Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Boys in Bologna

So we were left all alone. That's right. Me and the men (Alex and Chris), as all the ladies had run off to Siena. After a day of lounging around, visiting the beach, making diner for one, and flinching at the impermeable silence that echoed through the house, I had about had enough. But for the time there was nothing I could do.
That night two friends of mine Katie and Katy came over to play cards. As we're chatting about what we've been up to, they propose, since we clearly have no other plans, to scrap staying at home and join them in Bologna. Instantly we snatch the opportunity and agree. Carpe Diem, right?
This proposal was delivered around 12:30 that night. By 7:30 the following morning, we were on the train to Bologna on what would be one of the weekends for the ages.
Bologna is the largest city in Emilia-Romagna, a relatively flat, fertile region of Italy, that was control for many centuries by the Pope. The city has three nicknames: the Turreted, the Learned, and the Fat. Bologna experienced much factionalism and division during it's period as a city state, and so the skyline was dotted with towers. It was also extremely well known for being the oldest constantly running university in the world. Finally, it's region of Italy is the only one that has enough open land to make wise use of cattle farming, so it's diet has much more cream, cheese, and beef (hence "Bolognese" sauce).
Upon arriving in the city we dropped off our luggage off at a storage facility to hit the streets ASAP. After a bit of wandering through the central piazzas, we decided we had the energy for a more rigorous hike. We set fourth for the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Saint Luke. The basilica church sits on a mountain over 300 meters above the city level. To get there, we climbed through the 666 arches of the arcade around 4 kilometers. It was a beautiful site from the top, but it was a lot of work to get up there
From there, we split up, and I spent the rest of the say with my friends Alex, Katy, and Laura. The rest wanted to rest back at the hostel.
Of all the sites we visited, the most interesting by fat was the Basilica di San Petronio. It was originally planned to be the largest church in the world, and in it's incomplete stat it is still the church is still the 13th largest in the world. It was amazing to see painting reaching part way up the wall, and stopping. The facade looks like it was chopped in half by a giant. Ambitious growth was stunted by respect for tradition and papal decree.
That night we ate at the Osteria Del Orso, and if you are ever within 50 miles of Bologna I highly recommend you get there by 7PM because if you come any later you'll be waiting for a seat for hours. We found out about this place from some students at the university we met and it makes perfect sense why this place is the student gem. Between the four of us, we each had a huge plate of pasta, we share two liters of the house wine, and two of their apple torte deserts, for 10 euros a piece! You can't find a deal like that, for food that good in Venice. Impossible! I swear- if you have no desire in a vacation beyond eating, just rent an apartment in Bologna.
Later we caught up with the rest of the nannies, who were, to put it gently, less than capable of walking in strait lines. After playing the sitter for a few hours, we decided that if they really wanted to run away, we really couldn't stop them, so we stopped chasing. The next morning, while the rest were still asleep and planning on directly returning to Venice, the four of us decided we would rather continue the weekend for a bit longer. We packed our bags, caught the early bus, and made it to the train station in time to go to Ravenna.
Ravenna, once the Italian capital of the Byzantine Empire until the 11th century, is well known for it's mosaics. The great thing about mosaics is that unlike frescos or paintings on canvas or wood that fade significantly with age, mosaics require much less maintenance because they are made of stone, glass, and gold- materials that do not rust and rarely fade. My favorite site was either San Vitale, which was so different in it's plan than any other building I've seen except the interior of the Templar monastery in Tomar, Portugal, and that was similar in respect of it's intimate, rounded shape space, with imposing soaring height. Vitale's colors were stunning in their brilliance, which came almost exclusively from natural light. The Mausoleum di Galla Placidia nearby was much smaller than I imagined, but it has a mosaic of Christ as the good Shepard that was beautiful.
Having made two new friends and had more than my fill of beautiful things for the weekend, I returned to Venice to begin preparations for Carnevale!

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