Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bologna, Italy

Last Visited: 1999

Bologna with a Tryst

Bologna is a large industrial city in north-central Italy. After spending a day exploring Venice (not nearly enough time, I know, but we were on a tight schedule) we jumped in our car and headed for Bologna, a distance of about 150 km (or 95 miles). It was only about a 2 hour drive, but we arrived in Bologna approaching midnight.

We drove through the outskirts of town, looking for a Pensioné, which is a European name for a cheap hotel. Americans and Australians might use the word motel, but a Pensioné is somewhat different, as it is a proper hotel structure, not simply a bunch of rooms clustered around a car park.

I saw a café that was open, and dashed inside and approached the old men gathered at a table sipping espresso and asked in very poor Italian “Excusé signori, Pensioné por favore?” The old men looked up from their coffee, smiled, and pointed to the next street and gestured to turn left and said “twenty kilometres”. I thanked them and went back to the car and followed their directions, supposing that they meant two kilometres.

The road led up through the darkness into the hills above the city. After several kilometres we passed a large hotel with buses and cars in a vast parking lot. Was this what they meant? No, we decided to keep going. A few kilometres more, and we passed a large restaurant on the edge of the hill, built on stilts overlooking the valley below. It was bustling with lights and customers and music and laughter. Still we kept going. Then on the side of the road we spied through the darkness a small white two-story building with no signs, but with a single star painted on the wall. This was the Pensioné we had been looking for.

I pulled into the parking lot in the back and went inside to ask if they had any rooms available, but had to wait while another couple were checking out … it seemed odd they had no luggage. They finished, and I asked for a room. The clerk asked for how long – one hour, two hours? I said all night, and he said okay, gave me a key, and we moved into the room. The room was immaculate, newly renovated, had a nice comfortable bed, a shower, and a bidet. The toilet was down the hall. It slowly dawned to me that this Pensioné was of a special sort – the kind intended for lovers enjoying a tryst. No wonder the old men smiled when they gave me directions!

After dropping off our suitcases in the room, we decided to venture back down the hill to the bustling restaurant we passed a few kilometres back. It was now 12:30am, but the restaurant was still going strong and happily seated us at a table and took our order of gnocchi carbonara, spaghetti marinara, garlic bread and a bottle of Chianti. As we were ordering, the owner of the restaurant approached and asked where we were from. I told him we were from Australia, and when the meals came out they were decorated with small Italian and Australian flags on toothpicks. It was a lovely gesture. When we finished, he brought us a couple of shot glasses of grappa and we toasted Australia and Italy with him.

We had a very peaceful night sleep in our little Pensioné in the hills, and the next morning took a brief drive through Bologna before setting out for the city of Firenzé (known as Florence in the English speaking world). Sadly, we didn’t get to see much of Bologna, but we had a memorable experience.

Language in Italy

Of course the language is Italian, but many people are bi-lingual and it is not uncommon to find people who speak limited English. As with anywhere in Europe, if you make an effort to speak their language, they will try to meet you halfway.

Currency in Italy

The currency in Italy is the Euro. Italian Lira was phased out in 1999 when the European Monetary Union was established.

Transportation to Bologna

Italy has an excellent rail network, with a high-speed 300 km/h (185 mph) TAV (Treno Alta Velocita) train line connecting Bologna to Firenzé and Rome to the south and Milan to the north, and a 250 km/h (155 mph) link to Venice.

Italy also has an excellent road network, and we found it no problem to drive the length and breadth of Italy. The views can be spectacular as you go through a tunnel and come out the other side onto a very high bridge over a gorge then plunge into another tunnel, then another bridge followed by another tunnel. Amazing engineering!

Food and Water

As you can expect, the food in Italy is excellent, and tap water is safe to drink in all the big cities. Enjoy!