Lazy Days of Summer

Yesterday was rainy, so there wasn’t much to report. Gus and I lazed around and caught up on work (practice and college essay writing for him and rec letter writing for me). We did get out for lunch and then a little shopping. We had seen an empanada stand a few days before, so we went there for dinner and then did our after-dinner passaggiata, or the fine Italian art of walking around leisurely and people watching. This morning we were up bright and early for a photoshoot for Gus’ senior pictures. I thought while we were here we might get some interesting shots. I don’t know exactly what comes over teenage boys when the camera is on them. They do this rigid face thing. Eventually, he relaxed, so I hope the pictures are good. The scenery was wonderful in the early morning light with no one around. After a stop at the cafe and a rest, we headed to the music museum of Bologna–another hidden gem. They had a wonderful collection of instruments from the 1500s-1800s and many original scores and manuscripts. Dinner was a gourmet burger place Italian style, which was a nice change of pace from pasta.

Tile Style

Today Gus and I went in search of mosaics, and we were not disappointed. They were incredible, and about 1500 years old. Ravenna is about an hour train ride from Bologna and was an important city as part of the Byzantine empire, hence all of the mosaics. I’m not sure what it is about this part of Italy, but the majority of the towers are leaning. It’s either the soil or the wine–perhaps both. At any rate, Ravenna was lovely but sleepy: no lines, no traffic, no entrance fees. We began to feel like the whole town was staged for us. We did have some lovely gnocchi with ragu (meat sauce) and a leisurely day walking around. The train home was the only problem–that’s where all of the people were (coming from the coast, I suppose). We had to stand the hour ride all the way home; mind you, that was after walking 8 miles today.

Again, with the food

Today we walked down to the weekly open-air market. It was disappointing. I was thinking of fruits, vegetables, books, and antiques. Mostly it was discounted clothes and shoes. So, we made our way to the archeological museum, which had a fantastic 3-part history of Bologna–prehistoric, Etruscan, and then Roman. It also had quite a few Egyptian artifacts from a local naturalist and collector. Bologna is such a wonderful town to be a tourist in because they aren’t expecting you–their churches, museums, and galleries are all free or very close to it. We enjoyed the exhibits until it was time for lunch, at which time we explored the food market section of town. There is an entire street devoted to the tagliere or the Italian version of charcuterie. Gus and I got a board with prosciutto and stracciatella (buffalo milk soft cheese) to share, and it was sublime. We rested/worked back at the apartment for a while and then headed out in search of another Bolognese treat–the polpette, which is a ball, usually of some meat and potato. The one that I got was tuna and potato covered in rice with black olive patè. It was excellent. Gus opted for some tortelloni with eggplant. Tomorrow we are headed on a day trip to Ravenna, which was an important Roman city and has many influences of Byzantine architecture. It’s about an hour train ride away.

Anything Gyoza

Last night, we made it to the outdoor showing of The Shape of Water, which was in English with Italian subtitles. The outdoor movies are apparently very popular because there were no seats to be had when we got there. Gus and I sat on the stone steps of the cathedral (I’m a little stiff this morning, but oh well). It started sprinkling about 3/4 through the movie, but Gus and I were prepared with our umbrella. The crowd thinned a little but mostly remained intact. The chain smokers in front of us regrettably stayed. Gus is very sensitive to the smoke, which makes anything outdoors here difficult. The e-cigarettes are catching on somewhat, but regular cigarettes are still the most prevalent. Luckily, you can’t smoke inside anymore. At any rate, it was a great evening sitting in a medieval square watching a movie with half of the town under the stars. This morning we were on a mission to do 2 things: walk the 2.5 miles to a monastery on a hill overlooking the city and have Gus try a cappuccino. He’s not one for much other than water, but when in Rome… He said the cappuccino was good–better than anything he’s tried in the U.S. The walk is through the longest portico in the world. There must have been about a mile and a half of one long portico with little side chapels built in along the way. All in all, the climb up was the equivalent of 37 flights of stairs. The views were worth it (pictures don’t do justice). We rested in the afternoon and finally had our sushi dinner at the restaurant next door. I’m really not that adventurous with a Japanese menu in general, much less one in Italian. Since Gus and I aren’t big raw food eaters, we ordered off the menu instead of availing ourselves of the dishes circulating on the conveyor belts. It was about what we usually get at Sushi Sam at home, so I think we’ll keep to the local food that has no equal in Southlake. We’ll definitely be doing another one of the movies. Tonight was a French new-wave film, which would do neither of us any good. I can’t read that fast and translate subtitles, and I’m sure it was a lot of intense staring and philosophical turmoil anyway. My vocabulary is not deep in philosophical turmoil. Upcoming options are Forrest Gump, Interstellar, and Pulp Fiction. Tomorrow we’re planning on walking to the open air market.

University of Bologna

Today we headed over to the University of Bologna (yes, another college tour!) founded in 1088–take that, Harvard! It’s the oldest university in the world. They have an incredible library that you can tour and a wood-paneled theater where anatomical lectures and dissections took place. We wandered around some more, exploring side streets and people-watching from an outdoor cafe where we sat next to a French group who had their 2 pugs in a dog stroller. Tonight we were going to see the outdoor movie after dinner, but the forecast calls for rain starting at 9, so we’ll have to play that by ear. The temperatures during the day are great. High was around 79 today, much different from last week and what I hear is happening at home. By the way, for those keeping track at home, the walking mile total for the past 10 days is 52.5. So, technically I have done 2 marathons.

Like a Bologna Boss

One of the best things about being here is I have no idea what the fuss is about mermaids, ramparts, or Blue Bell. Pure heaven, I tell you.

Gus and I woke up to a rainy morning, so we slept in a bit and took care of some work–he practiced and worked on college essays, and I analyzed my students’ AP scores and answered some emails. I made some eggs, which involved actually lighting the burner myself. I need to go to the store to find some colored trash bags. The Bolognese sort their trash in colored bags, and I currently only have blue for paper. I need the brown ones for organic stuff. Currently, my eggshells and peach pits are in the refrigerator so they don’t start to smell or attract friends until I can get the bags. I eventually got around to showering, which took some serious organization in our tiny bathroom, and then it came time to dry my hair. The hairdryer requires a special plug, which as far as I can tell only exists in wet areas like bathrooms and kitchens. Fair enough. It would be rather easy to electrocute yourself when you are within inches of every water source no matter where you turn in the bathroom or kitchen. The one such socket in the bathroom, however, was blocked and the plug wouldn’t go in. The only other one I found was in the kitchen. I’m a resourceful gal, so I dried my hair while squatting and using the microwave glass for an improvised mirror. Not my best work, but given that there is a hair salon on every corner, I could remedy the situation if needed. I might just have to go curly for the next 2 weeks.

After the weather cleared, we headed out for lunch. I had just read the chapter on food in Bologna from my book, so I was on a mission for one of the local specialties: tortellini. This is a food town, and every restaurant we have tried has been amazing. I got the tortelloni (big tortellini) with ricotta, spinach, and (of course) mushrooms in a pink sauce. Amazing. Each meal tops the last here. The weather was wonderful today–in the 70s after the cooling rain, so Gus and I walked down to the Piazza Maggiore and the Piazza Nettuno, known for its statue of Neptune. These squares are the heart of Bologna, and they are 5 minutes walk from our apartment. Bologna actually has 2 leaning towers–take that Pisa. You can climb up one of them if you are willing to do the 500 stairs. I’m not sure about that. Heights are not my favorite, especially leaning ones. We went into the cathedral, which was incredible, although they only finished the lower half of the outside. We noticed there is a nightly film under the stars in the main square. We are planning on going tomorrow to see The Shape of Water. Tonight’s movie was a French one, which we didn’t think we could handle in French with Italian subtitles. We did a little shopping; Gus needed some pants to complete an outfit. I found a photographer to do some of his senior pictures next Monday. After that, we rested a bit in the apartment and then headed out for a late dinner. Bologna has a lively after-dark scene. It is a university town, so there are lots of cafes, bars, and young people out walking around, and the weather was perfect. Interestingly, the people who built the town had every major road lined by porticoes, so even in the heat of summer, there is shade and a cool breeze when walking. I’m loving this town!

Phase 2

Last night, the power went out in our hotel in Rome around 1:00 am, which for some reason caused bright emergency lighting to come on in our room that was impossible to turn off. Gus had moved in with me for the night because the GDYO group was getting a wake-up call at 3:30 to head to the airport. He opted out of that experience. Anyway, while I was trying to figure out what was going on, Gus went to the bathroom. Meanwhile, the power came back on, and I was able to turn off the light and settle back down. Gus, however, was taking an exceptionally long time washing his hands. I finally figured out he was in the shower; he thought the alarm had gone off and it was time to get up. We finally got settled back in, and the phone rang at 3:30. Apparently, the tour director had neglected to take my room off of the list when she set the 3:30 am wake-up call. Luckily, we were able to get back to sleep and have a leisurely morning, as our train wasn’t until 10:30. We made it to Bologna and settled into our apartment for the next 12 days. It’s a great set-up for us and is a few blocks from the heart of Bologna–a bedroom, living room, bathroom, small kitchen, and a piano. The piano tuner was here as we arrived. We dropped our bags off and headed out for a delicious lunch–mine was gnocchi with zucchini and shrimp; it might have even been better than the seafood risotto yesterday. After lunch, we found a local market and got some basics. We have a small washing machine, so we did some essential laundry but ended up finding a laundromat since we have a full week’s worth and wanted to have everything dried, as well. Gus got some good practice in, and then we needed a break from pasta, so we tried the WSJ’s pick for one of the top 5 burgers in Europe. What WSJ knows about burgers, I have no idea, but nevertheless, it was a good departure from the pasta and pizza. It rained in the afternoon, which made today much cooler than the past week has been. It is going to rain in the morning tomorrow and clear up in the afternoon, so we’ll start some exploring then. So far, from what we’ve seen, the city is very walkable and has very few tourists. My kind of place! One hobby I have when traveling is to notice the businesses that seem disproportionately common–literally one on every corner. For instance, when we lived in Evanston, it was Oriental rug stores. When we visited Granada over Christmas, it was bridal shops. In Southlake, it’s definitely nail salons. In Bologna, from what I’ve seen it’s a close race between hair salons and sushi restaurants. I’ll report back on whether or not that trend holds over the next 12 days and what I consider to be the best sushi restaurant in Bologna.

Come on! Everyone Else is Here.

Visiting the Vatican has to rate on the top of anyone’s list for the sheer scale of power and glory on display. So much so, that I feel all 7 billion inhabitants of the planet had the same idea today. It is the height of the travel season for Italy, though I don’t know why people with a choice come here in July. It was so very hot and humid today with a wall of bodies everywhere we went. We started with the Vatican Museum, whose artifacts alone are impressive. Because the crowds were so large, the guards diverted us into many rooms I hadn’t appreciated before–full of antiquities and interesting collections, all leading us to the Sistine Chapel. Once inside, the guards moved us along pretty quickly, so there was no time to ruminate on the sheer impossibility of it all, but luckily I’d studied it in an art history class (thanks to Professor Rand) and had seen it before, so I was oriented and knew where to look. My favorites are still St. Bartholomew carrying his skin around (he was flayed), and of course, God creating the sun, in which Michelangelo had to imagine what God’s bottom looked like:

Michelangelo clearly had a sense of humor (and a lot of clout seeing as how he had the leeway to paint such a subject). I also enjoy the room because there is plenty of Botticelli’s work along the walls for when your neck gets tired of staring upward. Luckily, the planned closure of St. Peter’s for the special mass didn’t happen until later that day, so we got to go inside, which is always a treat. The Pietá is still magnificent. After the Vatican, we headed down to Trastevere, which is an older and less crowded neighborhood, where the restaurants have very few tourist menus and the pace is a lot slower than central Rome. I had my favorite meal of the trip so far, a lovely seafood risotto. Tomorrow the group heads back to Dallas, and we take the train to Bologna. I’m not sad I’m missing the 3:45am bus to the airport. Gus and I have a leisurely train at 10:30. I have heard some rumors about a taxi protest planned, so I hope our transfer to the train station is without incident.

When in Rome

Yesterday we arrived in Rome and toured the Colosseum and Roman Forum. It was hot and the line was long even with tickets, but it’s worth it even for the 4th time. I left my phone on the bus, so I wasn’t able to post last night. Today we had a walking tour of Rome including Piazza di Popolo, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona. The GDYO Executive Director was in search of an authentic panini for lunch, so we sought a side street and grabbed sandwiches and some water. We ate on the stoop in front of a building, which was closed. It was one of the best sandwiches I have ever had. We had plenty of time on our own to wander around, just walking the streets and seeing what was around any given corner. At about 3 we headed to the venue for the rehearsal. It was in a gorgeous church in the middle of Rome, not far from the Pantheon. It was a full house, and the parish choir performed a few pieces first. The acoustics were fantastic, and the wind symphony sounded wonderful. They got to play the piece tonight in which Gus has a piano solo. Their last concert was their best, in my opinion. We had a celebratory pizza dinner and are now back at the hotel, relaxed because the hard work of performing is over. Tomorrow is our last day with the tour, and we’ll be at the Vatican museum in the morning. We won’t be able to go into St. Peter’s tomorrow, however, because the Pope called a special mass for refugees. It’s unfortunate, but we will probably have a walking tour of Trastevere instead. It’s been an incredible 8 days, and I’ll miss the group–these are great kids and chaperones, but it will be nice to settle into our apartment in Bologna for a couple of weeks and be on our own time table.

Tower Power

Yesterday we headed out from our hotel to Lucca and then Pisa. Lucca is the only place I had not previously been in Italy on our itinerary, so I was excited. We had a guided tour and then time on our own to wander about. The guide was quite funny throwing shade on the rival town of Pisa who can’t manage to build a tower correctly. It was a charming town, with few tourists and a very walkable center. The bus then took us to Pisa. The tower is still there, still standing and perhaps leaning a little more than in 1993, when I was there last. Gus went off with some friends, so I decided to walk across the river and check out the actual town of Pisa, where there was exactly 1 tourist. Pisa has lovely shady squares and quaint streets. Though I think you need to see the tower once in your life, that is enough. I do think I could spend an afternoon in the real Pisa again. Around 5 we headed to the church where the concert was to be. The symphony rehearsed for an hour or so, and the chaperones found a leafy park nearby. I stretched out on a bench and took a little nap. The ladies of the parish brought homemade treats for us for dinner–everything from foccaccia of the region to vegetable lasagna to almond cake. Church ladies are the same the world over I suppose. They knew how to feed 50 hungry teenagers. The concert didn’t start until 9:30, and the acoustics were such in the church that the reverberations were difficult for the musicians to navigate. The town band paraded down the street and into the church to kick things off, and then the wind symphony took over. They played amazingly despite the acoustics and no air conditioning. The crowd gave them standing ovations and went wild when they played a Puccini (hometown boy) march and of course “Stars and Stripes.” The kids of the town went crazy. You would have thought these musicians were K-Pop stars to them. We made it back to the hotel about 1:00 am and were up and off to Rome by 8:30, which is why I’m a day behind in the commentary. More on Rome tomorrow.