Dec 11 2007

Return of the Daytrippers: Northern Italy

Published by at 8:21 pm under Italy,Northern Italy

One good thing about working on an Italian farm was that I got to see psychotic pigs frighten Brittany every day at feeding time. Another good thing was that our farm was located near the town of Imola, whose train connections allow for convenient day trips around northern Italy. During our week-long stay on the farm, we worked for 5 days and were allowed 2 to ourselves. Since we’re sissies from the suburbs, we considered those days off to be hard-earned. Our mission: to spend them wisely…

Day Trip #1: Venice
There probably isn’t much I can say about Venice that hasn’t been said a thousand times already. I will say that, upon arriving in Italy, I was bearish on the idea of going out of our way to visit Venice. I figured that 1.) It’s probably gimmicky, and 2.) I already saw The Italian Job, so what else is there to know?

Brittany and gondolierWell, one thing I didn’t know is just how touristy Venice is. I read in town that Venice has a population of about 500,000 people, but that each year it sees over 10 MILLION tourists. In the face of such an outsider onslaught, the city has struggled to maintain its historic identity. Sorry, Venice! But for the true Venetians sticking it out against the likes of me, life is no gimmick at all. They really do motor around town in little speedboats, and park them right outside their front doors. The first time you see an old woman walk out of her front door, hop into her parked speedboat, and zip off to the vegetable market is one of those moments that makes the trip to Venice worthwhile. Especially since now that her boat isn’t blocking your view, you can clearly see Mark Wahlberg cracking an underwater safe in the canal! Just kidding, the water’s way too filthy to see him.

Contemplating the pigeonAnother surprise lies in wait for the first-time visitor to Venice: pigeons who have lost all of their natural fear for human beings. Let me explain. Some time in modern history, a Venetian entrepreneur noticed that his city had become over-run by the filthy, flying rats that we know as pigeons. In some sort of bizarre social experiment, he decided to find out how much he could charge tourists for the chance to let these winged vermin crawl all over their bodies. He set up a rolling cart in San Marco Square, and started selling small bags of bird seed at a euro a pop. It didn’t take long for the Venice pigeons to learn that humans = food source, not threat, and they were soon dive-bombing any person in the city carrying a small white paper bag. And while people from all over the world curse the pigeon infestations in their home cities, something about being in Venice makes them line up for the chance to wear a living pigeon coat. So here’s to you, Mr. Pigeon Feed Cart Operator. I didn’t even pay for a bag of seed, and I still couldn’t keep your domesticated pigeon horde from roosting on my body.

In short, the city’s over-run by tourists, the water is one of the most unsettling colors I’ve ever seen, and there’s no end in sight to the swarming pigeon epidemic. So why go to Venice? The answer is simple, my friends: Tenors on gondolas.


Day Trip #2: Bologna
In terms of tourist appeal, I think Bologna must be the polar opposite of Venice. When Americas think of Venice, we think of romantic gondola rides down the Grand Canal. When we think of Bologna… well, first of all, most of are probably not familiar with the fact that Bologna is a city in Italy. Most of us ARE familiar with the mystery meat known as bologna, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve been more familiar with it than you wish a couple of times in your life. Reading back on that last sentence, I’m not even sure what it means, but I do know that one of my father’s comforts in life is a bologna sandwich, so let’s all work together to make sure that meat with rinds is a horror that ends with our generation.

The point is: forget about mystery meat for a moment, and go to Bologna when you visit Italy. Much like Americans call NYC “The Big Apple,” or Philadelphia “The City of Brotherly Love,” Italians call Bologna “The Fat One.” Why? Because Bologna is considered by many Italians to have the best food in the country. And if Italy is the country with the best food in the world… then you understand why this is one city you need to visit, unless you hate yourself.

We’ve gotten tired of the stares that we receive whenever we try to snap photos of our plates in restaurants, but I’m happy to report that we found a hole-in-the-wall trattoria in Bologna called Il Tari, where we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon lunch of such local favorites as zucchini-wrapped prosciutto. For the price of a cashew in Venice, we stuffed ourselves silly in Bologna, and left in an argument over which one of us is now “The Fat One.”

Bologna by nightAn unexpected bonus was that Bologna dresses to the nines for Christmas, so we enjoyed the city’s lights and giant Christmas trees, as well as street shopping in the popular Christmas market. Bologna (and all of northern Italy) does get cold in the winter evenings, but it’s never too cold for gelato! Well, it actually was far too cold for gelato, but it’s manageable if you keep your scarf over your face in between licks. And it was worth it, since a gelateria called Gianni served us what was, quite possibly, the best gelato of our trip.

Our daytrips brought our time on the farm to a close, so next time you’ll be hearing about an experience neither of us is going to soon forget: skiing in the Dolomite Mountains.

NEXT: Ben vs. the Dolomites »



3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Return of the Daytrippers: Northern Italy”

  1. Jodieon 12 Dec 2007 at 11:50 am

    Flying rats? Vermin? What?? I LIKE pigeons, thank you very much!! . . . oh yeah, and the pigs on the farm were cute!

    . . . and Mark Wahlbergs not bad either.


  2. Abbyon 12 Dec 2007 at 8:10 pm


    I’m sure our parents are wondering, so I’m just going to ask for them – are those gondolas built for speed or endurance? Did they create a wake? Or were they very slow? How many passengers were they built for? Was there leather interior?

    I love yooouu!!

  3. Ben's Momon 13 Dec 2007 at 10:15 am

    Ben, thank you for knowing what kind of boat you were riding in!!!

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