Running in Bologna

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Running in Bologna was pretty fun. I had one of those “runventure”-type runs where I got kind of lost but just kept going to see where I’d end up. I ran up into the hills of Bologna, looking for a park I had read about that had a nice view of the city below. I think I successfully found it, but not before getting a bit turned around in a different park nearby, as you can see here:Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 10.01.40 AM

It ended up being about five and a half miles, half of which was spent climbing hills. But at least I found those nice views!

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Villa Spada, the first park I found.

I think this was Parco S. Pellegrino, it wasn't so much a park as just a big expanse of green. There was no one else around though, and it was very peaceful.

I think this was Parco S. Pellegrino, it wasn’t so much a park as just a big expanse of green. There was no one else around though, and it was very peaceful.

With a great view.

With a great view.

BIG NEWS: I found a hat that fits my head! It's been a looong search, but I finally found one at the North Face store in Bologna, and it was on sale. It doesn't have velcro in the back, which is important since that got caught in my hair every time I tried one on.

BIG NEWS: I found a hat that fits my head! It’s been a looong search, but I finally found one at the North Face store in Bologna, and it was on sale. It doesn’t have velcro in the back, which is important since my hair would get caught in it every time I tried one on. It has been a game changer so far. 

Oops.

Oops, didn’t mean to run out of Bologna.

My other runs were spent closer to our apartment in the historical center, mostly in Giardini Margherita. The first time it was so, so hot and it was hard to repeat the loop around the park too many times, which was almost exactly one mile. Another time it started raining as soon as I left the apartment, but I kept going, hoping it wouldn’t be too bad. Well, it started POURING and continued pretty much the entire time I ran (and of course stopped right after I finished). It was really fun, actually, even though people waiting at bus stops underneath a covering looked at me like I was crazy. Once I was actually in the park, I took cover under some trees because the rain was so strong, but I saw a couple other people running through it, so I started up again. I hadn’t run in the rain in probably 8 years and it was when I lived in Georgia. Living in Santa Barbara, I never had to deal with any type of weather, really, but it turned out to be a really fun change, and I kind of felt like a little kid. It would have been nice to have a hat, since I couldn’t see where I was going half of the time (my North Face hat discovery didn’t happen until a couple days later).

Appropriate street art during a downpour.

Appropriate street art during a downpour.

Post-rain-run-selfie.

Post-rain-run-selfie.

I’m still running 3-4 miles during the week, but trying to get in some longer runs on the weekend so I can build my endurance back up. I’m still hoping to run a half marathon in early September, and I think I almost have one picked out!

 

Bologna, the Red City

After leaving Rome, Jeremy and I took a train ride to Bologna. We picked Bologna because of its central location, and from everything we read online, the food was supposed to be incredible. It did not disappoint. It’s not a huge tourist destination, which we enjoyed, especially after coming from super-crowded Rome. We have been staying a week in most destinations, because many apartments on Airbnb have weekly prices that are much better than the nightly rates. It also gives us enough time to really explore a city, and have some downtime if needed.

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Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, which is home to some pretty delicious foodstuffs (Parma Ham, aka prosciutto, and Parmesan cheese from Parma, Bolognese sauce from Bologna, etc.) and great wine. Bologna is also known for its porticos which line the streets, so you’ll always be shaded from sun or rain wandering around.

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One of Bologna’s nicknames is the “Red City,” and you can immediately tell why when entering the town center.

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All the buildings are a shade of red.

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Food

The internet wasn’t lying about the abundance of delicious food in Bologna. I was beside myself as we were walking down the small streets of the historic center. There were meat, cheese, produce and seafood markets on every corner or more, and we bought some Parmesan cheese from a store and devoured it when we got back to our apartment.

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We wanted to get some authentic Bolognese sauce (it’s called ragu there), and didn’t want to spend a bunch on it. We found a place called Osteria dell’Orsa, which had daily pasta specials for 6 euros, and we ended up eating there twice. The first was for lunch, and I got the most delicious pasta I’ve ever eaten.

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I love pesto SO MUCH and this was the best I’ve ever had.

The second time was for dinner, and Jeremy got the Bolognese sauce, and I had to get a pesto pasta again.

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We also got a drink at this really cool bar.

We also got a drink at this really cool bar.

...and drank pistachio cappuccinos. Good lord they were tasty.

…and drank pistachio cappuccinos at a coffee shop. Good lord they were tasty.

Speaking of food, the first night we arrived in Bologna was July 4, and we celebrated by making a meat and cheese platter while watching House of Cards… in bed (no dining table in this apartment).

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Outdoor Movies in Piazza Maggiore 

There was a huge movie screen set up in the main piazza in town, and the city would show a different movie every night for two months. The second night we were there, they played the Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night, and Richard Lester, the director, was there to introduce it. We didn’t even know he was going to be there, and it was really cool. There were thousands of people there to watch, with people dancing along to the music.

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Earlier in the day, before the crowds came.

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They were playing Annie Hall a few nights later, and we were determined to go (it’s one of our favorite movies). It started pouring about ten minutes before the movie was supposed to start, so it was moved to a movie house across town. We ran across the piazza and jumped in a cab, and luckily made it to the theater before it began. The movie was actually cut in really weird places, sometimes cutting out whole conversations, but I guess it still made sense in the Italian subtitles.

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Climbing the Asinelli Tower

There are two towers in Bologna, both leaning slightly (the Asinelli Tower is actually taller than the tower in Pisa, and is the tallest in Italy). The towers were built in the 12th century, and it’s about 500 steps to get to the top of Asinelli. Once again, my fear of heights reared its head and I was convinced the tower would fall over while we were at the top (because that makes a lot of sense), but we still managed to admire the view for a bit.

The leaning towers of Bologna.

The leaning towers of Bologna – we climbed the one on the right.

The very narrow entrance to the tower.

The very narrow entrance to the tower.

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Starting the climb – you buy your tickets from the man down there.

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View from the top.

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We really liked Bologna, and it was a great place to spend a week. It was also pretty close to Venice, which we visited one day. I am still dreaming about all the food in Italy in general, it was all such a treat.

Snapshots from Rome

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In addition to seeking out the best aperitivo in our neighborhood, our week in Rome included a couple days of walking… a lot. We trekked to the Colosseum from our Airbnb in the Pigneto neighborhood, which only took 45 minutes to an hour (when we are in cities and things are less than an hour away, we usually opt to walk there), and we figured we’d explore the center on foot the rest of the day. A friend from Athens (Georgia) recommended a pizza place in the Trastevere neighborhood, so we headed for that. Sometimes when I look at a map and I think something is fairly close… it’s not. It ended up taking us about an hour more than we thought to get to Dar Poeta for lunch, but it was worth it.

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IMG_7201Trastevere was really charming and had some narrow alleyways with brightly colored buildings, which I love.

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While heading in the direction of our apartment, I accidentally took us on a really long way back, and it took hours and hours to return. I have been wearing my Vans when we go on these 7-hour walking days, and they offer no support. I worry that it’s going to start affecting my feet (or knees), and am considering getting some Nikes or something to walk in, if I can fit them in my suitcase (unlikely). Or I could just wear the Mizunos I run in, but I feel like I should save those just for running. Is that dumb?

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St. Peter’s Basilica… where is everybody?

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Anyway, on another day, I stuffed my running gear in my tote bag and Jeremy and I took a tram to get to a park I read about, Villa Borghese. I wanted to run on the paths there since there were no cars allowed, and I hadn’t run in Pigneto yet. We tried to find a good area for me to run in Pigneto, but surrounding the neighborhood were lots of small streets with tons of speeding drivers, and no sidewalks. One day we walked for almost a mile in one direction (me with my running gear on), and felt so uncomfortable and unsafe that we turned around and went home. I thought I would have better luck at Villa Borghese, so we tried it, figuring I could run after we’d walked around to see some of the stuff we hadn’t seen yet. We decided to see that stuff first, then return to the park, I would run, then we would take the tram home. It was all very involved. Well, the walked ended up taking us 4-5 hours, and I was beat by the time we returned to the park. I didn’t run, and we headed back on the tram. So, I didn’t run at all during my week in Rome, but I got miles and miles of walking in. Oh well. Here are some more pictures from our walking expeditions.

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Piazza Navona.

 

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Piazza Navona.

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I was really excited to see the Trevi Fountain, but alas, it was being worked on. Jeremy and I still tossed coins over our shoulders and into the work site, narrowly missing a construction worker. But it means we will return one day! And hopefully the fountain will be completed by then.

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Capitoline Hill.

 

 

A park filled with feral cats and ruins.

A park filled with feral cats and ruins.

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National Modern Art Gallery.

Our Romans workspace.

Our Roman workspace.

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The zoo in Villa Borghese.

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Piazza del Popolo.

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I was really blown away with the size of the Pantheon.

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Spanish Steps.

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More ruins.

Overall, I don’t feel like Jeremy and I got the most out of our week in Rome (I didn’t even take any pictures with my real camera!). Honestly, it was a little overwhelming. I like to think of myself as pretty public-transportation-savvy, but Rome’s system baffled me. The bus numbers don’t line up with the ones listed online, it’s not clear where buses stop, the trams and buses don’t have any information inside of them and nowhere does it alert you to which stop they are at, etc. One afternoon, we planned on going back to the Colosseum so I could get some pictures with my real camera, and didn’t feel like walking. It took us 45 minutes to find a tobacco shop to buy the tram tickets and figure out where the tram stopped, we finally got on one and after 20 minutes, all the Italians in the tram started crowding next to the driver and yelling at him. We didn’t know what was going on, and suddenly everyone jumped off the tram and it continued on, with us still on it. It turned around and went right back the way it came, back to Pigneto. We were hot and flustered, so we decided to just get off and go back to our neighborhood (and get some aperitivo). This actually happened again on our way to the train station to catch our train to Bologna, but we were a little more prepared for it. We had all our luggage with us, and when everyone jumped off the tram, so did we. We piled into a bus that was replacing the tram service, then everyone got off that one too. We jumped off also, then crammed into a different bus, then sat there while the bus waited in traffic for a long time, just hoping it was going to the train station. Thankfully it did, but it was stressful.

I don’t mean to sound like I didn’t like Rome; I definitely did. I just think next time we should stay closer to the center and try to see the things we didn’t get to this time around. It’s a huge city, after all!

One more picture: everywhere in Italy you have to use a plastic glove if you want to get produce. I really loved this actually. So hygienic!

One more picture: everywhere in Italy you have to use a plastic glove if you want to get produce. I really loved this actually. So hygienic!

Rome, we will meet again one day!

Aperitivo Crawling in Rome

At the end of our week in Sarzana, it was time for Jeremy and I to continue our travels, while my parents headed back to Paris and London and eventually back home. Jeremy and I decided to visit Rome, since neither of us had ever been. We chose to spend the night in Pisa, to break up the train journey. For some reason we were exhausted by the time we got to Pisa, so we just walked around town and to the tower, then made it an early night to get some rest.

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Sandwiches from a place called L’Ostellino in Pisa.

 

It's really leaning! I also tried to get some pictures of people "holding" it up. It was pretty funny to watch.

It’s really leaning! I tried to get some good pictures of people “holding” it up. It was pretty funny to watch.

 

This lady really got into it.

This lady really got into it.

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Pigneto Neighborhood in Rome

One of my favorite things about staying in Airbnbs is that you get to temporarily live in a neighborhood you may not have even visited otherwise. A lot of the places that we stay don’t even have hotels nearby, and we get to feel what it would be like to live in that city, away from the main tourist attractions. In big cities, staying in the center is also just too expensive, for the most part. This was especially true in Rome; the affordable options were pretty limited, and since neither of us had ever been, it was hard to know what the best  location would be. We also only rent places with wifi so we can work remotely, and I wanted an apartment with an air conditioner… I have enough sleeping problems as it is, and being hot at night pretty much guarantees very little sleep for me. I saw the Airbnb Neighborhood Guide for Pigneto, and found a reasonably priced apartment with A/C in walking distance of the pedestrian strip that looked interesting. It turned out to be a great decision, and we spent most of our time in Pigneto, trying different restaurants and bars and visiting the farmers market that happens every day. It reminded us of the Alberta Arts District in Portland, if anyone’s ever been. All of the bars on the main street would show the World Cup matches also, and people would crowd in the street to watch.

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It looks like I’m doing a weird sorority-girl-arm thing, but I swear I’m not.

As travelers that try not to spend too much money on going out to eat and instead cook at our accommodations (which we failed at in Italy), we had done our research on good aperitivo places since it was supposed to be pretty cheap. Aperitivo is similar to happy hour, although it happens later than in America (around 7pm), since people in Italy eat dinner at like 10pm. Some bars/restaurants will offer a buffet that you can visit with the price of a drink, or you can order off an aperitivo menu, which is always priced really well. Some just bring food to your table after you order a drink. This was basically a dream come true for us. It was a light dinner that we could eat early, and not drain our wallets. And all the food was crazy delicious. It’s actually hard for me to post these pictures because it makes me want them again so badly. Here are some of our favorites:

Our first aperitivo experience. Welcome to Rome, indeed.

Our first aperitivo experience. Welcome to Rome, indeed.

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Bar Necci, a popular place in Pigneto.

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This is from a place called Cargo, which we went to three times, I think.

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Cargo on a different night.

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A little bit of everything.

The only aperitivo we went to that had a buffet.

The only aperitivo we went to that had a buffet. We were the first to arrive, and it was past 7pm. 

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I hope everyone is sufficiently hungry now!

Touring the Marble Quarries of Carrara, Italy

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Driving on the interstate toward La Spezia in Italy, the mountains look like they are covered in snow. But it’s actually marble.

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Mountains made of marble in Carrara.

While doing research on Italy before our trip, I kept seeing things about the marble quarries in Carrara, but didn’t know if we’d be in the area. After deciding to stay a week in Sarzana, Carrara was only about a 20-minute drive, so the person that helped us book our accommodations set us up with a tour of the quarries in a 4×4. Our guide was an extremely knowledgeable German lady named Heiki.

Our tour guide, Heiki.

Our tour guide, Heiki.

There are marble quarries all around the world (the biggest is in Vermont, apparently), but the white marble found in Carrara has been used since Ancient Roman times (Michelangelo got his marble for David here!). All around Carrara, the buildings are made of white marble and there are sculptures everywhere you turn. If you’ve seen the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace, the beginning car chase sequence was shot here as well (Heiki actually drove some of the crew up the mountain for filming).

The dirt roads up the mountains are narrow, winding and bumpy, and looking out the window from the Jeep, the drop off into the ravines below was insane (I’m still dealing with my fear of heights). Holding on to the bars inside the 4×4, we all felt a little like Indiana Jones. It was pretty fun and terrifying at the same time. I was scared at some points, but I kept telling myself that huge trucks take these roads every day and have been for hundreds of years, and Heiki is a professional. It was her fourth time up the mountain that day! At some points the huge trucks had to go backwards down the mountain because they couldn’t turn around. It was crazy.

We were really high up.

We were really high up. You can see all the roads the trucks take that wind around the mountain.

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Kind of looks like Machu Picchu, doesn’t it?

A replica of how the marble quarrying works.

A replica of how the marble quarrying works. It’s clear now, yes?

Our group admiring the view.

Our group admiring the view.

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The trucks in action.

The tractors in action.

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Our trusty 4×4.

The quarry where Michelangelo got his marble for David.

The quarry where Michelangelo got his marble for David. He came and picked it out himself.

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We drove through tunnels to get to the caves inside the mountain. Another Indiana Jones moment.

We drove through tunnels to get to the caves inside the mountain. Another Indiana Jones moment.

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The caves were massive.

It was a really neat experience, and unlike anything I’ve ever done. If you are in the vicinity of a marble quarry, I highly recommend taking a tour!

Day Tripping: Portovenere, Italy

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One of the days my parents, Jeremy, and I were in Sarzana, we decided to take a day trip to Portovenere. The Cinque Terre were a little too far away, and Portovenere was only about a 30-minute journey by ferry from La Spezia. We parked the car and made our way to the dock to catch the ferry.

La Spezia

La Spezia

The ferry ride in itself was really fun, and there were beautiful views all along the way. Even though we never made it to Cinque Terre, at least I got to set my eyes on some colorful seaside towns.

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Approaching Portovenere.

 

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When we arrived, we walked around the town and through the narrow alleyways, climbed up to a church on the cliff (where a couple had gotten engaged virtually seconds before we arrived!) and admired the views, and found a lunch spot on the ocean to have a cocktail and some food.

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What? I always stand like this.

What? I always stand like this.

Aperol Spritz - so refreshing

Aperol Spritz – so refreshing

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Lunch with a view.

We had a really nice afternoon exploring Portovenere, and it seemed like it was a good decision after hearing how packed Cinque Terre is during the summer. There weren’t THAT many tour groups, and we were able to relax and just slowly meander around the coast.

Visions of Sarzana

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Sarzana, Italy

After exploring the town of Lucca, my family and I spent a couple hours in the hotel trying to find last minute accommodations somewhere more north, near La Spezia. I was determined to go to the Cinque Terre, and La Spezia is a good spot to take ferries or trains from to visit the Five Lands. After contacting a bunch of people on Airbnb, we finally got someone to accept our last minute request, and they were located in a town called Sarzana, which we had never heard of before. We packed the car back up, and headed north. It wasn’t too bad of a drive, and after getting lost and finding someone who spoke English to help us with directions, we arrived at our new house. We were relieved to have found something and it was nice and spacious, and worked out great. The owners lived downstairs, and they were all very sweet and helpful. There were vineyards across the street, and we were happy to be able to walk into town.

The view from our bedroom window.

The view from our bedroom window.

Sarzana's multi-colored buildings in the center of town.

Sarzana’s multi-colored buildings in the center of town.

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This place had some of the best gelato we’ve had so far in Italy.

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Sarzana was not totally packed with tourists, so it was fun to be in a place where we could see what it really felt like to live in a small town in Italy.

I went on some nice runs too, passing many vineyards and olive groves on the way.

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I really wanted to stop and buy some fresh olive oil, but it was too early in the morning.

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One day we had a full-day sailing trip to Cinque Terre booked, and I was really looking forward to it. But alas, in the morning when we were supposed to leave to go to La Spezia to catch the sailboat, it was storming so badly that there was no way a boat would go out on the ocean in those conditions. It ended up clearing up in the afternoon, and since I was determined to be by the ocean, we drove to Carrara, in search of a beach to spend the afternoon. After trying a couple different beaches and being told they were all private and members-only, we finally found (what seemed like) the only free beach. The ocean was really rocky due to the storm so I didn’t swim, but at least we enjoyed a couple hours of sunbathing.

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Finally got my feet in the Mediterranean!

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The rest of our time was spent taking a 4×4 tour of the marble quarries in Carrara (which was SO COOL), and taking a ferry to Portovenere… more on that later!