Saturday, May 4, 2024

Scenes from Bologna on Day 4

Playing catch-up, I am sharing a few photos from the previous days of our meanderings in Emilia-Romagna

One of the miles of colonnades for which Bologna received UNESCO world heritage status.

Two of the surviving family towers. Both are currently closed due to the imminent danger of collapse. Both are leaning but the one on the left has recently worried monitors and there are fears it will fall into the one on the right. Oi!

On a rainy day, we went in search of Bologna's water canals that once powered its silk mills.

Nearby is a restaurant for late-night cats, known as Biassanot. We enjoyed dinner here later that night.

This is the location of our cooking class with Carmelita. More about this fun time later.

Later, we went in search of four small statues by the 19-year-old Michelangelo. Well worth the search! What a genius!

So many images of the Nativity have graced our visit -- all with one cow and one donkey. This donkey was particularly expressive. :-)

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Parma the Colourful


I am getting a little behind in my reporting. The days are full of sights and delights requiring a good night's sleep -- which limits time spent on the computer. To catch up with the travel tale, a visit to Parma's Duomo and Baptistery was the focus of our day yesterday. I had in fact, set out to see the private rooms of the abbess of the Benedictine Convent of San Paolo; but, alas, they are closed on Tuesdays. This only means I shall keep Parma on my bucket list. ;-)

The Baptistery is a delightful pink-and-white layer cake with fascinating frescos from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Deciphering the symbolism in Benedetto Antelami's sculptures of the months was fun. For example, Libra appears on the righthand sculpture along with the grapes being harvested in bare feet to denote October. In the centre, Scorpio appears in the tree branches and now the figure wears a heavier cloak and shoes against November's cool temperatures.

The focal point of the Duomo is Correggio's whirling painting of the Assumption of the Madonna, capturing the event's vortex of energy.

While Correggio's work, painted in the early sixteenth century is the star of the show, the Duomo has been graced with frescos through time, including this late nineteenth century ceiling and a chapel dedicated to the fallen from World War I.

Around the corner, their modern counterparts were hard at work in the mid-day sun. This may in fact turn out to be our only warm, sunny day of the trip. Time will tell.

For now, buonanotte and sweet dreams.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

I'm "Abundant", not "Fat"

L'appetito vien mangiando.
Appetite comes with eating.

Today we wandered Bologna's old marketplace with Carmelita, who shared her insights about all things Bolognese. One of the first things she admonished is not to call Bologna "fat". While nicknamed "La Grassa", she noted that the adjective means "abundant" due to all the richness of its produce. She also lectured us to avoid GMO tomatoes, or as she put it: "tomatoes wearing lipstick".

I would, however, be fat if I lived down the street from this artisanal chocolate factory. The shop closes from June through October because good chocolate cannot be made in the heat.

The last stop on our tour was a wine shop serving meat and cheese where Carmelita introduced us to "Salami Rossa", a delicious sister to Parma ham.

Following our food tour we ventured up to the Sanctuary of Madonna di San Luca (so called because there is a portrait of Mary in the church said to have been painted by St. Luke). While other more athletic souls hiked up the hill, we took the tourist train.

But we got our exercise climbing up to the viewpoint on the church roof. The staircase was a hair-raising experience and my legs were still jelly hours later.

But the view over to the Apennines and Tuscany was stupendous.

Returning to the city we took in Bologna's other side: "La Dotta" (The Learned). The Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio is the campus of the first university of law in the western world. The building includes the Anatomical Theatre where human dissections were carried out under the keen eyes of students seated on wooden benches overlooking the surgical table.

6000 coats of arms of professors and their students cover all surfaces.

Bologna is fascinating in all her facets.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Learned, The Red, The Fat | Welcome to Bologna!

Chi vive  vede molto,
chi viaggia vede di piĆ¹.

Those who live see a lot, those who travel see more.

Buongiorno from Parma. On the day following our arrival in Bologna we took the train to Parma to join a culinary tour. Betsy welcomed us to her home in the countryside outside of Parma. While we were jet-lagged, she seemed very content with her local hay and alfalfa breakfast. There are four types of cows whose milk can be used for accredited parmesan cheese. Her milk is also used for a specific "red cow" variety of parmesan that I will be searching the shops for.

We watched as the master cheesemaker at Borgo del Gazzano and his assistant worked to produce two rounds of parmesan. It takes 500 litres of milk to produce one round.

That's a lot of work for Betsy and her girlfriends out in the stable!

Leaving Betsy, we were driven high into the foggy mountains to learn the process for making prosciutto.

We have been indulging in a LOT of Parma ham, which necessitates long walks along Bologna's colonnaded streets. Colonnades were mandated by the state in order to address a housing crisis: the colonnade allowed for additional floors of apartments while still allowing traffic and pedestrian flow at ground level. Each building owner chose their own decorative patterns so our walks are filled with interesting sights.

We inadvertently visited a private residence, thinking the open door looked welcoming. There was a beautiful courtyard and this staircase to the piano nobile (the first floor). How lovely the other half live!

We join locals and visitors for the evening passeggiata (evening stroll) to aid digestion.

Bologna's main piazza remains alive with lovely music of young buskers and children playing with coloured flashlights.

I will end with a photo of my daytime gelato . . . as differentiated from our after-dinner evening gelato. ;-)

Several tastings have all been exceptional.

Good night and sweet dreams!

Monday, August 8, 2022

Addio | Farewell

I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.

Mary Anne Radmacher

I spotted this painting in the collection of the Minischalchi-Erizzo family museum. The painter felt the need to explain, "The game, the woman, and the chilled wine, make the man drunk while laughing." I am supposing there is a moral here against wine, women and games (particularly as the boy seems to have a hand in the man's money pouch); however, I have enjoyed a very good time here in Verona with amazing wines, awesome food and great entertainment so I think we should all indulge just a little. :-)

The museum gives a glimpse into the private home of a noble Veronese family. The Minischalchi-Erizzo family lived here for five centuries until 1977. I happened upon it only because all other museums in Verona are closed on Mondays. I loved walking across the floors that 'creaked with history'.

In the afternoon I took a chance on Bus 21 again and headed back into the vineyards. Different driver. And I did not ask for assistance.

Thankfully, my goal was easily reached this time. It is quite an experience to push a button and have the security gates open. It opens into a different world. Eden perhaps.

Turns out the winery was supposed to be closed to visitors this week but the very kind Frederico Fumanelli provided a personal tour and wine tasting. His family produces small quantities of exceptional wine following on ancient tradition: Augustus' family produced wine here (you see the name Octavian on the stele). He would have a lot more statuary around the villa if not for being occupied by the Germans followed by the Americans in WWII. The latter enjoyed their time so much that they did not vacate the land until the 1960s when Frederico's father was able to return and restart production after the war years. What stories! Frederico has spent a few years in Toronto, returning home at the onset of the pandemic. The conversation flowed and two hours passed quickly.

Over the past week, I have met many friendly people and been treated to many fine experiences. Everything seemed to culminate with my visit to the Fumanelli estate. This was a fine end to a great vacation.

Tomorrow, I begin the return travel home. 
Farewell, fair Verona. Grazie mille di tutto!


Sunday, August 7, 2022

Arte eterna | Eternal art (may she be preserved)

 Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.

Pablo Picasso

Today I am in Padua, about an hour away from Verona by train in the direction of Venice. Pilgrims head to Padua to visit the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua, a very popular saint who was a preacher for St. Francis of Assisi. Pilgrims come to touch the tomb of this miracle worker and view his relics: his lower jaw, tongue and vocal chords. I found the architecture really interesting because it looks Byzantine with the domes and minarets.

The main purpose of my visit to Padua was to see the world heritage site, the Scrovegni Chapel. It is a masterpiece that marks the dawn of the Renaissance. This Last Judgement predates Michelangelo by 250 years. 

Painted by Giotto between 1303 and 1305, the colours remain vivid and his figures are alive with expression. To preserve them, only 25 people are allowed in the chapel via a humidity controlled gate system and visits are limited to 15 minutes.

Next door is the Church of the Eremitani, built between 1276 and 1306. Allied bombs almost completely destroyed the church and with it the frescoes of the genius painter, Mantegna. The destruction of the church and his work is considered the greatest individual disaster to Italian art in WWII.

The conversation work to restore the structure and its paintings is jaw-dropping. Those 'splotches' of colour are bits of painted plaster that have found their way back to exactly where they should be. I am in awe of the work of these conservators.

This evening, after a quick apperitivo tasting a Buglioni Valpolicella ripasso, I took the funicular up the mountain for incredible evening views over the old pink city. Looking down I spotted cafe umbrellas in front of an old church. This being Sunday, I thought I should check it out for dinner.

My day ended with a lovely dinner at Redentore (Redeemer) restaurant. This adaptive reuse of an old religious building dates back to 1993. The salad was meal size so I made only a small dent in my fresh pasta with ragu. 

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Pietra e acqua | Stone and water


The foolish are like ripples on water, For whatsoever they do is quickly effaced; 
But the righteous are like carvings upon stone, For their smallest act is durable.

Horace, Roman poet (65-8 BC)

Today I joined a walking tour of Verona put on by the tourist information office. Lucky for me, nine people didn't show up, perhaps due to the heat, so it was just me, two Tuscans and the guide. Can't beat a private tour for 12 euro. :-)

As we walked the streets, we were told of their paving of "Verona marble", a limestone cut from the hills of nearby Valpolicella -- the same area of the great wine. Several paving stones bear the remains of ammonite fossils. Really BIG ones.

Later in the tour we could look down into a two meter hole to see an intersection of two Roman roads made of the same material. It's a wonder there are any hills left to grow grapes on.

Besides the Arena, Verona's other major Roman ruin is the Porta Borsari. The Romans would have called this entrance into their city the Jovian gate after their supreme deity. That name was forgotten by medieval times so it became the gate of the toll collectors. Borsari refers to their purse in which they carried the levied coins (think bourse/purse).

From this beautiful vantage point overlooking the Adige river, the guide explained that up until the beginning of the 20th century it was forbidden to build on the north side of the river because it was demarcated as a military zone. Hence the architecture is very different. For a future trip, the tourist office has a self-guided walking tour pamphlet of the Liberty style architecture in this area.

I was shocked to learn that just one day before the end of World War II, the Germans bombed all the bridges as they retreated from Verona so as to hinder Allied advancement. All of the bridges have been rebuilt from their original materials as much as possible.

The bridge in the photo above was the private bridge of the Scaligeri family. Later in the tour, we passed their very ornate Gothic tombs. It was noted that they built their tombs on elevated platforms so that people would have to look up to them for eternity.

After the tour, I walked to the arcaded portico of Via Sottoriva that runs alongside the river. Here were the old warehouses when the river was the city's thoroughfare for business.

And I found Osteria Sottoriva, an old riverside eatery that serves only wine, beer and grappa (as I was told upon entering and reminded of when I thought I would end my meal with an espresso). Its wine selection is impressive. I enjoyed a glass of Tasi's Garganega Brut for 3 euro to accompany my Vitello Tonnato, which was so delicious that I finished the entire plate.

Thinking I should walk off some of that veal, I wandered over to the Ponte Pietra (the "stone" bridge). It has been reconstructed from the stones of the original Roman bridge. I will return this evening for a better view of the bridge as I dine at the riverside restaurant on the right side of the photo. 

Stay tuned! :-)

A thunderstorm was brewing as I set out from the hotel to the restaurant. The wind was joined by rain just as my 7:30pm reservation was called. Sadly, on account of the high winds and rain, all balcony reservations were moved inside to the restaurant's lower level. While nice, it lacked the view of the Ponte Pietra so I took this photo following my lovely meal . . . after the thunderstorm had passed without almost a trace on Verona's cobbled streets.

When I booked Restaurant Ponte Pietra, following research that took me "I don't know where", I had no idea it was a Michelin star restaurant. This is my first Michelin experience. The meal and service was exceptional. 

A newly-engaged Canadian couple was seated at the neighbouring table. As we all enjoy foodie experiences we struck up an immediate bond. Ivan kindly provided the visual memory for the evening (above). By this point in the meal, I have already enjoyed a glass of Franciacorta and a glass of Il Moggio from Umbria so please excuse my inebriated smile. With the octopus, burrata and green beans I am enjoying a glass of light Valpolicella. A perfect pairing. Dessert of a peach tart with raspberry confit was paired with a Soave Reciotto. Bellissima!

I can't help but sleep well this evening. Buona notte!