Category Archives: Europe

Travels in Italy, Garibaldi in Bologna

Garibaldi Bologna

Have I mentioned my personal challenge to find as many statues of Giuseppe Garibaldi that I can?

It is an easy sort of challenge because almost every town and city in Italy has a statue of the national hero.

I was especially pleased to find this very fine example in Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region in the North of the country.

Other Garibaldi Statues…

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Travels in Italy, The Colonnades and Porticoes of Bologna

In Bologna there are almost thirty miles of colonnades and porticoes, that is about thirty miles of mindless graffiti…

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Armistice Day, Pictures from Northern France

 

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Close by to where we were staying in Vic-Sur-Aisne was a particular place that I was keen to visit so one morning after breakfast I set off alone towards Compiègne and to the Clairière de l’Armistice, a historic site where the armistice of 1918 brought the First-World-War to an end…

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Travels in Italy, Graffiti and A Load of Baloney

Bologna Grafitt1 01

My first impressions of Bologna were not especially positive I have to say.

We arrived in the late afternoon and after we had settled into our accommodation we walked the short distance to the city centre.  What a shock.  I can hand on heart say that I have never seen so much horrible graffiti anywhere else on my travels.  Not in Lisbon, not in Ljubljana, not even in Naples.  If I lived in Bologna I would open a spray paint shop and make an absolute fortune!

Should I have been surprised? Probably not, graffiti is after all an Italian word that has found its way into World-wide vocabulary. Bologna has a history and reputation for insurrection and disobedience.  Graffiti generally betrays anger and distress.

Everywhere was daubed with paint and mindless slogans and I couldn’t help wondering which part of a moron’s brain doesn’t develop properly which allows them to think that this appalling behavior is acceptable.  The famous colonnades and porticos daubed in paint, doorways disfigured and shop fronts vandalised.  It was bad, very bad and it made me feel sad, very sad.

So we walked for a while and eventually found a restaurant that served good food that filled our appetites and cheap house wine that stained our lips and after a hearty meal my mood improved and I looked forward to seeing the city in the morning.  We had walked nearly six miles today which wasn’t so bad considering the fact that we had spent almost four hours on the trains.

Bologna TowersIn the morning I have to say that the graffiti didn’t appear quite so bad, it seemed to get swept away by the bright sunlight that percolated through the colonnades, soaked up and washed away by the activity of the day but then the problem was beggars and looky-looky men on every street corner.  Later I looked in a mirror in the room to see if I had got a neon-sign on my head that said ‘please pester me’

Almost at the centre we came to the landmark site of the city – the two towers.  In the early middle ages there was a frenzy of tower building in Italy and nowhere more so than in Bologna and by 1400 it is estimated that there were as many as one hundred and eighty of them.

The tallest one remaining is called Asinelli (after the family that built it) and for a modest fee of €5 it was possible to climb the four hundred and ninety eight steps to the top of the three hundred foot tower. I can’t help thinking that what a shame they didn’t make it a round five hundred. I like round numbers.  It leans in an alarming way similar to the Leaning Tower of Pisa but this one is nearly twice as tall. In fact it is one of the highest towers in Italy, second only to the one in nearby Cremona which is about fifty feet taller.

Getting to the top was a bit of an effort, hard work with knees trembling, muscles straining and a heart ticking over faster than an Italian taxi driver’s charging meter but at the top it was all worthwhile with wonderful views over all of the city below and the countryside beyond.

Bologna Panorama

Back down at street level we walked the city and made our way to an area called the Quadrilateral which is a maze of streets dedicated to food.  Meat, fish, vegetables, bread and cakes, here there was Parma Ham, Balsamic Vinegar from Modena and cheese shops dedicated only to Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Here too was the speciality of Bologna called Mortadella which according to Wikipedia is a large Italian sausage or luncheon meat made of finely hashed or ground, heat-cured pork, which incorporates small cubes of pork fat and is flavoured with spices”

I bought some of course, it would have been rude not to and later we tried it back in the hotel room.

Mortadella let me tell you is what we call SPAM, it is just processed meat that is tasteless and nasty and is a curious pink colour as though part of an unpleasant medical procedure.  And this is supposed to be the gastronomic speciality of Bologna.  I can remember SPAM when I was a boy, it was horrible then and it was just as horrible now. It tasted like a bicycle tyre inner-tube.

We threw half of it away.  Well, almost all of it actually.

Mort translated to English is dead so I can only suppose that Mortadella means ‘Dead Delli’, I don’t think that I will ever try it again. Rather a disappointment I thought, this region of Italy is supposedly famous for food but Bologna has only horrible SPAM!

This is interesting however, how many times do we use an everyday phrase without really understanding where it came from?  Mortadella, or Bologna Sausage is so full of crap that this is where we get the expression ‘ A load of old Baloney’.

Bologna Mortadella

After the Quadrilateral we walked some more and found ourselves near to some canals. Apparently Bologna used to have a large network of transport waterways but these were filled in and paved over in a 1950s building boom. We found the one or two that survived the post-war reconstruction and inevitably it is called ‘Little Venice’

Other places have their own versions of ‘Little Venice’, London, Birmingham, Amsterdam, St Petersburg and Prague are examples, in fact almost anywhere with a little stretch of canal.

There is a Little Venice in Michigan USA and another in Bavaria in Germany and there is even one entire country that is called ‘Little Venice’.  The name ‘Venezuela’ originated from the Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci who led a 1499 naval expedition along the northwestern coast of South America.  When he landed he saw natives living in houses on stilts and using boats that were shaped like gondolas. He thought that the place resembled Venice so named it Venezuela, which means ‘Little Venice’.

Bologna Canal

By late afternoon our day was nearly done but before we finished I was determined to find the inevitable statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi and an especially fine statue it turned out to be and after we had found it we wandered back to the accommodation and ignoring the graffiti found history on every street corner with a time-line stretching from Romans through Popes, Revolutionaries, Communists and the terrorist Red Brigade.

Later we dined in the same restaurant and had pasta and house wine.  We walked nine and a half miles today.  I enjoyed the day in Bologna but I have to say that it is never going to get into my list of top ten of Italian towns and cities…

Naples, Palermo, Verona, Lecce, Bari, Padua,  Alghero, Lucca, Florence, Rome

 

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Travels in Italy, Doors of Bologna

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Travels in Italy, Como to Bologna

Lake Como 1

The previous day we had walked east around the lake so today we walked west.  We thought that we might take a boat trip later but even as early as ten o’clock a long queue was beginning to form at the booking office so we decided to leave that until later.  We are not very fond of queues.

So we walked past the boats and the ferry terminal and set out towards the expensive side of the lake where the nineteenth century palaces and villas all enjoy wonderful views across the water.  What a place this must have been before all of the daily tourists arrived.  This was a walk past fabulous houses and gardens, private jetties and boat houses, a place where the European rich would gather for their holidays and show off their wealth.

Gianni Versace lived in Como and so did the singer Madonna and the actor George Clooney, also Julia Roberts, David Beckham, Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta Jones.  It is that sort of place, glamorous and filthy rich.  I am completely unable to explain what we were doing there!

Como Villa 2

As we walked we came across a diversion around possibly the best villa of all on the lake, all fenced off and swarming with security guards, the sort of people who want you to look at them in a funny way so that they have an excuse to punch you in the face.  This was all because this was a party weekend to celebrate the engagement of Isha Ambani and Anand Piramal who are two of the richest people in all of India, probably the world, and the expense here was obscene.

Why Como I wondered, probably because they were too embarrassed to have such a lavish event in their own country in front of the hundreds of thousands of really poor people.

As it turned out these mega-rich people had taken over the whole town for the entire weekend and much of it was off-limits to people like us.  We couldn’t visit the gardens that are normally open to the public, we couldn’t walk down some of the roads in the town because they were cordoned off and worst of all we couldn’t go into the Cathedral because these two Hindus were having an engagement celebration in a Roman Catholic Church and stopping other people going inside.  Filthy rich, dirty money, no manners.  I’m not jealous!

So we kept walking until there was no reason to walk any further and we turned back and walked back the way the same way.  I asked a security guard what was going on and that is how I learned about Isha Ambani and Anand Piramal and got the black eye!

We hoped that the queue for the boat might have magically got shorter but it hadn’t, it was even longer now and as we sat at a pavement bar and had a leisurely coffee it occurred to us that we didn’t really need to go for a boat ride anyway.  We had walked both east and west and as the lake is less than a mile across we were unlikely to see anything different anyway, so we saved the cost of a boat ride and had a beer instead.

Como Cathedral

I liked Como, I had never thought about going to the Italian Lakes before, I always thought that they were for old people, but I am an old person now myself so it seemed the right time to go there.  I didn’t really need three days there I have to say, maybe a day trip out of Milan would have been enough, it is nice but it is not very exciting.

Later we found the inevitable statue of Garibaldi…

Garibaldi Como

We had walked ten miles today along the lakeside.  We dined at the same restaurant, went to bed, had breakfast and left.

This was not a good day on the trains I have to say.  We got on a train to Milan which turned out not to be going to our destination station so we got off half way to change only to find that the train that we wanted had been cancelled so we had to get back on a train to Milan which also wasn’t going to our destination station.  This involved a change  and an irritating delay.  We planned to be in Bologna by early afternoon but now the clock was ticking.

And then things went disastrously wrong and travel plans started to completely unravel.  I bought some tickets for the fast train to Bologna but then got on the slow train to Bologna by mistake.  By a cruel twist of fate two trains were leaving Milan at exactly the same time to Bologna, the fast train was going to Naples, stopping at Bologna but we didn’t understand that so we ignored it and got on a train going only to Bologna.

Sadly it wasn’t only going to Bologna.  The fast train took just an hour, the slow train took nearly three.  The train crawled along like a long distance runner with a pulled muscle, it stopped at every tiny station and remote halt along the way and would occasionally stop in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  As we were wondering why, the modern fast train would suddenly thunder past at the speed of light with a loud whooomp that made our carriage rock with the aftershock and then after a minute or so our old arthritic train would creak back into life, roll backwards for a while and then crawl slowly forward.

The only thing that made me feel better about the whole thing was that another couple a few seats away had made exactly the same mistake.  Finally we limped into Bologna about four hours behind schedule and ignoring the line of expectant taxis walked the mile or so to our accommodation on the edge of the historical centre.

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Travels in Italy, A Walk around Lake Como

 

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