A Travellerspoint blog

Italy

"Oh Sicilia, you're breaking my heart ..."

with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel

sunny 30 °C

With school finished for the girls (Jun 21), and a decision made to return to Australia in late September, we now had just under three months to look forward to before confronting the world of job seeking, house sales, school decisions, and the many other responsibilities of ‘real life’.

Choosing our first travel destination was easy. Sicily has always been high on our wish list, and the chance to sneak down there before the July/Augusts hordes (and inflated prices) was too good to pass up. ItaloTreno whisked us from Bologna to Napoli in a tick over 3 hours – fantastic going compared to driving this route which would be around double that duration. We had built-in half a day in Napoli (before catching the overnight ferry to Palermo) with the thought of making a rushed trip to Pompeii, but in the end took the easier option of staying in the town centro.

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Nat contemplating eruptions of yesteryear

Nat contemplating eruptions of yesteryear

The first hiccup of the trip was encountered at the ferry terminal – we could store our two smaller suitcases there, but the big black Tosca (at over 20 kgs) wouldn’t fit in the locker. Without any obvious alternatives, I then spent the next four hours lugging the stupid thing around the busy streets of Naples. Funny to look back on now, but at the time it caused a fair bit of ‘Italia bashing’! Our main trek was to the Castel Sant’Elmo via the Vomero funicolare – a medieval fortress which afforded lovely views of Italy’s third biggest city - but overall in our short stay we failed to warm to this bustling, grimy metropolis.

arrivederci Napoli ... look out Sicilia!

arrivederci Napoli ... look out Sicilia!

The ferry trip to Palermo (over 12 hours) was completed without incident, and the kids had a great time exploring the innards of the big Tirrenia ferry, then finally collapsing in their top bunks for a deep sleep as the ferry rolled across the Mediterranean swell. Upon arrival at Palermo, we caught a taxi to the main train station, and then a regional train to our first destination - Cefalu.

CEFALU

no doubt this scene hasn't changed for many, many years

no doubt this scene hasn't changed for many, many years

Cefalu, the name of Greek origin, has seen a number of invaders over the centuries (like most of Sicily), and nowadays is a popular and delightful seaside town on the north coast. The main natural feature is La Rocca, which looms over the populace like a foreboding ogre, whilst the cathedral is the most famous man-made attraction.

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looking down from our bed and breakfast terrace ... Lisa preparing for her morning swim

looking down from our bed and breakfast terrace ... Lisa preparing for her morning swim


Gabi, Nat, and Tia ... end of another glorious day

Gabi, Nat, and Tia ... end of another glorious day

This first leg of our summer trip was enhanced by sharing it with our friends the Natale family. From Vermont, Lou, Katie, Tia, and Rowan had also elected to take a year off and live in Bologna, and we spent a lot of time together in language classes, at soccer games, and most importantly over restaurant tables. Our kids are similar ages, so it was great fun to spend time at the various Cefalu beaches, as well as ascend La Rocca one morning when it wasn’t too hot. They have now returned to the USA, and we hope to be able to visit them at some time in the future.

Katie and Lou looking well chilled with their granitas!

Katie and Lou looking well chilled with their granitas!


happy campers after the ascent of La Rocca

happy campers after the ascent of La Rocca


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We stayed a total of five nights in Cefalu, and aside from some long days at the beach, enjoyed walking the narrow and atmospheric streets of the old town; tasting the local treats of granita (fruit flavoured crushed ice) and cannoli (delicious cream filled pastry); and of course sampling the delicious seafood, headlined by swordfish. It was therefore with some regret that we caught the train to Milazzo – a port town further along the coast that supplies the ferry services to the Aeolian Islands.

most of these flavours sampled, and given a tick of approval

most of these flavours sampled, and given a tick of approval


Piazza Garibaldi humming at aperitivi time

Piazza Garibaldi humming at aperitivi time


Sicily's famous cannolo - worth travelling a long way for ...

Sicily's famous cannolo - worth travelling a long way for ...

LIPARI

Lipari's cleverly named 'small harbour'

Lipari's cleverly named 'small harbour'

The most populace of the Aeolian Islands, Lipari is not glamorous, but certainly retains a rustic charm in the few villages that dot the coastline. Upon alighting the Ustica ferry, I walked straight into tourist error #2 for this trip – a 10 euro taxi ride to the hotel that took two minutes! A cursory glance at Google maps before the trip had suggested that it would be too far to walk … this was patently not true as we discovered to our detriment.

Gabi emulating Melissa Wu perhaps?

Gabi emulating Melissa Wu perhaps?


lip_harb_view.jpgthe Aussie contingent - Gabi and new buddy Isabelle select their fish of the day

the Aussie contingent - Gabi and new buddy Isabelle select their fish of the day

Four nights in Lipari was not enough as it turned out, but we enjoyed many highlights including: a day trip to the other side of Lipari & Salina by small boat; getting lucky with our hotel, which had a lovely pool, and was not busy (Hotel Aktea); walking around to spiaggia bianca (the white beach); eating a Top 10 meal – involtini di pesce spada (swordfish rolls) - at a terrific place in town called La Cambusa; and finally meeting a nice Aussie family who were currently living in Bucharest, Romania of all places – Damien the dad was in the mining trade.

setting off on our very enjoyable trip to Salina and the other side of Lipari

setting off on our very enjoyable trip to Salina and the other side of Lipari


lip_e_sal_1.jpglip_e_sal_4.jpggirls took a shine to the 2IC

girls took a shine to the 2IC


Lisa looking content after lunch in Lingua, Salina (Lipari in the background)

Lisa looking content after lunch in Lingua, Salina (Lipari in the background)

As always with travelling the good goes with the bad however, and our return ferry trip to Sicily proper (this time to Messina) was in an airless, smelly ferry that had both girls feeling unwell, and made poor Nat sick. At Messina we had a short wait before jumping on the train to Giardini Naxos.

GIARDINI NAXOS / TAORMINA

looking up to Taormina from the bay of Giardini Naxos

looking up to Taormina from the bay of Giardini Naxos

After our underwhelming experience in Positano last year, we had vowed to avoid glitzy, heavily touristed destinations (read Taormina – Gai Waterhouse’s favourite holiday destination no less!). However we were eventually flying out of Catania on the east coast, and I had purchased two opera tickets for Lisa’s birthday to the famous Teatro Greco, so back to the American/Russian ‘tourist experience’ it was ...

north from Taormina to Letojanni

north from Taormina to Letojanni

Hilton may be showing its age after 30-odd years, but the hotel garden is reaping the benefits

Hilton may be showing its age after 30-odd years, but the hotel garden is reaping the benefits

Giardini Naxos is at the other end of the bay from Taormina – around 5 kms away – and retains a distinctly 1970’s scruffy feel. It does have better beaches however, and we managed to score a reasonable deal at the Hilton for three nights. We didn’t plan anything more ambitious than a few lazy days by the poolside/seaside, along with an afternoon trip into Taormina (day trips to Mount Etna were quite expensive, and Gabi’s ongoing travel sickness issues ruled it out unfortunately).

Lisa in Piazza IX Aprile, but where is Gai?

Lisa in Piazza IX Aprile, but where is Gai?


restaurant - check; menu - check; now to find a cracker meal and vino to match ...

restaurant - check; menu - check; now to find a cracker meal and vino to match ...


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To be fair to the Taormina locals, it really is a stunning town sitting atop the rocky outcrop – not their fault if every second rich tourist wants to parade up and down the main promenade Corso Umberto I. Lisa and I arranged a babysitter at the hotel on our last evening, and caught the bus into the centro, from which the Teatro Greco is a short walk. Built in the 7th century BC , it is a lovely intimate amphitheatre, and we both enjoyed the performance of Rigoletto.

tao_isola.jpgcute Isola Bella

cute Isola Bella

tao_rigo_1.jpgfuzzy first photo, but super experience seeing Rigoletto at the Teatro Greco

fuzzy first photo, but super experience seeing Rigoletto at the Teatro Greco

A nasty early start the next morning (4:30am) to ensure that we arrived at Catania airport on time, and then it was off to Slovenia, a country neither of us had visited before!

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Posted by happellfamily12 15:19 Archived in Italy Tagged beach friends sicily ferry cefalu palermo naxos taormina natales giardini lipari aeolian isalnds Comments (1)

A taste of Italy

Bologna, Ravenna and Venice plus a bit of food and wine

sunny 19 °C

Sue's Visit

It was with great excitement that I saw Sue’s smiling and enthusiastic face at Bologna Airport in May. It was lovely to catch-up on all the Sydney news after a year away.

An action-packed week was planned with a tour of Bologna, cooking class, regional food tour, and trips to Ravenna and Venice amongst the activities organised. On day one we took Sue on a tour of Bologna including her first true taste of Italian coffee and a brioche con crema at Gamberini (the oldest bakery in Bologna). This was followed by a visit to the Archiginnasio - a 16th century building commissioned by Pope Pius IV including a fascinating anatomical theatre. A walk up to the top of San Luca and then lunch at Trattoria Fantoni may have left our guest with a slightly swirling head with all the stimuli!

Bologna Sights

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Once again we enjoyed fantastic dinner at Drogheria della Rosa, where the gregarious owner Emanuele took a bit of a shine to Sue presenting her with a free bottle of red.

Dinner

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It was a foodie week, and Wednesday we undertook a pasta making course at La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese. Making fettuccine, tortolloni and tortellini was hard work, but at the end we could enjoy the fruits of our labour and mangiamo (eat) the fine fare that we had produced.

Cooking School

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Thursday morning was an early start at 7am - we were waiting outside the apartment to be picked up by our limo service for the start of our 'Taste of Italy' Tour. This tour commenced with an insight into the production of the beautiful Parmigiano-Reggiano. Sue and I put on our special outfits for the day and then entered into the factory looking very glamorous!

The production of the cheese is extremely skilled with fresh milk coming in daily from approved cows, and only one man qualified to lift and cut the cheese from the amazing copper pots. The cheese is certainly beautiful and it was amazing to see the work and care that goes into the production.

Parmigiano-Reggiano

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Following the cheese factory we went to the balsamic vinegar factory - or aceto balsamico. The balsamico is aged from one to twenty five years in special barrels called batterias. Each year the basilico is moved from the bigger barrels down to the smaller, and these are stored in the attic to allow for variations in temperature and certain bacterias to play their part.

These vinegars are certainly far superior to the average bottle that you buy in the supermarket, and a taste-test with strawberries and ice cream (believe it or not) certainly delighted the tour group.

Aceto Balsamico

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Our final destination was the prosciutto factory, and then a five-course lunch at a local trattoria. Our local tour guide kept us entertained with stories and jokes, and we were finally rolled back into the car in a food-filled stupor for the trip home. Not even room for one little wafer at the end!

Lunch and Prosciutto

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On Friday we took the train to Ravenna so Sue could see the beautiful frescoes, and we also undertook a bit of shopping (thanks Sue for my beautiful birthday bag). As if we hadn’t eaten enough food the day before, we 'had' to enjoy a delicious lunch in another local trattoria. That night we picked up Sue’s friend Annerose from the airport ready for our girls' weekend in Venice.

Up early we packed Dan and the kids off for their weekend in Le Marche with friends from the school. Sue, Annerose and I then had a quick tour of Bologna altough heavy rain limited our tourist possibilities. Catching the train to Venice (12 euro each – thanks Italo) we arrived and found our way via traghetto to our accommodation. Leaving our bags in the room, our first stop was prosecco and pizza to celebrate my birthday. A bit of a rest and then dinner at a local restaurant (fortunately we stumbled onto a good one ranked high on TripAdvisor). Following dinner we wandered through the streets and into St Mark's Square, although heavy rain ensured we were rather damp on our return.

Venice - Day 1

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Sunday morning we had booked a two-hour walking and gondola tour. This was a terrific way to see the sights and hidden streets away from the maddening tourist crowds.

Walking tour and Gondola

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Following our tour we found a great little spot for lunch. This provided the fuel for the rest of the day where walked many of the streets and saw lots of sights. Dinner topped off the day (again by chance we found one of the top-rated restaurants in Venice), and we then caught a ferry back late at night to our accommodation.

Venice Sights

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Sue and Annerose departed early for their trip back to Germany, and I caught the ferry to Murano - the famous island that produces most of the Venetian glass. It was lovely wandering the streets and taking in the sights, plus it wasn’t too overrun with tourists in the morning. An action-packed week, but I think Sue certainly experienced the tastes and sights of Italy.

Murano

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Posted by happellfamily12 09:56 Archived in Italy Tagged venice bologna ravenna Comments (0)

Bologna: Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen

Art, Food, Language, Friends

Well it is hard to believe that after nearly 10 months in Bologna our time here has come to an end. It certainly is sad to leave a city that we have come to know so well, and we will miss many of the aspects of life here - especially food, wine, friends, bike riding, language, art, quick trips to towns, cities and countries.

This blog is about photos. We would like to thank all our international friends who have made us feel so welcome here and have made our time a most memorable experience.

Children's Friends and School

The children have made many friends especially at the International School.
Their friends are truly an international group. Swedish, Italian/American, American, Italian, English/Italian, Brazilian/American and Mexican/Italian.
The last week of school was a bit like the last weeks of school in Australia (without the need to buy Christmas presents). Some of the activities we had in the last few weeks were: school concert; shared birthday party for Gabi and Nat; catch up in the park; drinks on the terrace; final gelati in Piazza Cavour.

kidsonroof

kidsonroof


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One of the songs from the school concert.

Our Friends

Dan and I have also made some terrific international friends and we have enjoyed many social occasions together.

friendsontheroof

friendsontheroof

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Dowds

Dowds


Dowds2

Dowds2

Food and Coffee

Life in Bologna could not commence until we had enjoyed our coffee and brioche. This always took place after we had dropped the children at school. One of my favourite coffee places was Gamberini - the coffee and the brioches were fantastic and it was fortunate that I was riding my bike on a daily basis. My favourite was a brioche con crema - no asking for skim milk, soy cafes here! At the cost of about $3.00 Australian who could resist.

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favcafe


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Art and Italian

Many people have asked me what I would do all day once the children were at school. Well it is amazing how quickly the days can pass when one is not working. After 'prende un caffe' I would attend art class on Wednesday mornings - this class was run by Antonio a local Italian. The class was mostly Italians and there were some extremely talented artists in the group. The other activity I enjoyed was twice weekly private Italian lessons. One class was a group of four Katie - American, Jane - Australian and Perry - German. This class was conducted by the lovely Guilianna who was incredibly patient with our halting Italian. In addition to this weekly class Katie and I also meet with Marieangela who left Bologna for Australia when she was twenty and has now returned for a period of time to help her mother. Katie and I loved our conversation classes as there was always plenty of laughter.

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Bologna Sights

After living in Bologna for nearly 10 months I realised that I hadn't been much of a tourist in my own city so I spent the last few weeks quickly taking a few tourist shots.

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snowinbologna

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Bike Rides

Finally one of the highlights was having bikes in Bologna. These were our cars. Every morning we could take the children to school and then pick them up in the afternoon. Although there are very few bike paths most people ride on the road or through the piazza. One of my favourite times was riding my bike through the piazza after the school drop. I was very sad to have to sell my bike when we left Bologna.

Posted by happellfamily12 07:52 Archived in Italy Tagged bologna Comments (0)

Touring Torino

PIEMONTE'S PRIDE & JOY

all seasons in one day 12 °C

A weekend in Turin. Why? I can hear you ask. Industrial, congested, characterless, accurately lampooned in "The Italian Job" (the original movie that is). Right? Nope, wrong. Since the 2006 Winter Olympics, and more recently the 150th anniversary of Italia's unification in 2011, Turin, or Torino, has had a successful facelift, and is now a bella citta well worth a visit.

Whisking the kids out of school a bit early on Friday afternoon, we rushed to catch our favoured Italotreno, which got us there in a tick over 2 hours - pretty good for a 334 kilometre trip including two stops in Milano. Our hotel accommodation was right near Porta Susa station (a spanking new station gradually replacing Porta Nuova), so the sometimes precarious initial transfer in a new city was easy on this occasion. Unpacked the bags, and then a stroll into the centro for dinner. We (I) somehow conspired to muck-up the directions to the recommended pizzeria, but we ended up at another place in town which was pumping with locals, and served up some decent Napoli-style pizza.

Piazza San Carlo - the ever popular bubble man (tucked away on the left)

Piazza San Carlo - the ever popular bubble man (tucked away on the left)


Piazza San Carlo - Nat got the nod to trial the latest bubble gadget!

Piazza San Carlo - Nat got the nod to trial the latest bubble gadget!


the girls had a crack at the fencing exhibit (Italy has a strong tradition in this Olympic sport)

the girls had a crack at the fencing exhibit (Italy has a strong tradition in this Olympic sport)

Saturday was a beautiful day weatherwise, and we took full advantage with a lot of walking and general sightseeing. Cappuccini and to-die-for pastries in the gorgeous Caffe Mulassano was the right start, and this fortified us for the fascinating, and extensive Museo Egizio - an amazing collection of Egyptian treasures unrivalled outside of Cairo so they say. After an unusual lunch of toasted waffles with prosciutto and cream cheese (a northern Piemonte specialty), we had a peek at Palazzo Reale and the Galleria Sabauda, which houses art collected by the Savoys; Torino's most historically important family. It was then down to the Po River via Piazza Vittorio Veneto, one of many incredibly impressive piazzas in this city. We eventually ended up in the sprawling Parco del Valentino, where the kids enjoyed a well deserved play.

Museo Egizio - impressive from go to whoa

Museo Egizio - impressive from go to whoa


Museo Egizio - a light of other days?

Museo Egizio - a light of other days?


Museo Egizio - these three characters look strangely familiar ...

Museo Egizio - these three characters look strangely familiar ...


Why Pepino? Allegedly the first place (in 1937) to think of dipping ice cream on a stick into chocolate!

Why Pepino? Allegedly the first place (in 1937) to think of dipping ice cream on a stick into chocolate!

Sunday was (almost literally) the polar opposite on the weather front, so we scaled back our plans and decided to cover just two major sites. Mole Antonelliana is Turin's most recognisable symbol, and extends 85 metres up - a journey that can be covered in a groovy glass lift that goes right up the middle of the building. An even bigger highlight however was the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, which is located inside the tower. It gives you a comprehensive yet fun look into the history of cinema, and is very cleverly pieced together.

Mole Antonelliana - bit hard to get a proper perspective, but that is the lift ascending to the rooftop

Mole Antonelliana - bit hard to get a proper perspective, but that is the lift ascending to the rooftop


Museo Nz del Cinema - ignore the hammy acting for a minute, and you might recognise some Alien props

Museo Nz del Cinema - ignore the hammy acting for a minute, and you might recognise some Alien props


Museo Nz del Cinema - a scary enough prop from an Italian sci fi flick I forget ...

Museo Nz del Cinema - a scary enough prop from an Italian sci fi flick I forget ...

We then scurried off to find a metro station as the weather deteriorated, and after a few twists & turns, ended up at the extensive Eataly supermarket. The slow food movement was started in Piemonte by some journalists that were dismayed by the encroachment of fast food into the Italian lifestyle. It didn't take long to gather momentum, and is now a very strong force for the promotion of locally grown produce, slow cooking, and slow eating! Eataly is a Turin supermarket that is closely affiliated with the movement, and supports local growers. It was an interesting place to visit - full of locals, and stacked to the gunnels with great produce. We had some enjoyable pasta for lunch, and then headed back to the hotel to pack for the train.

Eataly - dreary suburb on a dreary day, but worth the trip

Eataly - dreary suburb on a dreary day, but worth the trip


Eataly - the regulation photo of the regulation glowing pomodori!

Eataly - the regulation photo of the regulation glowing pomodori!


Eataly - gelati ... the third national passion after football and religion

Eataly - gelati ... the third national passion after football and religion


Nat earns the final say by somehow managing to look larger than a car (fiat cinquecento?)

Nat earns the final say by somehow managing to look larger than a car (fiat cinquecento?)

We all had a lovely couple of days in Torino, and Lisa and I thought it compared favourably with Bologna as a destination for people who might want to live in a non-touristic, but beautiful and significant city in Italy. And I didn't even get around to mentioning Juventus ...!
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Posted by happellfamily12 15:49 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Castell'Arquato via Fiorenzuola d'Arda

Day Tripper's Heaven

semi-overcast 8 °C

We are loving our time in Bologna, but as we battle through this third month of a pretty long and cold winter, 'cabin fever' is setting in from time-to-time. We are therefore blessed to have so many options - almost right on our doorstep - to choose from to stretch our legs and minds, and renew our love affair with 'less-visited' Italy.

The region of Emilia-Romagna has a surfeit of beautifully preserved castles - especially in the northern provinces of Parma and Piacenza - so there is no shortage of choices for the curious. If you cross reference this long list with the shorter list from "I Borghi piu Belli d'Italia" (a guide that roughly translates as "the most beautiful villages of Italy"), you normally get a perfect match! The girls and I had already visited the awesome Castello di Torrechiara, and as a family we have also toured the enchanting towns of Dozza and Brisighella, so Castell'Arquato - helped by a recommendation from some Italian friends - got the nod last Saturday.

heading up the hill to Rocca Viscontea

heading up the hill to Rocca Viscontea

A pleasant enough regional train ride dropped us off at Fiorenzuola d'Arda - an unobtrusive town 25 minutes north of Parma - and after we tracked down the only taxi driver at the local bar (drinking espresso, not mojitos!), we were efficiently dispatched to Castell'Arquato ten minutes down the road. Like so many towns in Italy, the newer outskirts are entirely forgettable, but the ancient heart, higher up the hill, was beautifully preserved and memorable (and was apparently used in the filming of 'Ladyhawke' for those film buffs).

healthy again at last ... lovely to see the boss with a smile!

healthy again at last ... lovely to see the boss with a smile!


and again ... behind is the Chiesa della Collegiata - rebuilt 1122

and again ... behind is the Chiesa della Collegiata - rebuilt 1122

The town underwent many different rulers over the centuries until its annexion to Italy in 1860, and the highlight is the Rocca Viscontea - built between 1342 and 1349 by Luchino Visconti, a member of the ruling family at the time. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the well-reviewed Ristorante Stradivarius, including a typical plate of the local cured meats, and a glass of the very quaffable regional wine called Gutturnio, a slightly sparkling red wine made predominantly from Barbera grapes.

Ristorante Stradivarius - these amazing lunches will live long in the memory

Ristorante Stradivarius - these amazing lunches will live long in the memory


Rocca Viscontea from the other side

Rocca Viscontea from the other side


Piazza del Municipio showcasing Palazzo del Podesta (built 1293) and Chiesa della Collegiata

Piazza del Municipio showcasing Palazzo del Podesta (built 1293) and Chiesa della Collegiata


if there is any snow around, these rugrats are sure to find it ...

if there is any snow around, these rugrats are sure to find it ...

We had a jolly old time climbing the castle tower, then the kids amused themselves by pulling sheets of ice out of the nearby fountain. A leisurely stroll down the hill, a gander at the locals at play (some festa tied in with Carnevale we thought), followed by the obligatory gelati rounded out our visit. A snooze on the train home for some (Lisa came to the aid of some hapless German tourists who hadn't validated their tickets - go the parlo Italiano!), and we returned to chilly Bologna with renewed enthusiasm for the week ahead.

OH and S Italian style!

OH and S Italian style!


but Dad, did you see the size of Gabi's sheet?

but Dad, did you see the size of Gabi's sheet?


not quite Venice, but locals were having fun nevertheless

not quite Venice, but locals were having fun nevertheless


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Posted by happellfamily12 14:12 Archived in Italy Tagged parma romagna castello castell'arquato ristorante emilia fiorenzuola stradivarius Comments (0)

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