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.

Hot Minute in Florence

This morning we drove from Venice to Florence. With the Italian Alps in the distance, we passed vineyards, fields of sunflowers, and Tuscan farmhouses. We had free time in Florence before our tours, and we headed down side streets looking for a Trattoria with the local specialty: cinghiale, or wild boar. We found it, and I was happy. Three days here, and I have yet to have pizza. On one of the bridges Gus got harrassed by a man “giving out” bracelets. Gus was just trying to be polite and shake the man’s hand when he engaged him in conversation. It escalated, and the man grabbed his wrist and put the bracelet on. I let Gus handle it, but it was heartbreaking to see Gus raise his hands in surrender as if he were being threatened by a gun. Gus was very upset thinking he’d been targeted for being weak. I told him it wasn’t that he was weak, it was that he was not yet jaded and too nice. Unfortunately that is exactly what this man achieved. Now Gus will think twice before he smiles at strangers and suspect everyone has an agenda. And I hate that. I want Gus to be kind but not be taken advantage of. It was a teaching moment for sure.

After a moderate jog through Florence, as we were running late on meeting our group, we joined our tour guide at the Accademia. They had a wonderful exhibit of historical musical instruments, including some of the very first pianos made for the Medicis. It was a hit with the symphony group. Even after 4 different visits, Michelangelo’s David never fails to impress. I learned a few new tidbits, too. Michelangelo was the only sculptor to work without a plaster model, and the block of marble was rejected by 2 previous artists who considered it too fragile. Michelangelo was nothing if not confident. After that, we walked the city’s highlights including the Duomo (no time to go to the top this time), to the Ponte Vecchio, and Santa Croce. It was a packed agenda, and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to see many of these highlights with more time, as well as other noteworthy sites in the city. It was a hot day, and we were tired and thirsty by the end of the tour. Dinner was at a restaurant near Santa Croce, which had some of the best gelato I have ever had. I opted for the Strawberry and Hazlenut combination, and it was a wise move. We are back and the hotel relaxing for another fun day tomorrow: Lucca and Pisa with a concert in a lovely church tomorrow night. I’m excited because I’ve never been to Lucca, and the concerts are always amazing, but I feel the venue will inspire a new level of artistry. 

Que Sera Sera

We had a great tour of St. Mark’s and the Doge’s Palace this morning before being set free to wander the streets of Venice. Gus and I headed the opposite direction of the tourist traffic and found a lovely spot for lunch and then leisurely walked back to the meeting point through side streets and alleys, which would open up suddenly to hidden vistas and architectural wonders. Though Venice was completely packed with cruise traffic, we could find little corners all to ourselves. On the way to the concert venue tonight, we were at a standstill on the road for about an hour and a half. A fuel tanker was on fire about half a mile in front of us. People made the most of their unplanned stop–they got out of their cars to talk to one another and share water and snacks. I could not have imagined anything of the like happening in the US. There were no horns and no foot stomping in indignant protest. There’s something to be said for the Italian attitude toward whatever comes. At any rate, there was no time for a rehearsal, so we went to dinner and then the venue. The kids had 30 minutes to warm up, as they were still setting up the stage when we finally arrived. The venue was lovely, but the stage much too small for a 40 piece wind symphony. Gus’ piano bench was so close to the edge of the stage, I worried about whether he might tumble off. The group rose to the occasion and delivered an amazing concert. A local music critic was there and pronounced the show, “one of the best things she’s ever heard” (loosely translated). We got back to the hotel around 12:30 am and promptly crashed. It’s off to Florence this morning for our next tours and concert. We are having a wonderful time. Happy 4th of July. Incidentally, the favorite piece of the night was “Stars and Stripes Forever” the Italian audience clapped along and gave us a rousing congratulations on our Independence Day. Lovely audience and people.