After giving ourselves a few days of recovery time at home after the team retreat (parents of small children will understand this...vacation is normal work in a different location with probably less sleep because we're all in the same room...), we boarded a train for Italy!  Eric's cousin Britta is married to an Italian and they live in Bologna.  We missed the Italian wedding (since we were in the US) and their US reception (since we were in France) last summer, go figure, but wanted to take probably our only opportunity to visit European family, only about 5-6 hours away by train.

It took three trains to get us to Bologna, not bad, but that also required a train station change in Milan, which we had just over an hour for.  We looked at the city map, plotted out directions, and found it was only 1.5km, very doable.  Until we realized it was nigh on impossible to walk between the train stations due to a key tunnel on the map that was closed to pedestrians.  Using our English and broken French, we finally figured out that there was a Metro station that connected the 2 train stations in just 2 stops.  Whew.  That was the first of many transportation adventures to come... The rest of our trip down was uneventful.

I had been to Italy before (unlike the rest of my family) but never Bologna.  It was a nice base for some of our day trips, and of course we enjoyed seeing Britta and meeting her husband Luca.  Some pictoral highlights below.

A Neptune statue in the heart of Bologna's city square

Next to the Neptune statue, Maggie and Ben show off the Italian version of a drinking fountain

Almost every sidewalk in Bologna is porticoed, which means that in rain, snow, intense sunshine, etc...there's always covered walkways!  Very pretty (despite the dog poo everywhere)
 Britta took us to see the seven churches.  Really!  You walk into the first one and one after another, all seven are connected either directly or through courtyards.  All built in different times with different styles.  Very cool.
 An outdoor market street in the "tourist" district
 Bologna also features many towers.  The wealthy/ruling families of the day would all build towers for security and also to display their wealth.  Some are open for climbing, including the tallest (featured on the right).  The kids and I were not up for it, but Eric took the challenge and came away with some great photos.
(crazy stairs on the way up)
 (and the view from the top, looking out over cathedrals and red tiled roofs)

More of the red roofs...from Britta and Luca's apartment.
 The kids, as usual, enjoyed the small things.  A playground, chasing pidgins in the square, gelato, and noodles every night for dinner!

We arrived not long after carnival time in Italy...Maggie loved trying on Britta's special mask.  This ironically is our only photo of Britta...we remembered that we should have gotten a photo on the day we were leaving, but Britta and Luca were still in pajamas.  Whoops.  Oh well.  Thanks for wonderful hospitality and a great trip, guys!