The trip from La Spezia to Bologna was not very long and consisted of lovely small roads leading to the Autostrada, which turned out to be a horrible traffic jam. The most efficient routing took us very close to Modena and Maranello, Ferrari’s spiritual and current homes; what a coincidence. The area is a fantastic region in Italian automotive history as the home of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ducati, Pagani, and others are all located within an hour’s drive. Modena also makes some of the best balsamic vinegar you’ve ever tasted, so there is something magic in this region’s air and soil.
We arrived at the Ferrari Museum and got our tickets to go inside. It was a good display and timeline of the company’s history, but it was a little underwhelming overall. It was just okay compared to the Corvette, Porsche, and Mercedes museums. It’s always lovely to see pristine examples of genuinely unique cars, but the company has such a rich history, and this museum only scratched the surface. The focus was only on the halo models and recent Formula One achievements, with barely a mention of LeMans and other racing. There is another museum in Modena that focuses more on the life of Enzo Ferrari, but we didn’t have time to see that museum.
Our hotel in Bologna was easy to find and was a good value for the price and location. We got settled and walked into town, looking to see a few sights and get dinner. We walked to the Piazza Maggiore to see the fountain of Neptune and the Basilica di San Petronio. The fountain is fascinating with the exquisite level of craftsmanship you expect from Italian sculptors, and the square is intriguing. There is a large stage, screen, and hundreds of chairs to watch films in the square. I thought it was for a seasonal film festival or something, but the Google Maps imagery shows the same setup, so it’s either there all the time, or the satellite passed overhead at the same time of year. The basilica was closed, so we just looked around.
After seeing what we could that evening, we looked for dinner and found a fantastic place that had been operating since the end of WWII. Ristorante Da Nello was fabulous, an authentic family joint that you could tell has been in business forever. Photos of famous people who’ve eaten there hung on the wall, and the wait staff seemed to be family the way they yelled at each other. I had Lasagna Verde a la Bolognese, and Crystal had the Tortellini a la Bolognese; both were outstanding. We also had a Caprese salad with possibly the best tomatoes I’ve ever eaten. They were bright red, super sweet, and almost tasted like they were marinated in balsamic vinegar; they were simply spectacular.
We scoured lists of “must-see” attractions and set out to see the one museum we thought was worth the price of admission. After that, we planned to walk by and in as many cathedrals as possible. This trip proved that Crystal cannot walk past a European cathedral with an open door. We went to the Basilica de San Petronio since it was open and found it very impressive inside. The outside of the building is a little odd, almost like it’s half finished, which we found out is exactly the case. They never finished the outside and never will. The inside, however, is pretty amazing. The arched vaulted ceilings are incredibly tall, and we learned the plan was to build this church larger than St Paul’s in Rome, but the pope got word of that and squashed the plan. It is still one of the largest in Europe at 132m long. The artwork inside was varied and exquisite, including wood carvings, stone sculptures, and striking paintings.
Afterward, we went to the Biblioteca dell’Archiginnasio to see the famous library and the medical theater. This was the first place people studied the human body through post-mortem dissections. It is the foundation of modern medicine and understanding of the human anatomy and was pretty damn cool. The marble slab used to study the first cadavers still sits in the center of the room, which is both morbid and strangely fascinating. For me, the carved wooden ceiling was even more interesting as dozens of intricately carved statues and symbols are in every square of the ceiling. It is truly magnificent, and you could look at it for hours studying the fantastic details.
Dinner was at the Osteria dell’Orsa due to its great Google reviews with over 10000 written. The deciding factor was their picture of tortellini in broth, which Crystal read was a local specialty. The place was busy, but we were seated inside with little issue. The food was fantastic, and the prices were Spain-cheap. We had a Ragu Crostini as an appetizer, which was the best bread pizza ever. Seriously, if you ever made a “pizza” out of bread, meat sauce, and cheese for a snack, this is what you were trying to make. I had the Tagliatelle ala Bolognese and Crystal had the Tortellini in Broth. Both were great, but I thought mine was better. All that and a few glasses of wine for less than 40 euros, sweet! It was a great way to end our time in Bologna.
Driving to Florence
The drive to Florence wasn’t very long, a little over two hours taking the scenic route. But the road weaved a pattern a kid with an etch a sketch would be proud of. It climbed over a ridgeline winding back over itself many times. When I was scouting it on Google Maps, I noticed a weird monument along the way, so we decided to check it out.
The monument is a massive cemetery for German soldiers killed in WWII. The Futa Pass area was also known as the Gothic Line in WWII and was the site of fierce fighting from 1944 thru 1945 in an attempt to hold the Allied advance. The remains of over 30,000 German soldiers are buried there. The center monument/crypt is a colossal monolith stone at the top of the hill, almost 3,000 ft in elevation, and holds 397 soldiers, 185 of whom are unknown.
It’s an interesting philosophical discussion. Being a veteran and having visited many US and Allied cemeteries, it was a little weird being in a place that essentially honors Nazis. Several German tourists/backpackers were visiting and looking for names, which also felt a little weird. However, you learn from experience, especially in wartime, that few stories are black and white, purely good vs. evil. I’m sure many of these men were not “true believers” but were brainwashed by Hitler’s propaganda campaigns or doing the only thing they thought they could to keep their families safe. The visit left me with a profound feeling of sadness for all those lost, and knowing these wicked beliefs still exist reminds me that the world will never be free of evil people.
On a lighter note, it also turns out that the Futa Pass is one of Italy’s most famous driving roads and is often part of the Mille Miglia. I can see why because the road rocked, I wish I had been driving my Boxster, but the Peugeot did pretty well. The slow-to-rev diesel engine made things a little less entertaining than they would’ve been with a rev-happy flat-six, but beggars can’t be choosers.
We made it to our Airbnb host’s home outside Florence, where we could park the car and take a cab to our Airbnb apartment. Our location was perfect, right around the corner from the Santa Croce cathedral and about two blocks from the Uffizi Gallery, a fantastic location.
We settled a bit and went out for our Devour food tour. It wasn’t as good as the others, but it was a great time. Our group was larger than other tours, and that was after splitting into two groups. We could talk with the people next to us, but we could hardly hear what our guide said to the group at the other end of the table. The food and wine were great, and they introduced us to a unique florentine dish called Pappa al Pomodoro, a rustic bread and tomato soup that tastes so much better than it sounds. We finished the evening with some delicious gelato, as you do.
After that, Crystal and I walked across the Ponte Vecchio bridge and down the river to watch the sunset. The clouds obscured the sky, so the sunset was nothing special, but it was an excellent way to end the evening and our first night back in a city we love. I’ll save the rest of Florence for the next post, there’s a lot to cover, and I know attention spans are short.