Firenze and Bologna

We dropped off a bag of clothes for laundering by Hotel Casci. The price is reasonable and it’s convenient and that way you don’t need to bring as many clothes. We had our usual breakfast and after breakfast we asked Paulo (the hotel concierge and a member of the very nice family that runs this hotel) if his computer had USB – it did not (I was hoping to use it to charge my Treo since my charger had exploded).

I checked email on Hotel Casci’s computer (free Internet in the lobby) – Santiago had emailed on the 25th or 26th to say that he and Jon were renting a car and touring around Tuscany – this was late of course but I emailed back to ask if they could pick us up at the SITA bus station in Greve.

We walked to the SMN train station and took a train to Bologna. At the Bologna train station, all the bus ticket machines were broken. Eventually we decided to instead take a taxi to Piazza Maggiore and it was only 5 euro, split 4 ways. Wow, no real point taking the bus.


We had a great lunch at Tamburini – tortellini, veal, lasagna, and a caprese with the freshest-tasting cherry tomatoes I’ve ever had.

Walking around

Then we did lots of walking around Bologna. We went to a bunch of churches and explored the university area, which we hadn’t really done last time.
Rich looked in all the bakery shops for cannoli and never found it. I looked in all of the cell phone and camera stores for a replacement Boxwave VersaCharger and never found one. Towards the end of the day we wandered into a Vodafone store which did not have the VersaCharger but they offered to take a Treo 650 charger out of the box and sell it to me for 29 euro and also suggested I look for the VersaCharger at a Computer Discount store 20 minutes down the road. We went to this store and it was the first real computer store that I saw, with motherboards, cables, software, etc… But they did not have the VersaCharger so we walked back with tired feet to the Vodafone store and I bought the Treo charger for 29 euro – pleasantly surprised to get all of the interational plug adapters with it, which means that I can use it back in the U.S. Cool!

Then we walked with aching feet back to Piazza Maggiore and with luck got there just in time to catch the #25 bus to the train station. A nice lady showed me where to put my coins to buy a ticket on the bus and a nice old man asked “A stazione?” and pointed out our stop. I guess we look like peole who’d be going to the train station 🙂

We changed to an earlier train (19:46) but then it was about 20 minutes late (late trains are a regular occurrence in Italy).

On the train back to Firenze, I charged my Treo 650 using the charger I bought at the Vodafone store for 29 euro, plugged into an outlet on the train. I got a weird prompt on my treo asking me to enter a passphrase for a Bluetooth connection. Perhaps somebody on the train would like to connect their phone to me and use my Internet bandwidth? Fat chance.


We got back to Hotel Casci at 9:30 pm and freshened up a bit before heading out to dinner at some touristy place in Piazza del Mercato Centrale which wasn’t terribly good (note it wasn’t “Trattoria Za-Za”, which is shown in my pictures, but it was adjacent to it). Going there was an accident actually, because the Hotel recommended a different restaurant in that vicinity but there were a ton of different outdoor restaurants and Florence’s system of red and black addresses confused us and we ended up at the wrong one. Nicole’s dad asked for a Caesar salad and the waiter misheard him and brought a seafood salad.

Firenze (Florence)

We’ve been in Firenze (Florence) for a few days and tomorrow we’re off to Greve in Chianti to the Villa for Andy’s wedding. For some reason, my VersaCharger for my Treo 650 burnt up (even though it’s dual voltage and worked in another hotel) so I’ve been hunting around for some kind of replacement Treo charger, but these seem to be very difficult to find in Italy…

Firenze and Lucca

The food market

In Florence, we took Nicole’s parents to see the amazing, huge indoor food market at Piazza del Mercato Centrale. This place is amazing – meat, produce, and seafood everywhere, and the biggest wheels of parmigiano reggiano that I’ve ever seen. A lot of really delicious looking stuff and also a lot of gross stuff like tripe, pig heads, and chicken heads.

Then we went with Nicole’s parents to Lucca. We took the Lazzi bus to Lucca (the Lazzi bus is adjacent to the train station).


Lucca is a nice, but sleepy little town. Other than a few churches there’s not a lot of tourist sites.


We ate at a nice, homey little restaurant called L’Antico Sigillo. I had risotto ai funghi (risotto with mushrooms). Quite hearty and good. The guy who ran the restaurant spoke no English but I was able to get everything across with my basic Italian.

Nicole and I and her parents both got pottery at a nice little shop owned by a Scottish woman. The woman agreed to ship our stuff together in one box, to save on the cost of shipping.

Back in Florence

Back in Florence, we had dinner at Daganino near Piazza Cimatori. I had an excellent carbonara. Nicole had tomato bread soup – very good (but not as good as the ribbolita at Il Latini). Her parents had a pasta e fagioli soup which they really liked as well. Then we had the polpette (meatballs) in tomato sauce which we loved so much last time. Best meatballs ever. We were very full and very hot.

We tried to go to Vivoli for gelato and found it but it turns out that it’s closed on Monday.


Sorrento to Firenze (Florence)

A long day…

We were very good and got up early so that we could have breakfast and make the 9:07 Circumvesuviana train from Sorrento to Napoli (Naples). We made it and arrived in Naples at around 10:07 with plenty of time to spare until our 11:30 train to Firenze, scheduled to arrive at 3:06. The plan was to then take a taxi to Hotel Casci (a wonderful hotel that we stayed at on our last trip – the family that runs this hotel is super nice and helpful. Free internet too!) and meet Nicole’s parents there at about 3:30.

We had some time to kill so we ate at the McDonald’s in the Naples train station. One of the employees saw me taking pictures and gave us a goofy pose. In addition to regular french fries, they were running a promotion where they had what they called “My Music Potato” (they actually used English words; this is not a translation). They were seasoned french fries and there was some kind of deal where you got points or something that you could use to download free music from what sounded like the Italian equivalent of iTunes. They were part of what they called the “Big Mac Music Menu” and they were actually quite good. I wish McDonald’s in the USA had these fries.

Our EuroStar train to Firenze (Florence) scrolled off the departures board, without ever showing a track number. When we asked, they simply said “No train”. We took another much later train, which was delayed.

The train ride was very long. I finished my Arab and Jew book.

Finally at around 6pm or so (3 hours later than we had planned), we reached Hotel Casci and met Nicole’s parents, who were coming down just as we were coming in.

Day trip to Pompei

This was the day that we planned to go to Pompei. It almost didn’t happen. We walked over to the Sorrento Circumvesuviana train station, ready to buy tickets to Pompei Scavi (Pompei Excavations). Note, you want Pompei Scavi, not Pompei – Pompei the modern city that’s adjacent to the excavations, according to the guidebooks, is a crime-ridden hole and not worthy of a visit unless you’re looking to buy drugs or look at modern-day graffiti 1

At the train station, there was a sign that said “no train to Pompei today due to technical difficulties” (or something like that, in Italian). We were of course really upset by that, but decided not to give up just yet. When we went upstairs and asked at the ticket window, the guy reached around and grabbed the out of service notice off the window and crumpled it and threw it away. I guess there’s a train after all. 🙂

The area right around the entrance to Pompei Scavi is filled with tons of street vendors trying to aggressively sell you all sorts of food and beverages. There are also a lot of people hanging around the ticket booths offering to sell you their services as tour guides.

The ruins are really interesting and a lot bigger than what I had imagined. This isn’t a village with one road as I imagined – it’s a gigantic city. Much of it is laid out like a grid, kind of like a modern city. You can see remnants of all kinds of stuff like ovens, pottery, mosaics, and yes, human bodies. I don’t know why, but there seems to be tons of stray dogs wandering around the grounds, along with the throngs of tourists.


Aside from the interesting architecture, the other notable thing about Pompei for us was that it was the site of the most horrendous food that we had in all of Italy. We had lunch at a cafeteria on the site and it was memorably bad. The lasagna looked a bit too much like vomit and had a sour, rancid taste. We couldn’t finish it. We threw it out and tried our look at an orange – that wasn’t particulary good either.


Back in Sorrento, we ate dinner at L’Abate, which was recommended by the hotel concierge and was very, very good. We had and enjoyed:

  • insalata caprese
  • ravioli caprese
  • veal marsala

1 Here’s an interesting little bit of trivia. I went to check the spelling of “graffiti” by looking up in an online dictionary and this was one of the entries:

Inscriptions, figure drawings, etc., found on the walls of ancient sepulchers or ruins, as in the Catacombs, or at Pompeii (emphasis mine).

(1913 Webster)

Sorrento and Capri


We began the day by having a lovely breakfast @ Hotel Antiche Mura with American faire like scrambled eggs, soft (not crispy) bacon, and OJ that tastes like OJ as well as Italian cold cuts and cheeses and bread and rolls and Nutella. Particularly impressive was the desert table with a lemon caprese cake, apricot shortbread cookies, etc. and cappucino of course.

The hotel pool area

Then we went outside to the pool area overlooking the cliff where we saw a sign that tells us the meaning of the hotel’s name – Antiche Mura = Ancient Wall – the pool area is very nice with lots of lemon trees with big lemons. Lying in the shade of a cellar is a large bull dog that is trying to sleep but seems to have respiratory problems – maybe it’s because they have the poor doggie locked up next to their pool chemicals.
Then we head back to the room briefly before going down to the port.

The port

We buy two roundtrip tickets to Capri but since it’s only 11:55 and the next boat leaves at 12:55, we settle down at Bar Ruccio, where I have a Cuba Libre (rum & coke) and Nicole has a bellini and we sit by the water and Nicole reads a bit about Capri in our torn out Frommers pages.
12:17 pm
12:55 pm
as is typical in Italy, the waiter takes forever to bring the check and we just barely make the 12:55 hydrofoil to Capri (Caaaaapri).
1:16 pm
wow, there are lots of British people in Sorrento – just like there were a lot of French in Portofino.


We arrive in Capri at around 1:30 and buy tickets to the funicolare (cable car) for for 2,60 euro. The cable car (or bus) takes you from Capri’s port to the main part of the town.


At around 2:30, we have lunch @ Isidoro Capri. We ordered prosciutto & melon, risotto pescatore (Marc), and gnocchi alla sorrentina (Nicole)

At around 4, we headed up to Anacapri.

4:14 pm oops, a nice couple informed us that it’s at least an hour hike down to the Blue Grotto. As a result, we missed it.

St. Michael’s Church

art on tiled floors

Back at the port

At around 6, we stopped for gelato at the Bar Corallo while waiting for our boat back to Sorrento.

At around 6:35, the boat leaves Capri for Sorrento and arrives back in Sorrento at around 6:55. I almost lost my Yahoo hat on the hydrofoil. Luckily they let me back on to get it.

At 7:18 pm we’re back in our hotel room and we take a nap, before heading out looking for a restaurant at 9:30. We settle on…

Ristorante la Favorita “O’Parrucchiano”

This restaurant is rather large and seems to attract big tourist groups (we heard a guitar player singing “Volare” if that gives you any indication). However, the food is actually quite good and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

We had:

  • maccaroncello pesce spada e provola affumicata – pasta with swordfish and smoked cheese
  • scallopine di vitello alla sorrentina – veal scallopine alla sorrentina
  • vongole in marinara – clams in tomato sauce

My VersaCharger goes up in smoke

At around 12:48 am, Nicole smells smoke. I look over at my beloved Boxwave VersaCharger (charger for my Treo 650) and it makes a huge spark and a pop. I am relieved that my Treo 650 is not damaged. Weird – the VersaCharger says it works with 100 – 240 V AC and I used it successfully in Rome. Oh well… I’ll have to try and find a replacement charger since I may need my phone later in order to make arrangements for meeting Andy.

I see a little spider on the ground just like the kind that Nicole saw on her pillow hours before and I kill it. Ah, just like home.

Rome to Sorrento


At Hotel Lirico, we had a breakfast with nice rolls and butter and soft cheese, packets of salami, and cappucino. We watched a little family of 4 who we guessed were Spanish & German.

We checked out. At the hotel desk, we asked the clerk how much a cab to Termini (Rome’s main train station) would cost – 5 or 6 €. Damn – we truly got ripped off yesterday by the taxi driver. No cabs were available (huh?) though so we had to walk with our heavy annoying bags over to the train station.


At Termini the line for validating our EuroPass was super long and there were only 2 windows open. As a result, we missed our 10:45 am train to Napoli (arriving 12:30) even though we got to the station at around 10:15. We commiserated with two American women behind us also waiting to validate, but never exchanged names. When we got to the ticket window, we booked the next train to Napoli @ 11:27 and begrudgingly payed 6 € for a reservation which seemed unfair given that we already paid for a reservation on a train that we missed because of long lines. Almost all of the trains on the departure board were late except of course for the one we just missed. Our 11:27 was now pushed out to 12:27, giving us plenty of time to kill, spent by people watching, napping briefly with my head on my suitcase, and eating at Chef Express – sort of an Italian Fresh Choice. We had Insalata Caprese and strawberries. EVOO and balsamic vinegar were available as condiments and we noted that the balsamic vinegar was the same brand that we buy in the U.S. at our local Safeway.

Train ride

Our train did not end up leaving until about 1 pm, an hour and a half after the scheduled departure. Throughout our 2 trips to Italy, many trains have left late or not at all (a fact that we’ve learned to compensate for by booking earlier trains). On the train we shared a reservation compartment with an old Italian couple and the trip took longer than it was supposed to – 3 hours. I read quite a bit of Arab & Jew.
Napoli really looks like Crapoli.

The aggressively nice old man

In the train station an old man was “aggressively nice” about helping us catch our train to Sorrento. Missing many a tooth, he spoke English well, albeit with a heavy accent, and told us that the last train to Sorrento for several hours is leaving in 10 minutes, at 4:45. This sounded dubious and we have no idea even now if this was true, but since missing this train would have thrown a huge wrench in our plans, we decided to hustle and trust this guy who probably was going to expect a few euros for his “services”. We didn’t ask for it but he quickly led us through the station to a newstand. We bought 2 tickets and hauled ass towards the train. The old man actually took Nicole’s bags, which made me a bit nervous. I realized that he definitely wanted money – this is clearly how he makes his living. At the turnstile he asked for 20 euros which seemed like a lot but since he was an old man and carried Nicole’s bags and we were in a rush, I just gave it to him. Nicole went through the turnstile and waited for me, but I couldn’t find my ticket. She shouted that I had it but I turned all my pockets inside out and couldn’t find it. So with 3 minutes until the train leaves, Panic. I took my bags and hauled ass back towards the newsstand to buy another ticket for 3,40 euro and then hauled ass back to the turnstile and on to the platform, where luckily, the train was a few minutes late so we made it.

The Circumvesuviana

The Circumvesuviana train was crowded and we had to stand. We passed many stops including “Pompeii Scavi” and along the way the buildings looked like crap and we remarked how Andy was right that “the Amalfi Coast is the arm pit of Italy”.


Sorrento is nicer though and with the help of directions from two shopkeepers we found the Hotel Antiche Mura, just up from the Piazza Tasso. The concierge was a nice English speaking Italian woman who told us that the pool is still open and suggested that we go there, probably because we looked so sweaty and exhausted. Room 104 was quite nice and had this weird hydromassage thing in the shower. We went out and walked around Sorrento and had gelato an hour before we went to dinner at L’Antica Trattoria, a somewhat froofy and expensive restaurant. It was good but not great.

Back at the hotel we passed out in our clothes and at 3:30 am Nicole made me change my clothes and go to bed for real.