Sunday, October 14, 2007

Day 13: Bologna-Belluno

We pack up and check out of the Hotel Porta San Mamolo. We have really enjoyed our stay…the room was comfortable (if a bit small), the bathroom was large and there was plenty of water pressure and hot water, the breakfasts were good and the staff were very friendly and helpful They even promised to have high speed internet access in the rooms next time we stay there.

We make one final stop in Bologna–at the hilltop church of San Luca that overlooks both the city and the autostrada. We inadvertently take the back way up the hill so we miss one of the significant features of the church…a 3.5 kilometer (2 miles) long portico that leads from town up to the church. But we see it on the way down and there are lot of people taking advantage of the route…as well as many others either walking, jogging or biking in the vicinity.

(this is not my picture)
The drive to Belluno is uneventful….it is all on the autostrada and there is little traffic. The weather turns overcast as we leave Bologna and stays that way until we get closer to the higher elevations around Belluno. At this point, the sun is shining on the hillsides to the north.

Belluno is almost entirely ringed with high mountains - the Dolomites…the city itself is on a low plateau that sits above the junction of the Ardo and Piave Rivers. The mountains to the north and east seem to start at the city limits and are very imposing. There are pretty but gentler views to the south and west over the Piave valley.
(this is not my picture either)
We find the hotel–the Hotel delle Alpi–easily (it is a few blocks away from the center of town) and check in to a very large room with a desk, a couch a table
(this is also not my picture -but it is of our room)
…..but no high speed internet access as was advertised.
The first order of business is to find a place for lunch. The desk clerk directs us to a restaurant–La Buca–a couple of blocks away. We walk in and are seated but are then studiously ignored for about ten minutes. The restaurant is pretty full (we later learn that many of the patrons have been to the Tiziano exhibit) and other people are seated and orders are taken while we wait, not so patiently. When we finally get our menus, we barely have a chance to look at them when the waiter is there asking if we are ready to order. Since we don’t want him to disappear, we order quickly even though we haven’t a chance to really make up our minds.

In fact, there is not a lot on the menu that is appealing. (I am still trying to figure out exactly how to describe the menus in Belluno to get across how limited we feel in finding things to order. Maybe in the next few days I will be able to explain it better.) Since there is little to choose from, Diana quickly orders a “carpaccio of piovra” which the waiter says is “fish” followed by spaghetti alle vongole…one of my favorite dishes but not usually something Diana orders. I also have the spaghetti with clams followed by a mushroom “frittata”.
The food is actually okay and the service improves during the meal…the frittata is in fact a freshly prepared omelet with mushrooms and ham, the clams are not bad and the “piovra”–which is octopus - also something she would never normally order–gets eaten, washed down with a half liter of very drinkable white wine.

After lunch, we walk through the main piazza…really a very long oval shaped, mostly pedestrian area with a park in the middle and a large number of stores and cafes. It is very attractive and one of the more distinctive piazzas that we have seen in Italy.
There is a kiddie attraction that is very popular…a combination trampoline/bungee cord mechanism that all the local children are lined up to try.

I continue my exploration of Belluno and walk through the extensive historic district and down the hill to the riverfront.
where there is a large parking lot and scala mobile (an escalator) to bring visitors to the main part of town.
Here I also encounter some of the “Tizianomania” that is gripping Belluno….large posters everywhere advertising the show “Tiziano–L’Ultimo Atto (Titian, the Last Act) which is taking place in Belluno and Pieve di Cadore–Titian’s birthplace–about 30 km north of Belluno.
Almost every store window has a sign promoting the show and many local merchants are offering discounts for meals and services to people who have attended the show. There is a red carpet leading from the main piazza and from the top of the escalator to the entrance to the exhibit.
Back at the hotel, I “struggle” with the dialup modem connection, which is actually reasonably fast, as I do some work.
For dinner, we decide to go a very informal and very fanciful pizzeria just steps from the hotel….Pizzeria Cibo. The tables are sort of “industrial nursery school furniture” and the benches that line the windows are backed with brightly colored foam cutouts. However the menu is very straightforward and the service is prompt and friendly. We share a plate of salumi and cheese, Diana has a spaghetti carbonara, which she finds too eggy and I have penne with sausage and mushrooms which is very tasty. The red wine goes down easily and we note–for future reference–that the pizza also looks good.

A few steps and we are back at the hotel. Tomorrow–if the weather is good–we will head for Cortina d’Ampezzo and drive the “Great Dolomite Road” through the high mountains.


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