Monday, September 21, 2009

Following in the footsteps of Marco

OMG - Michael and I had an interesting night filled with almost no sleep before 4 am. In the next room was the Italian Stallion and he was very very busy from about midnight when he and his 'friend' returned to the room until literally just before 4 am! There was much noise that included of all things the sounds of furniture being hauled around the room from time to time. I am not sure whether I should be impressed or depressed! From 4 am though we slept like logs until the blasted alarm rang at 8:30 am. As we leave to go down to breakfast, there is a 'Do not disturb' sign on his door - and I resist the urge to go and bang loudly - very loudly!

Helen just laughs, wonders why we are grumpy and suggests that we should have called her! Yeah, right! Two of us with sore heads is two too many - and I wouldn't want to be the one responsible for calling her in the middle of the night with that little tidbit - can just imagine what her response would have been if I had called her - certainly know what mine would have been if the shoe was on the other foot so to speak!!

Breakfast at the Hotel San Donato is good and thankfully the coffee is really great - we sure as hell needed it this morning and will probably need a few more as the day progresses! We sit with a view over the rooftops and plan a little of our day following in the footsteps of Marco, the key character in John Grisham's novel set in Bologna 'The Broker'. I have noted the locations referred to in the book in blue today. We set off for the Piazza Maggiore again planning to take the red bus tour that we saw stopping there yesterday. Walking down the streets, we pass shops selling local hand made foods and wish that we had the means to do some cooking - they looked amazingly yummy - gosh if only you could have smelled them!
Bring on the deli, bring it on!!

We start back at the edge of the Piazza Maggiore - the bus tour is just departing and thankfully they stop for us to join them despite having already pulled away from the bus stop - which is not always the case. Around pass the Torre we go, down the back streets where the bus, much wider than our car barely manages to squeeze through some of the spaces left down the centre between parked cars. I notice that Helen sucks in occasionally as though to make the bus squeeze up like the bus in the Harry Potter movies! We pass architecture that is reminiscent of much grander time when the architects and builders were adventurous. Casa Isolani, built in the 1450's, has its third floor supported by wooden beams that rise gracefully from the street. Then there is the beautiful cloistered atrium of the Chiesa Santa Maria Dei Servi just a little further down the street.

We continue to wind our way firstly through the inner streets filled to overflowing with students from the various colleges of the University of Bologna that dates back to 1088, earning the City the nickname la dotta (the learned one) in reference to its famous university. And because it has lots of young people and narrow streets, it is also home to millions of mopeds and motorcycles - in fact like some of the other university towns we have seen, there is ample parking for these, but not for cars! Bologna has also been known as la grassa (the fat one) refering to its cuisine and la rossa (the red one) for the colour of its roofs. At Piazza Carducci, we are close to the Porta San Stefano, one of the city gates and are now following the city walls that today are enclosed by the ring road. Its not long though before we duck back inside the walls, headed towards more of the City's impressive squares and churches. Piazza Cavour is where many of the upmarket clothing and accessory shops are found set back under the frescoed ceilings of its porticoed colonnades.

From here we climb one of the hills that surround Bologna past palatial homes. This area is leafy and green and as the autumn fades towards winter, the leaves are turning and indeed beginning to fall. We never really get to see the splendour of autumn at home - and it is quite beautiful. Up we continue, winding our way towards the peak of the hill and the church of San Michele in Bosco a former 15th century monastery that commands stunning views of the city below it. Then it is back down the hill, reversing at one point to negotiate a hairpin bend, and waiting patiently as cars very gingerly suck it all in to squeeze past the bus at one very narrow section of the road. Locals have double parked, put on their hazard lights and then got out to do their chores. No one gets angsty. They just patiently wait until they can pull out into the side of the oncoming traffic. It is after all, an everyday occurence here in Bologna!

We travel back via the Parco Della Montagnola with its beautiful and ornate stone staircase that was originally the first green space in Bologna where at the end of the park we turn in to Via Irnerio. And finally after turning in to Via Rizzoli and travelling a litle way along Strada Maggiore, we are back at Piazza Maggiore and get the chance to have a better look at the Basilica di San Petronio - the Basilica of St Peter which measures as one of the largest churches in Europe and once inside, the disharmony of that strange exterior is soon forgotten! Here in this Cathedral there are two amazing scientific wonders on display. The first is the line of meridien in the form of a sundial embedded in the marble floor that celebrates the works of Giovanni Cassini. This famous astronomer of the 17th century made many astronomical discoveries particularly with regard to Jupiter and Saturn and calculated the role of meridiens in determining distances and times on earth. The line of meridien set into the floor is the second one, longer and much more accurate than the original one. It also functions as a sundial with the light coming from one of the high windows.

The other display is a model of Foucault's Pendulum that swings ever so slowly and regularly, demonstrating the rotation of the earth - similar and only slightly smaller than the one on display at the Panthéon in Paris. Ah yes, Bologna is definitely an area of learning! Those aside, the Cathedral is beautiful and airy and filled with an unexpected lightness. There are 22 chapels filled with stunning examples of christian artworks and a museum that is tucked away in a back corner that houses exquisite examples of illustrated texts, mostly choral texts. These are the first that Helen has seen and she is stunned. They are truly beautiful works of love by someone with a love of works on paper! Unfortunately, we can't take photos inside the church, so you will just have to use your imagination!

Back out into the sunshine of the Piazza Maggiore we take a quick look at the courtyard of the Palazzo Communale and take a few more photos of the Fountain of Neptune. We would have liked to have seen the Etruscan ruins that are found under a glass floor in the library that is housed in the Palazzo Communale, but its lunch time, and we all know what that means!! Our clock is ticking and we can't wait for it to re-open at 2 pm. Its time to move on and so we make our way down some of the back streets that Marco learned so well to give him opportunity to escape from his 'minders' (which incidently led to his escape back to the US and the saving of his life) - along Via Clavature, down to Via Santo Stefano then up to Via Rizzoli before we turn into Via Zamboni and back to the Hotel San Donato to say final goodbyes and collect the car.

But you would be mistaken if you thought that was the end of Bologna! While the towers and the Cathedral are well known, another of the very unique features of the City are the covered colonades that were built to protect its citizens from the wind and rain. We have been travelling the streets in their shade for much of the past two days - in fact, in times past, the only people who could get a dispensation from including a colonade when erecting a new building were royalty and the churches! And in 'The Broker', John Grisham makes good use of these to help Marco give his keepers the slip, along with the narrow and twisting back roads. The most impressive of all these is the colonade up Via Saragozza to the Santuario della Madonna di San Luca that sits atop Monte della Guardia. And what is so special about this I hear you ask?

Well, this 3.5km long monumental roofed arcade (Portico di San Luca) built in the 17th century consists of 666 arches that connects the City with the church on the hill. There are a few scenes in the book where Marco climbs up. Today, with time at a premium as we need to leave for Perugia, we drive up. I am sure that otherwise Michael and Helen would have walked, climbed or maybe even crawled up. Me on the other hand would have met them at the top with the car! And we want to have a look at the Church of San Luca, but today, after so little sleep, instead of going in to have a look at the church, I opt to have a catnap in the car - I mean, we don't want me falling asleep at the wheel do we now?!

Inside they find an ornate baroque church filled with art works that adorn both the ceilings in the form of frescoes and the walls in the form of paintings. The church is known for a portrait of the Virgin Mary suposedly painted by St Luke the Evangelist although it is now known that this work is actually a Byzantine style icon that conceals an older painted effigy. The long covered colonade was built to protect the icon which is carried in a solemn procession each year to the Cathedral to commemorate the first 'journey' undertaken in 1433 to beg for grace. Boy, they really knew how to make life hard back then, didn't they!

We hit the road again - this time travelling south to Perugia where we plan to stay just one night. We travel through the edge of Tuscany and finally Helen and I get to see some of the landscapes that we were expecting to see more of in Italy. The Hotel Tirrenus Perugia is set up on a ridge on the southern side of the city of Perugia in the regio of Umbria in central Italy. And while we are sure that in a city of 165,000 people that there are lots to see and do, we opt for a quiet night after arriving about 7 pm and order pizza through the hotel reception. We were all pretty happy to just veg out with some good honest local food on the most amazing bases!

No comments: