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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Money has been the deciding factor in a lot of choices we’ve made on the trip.  It has been the biggest influence on deciding where we go next.  After Rome, we weren’t sure what our next stop would be.  Ben had his eyes on Modena, because it was the home to a tour of several “super car” factories and museums, including Pagani, Lamborghini and Ferrari.  The tour website suggested staying in Bologna, so we started investigating that as a destination.

When we were in Tortoreto, Ida, the cousin of a friend of ours from Cincinnati, suggested several possible places to stop in Italy.  Our goal was to experience the true Italian lifestyle, and not just go visit famous sites.  After a lot of research, we settled on Perugia, an Umbrian town known for it’s university and classic Italian architecture. 

Frequently, where we decide to stay in our next stop is influenced by elements of our current accommodations.  In Rome, for some reason the wi-fi there only worked on one device at a time, sometimes two.  That makes it difficult for Ben and Marley to do online schooling through the Khan Academy and also difficult to do research for the next stage of the trip. 

I found a nice place in Perugia in the heart of the old town, but when I asked the owner about internet access, she said it was broadband via a key that you plug into the USB slot of a laptop.  That doesn’t work for us, but it turned out she had another apartment that was smaller and not as nice, but it had wi-fi and was a lot cheaper.  Plus it had three bedrooms, not two, and the kids enjoy the rare occasions where they get their own rooms.  So we decided to go that route. 

Our time in Perugia was enhanced by the ongoing UEFA Euro 2012 championship.  Almost every restaurant we walked by advertised that they would be showing the game that night and would list the teams that were playing.  Many restaurants set up tables and chairs outside, and at night would bring TVs out to follow the football festitivies.  

On the night that Germany played the Netherlands we completely lucked out.  We underestimated the level of interest Italians and visitors to Perugia would have in the contest that night, and most tables with prime viewing location to see the action were taken.  That was until we walked by a place where we had lunch our first day in Perugia.  There, front and center, right in front of the TV, was a table that had just been vacated.  We were more than happy to sit there and wait for it to be cleaned off.

Unlike when we were in Asia or even Turkey, it was difficult to detect the nationality of the people we saw in Italy. The evening of the Germany/Netherlands game, Ben and Annie were the only people wearing anything with the Germany colors or logo.  But when Germany scored, most of the people at the other tables cheered, so we knew we were in friendly territory.  It was a lot of fun to share the passion of the football fans.  Portugal and Holland were also playing that night, and some of the other restaurants were showing that game and whenever something dramatic happened in that game, you could hear the shouts from the people watching.   

It was a great atmosphere and made for a very enjoyable time, enhanced by the fact that with their win, the Germans advanced to the knockout round as one of the eight teams moving on past the group stage.  Having the football to follow really helped us feel part of the European community.  And that’s one thing I love most about in sports: how it brings people together.

Perugia is the prototypical Italian village, perched on a hill with gorgeous views of the Umbrian countryside. The streets are charming and romantic, mostly cobblestone, weaving their way gently through the old stone buildings.
One sunny afternoon, Annie and I left the kids back at the apartment to do some schoolwork online while we did some exploring.  One thing we wanted to do was to see if there was a place to watch the football that wasn’t out in the middle of the town, hoping to possibly escape the somewhat touristy feel that had.  While we came up empty on that front, we scored big time when we found a café with fantastic views that offered some antipasti and some tasty wine.  The view was better than the food, but we didn’t mind at all.  It was great to just relax there on a rare parents-only moment and soak up the fabulous tableau surrounding us, and comment about what a wonderful adventure we were on. 
A couple of days into our four-day stop in Perugia, someone mentioned on Annie’s Facebook page something about the Amanda Knox case.  It had completely escaped both of us that Perugia was where that media circus unfolded.  During my days at WLW, I totally ignored the story that for some reason TV networks in the US were obsessed with.  I did some research and found that there was a picture of the house where so and so was found murdered, and it was apparently in the old village, but we never found it.  I did find out that the courthouse where the trial was held was a massive gray stone building that we walked by everyday. 

We made the most of the internet access we had in our tiny apartment in Perugia.  The kids got caught up on some of their schoolwork, and I made good progress in researching the next few stops of our trip.  A house-sitting assignment awaits us in the French Pyrenees starting July 5th, and we were trying to figure out where to go before then.   Bologna was a must-see because we really wanted Ben to have the chance to see the birthplace of so many of the super cars that he loves.  The plan to hit Bologna right after Perugia and move on from there after a day or two was killed when we discovered the tour was booked up on the day we wanted to go, but was available a few days later. 

In a reactionary move to the tight quarters we had in Perugia, I found a place just outside of the old walls of Bologna that boasted a big living room and two bedrooms, plus a wrap around balcony.  That would be a nice change from Perugia, where the only non-bedroom place to sit was in the cramped kitchen. 

The train ride from Perugia to Bologna was another enjoyable one, exposing us to more beautiful Italian landscape.  The train station in Bologna was a short taxi ride away from the apartment and we met Mattia from the property management company outside the modern-looking building that was in sight of one of the remains of the 12 gates that used to provide an opening in the walled city. 

We got to Bologna a little earlier than expected and Mattia was just a little late, but we managed to find some shade as we waited, hoping to hide from the relentless rays of the sun.  Italy was experiencing something of a late-spring/early summer heat wave, with temperatures well into the 30s, even threatening the 40s.  That’s nearing 100 in Farenheit and we were looking forward to spreading out and catching up on some sleep after another day of travel.

As Mattia and I went over the particulars of the apartment, Annie started fiddling with what looked to be a thermostat or temperature control on the wall, hoping to bring a chill to the stuffy room.  When we asked about how to turn on the air conditioning, Mattia paused, and shook his head vigorously enough to cause his sweat-drenched black bangs to quiver to and fro on his glistening forehead.  “No AC” he said, gesturing toward the large glass doors leading out to the balcony.  It never occurred to me to ask about AC when I was booking the apartment.  I mostly wanted wi-fi and easy access to the city.  Every place we’ve stayed with the exception of Fiji had air conditioning.  This place looked modern and new, nicely appointed with two bathrooms, a washing machine, decent-sized kitchen.  Of course they would have AC.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.

By opening the exterior door in the kitchen that led out to a small balcony overlooking a courtyard and opening the large glass doors to led to the larger balcony overlooking the street, we got a decent breeze going through living room and kitchen in the apartment.  But the bedrooms were to the side of that wind flow so the air in them remained as still and steamy as a sauna.  That led to me waking up our first night there after about five hours of sleep drenched in sweat.

I hate being sweaty when I sleep, and always prefer some air moving around the room.  At home, I turn on our ceiling fan and a floor fan to keep a breeze going.  I’ve always been a pretty solid sweater, something my son seems to have acquired.  Plus, now that I’m more than a year into my 50s, I’m fostering a healthy amount of hair on the backs of my upper arms as well as my back.  In another ten years, I’ll be able to go to Star Wars parties as Chewbacca without having to wear a costume.  

Despite being a bit sleep-deprived and sweaty, we managed to enjoy Bologna.  The architecture is fabulous, dating back centuries.  The reddish stone buildings of the main square take you back in time.

The Piazza Maggiore is dominated by a statue of Neptune, who happens to be naked and fairly well-endowed which has caused a touch of controversy over the years.  Bologna is a very easy city to walk around in, and in some ways more enjoyable than Rome.  There aren't as many iconic sights to take in, but it's more compact and has a less hectic air then Rome.  

Bologna is also considered to be the food capitol of Italy, and we had some delicious meals there.  We had possibly the best pasta we've ever tasted at a restaurant that someone on Facebook recommended to us.  It was at a classic Italian restaurant with photos of Italian celebrities on the wall, documenting visits they had made to Trattoria Anna Maria over the years.  And we had to sample Bolognese sauce while in Bologna and that did not disappoint.  

The main reason we were in Bologna certainly didn't disappoint either. And you can read all it about it in Ben's blog about his super trip to see super cars.

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