Italy – Bologna

An easy train ride from Florence to Bologna brought us to our destination at around noon. Our lodging was at the Bologna Center Town (64 Euros incl breakfast, shared bathroom), a B&B with great reviews located on Via Guglielmo Marconi, a 1 km bus ride or 10 min walk from train station. We caught the bus to the apartment but once we saw how close it was to the train station, it was evident that we should have walked! Our friendly host, Mario, showed us to our room, gave us a map of the city and our room key along with the house rules. We were told breakfast would be served in our room whenever we wanted tomorrow morning and to make ourselves at home. The apartment is right next to Supermercati PAM and a 10 minute walk to Piazza Maggiore, so perfect location! We were eager to explore straight away so armed with our cameras, we set out on foot to see what Balogna has to offer.

First stop was at the Basilica of San Francesco which was listed as a highlight on our map, but we didn’t find it to be anything special. Crossing the street, we entered Via Porta Nova which we thought would be a straight shot to Piazza Maggiore. However, we stumbled around Bologna’s back alleyways before finally finding the massive square. Piazza Maggiore immediately impressed, as imposing government, administrative and religious buildings surround it on all four sides. It was time for lunch, so we sat opposite the Basilica of San Petronio and broke out some sandwiches. Within seconds we were surrounded by resourceful pigeons looking for a handout. Needless to say, we ate quickly! Next stop was the Fountain of Neptune. Because of his massive size, the statue of Neptune is called “il Gigante” (the Giant). The artist commissioned with the project was of course at odds with the church when he declared his desire to equip Neptune with larger genitalia. The church forbade it, but the artist got the last laugh. He ended up designing the statue so that from a particular angle the thumb of the outstretched left hand lines up with the groin, making it look like an erect penis! Apparently, the women of Bologna were so taken by Neptune that the Church actually had bronze pants put on the statue, ha ha. The other thing to check out at the fountain are the “voluptuous nymphs” who spray water out from their nipples. Only in Bologna!

By this time, the Basilica of San Petronio had opened for visitors, so we quickly paid it a visit. Photos are allowed for a fee, so we tucked our cameras away. This church has been the site of not one but two terrorist attack attempts because of a 15th century fresco depicting the prophet Mohammed being devoured by demons. Luckily, Italian police managed to prevent both attacks. Afterwards, we checked out the Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio, which once served as the main building of Bologna’s university from 1563 to 1805. The Archiginnasio of Bologna is impressive with well over 7000 plaques from notable students and professors lining every square inch of the building (to include the ceilings!) There was an entry fee of 3 Euro to visit the fascinating 17th century Anatomy Theater (Teatro Anatomico). This was where trainee surgeons dissected humans and animals on a central marble table, while their peers watched from hard backed wooden seats (purposefully built to be as uncomfortable as possible to prevent students from falling asleep).

From Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio, we walked over to the Basilica di Santo Stefano complex, also known as Sette Chiese (Seven Churches). It is one of Bologna’s most unique sites because the 7 Churches are interlocked and embedded within each other in a labyrinth layout. From Piazza Santo Stefano, only the façade of three of the churches are visible. We decided to save our visit to Santo Stefano Basilica for tomorrow, so we continued on to the main symbol of Bologna, the two towers. Apparently Pisa isn’t the only Italian city to have a leaning tower, as the Tower of the Garisenda has a definite lean to it. We happily paid the 3 Euro fee to climb the 498 steps leading up to the top of the Tower of Asinelli for a fine panorama overlooking Bologna. The timing was just right, as we arrived just before sunset. It was dark when we decided to head back down, and there were still visitors climbing up the stairs for a view of Bologna’s skyline!

After grabbing dinner, we went shopping at the supermarket next door to our apartment for some alcohol to smuggle on board our cruise tomorrow. Becky had bought a couple of cocktail caddies and we wanted to see if they were up to the test. In the past, we’ve always relied on a beer belly contraption to smuggle alcohol on board, so this would be the first time we’ve tried to sneak it on via our luggage. Our room ended up smelling of vodka…what will Mario think in the morning?

30 Oct: Our noisy Italian neighbors prevented us from getting a good night’s sleep. Thin walls at the Bologna Center Town! Mario served us breakfast in bed and we got ready for the day. Checkout was at 11 am so we told Mario we’d do our best to take in some morning sights before returning to pick up our luggage. We went directly to the Basilica of Santo Stefano and were very glad that we had allotted enough time here to check out the various churches. What an interesting sight! Seven churches built adjacent to, within and upon each other…just fascinating. Back at Piazza Maggiore, we glanced upon our favorite sights from yesterday before hurrying back to the apartment to pick up our luggage. Off to our final Italian destination, the mighty city of Venice.

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