A Travellerspoint blog

November 2012

Scuola di lingua Italiana

verbi, participio passato, aggettivi ... It's all Italian to us!

overcast 10 °C

One of the key reasons for spending a prolonged period of time in Bologna was to improve our Italian language skills. The city has a solid reputation for providing good language courses, in part because of the many hundreds (thousands?) of international university students needing to improve their 'understood' Italian to be able to complete their chosen field of study at the world's oldest university.

Lisa was already an intermediate level student when we arrived in Italy this time around, and has tallied another 130-odd hours at language school to improve her 'every day' spoken skills dramatically (she feels she may not have taken such a quantum leap on the grammatical side!). Mia moglie (my wife) commenced with six intensive weeks of 20 hours/week, but has now eased off to just two evenings a week for 3 hours at a time to keep things ticking over. An exam (voluntary, amazingly enough) looms large in December, causing some sleepless nights. Her dedication has been impressive ...

exam time : books ... check, wine ... check, now where are those 'no doze'??

exam time : books ... check, wine ... check, now where are those 'no doze'??

I undertook some valuable beginner studies in Sydney, but still classified myself squarely in the learner bracket for my recent reintroduction to this beautiful, and somewhat elusive language. Like Lisa, I have started at a place called ARCA (www.arca-bologna.com), which is a 20 minute walk, or 8 minute bike ride, on the other side of town. The cost for three weeks (4 hours/day x 5 days/week) is 550 euro - about AUD 680 on current exchange rates. Class sizes are between 4-8, depending on demand, and the format is 2 hours in the classroom (9am-11am), 1 hour at the local bar for a caffe, pastry and chat with all enrolled studenti (in Italian if skills allow!), and then another hour back in class (finishing around 1pm). Homework is given most nights, and takes around 30-40 minutes plus whatever time you want to spend relearning the day's lessons.

Doorway to Heaven? ARCA is in a pretty side-street close to lovely Piazza Santo Stefano

Doorway to Heaven? ARCA is in a pretty side-street close to lovely Piazza Santo Stefano

break and chat time for Lisa's group (when weather was warmer than now obviously ...)

break and chat time for Lisa's group (when weather was warmer than now obviously ...)

So how has it gone after a week? Plenty of plusses : a terrific teacher by the name of Ludovico - a nice Bolognese guy who is enthusiastic, patient, clear, and interested. For an Italian he is also very well travelled, with an Indonesian girlfriend, so makes for good company when we need a break from the verbi, and more verbi! Class size has also been a bonus - usually four of us - and five if Maizun (spelling?) from Palestine turns up. The other class members are from America - Lou from Vermont via New Jersey (my soccer buddy), Justin from California via Pennsylvania, and Anne from California via North Carolina (Other classes being held at ARCA at the moment are not so mono-cultural, with Russian, German, Dutch, English, Spanish, Brazilian, and even Mongolian representatives). All our class are pretty motivated, and the day goes quickly with quite a few laughs.

break and chat time for Dan's (extended) group ... nice bar, interesting people, brain fries after 15 minutes of solid parlo Italiano however ...

break and chat time for Dan's (extended) group ... nice bar, interesting people, brain fries after 15 minutes of solid parlo Italiano however ...

The teaching style I found brutal to start with - around 80% spoken in Italian (for what was meant to be a beginner class) - as Justin said, "submersion" not "immersion"! Ludovico has gone a bit easier on us since then (after a quiet word), but all in all I'd have to say it is beneficial to have to keep pushing yourself to comprehend what's being said, and then learn the lesson that flows from that.

Anne, Ludovico (Mr Patient), Justin, Lou ... with something to say, surprisingly enough!

Anne, Ludovico (Mr Patient), Justin, Lou ... with something to say, surprisingly enough!

I won't harp too much on the minuses, but some obvious areas to fix for ARCA are proper pre-commencement testing to correctly ascertain your level; more teachers made available so people with too wide a skill range are not lumped together; and finally more structure to the course including a decent course book, or at the least some notes!

Anyway, two more weeks to go which Lou and I are looking forward to (we're sort of mates-in-arms for this stint), and then I'll see about (the worth of) further studies post-Christmas.

Posted by happellfamily12 15:57 Archived in Italy Tagged language italian Comments (0)

Barefoot in Venice in the Winter

mmmmmm ... bit chilly ...

rain 9 °C

With the Nonnas in tow we decided to head up to Venice for a night. Dan had managed to secure an apartment that would sleep six and was close to all the main activities.

As the train snaked its way across the bridge we could see the twinkling lights over the Adriatic. Disembarking we made our way along the dimly lit streets following the signs for the Museo di Storia Naturale - no, we weren't going to put the Nonna's in the exhibits - the museo was our landmark to help locate our apartment. Once we arrived we were pleasantly surprised ... the bedrooms were big (mostly) and smartly decorated and the windows looked down onto the street.

Nonna's Closet
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Our Palatial Room
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Without much ado we quickly smartened ourselves up, as much as one can when sharing a suitcase with six, and we headed out to dinner to a little ristorante by the canal (twisting and turning over bridges and down dark streets). The place was rated highly on trip advisor but the food overall was disappointing. Perhaps we have been spoilt by all the wonderful places we have eaten in.

Finding the Restaurant

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Returning to the apartment Dan and I decided we would explore Venice at night as it is not often we have two live-in babysitters. So with the young and the mature settled in their beds we started to wander the streets at night. It was an interesting experience as you would round a corner and find maybe a little piazza with a few bars ... generally however the streets were deserted and it felt quite eerie as the lights were also dim. I kept thinking "are we going to turn the next corner and find the tide sneaking in around our ankles?". The term used for this high tide is "Acqua Alta". These exceptional tides occur between autumn and spring and often cause partial flooding in Venice.

Eventually we settled in a bar by the canal (sitting outside) and enjoyed a few glasses of rough red that warmed us up and put our fear of the rising tide at ease.

Venice at Night

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Rising Tide
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A Rough Red
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Returning to our apartment was not an easy feat and we did take a few wrong turns before we found ourselves stepping over the flood gate and into the warm of our beds. Under the safe assumption that at least if the tide peaked at night we would be safe in our warm beds.

The next day we bounded out of our beds keen to start the day and consume our all inclusive breakfast from the main part of the hotel in the next block.

However when we looked out the window we no longer had street views but water views.

Water Views

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Smart Irish Guy
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Carrying Nat
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We decided we would have to brave it as it could be hours before the tide subsided. Gingerly we stepped barefoot over the flood gate into the freezing cold and murky water. We saw many Venetians smartly clad in new gumboots and thigh-high waders. Mum even commented to one guy "you can tell who the tourists are" and he responded in a strong Irish accent "Ai love that was me yesterday until I picked up this wee pair of wellies". Oh how we longed to mug a few locals or smart tourists for those wellies. We never made it to the hotel for the free breakfast as the water was too high but we did find a dry cafe for a coffee and pastry and we were ready to embrace the elements again. Back at the apartment Dan departed for his much loved game of soccer and the Nonnas and I managed to wade to the hotel to check out and enjoyed our breakfast (as brunch). The Museo di Storia Naturale fortunately was next door and we were able to spend a few hours there in the warmth as the tide subsided and the driving rain and wind howled outside.

A boat trip to Piazza St Marco was in order ... even though the temperature was nine degrees and it was raining. However at least the tide had subsided.
Boarding the ferry we huddled inside the cabin not seeing many of the beautiful buildings along the canal. Exiting from the ferry we saw the tail end of a half marathon - poor blighters looked absolutely freezing. Our tour of the Piazza was quick it was just too cold to hang around. Boarding the ferry we were happy to get onto the train and return home to Bologna. Venice had certainly been an adventure but next time thigh-high wellies are definitely in order.

Piazza St Marco

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Bit Cold for Coffee

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Mad Runners

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Flood Platforms

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Note: I have included a web to show some of the photos of Venice in flood. Lucky we didn't go at this time.

http://www.google.it/search?q=flooded+venice&hl=it&client=safari&rls=en&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=bV2pUKWvHMX14QS124H4Cw&ved=0CCIQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=508

Posted by happellfamily12 12:20 Archived in Italy Tagged venice Comments (0)

Mid-size towns pack a king-size punch

Ferrara, Gubbio, Modena, Padova, Parma, Ravenna, Vicenza

semi-overcast 16 °C

One of the reasons for choosing to base ourselves in Bologna was its status as a key transport hub in Northern Italy. Milan, Venice, and Florence are all less than 90 minutes away, but what we had severely underestimated was the allure and charm of the smaller towns that we have been exploring over the last few months. Our favourites are listed below :

FERRARA (Emilia-Romagna) pop 134,000

Famous for the almost completely intact city walls (13th century), and Castello Estense, both built courtesy of the d'Este family who ruled for 300 years. Ferrara is a terrific town to cycle around, and sample the local delicacy of cappellaci di zucca - a hat-shaped pasta pouch filled with pumpkin and herbs, and basted with sage & butter.

to paraphrase Lance; in Ferrara, it's all about the bike

to paraphrase Lance; in Ferrara, it's all about the bike

two hands for beginners ... Nonna handling her machine with aplomb

two hands for beginners ... Nonna handling her machine with aplomb

Castello Estense - the moat was extra wide to ward off heavily taxed citizens!

Castello Estense - the moat was extra wide to ward off heavily taxed citizens!

GUBBIO (Umbria) pop 33,000

A bit off the tourist beaten path in Umbria, we enjoyed a delightful two days in this attractive town perched on the slopes of Monte Ingino. We were fortunate enough to run into the annual tartufo (truffle) festival whilst visiting, staged right beside the impressive Palazzo dei Consoli. The undoubted highlight however was a return ride on the very quaint Funivia Colle Eletto - a caged contraption that shuttles you up and down the monte.

murky weather can't conceal the beauty of this Umbrian gem

murky weather can't conceal the beauty of this Umbrian gem

Nat on the Funivia ... fearless as always!

Nat on the Funivia ... fearless as always!

MODENA (Emilia-Romagna) pop 179,000

Birthplace of Pavarotti; home of 'aceto balsamico di Modena' (world's best vinegar to you and I); Ferrari motor cars manufactured just up the road in Maranello; maker of Lambrusco (lightly sparkling red wine) - there is plenty to like about this under-the-radar town thirty minutes from Bologna. Throw in a significant cathedral, attractive piazzas, and "some of the best restaurants no one's ever heard of" as Lonely Planet cleverly put it, and a trip is mandatory for those living in the area.

Piazza Mazzini - an attractive green space so often lacking in Italian towns

Piazza Mazzini - an attractive green space so often lacking in Italian towns

Torre Ghirlandina stands at an impressive 87 metres

Torre Ghirlandina stands at an impressive 87 metres

not-so-long and winding roads always worth a look in Modena

not-so-long and winding roads always worth a look in Modena

PADOVA (Veneto) pop 213,000

A lively university town (uni was established 1222) - it can be just as fun sitting down for an aperitivo with the studenti as it is viewing the sites. You will be richly rewarded however by a visit to the stunning Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, and a wander through the world's oldest botanic gardens still in their original location - Orto Botanico. Another favourite of ours is the unusually designed Gothic Palazzo della Ragione from the 13th century, which divides the attractive Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Frutta ... no prizes for guessing what was sold here over the centuries!

insalata days in Piazza delle Erbe

insalata days in Piazza delle Erbe

Gabi braves the elements to showcase the eye-catching Palazzo della Ragione

Gabi braves the elements to showcase the eye-catching Palazzo della Ragione

Orto Botanico ... Lisa at her photographic best above and below

Orto Botanico ... Lisa at her photographic best above and below

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PARMA (Emilia Romagna) pop 177,000

A prosperous and attractive town, you need at least a couple of days to fully appreciate all that the home of the famous parmesan cheese and parma ham has to offer. When you have had your fill of the delicious local cuisine - Trattoria Corrieri served us well - there are myriad significant buildings to visit, and a beautiful park (Parco Ducale) to walk off the excesses of a lengthy lunch. Of the buildings, the gorgeous Battistero, and the substantial Palazzo della Pilotta (which houses Teatro Farnese and the Galleria Nazionale) captivated us the most.

kids hamming it up at the famous Salumeria Garibaldi

kids hamming it up at the famous Salumeria Garibaldi

ceiling of the stunning octagonal shaped Battistero ... construction started in 1196 but took another 110 years due to pink marble shortages

ceiling of the stunning octagonal shaped Battistero ... construction started in 1196 but took another 110 years due to pink marble shortages

Parco Ducale ... these nifty machines were called mosquitoes, and could certainly zip along

Parco Ducale ... these nifty machines were called mosquitoes, and could certainly zip along

Castello di Torrechiara - 20 minutes out of Parma and well worth a visit

Castello di Torrechiara - 20 minutes out of Parma and well worth a visit

RAVENNA (Emilia Romagna) pop 153,000

Deservedly famous for its' Byzantine mosaics, Ravenna also serves as a stopping off point to the Adriatic in summer. It is a very peaceful town to visit, and presents the Unesco listed treasures without too much fuss.

Basilica di San Vitale - looking up - very hard to capture the brilliance on film

Basilica di San Vitale - looking up - very hard to capture the brilliance on film

Basilica di San Vitale - floor mosaics - pretty divine

Basilica di San Vitale - floor mosaics - pretty divine

another bit of traveller's good fortune; running into the bread festival of all things!

another bit of traveller's good fortune; running into the bread festival of all things!

too many churches Dad ...

too many churches Dad ...

VICENZA (Veneto) pop 115,000

The adopted home of Andrea Palladio, one of the most influential figures in Western architecture. Vicenza showcases many of his amazing buildings, now Unesco listed ... Lonely Planet describes his style as a marriage of "sophistication and rustic simplicity, reverent classicism and bold innovation". Lisa and Rosemary were especially taken by Teatro Olimpico, built in the late 1500's, and the oldest and first enclosed theatre in the world. It also showcases the 'trompe l'oeil' (deceive the eye) onstage scenery, which gives the appearance of long streets receding to a distant horizon.

Piazza dei Signori ... Palladio's genius on display

Piazza dei Signori ... Palladio's genius on display

Teatro Olimpico - Rosemary's looks misleading as she gave this masterpiece top marks

Teatro Olimpico - Rosemary's looks misleading as she gave this masterpiece top marks

Teatro Olimpico - the beautiful deception ...

Teatro Olimpico - the beautiful deception ...

beauty of the town not restricted to man-made structures

beauty of the town not restricted to man-made structures

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Posted by happellfamily12 13:18 Archived in Italy Tagged towns Comments (1)

Bologna Update - Ottobre

teachers, trattorias, tripadvisor, treats, and tifosi

overcast 16 °C

TEACHERS

After much discussion, legwork, and more than a little angst, we opted to enrol Gabi in Bologna's International School (ISB). Original intentions were to 'throw her in the deep end' at a local school, but a number of considerations prevented that from occurring.

Day 1 across from the school ... what nerves Dad?

Day 1 across from the school ... what nerves Dad?

Without going into laborious detail, our main concern was how she would enjoy herself, and advance educationally, in a foreign speaking environment. Plenty of qualified people we spoke to said she would be fine and pick up Italiano quickly, but we couldn't convince ourselves that would be the case. So she started at the ISB on the 16th October (around 5 weeks later than most her class), and so far everything has worked out well.

Day 1 dropoff with Jayne Dowd ... Mum looks a bit uptight

Day 1 dropoff with Jayne Dowd ... Mum looks a bit uptight

Day 1 ... stop fussing parents!

Day 1 ... stop fussing parents!

The school runs from kindergarten up to year 6, and is quite small with only one class per year and about 18 in each class. Italian food is served up every day for lunch - no complaints there from Gabs! - and the school day is a standard 8:50 to 3:30. In her class most of the kids are Italian (or close enough with at least one Italian parent), and hence they study Italian as a 'mother tongue', whilst Gabi, plus a Swedish girl and a American boy study Italian twice a week as a second language. As is the case across all of Italy, extra curricular activities are organised by the parents and take place away from the school, so no school sports teams which is a shame.

TRATTORIAS

With Gabi in school, and Nat in child care/preschool, the hard working genitori (parents) now have some extra time up their sleeves (please suppress laughter, and we know the sympathy won't be forthcoming!). Lisa is still beavering away at language school, and I'm becoming more closely acquainted with our local trattorias and osterias.

I thought it might be interesting to look at the cost of a solo lunch the other day. The place in question was Trattoria Fantoni - in many respects a normal restaurant in a low-key part of town. It does have a good reputation however, and the locals tend to flock there during the week (lunchtime here is from 1:00, and can go as late as 3:00). A delicious bowl of pasta was AUD 6.25; mixed salad (enough for 2) $3.75; 250ml carafe of very drinkable house red $4.40; to die for panna cotta with vanilla and caramel $3.75; and an espresso to finish up $1.25. Coperto of $1.85 is the standard service fee charged, which pretty much precludes giving a tip.

adds a new dimension to the term "value for money"

adds a new dimension to the term "value for money"

Apart from the fact that Lisa may seek a divorce as I turn into a blimp, and the favourable exchange rate makes this story a little flimsy, it is still a great way to spend an hour of your time and $20 of your hard earned listening to the locals and eating some great, simple food. And of course this is not an isolated example ... you can find a Trattoria Fantoni down many sidestreets and alleys in Bologna, and also the rest of wonderful Italy.

like so many Italian restaurants, nothing to look at from the outside ... it's what comes out of the kitchen that counts.

like so many Italian restaurants, nothing to look at from the outside ... it's what comes out of the kitchen that counts.

So how do they do it? Well, for this place (& most) customer turnover is the key. In that 2 hour period they will probably get 3 groups through each table, which makes it hard work for them, but keeps the till ringing. Produce is incredibly cheap, and most of these places will only cook what they can buy fresh, so that combined with the very low cost of pasta and wine all helps to make it an affordable experience. Finally, labour costs are also quite low as I understand, at least in the catering industry. So if we can just keep the AUD strong against the euro ...

TRIPADVISOR

I suspect most people who have travelled internationally in the last few years have used this behemoth. It is what Lonely Planet was to backpackers in the 80's and 90's ... a bible to be followed (almost religiously) by pimply travellers without much clue, and a godsend (or death knell) for businesses lucky enough to be listed, or not.

The tripadvisor model is beautiful in its simplicity ... get all the punters to do the work! The website simply collates reviews posted by travellers for accommodation, restaurants, and tourist sites. Places reviewed are given a score out of 5, and this then forms a table where the 'best' place - let's say a restaurant - comes up at the top of a list when a user of the site requests for example 'Bologna Restaurants'. It can be an incredible boon for the business that earns a very high rating, because many people (I'll include myself here) struggle to work their way past the Top 10 for most categories or areas.

Mantova - Osteria delle Erbe - tripadvisor 134 of 182 - this time they got it right ... just a meal

Mantova - Osteria delle Erbe - tripadvisor 134 of 182 - this time they got it right ... just a meal

And herein lies the rub for a city like Bologna. At last count 662 restaurants had been listed with nearly 20,000 reviews. Not bad for a town of 380,000 people ... Melbourne had four times as many restaurants listed, but with only 24,000 reviews to spread amongst that lot. Trattoria Fantoni where I ate rates 3 out of 5, but comes in 382nd on the list - skewered by a couple of unfavourable reviews, including one from Lois in Melbourne! - but overall not a bad score. Similarly a place garnering 4.5 out of 5 can list as low as 60th; so we obviously bat deep here in culinary-rich Bologna, but that is not much help to the owner who is clearly doing a great job.

One other quirk to mention from this website - extraordinary when you think of Bologna's gourmand reputation - is that 10 of the top 14 'restaurants' listed were gelaterias! Now, either Bologna is slipping as a foodie destination; tripadvisor bloggers have sweet tooths; or the owners of these gelaterias have worked out how the game is played, and a lot of friends have been enlisted to post some strong reviews. Because the strength of this website is also its' achilles heel - anyone can post a review ...

TREATS

Speaking of gelati, it would be remiss not to mention our favourite place here in Bologna, which is one of the 10 gelaterias hogging the limelight over on tripadvisor. Cremeria Funivia is not the cheapest, and they certainly don't lay on the biggest serves, but boy-oh-boy is it ever creamy and tasty! The kids usually settle for fragola (strawberry) and crema or stracciatella (vanilla and chocolate), whilst pistacchio is a staple for me, and Lisa likes to mix it up with more exotic tastes like Alice (marscapone with chocolate fusion). www.cremeriafunivia.com

lost the photos of our No.1 so No.2 will have to suffice. Still pretty darn good!

lost the photos of our No.1 so No.2 will have to suffice. Still pretty darn good!

In true Italian fashion gelati can be eaten anytime after lunch, and we tend to indulge in this treat late afternoon, when flagging children need a lift, or browbeaten parents require some support and sustenance.

Gabi gets a boost in downtown Parma

Gabi gets a boost in downtown Parma

TIFOSI

This is the Italian word to describe a group of sports fans, and it usually used in reference to football supporters. The origin of the word relates back to typhoid, so you probably get the gist ...

Bologna Football Club (aka the RossoBlu from their strip) is over 100 years old, but has a recent history of struggling to avoid relegation from the top league here - the Serie A. Trophies are few and far between, so it was with not much expectation that myself and an American guy I have met (Lou) adopted the team for this year. Home games are every second Sunday, and we buy the cheapest tickets and sit amongst the rowdiest supporters. You need to show ID when buying the tickets (a few days out from a game) - cost 18 euro - and also show the ID when you enter the stadium. Stadio Renato Dell'Ara is a nice ground just out of the centro, holding 38,000, but unfortunately not covered for the rain and snow!

BFC stadium from just up the hill on a non-game day

BFC stadium from just up the hill on a non-game day

Lou from Vermont, doing his best to impersonate Luigi from Bologna

Lou from Vermont, doing his best to impersonate Luigi from Bologna

We've seen a frustrating draw (Pescara) and a bollocking (Inter Milan) at home, and I also ventured over to Firenze to see a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Fiorentina. Early days yet, but a move down to Serie B is on the cards from what us 'experts' have seen to date. Might have to adopt Lou's NFL team - the high flying New England Patriots.

disappointing 1-1 scoreline from a game we dominated against lowly Pescara

disappointing 1-1 scoreline from a game we dominated against lowly Pescara

... and the fans predictably vented their displeasure (flares are as bad it gets to date)

... and the fans predictably vented their displeasure (flares are as bad it gets to date)

A final word on the game itself. Highly skilled with the ball on the ground most of the time; more physical than I would have guessed; and crowd atmosphere terrific with great singing and chanting, and a seeming absence of malice between the opposing groups of tifosi. The only predictable, and unwelcome constant, is the diving and feigning by too many of the players.

Posted by happellfamily12 16:30 Archived in Italy Tagged restaurants school tripadvisor Comments (0)

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