If there is one city that 9 out of 10 people love, it is FLORENCE, or FIRENZE as the Italians like to say!
Though the distance seems terribly far from Vienna, it is similar to the distance that I took for my Berlin trip. And if you’ve done such a distance once, the second time seems less scary. If you drive from Vienna it would be about 866km, but since I took the train it was slightly more. (So yes, again I took two overnight trains to get there. And yes, I still planned to make two trips, Bologna and Florence, at the same time!)
Few things to note when you travel by train: (1) Unlike flights where you are just dropped off from one city after another, when you take the train you get a real good sense of how the geography and the environment changes as you enter one country and one city into another. Though Germany and Austria are different, since both speak German, it didn’t feel like I was going somewhere that different. But traveling from Austria to Italy, I did feel different. In fact, the moment I got on the train I knew this was different. Unlike the clean, new, and spacious trains I took to Germany and Austria, it was smaller, older, noisy and already an hour late from the original schedule..sounds like a good intro to Italy, right?
(2) You really get to see amazing scenery that you won’t see unless you take the trains! There are a number of trails that EU Rail records as one of the most scenery train rides in Europe, and the trail from Vienna to Graz..which is the trail I had to take to reach Italy is one of them. I wasn’t sure what to expect…and WOW. I was taken back. The time I took the train, the sun was setting.. and what I saw is hard to describe in plain words. For it was nature. Beautiful nature showing its natural beauty in front of me. As the sun set in between the hills and mountains, our train passed through and along the hills…and you just have to stare and…
So that is how my journey to Italy started….!
When I woke up and looked out my train windows..I could tell I was in Italy. Because instead of green mountains, this is what greeted me..beautiful fields stretched far..and now you see the sun rising. (How wonderful it is to see the sunset in one country and sunrise in the next few hours in another country?) In fact, an old Italian men who was sitting next to me on the train was trying to explain to me what I witnessed. He suggested I remember this via photo (and he showed the sign of click to show that I should take a photo) since you only see this morning fog VERY early in the morning..yes somehow I figured out the conversation this far without knowing Italian, other than the basic words..Si, Gracis, and Bonjournoo!
Since I looked up the train stop details earlier, I wasn’t going to miss my opportunity to do a 2nd city trip on my way to Florence. So when I learned that it passed through Bologna, I decided to jump off the train for a few hours to check out my sister school SAIS Bologna Center in Bologna. Half of my classmates spend a year in this lovely city, and having seen photos of them enjoying their time here I always hoped to make a visit here. Though I was quite late to see any of my friends in person, I still managed to find the center right on time and got to walk around the narrow yellow alleys of Bologna City.
Unlike Florence or Rome, Bologna is a historical city that is less well-known to tourists. It is famous for its oldest university in the Western World (founded in 1088), its lively student population, its delicious food, and its unique architecture along the Tuscany style. In 2006, Bologna was named a Creative City of Music for UNESCO because many famous musicians such as Johann Bach, W.A. Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Brahms, Wagner, Puccini and Liszt all spent some time in this city. Today music is performed throughout the city. Because it was less touristy, I had a better sense of real Italy than I would do later in Florence. Though I was there only for few hours, I was happy I made this stop. If I had to do it again, I would definitely spend more time with someone who could take me to one of those delicious la cucina Bolognese..!
And now…to FLORENCE! (See part 2 for the Florence story!)