 15 but the binario was still not listed even though there was a eurostar train at binario 15 that seemed to be my train.
Finally 10 minutes before the train was to depart, the binario was listed. I found my carozza (train car) and found my assigned seat (all eurostar trains have assigned seats). The main difference I found out between first and second class was that the seats were a little smaller and 2nd class had 2 seats, and aisle, and then 2 seats, with each of the 2 seats facing each other in a 4 seat configuration, where as 1st class has 2 seats, an aisle, and 1 seat. There was still room between the seats to put my luggage and so it worked out fine and in the end saved me some money. Because the train was not full, I ended up having my 4 seat configuration all to myself. As I waited for the train to depart, I noticed 3 young American girls deciding what seats to sit in. I thought for a minute if I should say something but then did. They did not realize that each of their tickets had an assigned seat. They also did not stamp their tickets which could result in a big fine (although I have heard both yes and no regarding needing to stamp a eurostar ticket). I showed them where to find their seat numbers and told them about the yellow validation machine. I called Jan on her cell phone to make sure she was on her train and figured out where her train car and seats were. She figured it all out and was on her way to Venice.
My train ride was quiet and pleasant. I did some sudoku and listened to my iPod. An hour and a half or so later, I finally arrived in Bologna. I was a little confused as far as which exit to take since this train station is quite big and there are exits for different directions of the city. I was hoping I found the correct one so that I would not have to climb more stairs. I was in luck. I found the taxi line and there was no wait. My taxi driver was very nice. I spoke a few words of Italian to him and he proceeded to give me a tour of the town as he drove to my hotel, telling me the various places I should visit along the way. The cost was 9 euros.
Everyone at Hotel Porta San Mamolo were extremely friendly. One of the men insisted on taking both of my bags. The other man welcomed me back to their hotel. I followed the man with my luggage through the little maze and up 2 flights of stairs to a wonderful room. It was not as big as my room last year (that must have been a double) but it is still very spacious with a great bathroom and a wonderful view.
After I unpacked and showered, I headed out to the centro. My hotel made a reservation for me for dinner at da Nello, a place I ate at on my first trip to Bologna back in 2001. I noticed that there seemed to be more graffiti in Bologna this year. I also saw quite a few "seedy type" people out and about in the center area. It was quite crowded and I noticed a big police presence.
Although my reservation was for 8, I headed towards the restaurant at 7:30 since I was quite hungry after my long travel day and some cheese and fruit for lunch along with a yogurt drink and some cookies I bought at the pasticceria the day before. In Bologna, I think I have figured out that tortellini means a meat filled ravioli type pasta and tortelli means a cheese filled ravioli type pasta although this does not always hold true. At da Nello's, they had 2 tortellini dishes, one with meat and one with cheese. I asked if I could get the cheese dish with the fresh pomodoro (tomato) sauce that was advertised with the penne dish. The waiter must not have misunderstood as I ended up having half tortelline with the creme pomodoro sauce and half penne with the fresh pomodoro sauce. The penne dish was much better, so it worked out in the end as I got a sample of both. I also ordered a caprese salad (mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil). It was ok, but not superb. After dinner, I headed back to my hotel. It was a quick and pleasant 10 minute walk. I was excited to be back in Bologna and looked forward to my week in Emilio Romagna.