All Aboard A Chicken Train
My time in La Spezia had been full of different experiences and charmingly colourful seaside towns, but it was time to move on to my next stop – Bologna. I was up, packed and at the train station with enough time to grab snacks for the journey, and as I settled in to my seat on board I could smell something that reminded me of the hot deli counter at the supermarket. Looking around, I spotted two elderly women munching away on hot, cooked chicken at 10am in the morning. Different kind of breakfast to the croissant I’d picked up!
Although La Spezia was the start of the line, we left in true Italian style – late. With a short changeover in Parma, I had enough time to scout out a local coffee shop for a quick pick-me-up before jumping on the next train to Bologna. A short walk from the station and I was firmly in the city centre trying to find my hotel – after the hostel experience in La Spezia, I was more than ready to enjoy a room to myself. Looking around at the place where I thought the hotel should be, all I could see was a church and decided to call the reception to get help finding it. Just as I pulled out my phone, a man walked past who just happened to work there and kindly checked me in, even though I’d apparently come during the lunch closure hours.
Taking me through door after door, up some stairs and through some more doors, I found myself in a converted convent! There are even priests living in an apartment off the same staircase as me! As a fan of churches, this was quite a find for me, even if I hadn’t realised it when I booked.
Carrying my backpack in the heat had taken it out of me a bit, so I chilled out for a while and made a plan, circling the sights I wanted to see on a map. Once I’d got myself in gear, I wandered back to a huge market I’d passed on my way from the station, and had a good look round the numerous stalls offering a wide range of goods. Sadly for me, no food stalls – always a personal favourite at markets!
As I made my way to start checking off the sights I’d circled on the map, I realised…no map – I’d left it in my room! So trying to work from memory and with good ol’ Google Maps, I ventured off in the direction of one of the old city gates. What followed were many cases of seeing sights and just moving on as there weren’t things to do there. This started with the city gate, which was cool to see, before carrying on to have a wander and see some palazzos, museums and Bologna University.
Continuing on, I passed through a charming square that’s home to a theatre, where a seriously drunk man was being less than gracefully escorted out past well dressed theatre-goers. Spotting a church in the distance, I thought I’d quickly pop my head in and have a look around. Once I’d walked in I realised that there was a church service going on, and not wanting to be rude had to make a split second decision whether to leave or take a seat. Not sure why, but I took a seat and listened to the service – it was in Italian, let’s just say I didn’t follow much – before ducking out when I saw another group of people leaving.
Arriving in Piazza di Porta Ravegnana, I joined a throng of hundreds of people. It took me a while to realise, but these people were prepping for a 5k run. Initially I was confused because it was late in the day to be running 5k, but with the heat as it is, it makes sense for them to run in the cooler evenings. I watched as they set off, saw the two towers in the square and made a note to come back to climb one when I had more energy, then carried on to walk through the old Jewish ghetto of the city and to the shopping area.
Through street markets selling some strange looking crisps, I watched a machine making them before deciding it was time to grab some dinner and head back to the hotel for an early night. I was tired, and I spent the rest of the evening relaxing and booking my next stop – Siena!
Churches, Biscuits and Hearts
After a lazy morning looking at my options for after Siena, I was out and straight to Piazza Maggiore in the heart of the city. It was hot, the sun was shining and there aren’t many options for shade in the spacious square. After taking a few photos of Neptune Fountain, I popped into Basilica di San Petronio which also sits on the square, paid for a photo ticket to be able to take some photos and after a short tour of the church stepped back into the square.
Continuing with the church tours, I wandered in the direction Porta Saragozza, another of the old city gates, stopping in at another church on the way. It was quite a walk to the city gate, and no big sights to see on the way, so it turned into a peaceful walk among the residential areas of Bologna. After seeing Porta Saragozza, a slow and steady walk took me back to me Piazza Maggiore where I was on the hunt for a place to sit down and enjoy a coffee. As I passed through the walkway from the square, I spotted people talking into the wall. Unsure of why, I stopped for a moment and realised the sound carries up the wall, across the ceiling and down to the other side. I was a bit gutted that I didn’t have someone with me to try it out with, but after watching other people try it out, I wandered back to the market area of yesterday and stopped for a coffee and one of my favourite biscuits.
As I relaxed and enjoyed my biscuit – honestly, they’re epic! – a man asked if he could sit at my table. I explained he could, but I’d be leaving soon so there wasn’t much point, and he ended up sitting somewhere else. I felt a bit uneasy about him, and my instincts were proven right when he started kicking off and arguing with the person he’d sat with. The staff came out and calmed things down, but I made my way back to my room to freshen up for the evening, happy in the knowledge I’d made a good call at the cafe.
As I came back to my room, I found that it had been cleaned, but to a level I wasn’t entirely comfortable with. I hadn’t thought there would be a cleaner as there was no ‘do not disturb’ sign, and had left a lot of things on the bed. When I’d come back, the clothes had been packed into my bag, the things that had been left on the floor were organised and I can’t say I was overly comfortable with it.
Not wanting to dwell, I wrote a postcard for my Grandad and headed straight out again. First stop was to a church I’d seen on the map, one of the last things I had left to see from all my circling. After that, I made my way to a cinema I’d found earlier that was showing films in English but with Italian subtitles. As I wandered down the street, I could hear a weird chanting. Feeling a little on edge, I carried on down the deserted street to find a parade filing in from a side street.
Of course I stood to watch the procession for a while, and eventually realised that I needed to find a way to cross to the other side of the road. Trying to find a gap in the procession to nip across, I had to wait a good 10 minutes to find one, where I then made my way to the cinema! It was lovely to spend the evening chilling out with a film, and they even have intermissions halfway through the film which was a surprise. After the cinema I took a gentle walk back to the city centre where I picked up a pizza and made my way back to my room to pack and chill out. Once back in my room, I found that the pizza maker had made my pizza into the shape of a heart, and regardless of whether it was the shape or the actual pizza, it was the best one of my whole trip!
Waking the next morning, I was thankful to have packed most of my stuff last night. I chucked the last bits in my bag, and made my way to check out with plenty of time to get to the station…thankfully! I couldn’t remember which floor the reception was on, and after checking out every floor but the one I needed I finally found it and was ready to chuck the keys and run. No luck, as there were a couple in the office arguing over the fees. As time ticked by I started to get nervous that I wouldn’t have time to get to the station, and when it was finally my turn I was informed that I hadn’t already paid for my room as I thought.
There wasn’t time for me to check my bank account, and I decided just to pay it and check later once I was safely on the train. I managed to get to the station quicker than I thought I would, and then had a 5-10 minute walk from the main station to the platform. I was hot, I was sweaty, but I was on the platform ready to jump on the train to Siena!