About a month before my trip, I sent an email to my former Italian teacher, Andrea, who teaches and lives in Bologna, to see if he would have any free time to meet me while I would be staying in Modena. He was teaching a group of German students the week I inquired about, but had time to meet me mid-afternoon. I decided to pair my train trip back from Empoli to Modena with a stop in Bologna.
While doing a bit of reasearch before my trip, I discovered that a special exhibition, the Van Gogh Alive – The Experience, was taking place in Bologna at the former church of San Mattia while I would be there and suggested to Andrea that we might visit this exhibition together. He thought that was a great idea and offered to meet me at the train station. We could then take the bus together to the Ex Chiesa di San Mattia. Perfect idea! I would have never found that church on my own unless I took a taxi. I reserved a seat on the 13:15 Frecciarossa train, arriving in Bologna at 13:52 and would figure out my day from there.
I slept soundly during my overnight stay in Empoli. I was surprised at how late woke up the following morning. Marusca (Francesco’s mother) had breakfast ready for me. After breakfast, we spent some time looking at the items she has collected over the years from her trips all over the world and then she drove me to the train station and we said our goodbyes. It was really nice spending time with everyone in Empoli and so nice of Francesco’s parents to invite me to stay at their house overnight.
The trains depart from Empoli for Firenze (Florence) frequently, so it was nice that I did not need to rush to catch a specific train. The lines were long for the automatic ticket machines. I waited in the ticket window line instead to purchase my ticket. This line moved quickly and the man at the ticket window was very nice.
The train was crowded, but I managed to find a seat. I was excited to spend an hour or so in Florence as I have not been back there since June, 2009. The train station in Florence was bustling. I noticed a few changes since the last time I was there, which included the automatic ticket machines being sectioned off. This way no one else could wait right behind you while you were using the machine, which was nice as sometimes in the big stations there are scammers at the machines.
With so many automatic ticket machines at this station, I did not feel guilty taking up a lot of time at one of the machines to purchase the regional train tickets I still needed for my trip. They were all for dates when I would be making connections to reserved trains and none of the tickets were very expensive in case of a last minute strike. As I finished up, two young guys from New Zealand approached me and asked for help on how to use the machine to purchase train tickets to Siena. As I showed the, I told them to make sure to validate their tickets before getting on the train. They said they learned this lesson after already being fined (I think it was 200 euros!) on a train after not validating their tickets.
This was the only large “touristy” train station I had been in this trip besides my short time in Venice. The Firenze Santa Maria Novella train station is a pretty large train station. I was a little shocked to see so many police walking around everywhere, all with HUGE guns! I guess that was a good thing though.
I had about an hour to spend before needing to return to the train station. I decided to just take a quick trip to Piazza Duomo. This would be my first time there since this piazza became a pedestrian only zone on October 25, 2009. I though it would be fun to take some photos. I got a little lost as I left the train station. I was having difficulty getting my bearings. I went back inside and finally went up to one of the policemen holding a huge gun (it was really big up close!). He was very friendly and seemed happy to help with directions.
It was a short walk to Piazza Duomo from the train station. It all came back to me once I started on my way there. Once I arrived, there were lines everywhere. I was hoping to visit the inside of the Battistero but the line was long. Instead I wandered around taking some photos. The skies were pretty gloomy but I was still happy to see these beautiful buildings once again. I am always so amazed at all the details on each building!
While there, I purchased a couple of water color paintings from one of the artist stands lined up on one side of the Duomo. The woman wrapped them up in cardboard. I checked out a couple of places to eat but there were lines everywhere and I did not want to miss my train. It was an easy walk back to the station. I did get a little lost though in that underground walkway area. I took one wrong turn but then figured out what I did wrong and found the entrance back into the train station. Just as I got back to the station it began to rain. Good timing!! I went into one of the little bars there and purchased a pretty good salmon sandwich for the train ride. It seemed like forever as I waited for my train binario (track) to be posted. They finally posted it just a few minutes before it arrived. There were people checking tickets at the beginning of the binario, which was also new. I think it was a security measure.
The train ride was comfortable and quick. Because I purchased my ticket far in advance, I got a good deal and so I chose business class. I was given a little paper bag, which contained juice, 2 cookies, a hand wipe, and a paper cup. I also was given a little bottle of water. Not sure why I didn’t get any of this during my train trip when I sat in executive class??
I was excited to be back in Bologna, even for a quick visit. The station was very familiar, although this station too had changed since my last visit in 2011. It took me a few minutes to find the place to purchase the bus tickets. I then waited out by the taxi stand for Andrea. It was wonderful to see him again! We both hugged and barely had time to catch up before our bus arrived. He warned me about my backpack on the bus. I remembered his warning from my last visit about people slashing backpacks. This time, I was prepared with a new pacsafe backpack with wired in it. I assured him my backpack was safe.
The Van Gough exhibit was wonderful! I could have stayed there for hours! When you enter, the first thing you see is a reproduction of “Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles”.
There was a display of reproductions of some Van Gough’s more famous work along with information about each painting hung on two walls.
The large room behind this area was where the main exhibit was taking place.Wonderful music paired with paintings displayed on video screens in historical order. Some were animated. There were also quotes shown on two side walls. It was a 360 multi-sensory experience.
After leaving, we walked to Piazza Maggiore. I loved this eco display on a big wall in the middle of the piazza! What a clever idea!! The G7 environment ministers were meeting in Bologna while I around the time I was there and I think this display was for them.
Next, we walked down Via Pescherie Vecchie. This street really changed since the last time I was in Bologna! We went to Eataly to sit and talk and have some juice. When it was time to leave, I got up, grabbed my backpack and pillow and kept thinking I was forgetting something but knew I had everything I left with that morning. We decided to walk back to the station since it was a beautiful day even though we both had bus tickets. Below is Andrea with the Torre degli Asinelli behind him.
We talked about all the changes that have taken place in Bologna since the last time I was there as we continued to walk towards the station. As we were about half way there, I realized that I left my watercolor paintings wrapped up in cardboard at Eataly. I panicked! We walked as fast as we could back to Eataly. I was really worried they would think it was trash since it was a piece of cardboard. Luckily Eataly was not crowded when we were there and the girl behind the counter put the cardboard to the side. It was all intact, but did have 1 big olive oil fingerprint on the cardboard. We laughed about that and then decided to catch the bus back to the train station. We had to say goodbye on the bus as I had to depart across the street from the train station and he was continuing on to his house. It was much too short of a visit but it was really nice to see Andrea again. If you are ever thinking of taking Italian lessons while in Bologna, look him up at Bolognalingua. He is a wonderful teacher.
I had a 10 minute wait for the next train to Modena. Like the trains from Empoli to Florence, the trains from Bologna to Modena are frequent. The train I took was a crowded double decker train.
Once back in Modena, I walked back to my hotel to shower and then headed out to dinner. I decided to try the second restaurant recommendation I was given by my hotel, Ristorante Zelmira. I really enjoyed eating at this restaurant. Everyone was so nice and the food was fabulous!
I ordered a very delicious Sformatina di parmigiano (a parmigiano reggiano flan) and Tortelloni di zucca. Their homemade bread was also amazing!
A great end to a great day!!