Tandem Travel Tales: Bologna

GETTING OUT OF NAPLES

As you probably gathered from our last post, leaving our work exchange was vital to our sanity. We threw a few ideas around before we decided to head to Bologna. Hannah, our friend and fellow volunteer, was planning to take a bus to Bologna and then continue home to Germany. Since we didn’t have anything else planned, and car rental seemed relatively cheap, we opted to for indulgence.

Car Rental Naples @travelingintandem
The beginning of our adventure out of Naples.

We took a train to Naples and a bus to the airport before we were able to get to the car rental office. After a long wait, some awful complimentary candies, and some paperwork, we were confidently strutting through the lot with keys in hand.

I don’t know what it is, but somehow Steve and I always end up renting some sort of company clown car. We always book mini or compact cars because we don’t need extra space and fuel efficiency is prime. But, for some reason, we never get compact. We ended up with a Dodge Charger in Seattle, a Kia Sol in Denver, and a Volkswagen Beetle in Florida.

So wouldn’t you know that the theme continued in Naples. Not only did we laugh because they gave us a Ford, but they also gave us a beater. After taking a look around it became clear that we were the only ones with a car that was missing pieces and looks like it had made contact with a guard rail.

Sicily by Car in Naples @travelingintandem
One of the many examples of our car rental from Sicily by Car.

Travel Tip: Check out rentalcars.com if you’re looking to rent a car. Often they offer deals that include CDW and liability insurance. Their rates are also cheaper than other third-party companies or the rental companies themselves.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

So we made our way out of Naples, thankful for our data plan and subsequent navigation. On the way, we learned a few things. First, the main Italy toll road, the Autostrade, can be obscenely expensive. Second, while this car came complete with a shredded bumper and missing antenna, it drove pretty well. And third, the drive from Naples to Bologna is sooooo long.

We departed Naples around 11 AM and arrived in Bologna around 9 PM. That was with a brief lunch stop in the cute coastal town of Terracina and relatively consistent driving otherwise. We chose Terracina because it had a beach and greatly contrasted the dry, mosquito-ridden hills we had been experiencing. As it turns out, high season in Italy does not necessarily translate to all parts of Italy. Terracina was sparse on both the food and people fronts. Grabbing a quick bite and coffee, we were quickly back on the road headed north.

Travel Tip: Don’t rent from Sicily by Car. I made the mistake of reading their reviews after renting from them. They’re terrifying and our car is evidence that they don’t maintain their vehicles. So are the scammy emails we’ve been getting the last few weeks about an alleged refund.

Terracina, Italy @travelingintandem
Walking on the beach in Terracina, Italy.

BRITTANY CAN’T NAVIGATE

Hannah, our lovely travel companion, and conversationalist, was on the fence between two opportunities. She was unsure of whether or not she wanted to spend the night at a work exchange or head straight for Bologna. In Bologna she could take an overnight bus to Germany at 2 AM. Thinking back on the less-than-pleasant experience we had just had, we decided that she should try for some sort of work exchange redemption.

Steve, our solid, charming, and dedicated driver, was driving just fast enough to get her there in time without speeding excessively. After two hours, we had gained 30 minutes and were set to put Hannah at the train station with 10 minutes to spare. It was perfect. And then I went cruising through my music inventory and totally missed our last turn…

We didn’t even realize the mistake until we were 15 km down the road and had to turn around. Sweet Hannah was genuine in saying it wasn’t a big deal, but I felt like a total buffoon for a few hours. Womp womp. In exchange we booked a last minute bed and breakfast in Bologna, finished our drive, and glided in to town with no issues…initially.

Bologna Flea Market @travelingintandem
A look at the pop up flea markets scattered around Bologna.

Travel Tip: If you do not have a data plan, use offline maps from GoogleMaps or Waze. Download the maps and directions before your trip. This has saved us a number of times and you can find Wifi just about anywhere to download the maps.

ZONE OF LIMITED TRAVEL (ZTL)

All right. So if you are anything like me, you have absolutely no idea what a ZTL is. Given that we hadn’t planned to rent a car in Italy, I did little to no research on the matter. What I did know was that gas wasn’t cheap, neither were the toll roads, and there were hidden speeding boxes all over. I had not read anything about Bologna. So as we were pulling in to town I was surprised to read that Bologna had Zones of Limited Travel. The hefty fines associated with driving down one of these roads, which are not very well marked, range between 100-250€. Hahahaha.

So wouldn’t you know that when I looked up we were turning onto a ZTL road? For the first time during our trip, I lost it. Full-blown panic attack. We quickly realized that the only other vehicles on this road are cable cars and buses. Poor Hannah is just silently in the back seat absorbing all of our horrible energy. And I’m envisioning the $300 ticket that may appear in Steve’s home mailbox in the next few months. It wasn’t one of my best moments.

Statue in Bologna @travelingintandem
One of the most explicit statues we have ever seen.

PARKING IN BOLOGNA

I wouldn’t wish this task on my worst enemy. Honestly, I could see The Amazing Race making this one of their challenges. Drive your manual transmission car through a dark city at night with narrow roads, abundant one-way streets, and evil ZTLs, while trying to locate one of the few highly sought after parking spots in downtown Bologna. It was an absolute joke.

We quickly checked in at a lovely little bed and breakfast downtown before heading to the recommended parking lot. As it turned out, there were absolutely no spots to be found and the lot existed in the midst of a grid of chaos. Needless to say, it took us a while to find our way out. To add to it, all of the street parking was already called for, and most of the parking garages were already closed or did not allow for overnight parking. We were hosed.

Eventually, we found a spot on the edge of town, relatively close to the train station where we thought Hannah’s bus was leaving in the next few hours. As was the theme that day, this was not the case. But we didn’t find that out until we were a few drinks deep and it was almost 2 AM.

Travel Tip: Don’t rent a car for any sort of city travel within Italy.

Bologna market seafood @travelingintandem
A seafood market shop in the heart of downtown Bologna.

AH, PIZZA AND BEER

Thankfully, Hannah had visited Bologna a few weeks prior so she knew exactly where she wanted to go her last few hours in town. We happily tagged along and were introduced to Zapap Pratello and Al Pradel Bar. The later was home to some delicious pizza and beer that Hannah kindly treated us to after the long ride north. I don’t have many details to share, but if you’re in Bologna, you should check it out.

Al Pradel Bar ended up being a quirky, local, college-aged dive where a few friends of hers worked. We rolled in for a few beers and ended up throwing back a number of Aperol Spritz each before the clock struck 1 AM and we had to get Hannah to the train station.

WHERE IS THE BUS?

So, keeping with the theme of the day, we took a wrong turn on the way back to the car and ended up a bit out of the way before we corrected ourselves. So by the time we arrived back to the car to get Hannah’s bag, her bus was scheduled to leave in 10 minutes. We started running. And running with a determination that I frankly never have. Because if there is one thing in this world that I hate, it’s running.

In the midst of such a casual stroll, the bus drove past us. And wouldn’t you know that it was not stopping at the train station, as we had anticipated? It continued on out of sight and eventually turned right at what we later discovered was the bus stop. I’ll take all of the fun out of it and let you know that Hannah made it to the bus. But during our run, her water bottle fell out of her bag and shattered. So wouldn’t you know that my somewhat intoxicated self decided that it was a brilliant idea to take the empty beer bottle that we had been unsuccessfully trying to recycle and to run into the bathroom and fill it with drinking water for her to drink on the bus because no one wants to die of a hangover?

cured meats in Bologna @travelingintandem
Many of the shop windows in Italy are filled with beautiful cured meats such as these.

This translated to the bus driver seeing me hand her a beer right before she boarded and berating her for trying to drink on the bus. I ended up convincing him to smell it so that he knew it was water and he eventually allowed her to board after very intently inspecting all aspects of her travel documents because he was not interested in dealing with our hooliganism. Oops.

Soon after we also learned that we were illegally parked and risked being ticketed overnight, so cute but tired and sober Steve moved our car back to the original lot on the other side of the city where we managed to snag the last parking spot on a Monday night at 3 AM. Needless to say, we did not sleep long or well that night.

ONWARD

So after checking out at the last possible moment the next morning, we toted our bags back to the notorious parking lot and moved the car over to the bus station. After a bit of exploration on foot, we settled into a little cafe for a few cappuccinos and some complimentary WiFi. At this point, we had no grasp on where we were headed next. We knew we wanted a bit of seclusion, an escape from the city, and access to Parma and Modena for food tours.

After a bit of research on Airbnb, we decided on a cute stone cottage in the middle of nowhere, Lama Mocogno. A little anxious, we waited for the host, Sergio, to agree to house us beginning that evening. Thankfully he accepted within 15 minutes and we had a solid next step.

Bologna Bed and Breakfast @travelingintandem
A look at living out of a carry on backpack for 9 months.

Travel Tip: When booking an Airbnb, first set your price-per-night filter. This will immediately whittle down your search results and make it significantly easier to find accommodations within your budget. Also, as you tease out the expensive properties and zoom in on specific neighborhoods and refresh your search, more options will begin to show up and the concentration of options becomes more transparent.

HITTING THE MARKETS

In securing our spot in Lama Mocogno, we also gave ourselves access to our own kitchen. Ah, the excitement! At this point we had been eating over-cooked eggplant and pasta for days, so we were excited for a bit of variety.

Steve and I quickly took off into Bologna in search of specialty foods like charcuterie, pasta, and pesto. Below are a few of the places we visited and some of the treats we were able to take on the road with us.

Tamburini

If you’re on the hunt for meats and cheese in Bologna, this is the place for you. We went in with no expectations and left with Ciccioli Campagnoli. Unknown to us before our arrival, this is a popular Emilian regional dish in which pork is rendered, cooked to remove all grease, and then compacted into the traditional cube shape associated with Ciccioli Campagnoli. Steve was in heaven.

Pacifico Dante Zanetti

After our wonderful experience with homemade pasta in Florence, we were on a mission to find something just as good. We ended up at Dante Zanetti, drooling over their beautiful display of homemade pasta. Cheese and spinach tortellini and homemade breadsticks made their way to our Airbnb, and there were no regrets. Unbeknownst to us, the little Italian breadsticks that we made at the bakery are called grissini. Just so everyone knows.

La Baita Vecchia in Bologna, Italy. @travelingintandem
La Baita Vecchia in Bologna, Italy.

La Baita Vecchia

Two things that really make my mouth water are olives and pesto. So we were happy to stumble into La Baita Vecchia. While it’s technically a grocery, you can purchase small plates for eating on site and also leave with just about any Italian ingredient that you could ever dream imagine. Beautifully displayed and arranged, they really make you want to buy something. If only because of the aesthetics.

Gelateria Gianni

One of our standard treats while wandering the streets of Italy was gelato, as I hope it is for everyone else, too. Gelateria Gianni had a line out the door, so we figured we were in the right place. The woman behind the counter was working some sort of witchy magic, providing the most efficient service I’ve ever seen. She would take six or seven orders in a minute and then turn around and scoop said cones in another minute.

Of course, we stopped and got a few other staples along the way- some fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, a few seasonings, and the largest jar of sun-dried tomatoes I have ever seen. We were just happy to hit the road and cozy into our little cottage for the next few days before ending our trip in Rome.

Stay tuned!

Brittany

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