We were sad to leave Volterra this morning because we really fell in love with the town, but we had seen and done almost all the things here and it was time to move on. But first, Hirsh wanted a photo with the original Etruscan wall that had been preserved inside our modest little hotel.
And he had to fit in some last minute sightseeing by visiting the town's ancient amphitheater.
And the ancient town gate...
This gate is particularly special because it was built 2,500 years ago by the Etruscans and has stood with minor modifications ever since. Its greatest threat, however, was a mere 70 years ago, when the occupying Nazis threatened to blow up the gate to prevent the Allies from easily accessing this fortified hill town. The citizens pleaded to save their beloved landmark and the Nazis relented, on one condition: the citizens had 24 hours to block the gate and make it entirely impassable. In the next 22 hours-- with 2 hours to spare --the citizens (mostly women and children) tore up the stone pathway leading from the gate and used those pavers to create a blockade. The gate, and a piece of Volterran and Tuscan history, was saved.
And then we made our way back down the tremendous hill. When Sarah stopped to pose for a photo, this friendly German decided to join in. 😄
Then he kindly offered to take the picture we really wanted.
We made the hour and a half drive back to Florence to drop off our rental car. Hirsh told me I drive like an Italian, which I took as a compliment; he did not intend it as one. It IS pretty thrilling to look at the speedometer and see 135, even if it's measured in kilometers per hour. Even so, we returned the car with no damage and no tickets, as far as we know. We hopped on the train to Bologna for 24 hours devoted solely to feasting in the legendary food capital of Italy, the state of Emilia-Romagna. Less known to most Americans than Tuscany, this state is famous for tagliatelle, tortellini, Parma prosciutto, Modena balsamic vinegar, and just all-around hearty cooking.
Rick Steves devotes little attention to Bologna in his guidebook, suggesting it's very skippable. We were surprised to discover quite the opposite. Bologna is a university town with a real, edgy, gritty personality. It feels safer than Naples, but maybe that's because we arrived during daylight hours and avoided the sketchy train station after dark.
The main square downtown is surrounded by great shops and restaurants. We saw everything from H&M and Zara to fancy men's custom suiting stores. There's an Eataly gourmet food market and restaurants of all varieties. They had even set up a huge movie screen in the main square for a free show later that night.
We decided this would be a great place to study abroad. There are few tourists because most visitors to Italy focus on higher profile places like Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscany, etc. As a result, this feels like the real Italy.
We stayed in a cheap, very humble room in a sketchy neighborhood near the train station so we could treat ourselves to a fancy dinner. This room had no AC or air circulation whatsoever and got so hot in the middle of the night that we had to soak towels in cold water and drape them over our bodies to avoid heat stroke. The savings were worth it though, because dinner at Trattoria Battibecco, which is listed in the Michelin guide(!), was a real treat.