Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Bologna - also known as the various train adventures

Please excuse the delay in writing up the various tales of Bologna (and now Venice too). The hotel where I was staying in Venice was basic at best and I wasn't about to spend time in the entrance hall tapping away and paying for the privilege of passers by gawping at me. In any case, there was too much to do and see and just absorb to allow for time spent writing.

But now, I am in rural France in the home of a wonderful ex colleague and there's an amber storm warning, so what better way to spend the time! [Note, there was an amber storm warning when I wrote this yesterday, but aside from some dramatic thunder at 2am, I'm not entirely sure that it came to anything!]

This entire trip has been one of changes and shifts of pace. The difference between Sorrento and the Amalfi coast to Bologna and the region of Emilia Romagna was quite a sharp one. Travelling between the two was an adventure in itself, with an early rise to catch the 8am train around the bay to Naples (and although I know I sound like a grump, that is too early for accordions to be playing, even if they are belting out 'we no speak Americano'). From Naples it was on to Bologna, passing through Rome and Florence before disappearing into a series of tunnels for the rest of the journey. I shall spare you my thoughts on the benefits tunnels would make to the HS2 plans for another day - or perhaps I'll write a letter to the Times ...

So I arrived in Bologna and found dad already ensconced in the hotel and we setter down to make out plans. I was wanting to go to Ferrara because of its links to Lucrezia Borgia and dad had Ravenna in his sights because of some amazing mosaics. Around these things we were to fit everything else that took our fancy including a trip to Verona to see Carmen at the Arena. We didn't do much that afternoon. In fact we took full advantage of the fact that Bologna is much less touristy than other places, with most sites of interest closing for a siesta and had siestas ourselves.

The next morning we set out to discover Bologna. The weather, however, had other ideas and chose to throw it down. Now, Bologna is uniquely blessed with colonnades through much of the city, but this does not make dealing with rain any easier, and there are still large open squares to negotiate, not to mention acres of slippery marble! So, after a couple of mad dashes into churches, we took refuge in a café. The rain chose not to abate, so I agreed to brave it and back out into the downpour we went. The main church of the city is dramatic and was, once upon a time, a threat to the opulence and size of the Vatican. Its ambitions were quashed when the Papal government grew wary and diverted funds for the continued building works to other enterprises, such as the University. Ever since, Bologna had had the reputation for being a little quirky and not quite in line with everyone else.

Because of the rain (which I admit was now letting up a little) and the enforced siesta time we decided to have lunch and I stumbled across a tiny place whose clientele appeared to be mostly people on their lunch breaks (a good sign, if the locals like it). My pasta with butter sauce and fried bacon was sublime. And I'll have to tell you its name later, because they didn't have any cards left and I had to take pictures of a sachet of sugar - much to the amusement of the waiter.

It's quite hard writing up these pieces after the fact, but I wouldn't want to do a report every day, because it would get very boring. There is the danger, though, of missing things out - partly because I've forgotten the order and which restaurant was visited when, and I'm going to have to wait until I get home to properly sort everything out (the number of pictures taken has reached about 4000 now, if anyone is interested).

So, allow me to rush forward to the next day and tell you of our visit to Ferrara, which was our first foray into the countryside (which is very flat and reminds me of Norfolk). This was the seat of the D'Este family, to whom Lucrezia Borgia belonged. She has always had a nefarious reputation of poison and intrusive, but I have to say that if the stories of some of the previous dukes are anything to go by, she was a comparative saint. The family seat in the centre of the town was a medieval fortress, complete with moat and dungeons where the D'Este family kept the enemies they most wanted to keep an eye on - and where one of the Dukes locked his wife after discovering her adultery. They were also used by the Nazis when they were in occupation.

Spook and damp with tiny doorways they were enough to unsettle now, so I hardly dare think what they must have been like in earlier times, with hardly a candle to dispel the complete darkness. The upstairs rooms, by contrast, were sunny and bright and richly decorated. It would have been a very strange world to marry into, although I'm sure Lucrezia Borgia was used to political machinations as the daughter of the Pope.

The following day we had a definite event to work around, as we were going to the opera in Verona. Dad had decided against hiring a car and had booked rooms in Verona for the night. This meant we had a whole day to explore elsewhere.

We thought that Modena and Parma would be interesting (and tasty - what with ham and balsamic being their world renowned exports), so off we went to Parma first, which is a very quiet relaxed town, full of people on bicycles. I am appalled to realise I can't visualise a thing of what we did there. It has melded with Ferrara and other places. My amnesia will cease once I sort out my pictures, and I'll enlighten you all then.

What I can remember it that upon arriving back at the station, we discovered the only route to Verona was via local shopping service to Brescia (as slow as it sounds) then a change of train to Verona. And the next train wasn't for another hour (I have skipped over the half hour wait for tickets - I will not rant about ticket buying in Italy, except to say it is a shambles).

So, a trip to Modena was off the table and we instead made slow and stately progress to Verona. I have been to the city before and think it is a lovely place. Fairly touristy, especially around Juliet's 'house', but its streets are much like Florence and relatively few cars around mean wandering in aimless fashion is easily achieved. The river forms a kind of boundary to the main city, so as long as you don't go over bridges, its not so easy to become lost. As a walking tourist, I appreciate this limit to my investigations! Perhaps I would have got on very well in the medieval world after all - I've always assumed I would prefer the luxuries of the Victorian era, provided I was wealthy and not a maid or governess of course!

Dad remembered the lovely restaurant we had found on our previous visit, which was just as good as the last time. Here we people watched - dad finding a slight doppelganger to his cousin, and we both made speculations about the odd couple at the table next to us. A large older gentleman with a stick thin lovely looking woman, very probably in her early 20s, who ate very little and spoke less. She had no need really, for the man was loquacious in the extreme and even felt the need to read out the entire menu for the edification of his guest. I'm being a touch catty - but it really was a very fascinating interchange.

From one performance to another - it was time to attend the opera. I'd chosen Carmen over other things on offer because I knew the story well so wouldn't have to worry about the absence of English surtitles. The arena is of Roman origin, not as big as the Rome Collesium, but in better repair than that. The stage took up one end, and was rigged with screens - from which a lady dressed all in black emerged periodically to bang a gong. The performance was brilliant, particularly as there was no electronic amplification. It was a bit odd to be surrounded by people who didn't think it was rude if the hummed along or had a bit of a chat mid performance, but it was a great experience nonetheless.

The following day I wandered around Verona as far as my flagging camera battery would allow and then we travelled back to Bologna - a far easer journey as we didn't stop off anywhere on the way.

Our day trip to Ravenna was next on our agenda, so back we went to the train station ...... where the god of train adventures had a laugh at our expense and we got on the wrong train to Rimini - the one we got on didn't stop at Ravenna, whilst the later one, we thought we were getting did. So .... an hour in Rimini, which neither of us wanted to go to in the first place, so we just sat in a café a the station.

It being Sunday, Ravenna had a very quiet feel to it. It's applying for capital of culture in 2017 by the way, so you might get to hear lots about it. All the shops were shut (and I spied some rather nice shoes, which I just took photos of instead), and there weren't that many people about, except for other tourists on the mosaic trail. Thankfully, all the places of interest were open, and were amazing. These weren't your average roman mosaics - all very detailed, but essentially monochrome. No, these were a riot of blue and gold and were brilliantly preserved. Well worth a visit!

Our final full day in Bologna was bright and sunny, and I expressed a wish to visit the church on top of a hill, which we had frequently seen from the train. This was reached by means of a long colonnade of 666 arches, which was built to shield the frequent pilgrims from rain or sunburn. Dad didn't really fancy it, so off I tracked on my own ...... and the view over the hills was brilliant - even if it was an extremely sweaty weary climb to get there! On the way back down I wandered into what I thought was a shop, but turned out to be an artist's laboratory (the Italian description for a workshop). There were a few things on sale, so I bought some rather nice green earrings, and then suggested that if the man wanted to try selling in England, he might like to visit the Christmas market on the Softbank - rather than trying Camden, where he'd been before and not had much success. Once I've found his card, I'll tell you all where to find him!

And that was the end of Bologna ...... well, that was my end, because I got a mid morning train to Venice (which I apparently shouldn't have been on, so had to pay the difference!). Dad, however, had an early evening flight home, so spent the day in Modena - and he later texted to say he'd bought rather a lot of cheese, two types of balsamic vinegar and a bottle of Aperol, so I can continue with my drinking habits once I'm home. Brilliant!


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