Off to Emilia-Romagna (Week 7 Recap - Nov 12, 2018)
Updated: Nov 28, 2018
I have said I was ready to leave Rome, but as the date approached, I was filled with dread. We would have to pack and move all our stuff. I know we got it here from SF, but that somehow seemed more manageable. I’d flown out of SFO countless times, we had a car waiting for us at FCO when we landed, everything was door to door service. This time around we had to somehow get from our apartment in Trastevere to Roma Termini station for our train, where of course there’s no checking your bags and breezing to your seat with a tote. We’d need to get our stuff onto and off of the train and to an apartment in Bologna. And while we packed “light” for a year of travel with a baby, a regular size Italian taxi wouldn’t cut it with our two 28in suitcases.
For days Mike didn’t share my anxiety. I would be biting my nails and he’d shake his head. And sure enough, we used the MyTaxi app to order a larger cab, we managed to figure out the strap that attaches the car seat to one of our pieces of luggage so that we could pretty easily maneuver with all our bags through the station. I was feeling some combination of cockiness and relief. Then we boarded the train.
Our 28in suitcases would fit literally nowhere. They would not go above the seats. They would not go in the slot between the back to back seats reserved for luggage. There was no extra storage at the end of the car a la Amtrak (oh, and I never thought I’d miss Amtrak!). We could barely even get one of the bags jammed in at our feet. They were too wide to leave in the aisle not to mention the fact that they’d roll away as we traveled 200kph. Finally we did the only thing we could think of, we gave each of our suitcases their own seat and crossed our fingers that they wouldn’t be in seats reserved for actual paying people-customers.
We lucked out this time around as the train car we were in was fairly empty (not a coincidence, I did check this when I booked our seats) but I have to say this is a problem we are going to face like 12 more times and I am not sure how we are going to deal with it. Stay tuned.
The good news is that once we were off the train with our people-bags, it was pretty easy to get to our Airbnb in Bologna and, boy, it was amazing to be in a lovely, open, light filled apartment after six weeks in our student housing in Rome. In some ways I grew fond of the place in Rome, and it had its upsides - two bathrooms so Mike and I didn’t have to share, three bedrooms so we could have guests, terraces to dry laundry and views from the bedrooms. But the furnishing was… spare. We had to buy things like dish towels. The dust blowing in from outside was relentless. On the other hand our Bologna Airbnb was quirky, lived in, comfortable, sparkling clean, and perfectly located.
Mike and I had been to Bologna before several years ago on a prior trip to Italy, and I remember thinking it was fine. Kind of charmless, to be honest. I remember eating very good ravioli and some gelato near the University. We only decided to come back this time because there was an exhibit at a museum that Mike was interested in. This time I was totally floored. The energy was so different than Rome’s. Some of it was that we split our time in Rome between Trastevere, filled with lollygagging tourists, and Testaccio, a lovely historically working class neighborhood filled with people running errands, heading to shops, etc. It was a nonrepresentative slice of the city, and it had its upsides (playgrounds!) but its downsides too.
In Bologna students in swinging coats and giant scarves rushed by late to class, well dressed professionals hurried off to wherever, the elderly woman next to us at breakfast drinking her cappuccino and reading the paper wore a blazer. The Italians we passed (or who passed us) seemed directed and purposeful in Bologna in a way that people had seemed at home and relaxed in Rome. It wasn’t better or worse but, man, the energy was different. And as a New Yorker I confess there was a tiny breath of home in all the Bologna buzz.
But Bologna is really nothing like a mega-city (in Rome you really felt that piece), and I think that’s also what felt nice about the change. It’s a totally unique-looking place with porticos along every major street, and the walkways under them are made of patterned stone rather than cement. There are endless shops. We loved especially the warren of streets with little shops and cafes off the main piazza. We watched a couple buy octopus for their dinner, saw the most beautiful purple artichokes, and ate and ate and ate.
We planned only two nights in Bologna, and even that was sort of spur of the moment (well, planned a week in advance, but that is spur of the moment in my world of travel planning), as we left Rome two days early to make it happen. But we instantly wished we’d planned longer, a week would have been fine. I will have to list all the places we ate separately because we cannot forget them and if you go you should copy us at least a little.
After two nights in Bologna we did my next least favorite thing (after train travel with tons of luggage) which is to pick up a rental car with tons of luggage. I don’t know why but I just hate renting cars. Why are you letting me used this extremely expensive piece of equipment? I can’t escape the feeling that something will go wrong and we will pay for it. There was no way around the car though as I was determined to get some time in out in the Italian countryside. So we picked up the car, headed out of Bologna, and Mike drove (stick) towards our agriturismo for the weekend, Opera 02.
I was totally intent on staying at an agriturismo, which we also had done on that same prior trip to Italy, although that time in Tuscany, in Greve in Chianti. Back then we were on a small working farm in spare accommodations, but the vineyard was charming and the food was incredible - fresh and prepared by the nonna - and it was an experience I wanted to recreate, but somehow with more parmesan cheese.
After fruitless hours trying to figure out what agriturismo would be any good based on close to zero information on the internet, I finally did a search for best small hotels in Emilia-Romagna and one of the ones listed was also an agriturismo. I had had visions of bringing WP to see sheep, but I ended up settling for a focus on vinegar when this place outside Modena had its own vineyard and made Lambrusco (the local, lightly sparkling red, wine) and balsamic (the black gold of the region). What really sold me I’ll admit was that there was a sauna and my neck was really hurting at the time. I gave up my visions of walking amongst sheep and cows and pigs and settled for grapes and a steam room.
Opera 02 was just as beautiful in person as it looked online. Sweeping vineyard views with giant stone farmhouses dotted at intervals. One afternoon I spent a few meditative minutes in front of our wall-to-wall sliding glass doors (leading onto our private patio) watching a tractor in the distance plow a large field. I really want to come back in summer when you could sit out on your deck sipping Lambrusco during a long evening sunset, and use the infinity pool overlooking the vineyard, though who knows if we could afford the peak season rates. (Also if there were mosquitos now, they’d probably be murder in the summer - why are there so many mosquitos in Italy?!)
The only downside of being at such a nice place is that the restaurant is quite fancy. We did eat there our first night (WP’s first tasting menu! We took turns walking her around the lobby). Luckily they recommended a place nearby that we ate our next two nights, which was perfect - it seemed to be the destination for locals, packed with families out for weekend dinners, they had the best high chairs we’ve seen in Italy yet (no wriggling out of this one), and the antipasti buffet got us our fill of vegetables.
The highlight of our time here was definitely the balsamic tasting that we went to at Acetaia Cavedoni. Oh man. Learning about the process used to make true balsamic vinegar (DOP - the regulated stuff) was totally fascinating. It really made me appreciate the process by which vinegar is aged, which is different than wine and involves annual checkups, condensation as the water in the product continues to evaporate, careful redistribution and acidity checks - aging it an active rather than passive process. We tasted 25 year old vinegar and saw 150 year old vinegar. We saw the vinegar that had been started when our tour guide was born by his father and the vinegar he started for his two children. We spent an amount of money on balsamic Christmas gifts (spoiler) that would cause me pangs of guilt if I had spent it on clothes.
The next day we day-tripped into Modena proper to walk around. The duomo was my favorite. It was so unique compared to the countless other churches we’d been in. There were stories carved in stone, two layers of prayer areas, ceilings high and low, and just generally a unique look to the place. The center of town was very cute. We were caught reservation-less on a Saturday for lunch, so we popped into a sort of charmless place that quickly filled with families and I was thrilled to have a huge, fresh salad (Mike got the in-season pumpkin tortelloni with parmesan and balsamic, a very Modena meal).
Our final day at the agriturismo we popped into the nearby towns for a walk around and grabbed the last free table at a wine bar for lunch. Then we took the free tour of the winery and balsamic room at Opera 02 and manufactured our own casual dinner where we ordered two burgers to the lobby instead of the restaurant. I literally shed a tear when it was time to leave the next morning, but the adventure continues.
Monday we head to Parma for a week!