Bologna is somewhere a bit off the tourist map, but it’s a profoundly enjoyable city, and very close to a bunch of different places – you can get to Florence or Venice in 1-2 hours, and Ravenna (the subject of my next post) is exquisite and very close as well. It’s the home of Bolognese sauce, or ragu, and contains Europe’s oldest university. I seem to always like cities with a lot of students – Edinburgh, Granada, Krakow – even though I don’t get much into the student party scene when I’m there; they just have a more chilled-out feel, a mix between cheap takeaway, student discounts, good and cheap museums and non-touristy liveliness that I really enjoy, without losing the modern amenities that I (and the students) will sometimes want. Anyway, here are some highlights of the few days I spent there (and at the end, a couple of low-lights). It was all a bit random so it’s hard to really put out a narrative of famous attractions that I took in. Use-It is here, and I mostly went on their recommendations, which were once again excellent, though clearly written by Italians, so it is always wise to check if museums and things have English signs, or whether an audio guide is pretty much compulsory. Enjoy!
Highlight 1: Arcades
Highlight 2: Weekend clothing market – three pairs of paints and a shirt, all recognisable brands more impressive than Target, for €21. Cha ching!
Highlight 3: Medieval leaning towers from the 12th century
Highlight 4: Storia Bologna museums – I spent about four hours in the main museum alone (audio guides always make me take my time, and there was no option because all the text was in Italian) and then there were a number of others on a viewing tour that took you through the history of Bologna, including a collection of vintage musical instruments and several churches. The main museum is the main attraction, however. It started with a walk through a reconstructed Etruscan sepulchral road, and progressed through Bologna’s Greek, Roman, medieval, scientific, university, artistic, renaissance and modern history, through to reunification, Mussolini, the electrical age and an ongoing interactive exhibition that residents are able to add to. There was also a couple of interesting site exhibits, including a photographic display of modern Bologna, a reconstructed sewer you could walk into (which was weirdly covered all around with mirrors, darkened and had a floor that looked like water and would respond to where you walked) and an animated movie. It was extremely engaging and well worth getting to.
Highlight 5: Babushka church – a church that was originally constructed in Byzantine times and constantly added to but never demolished. It is a church inside a church surrounded by another church!
Highlight 6: Bologna cathedral, never finished
Highlight 7: Historic university headquarters, only founded in the 16th century (although the university was founded in the late 11th century, it had no permanent HQ until much later) and modern ones that really suck
Highlight 8: A hostel outside the city – rather than being really annoying like the one in Florence was, the fact that a bus connected straight there (and I had no illusions that I wouldn’t need a bus pass so got one on the first day) meant that this hostel was peaceful and not that inconvenient
Highlight 9: Street art – it’s all over Bologna and I kept taking photos of it!
Highlight 10: Ragu
Highlight 11 – Walking up through the fancy back streets of the city via the old city gates to get the best view over the city
Lowlight 1 – The Archaeological Museum. GET AN AUDIOGUIDE, IT LOOKED AMAZING BUT ALL THE SUBTITLES WERE IN ITALIAN SO I HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS GOING ON! This makes the admission about €7 instead of the advertised €3.
Lowlight (or is it?) 2 – Not being able to go to Venice because of a train strike, advertised in advance but only in Italian, but on the plus side making some new friends and walking around the city talking about how nice Mormons are and why it is that Catholic churches are empty in Europe and full in South America and how churches change how they relate to people with the times (from ceremonialism to coffee shops). No pictures because I didn’t go to Venice (duh).