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.
In 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.
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’.
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’.
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…
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