Before we left Florence, we made one last stop at the Piazzele Michelangelo, a large square on a hill across the Arno from the city center. Dad was keen to see it because it combines two things he can't resist: a scenic panorama and the work of Michelangelo (it is decorated with copies of his famous works.) Since it was fairly remote, and seemed populated by a great number of tour buses and no taxis, he had ours wait for us while we looked around. It was indeed an epic overview of Florence, marred only by the fact that it was overcast, misty, and threatening to rain.
|We had to ask three different people to take our picture to get one decent one.|
Our second of four train journeys passed very briefly (35 minutes) and without incident, though again, the scenery left something to be desired -- we were in tunnels virtually the entire time.
By the time we got to Bologna, it was starting to rain, and as we were trying to enter the hotel, Dad was accosted by a garishly-dressed woman with a baby strapped to her chest, demanding money (no doubt a gypsy). She kept bumping into him (a distraction attempt) and he couldn't push her out of the way due to the baby. Soon, her hand was in his pocket, but he grabbed it before she could extract anything. Not exactly an auspicious start to our stay!
After checking in to our hotel, we commenced our walking tour of the town, starting with a nice lunch at a spot recommended by the concierge as a sentimental favorite of hers because her fiance took her there on their first date. I was sold; even if it made me miss Justin all the more. Bologna is something of a gastronomic hub in Italy, as it is home to both bolognese sauce, always served on tagliatelli here, and mortadella di Bologna, from which we derive bologna. The meal was pretty
tasty, but I decided to save my bolognese sauce experience for dinner.
Our afternoon walk took us through nearly all the sites of the historic city center, and though I was initially reluctant to try cramming the city into our itinerary, if we had to be anywhere on such a rainy, chilly, miserable day, I'm glad it was here. As it turns out, just about every building downtown has a portico, so you never really have to be exposed to the elements unless you're in a piazza or crossing the street.
|Gotta love a portico on a rainy day!|
The guidebook was short on details about the city, so we identified about five key sites for the afternoon, and popped into a couple random churches along the way.
|From the fountain of Neptune in the Piazza Maggiore.|
First was the Piazza Maggiore, home to a medieval palace, a notable fountain of Neptune festooned with women shooting water out of their breasts, and the town's cathedral, San Petronio, which is built of brick. The outside is fairly spartan (all the scaffolding for the restoration probably didn't help that impression), but the red brick on the inside was quite visually striking, especially against the off-white plaster. Interestingly, it was originally supposed to be bigger than St. Peter's, but they wasted so much money that the Church but the kibosh on their building funds, and as a result, the building isn't quite symmetrical. Supposedly, tales of all the money that they wasted were instrumental in turning Martin Luther against Catholicism.
|More covert photo action in Bologna.|
From there, we walked through the porticoed streets, past some very fancy shopping (the Bolognese must do pretty well for themselves to support a Gucci, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton on a single block), to, ironically enough, the world's first Dominican church, San Domenico. (The Dominican order adheres to a vow of poverty). Built after the founder of the order's death in the mid-1200's, they buried him there in a spectacularly ornate sarcophagus, complete with, you guessed it, some statues by Michelangelo. Dad was ecstatic once more.
|The tomb of San Domenico. Two of the medium-sized sculptures in the middle are by Michelangelo.|
Having done something for Dad, we went over to the Abbazia di Santo Stephano to appease me. This unusual structure is made up of several ancient and medieval churches built so close to one another that eventually they were all roofed over as one and combined. There was some very lovely decorative brickwork there, and some great grotesques of nude women in a cloister garden. They had also had three saints entombed there as well, in surprisingly modest digs compared to San Domenico. So much for that vow of theirs, I suppose.
I guess my love of gargoyles bleeds over into other building decorations as well.
Dad was fading fast, but I coaxed a few more blocks out of him to see the Torri degli Asinelli e Garisenda, two remnants of the hundreds of medieval towers attached to the homes of the wealthy that once comprised the Bologna skyline. They were tall indeed, and one had a considerable lean going on, while the other is considered the 4th tallest tower in Italy. Needless to say, we didn't climb it.
Having scratched the final item from our day's list, we headed back to the hotel for the customary evening rest period, followed by a real bowl of tagliatelli alla bolognese. Dad was not a fan -- he prefers to eat pasta with his sauce, and the texture of the real deal wasn't sufficiently wet for him, but I enjoyed the complex flavors and the textbook-perfect texture of the pasta. I have to give it to Dad; I think he was wise to include Bologna in our itinerary, despite my objections.