Leaving Croatia would have been much more difficult had we not been heading to Italy. While we loved just about everything we experienced in Croatia, the Italian culture and cuisine is reason enough to cross the Atlantic. We booked an 8 hour ferry from Dubrovnik to Bari, considering it a staging point for our move West, across Italy, with the goal of ultimately reaching the Amalfi Coast. As it turned out, that wasn’t in the cards.

Much of the enjoyment of the way we love to travel comes from where we lay our heads at night. We’ve discovered that even the most basic online accommodations in Italy during the month of August are well outside of our budget or just plain booked altogether. The interesting thing we didn’t plan on is the phenomenon of the Italian “holiday”. Everyone in the major cities flocks to the beaches, leaving the cities deserted and the beaches absolutely packed. Upon discovering this, we determined to change our course and head North up the East coast with the destination of the Cinque Terre.

Bari was a ghost town for the most part. However the second night we were there, we had an unforgettable experience. In typical fashion, we TripAdvised the best restaurants in town and sought one out nearby. Of course, it was closed – but there was another place on the way that happened to be full of local families. (10-12 person tables) We sat down, the waitress came by and spoke not one word of English. We tried our best to order from the menu as people gathered around to hear the “Americans”. (mind you, we were far from the tourist part of a non-touristy city) A young girl stepped forward and understood some of what we were saying and communicated to the waiter that we wanted them to surprise us.

10 completely different courses proceeded to come to our table! It seemed like a joke, but we realized other tables were receiving the same treatment. The dishes varied from bruschetta, pork, fish, chicken, meats, vegetables, pizza and cheeses. All ranged from good to very good with one exception; the plate with three types of Mozzarela de Buffala. This assortment of cheeses deserves a book to be written in it’s honor. One of them, the last we tried, was round in shape and fell apart when sliced – more like a cream. This may well have been the best food Abby and I have ever tasted! We were completely stuffed and couldn’t get enough! The Italians love their food and talk so much about fresh ingredients (yes, we’ve been podcasting Rick Steve again and heard some chefs discussing this). We both are now complete believers. I don’t think you can find this kind of cheese in the States, though we will try. Bari, is it possibly more than a transportation hub? Perhaps, but not worth too much of our trip.

From Bari we determined the best route for the Italian Riviera was North via an 8 hour train ride through Bologna. What we soon found out is that Bologna is known as “The food capital of Italy” – quite promising.

I should interject here and note that our backpacks are quite heavy at this point in the trip and we are beginning to love the days we don’t have to carry them all over a city. Love the days.

Bologna, sadly, was another ghost town. We checked into our hotel for 2 nights and walked the old town which is ancient. Apparently Bologna is home to the oldest university in all of Europe and is normally teeming with students. We found one good restaurant open for lunch one day and had some really good pasta, though not so good as to be deserving of their proclaimed title. This is in our opinion of course, and it should be noted that options were very limited. We did have one incredible experience here though, in the form of gelato! We found a place that was ranked #3 out of some 250 restaurants in Bologna. This “restaurant” serves only gelato, and yes it’s that good! If we ever have the notion to start a Gelato shop in Charleston, this is the place we will model it after. Imagine Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompa’s in the back, working away on the most perfect ice-cream you can imagine. That was the feel of the place and it delivered!

We didn’t feel that we got the true sense of Bologna, though we did enjoy it. There are so many shops along the arched covered streets, it could very well be a Paris or Milan when it is truly open for business. If ever this way any time other than August, we suggest it’s worth the stop.

The picture below shows the mozzarella dish noted above. It didn’t look like much then, nor does it now, but have mercy!