Thursday, October 31, 2013


My Ligurian friend Riccardo has three daughters, one of whom lives in Parma, and he asked her if she would be willing to show me her city.  Chiarra graciously consented, and greeted me at the train station at around noon.

Parma is a city of 187,000, famous for its cheese, prosciutto ham, and its architecture.  I ate the cheese and prosciutto, but I can show you some of the architecture.

Our first stop was the Palazzo della Pilotta, built by the Farnese duchy in the 16th century.  It houses a library, two museums, a theater, and an art gallery.

This is another of Parma's theaters.

The Town Hall and Governor's Palace

Me and my constant travel companion Guisseppe Girabaldi.  I can count on meeting him everywhere I go in Italy.

This sculpture in the main piazza, titled Lying Woman, was created by Colombian artist Fernando Botero.

In the Camera di Sao Paola at what once was a convent, there is a dome by Correggio, who spent most of his career at Parma.  The abbess of St. Paul Convent commissioned Correggio to do this ceiling decoration in her private dining salon.

Construction began on Parma's Bapistry late in the 12th century.  It is built of pink Verona marble in an octagonal shape and is considered to be an important example of the transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture.

The dome is amazing.  The 16 rays coming from the center correspond with 16 alcoves below.  Each descending row of the four decorating the dome tells a different story.

This is Parma's Cathedral, circa12th century, not as impressive on the outside as some cathedrals.

But Inside the cathedral is majesty.

And this dome fresco, The Assumption of the Virgin, was created by the famous Parmagiani, Correggio, in 1530.  It is said to be the inspiration for the illusionist ceiling paintings of the 17th century Baroque period.

This palace was built by the ruling Farnese family in the early 1600's.  Today it serves as the headquarters for the provincial military police and their forensics unit.  Seems a shame, because it would make a beautiful hotel, don't you think?  The surrounding ground is a public park.

It was a lovely afternoon and I'm grateful for the guidance of Riccardo's lovely daughter in acquainting me with the highlights of Parma.  


Last week I met two very nice Australian women, and one of them joined me for an afternoon trip to Ferrara.  Maggie is from Sydney and is an attorney with the very interesting job of defending university students.  She handles a wide variety of cases from traffic violations to criminal charges and enjoys her job so much that she doesn't want to retire.  I don't meet many people who are that enthusiastic about continuing to work!

Ferrara, population 132,000, is only 50 kilometers northeast of Bologna, so it was a short trip by train, only 30 minutes, and a short walk of 15 minutes into town.  It was around 3 p.m. when we entered the city center, and the restaurants and trattorias were closed for lunch, so we had a really bad microwaved lunch at a small cafe.

Because Maggie was leaving the next day and needed to go back early to finish packing, we didn't do a lot of sightseeing.  We did spend some time browsing around Castello Estense, a 14th century medieval castle in the center of the city.

Complete with moat....

And drawbridge...(introducing Maggie)

And internal courtyard.

There is also a very beautiful 14th century cathedral in the main piazza of Ferrara, Basilica Cathedrale di San Giorgio.

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, so I borrowed these photos from the Internet.

After treating ourselves to a delicious gelato, we headed back to the train station and Bologna.

Short trip, short blog!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


I'm in love again.   (No, I haven't met a handsome mature Italian man....darn!). I almost picked a language school in Ravenna, but decided on Bologna instead.  Darn!

Ravenna is just a lovely place.  There are no mountains, no sea, no rolling hills surrounding the city, just the flat plains typical of this part of the province of Emilia-Romanga.  But it's got a charm and appeal that are indisputable (in my opinion).  It was a 90 minute train trip east of Bologna that brought me to this engaging city.  There isn't much to see, other than a lot of churches and basilicas, but it's pretty easy to navigate.  The city is a short walk from the train station.

This is the first church I passed....but I didn't see a way to get in.  It made a nice picture, though.

I was at the main piazza after only a ten minute walk.

This is the second church I passed...again no entry, but a great tower.  This may be a second leaning tower in Italy.

And I was able to sneak a peek of this lovely courtyard.

I passed by a large theater, and guess who was the greeter in front.  Yup, there's my constant companion, Signore Girabaldi.

My first destination was Dante's tomb, housed modestly in this marble cupola.

And here is the tomb of this illustrious figure.

The Basilica of San Francesco was my next stop.  Couldn't get in here either.

But I did go into this one...the Bascilica di San Viale.

I took this second outside photo on the other side of the bascilica.  Notice the similarity of architecture in these first three religious buildings?

I decided to try out the camera on my iPad this day, and I have to say it performed extremely well in the typical dim light inside this bascilica.  I think the quality of the photos I took inside are all superior to any I've taken before.

I'm not able to position pictures and type text beside them like I could when I was blogging with my computer.  My only option for blogging on my iPad is a mobile app that doesn't have nearly the functionality I had on my PC.  Maybe I'll meet some young computer genius who can suggest something better.  Another inside shot of the dome...I haven't got centering down pat yet .

In back of the basilica was a mausoleum containing three ancient tombs--this one contains the remains of Galla Placidia, a powerful Roman empress, and two other family members.

There were some beautiful mosaics there, this being the most notable.

On the way to my next destination, I happened upon this street demonstration.  I asked a stander-by what it was all about.  It was a neo-fascist group demonstrating against current political policies.  The demonstrators are in the background.  When I passed by later, the crowd was filling this street.

Some of the streets weren't very had to keep you ears alert for traffic at your back.

A typical city street....

A small change of pace...this is the Neoniano Bapistry.

And next to it is the Duoma.

Last stop was the Bascilica di San Apollinare Nuova.

The ladies adorn one side

And the gentlemen the other

And the altar in between them.

I spent four hours wandering around Ravenna and wish I'd had the stamina for more.  This is a city where I could happily live, but without the neo-fascists, please.

Then to cap a perfect day, I got a table without reservations at a very popular trattoria that was a short walk from the train station but quite a long walk from where I'm living.  They said they were full up with reservations, but they were kind enough to squeeze me in.  

The specials for the evening were "all about pork" and since I really haven't eaten any pork, and since this region of Italy is known for it, my camieriere (waiter),Tomaso, offered me a sampling of three pork dishes.  I was also given an appetizer on the house.  It was a very tender piece of delicious bread topped with pork lard, seasoned ground pork crumbles, shavings of parmeggiano reggiano, and balsamic vinegar.  I didn't think about taking a picture, but you can imagine.

For primi, I had house made tagliatelle with a delicious seasoned pork sauce, and I did take a photo.

For secondo, Tomaso gave me a sample of two pork dishes--one was pork ribs braised in a tomato sauce, quite like osso bucco.  The side is mashed potatoes with celery root alongside some pickled vegetables.

Then came this delicious roast pork with rosemary.

Believe me, I was in pork heaven.  Afterward, I was given an after dinner liqueur on the house.  This was not only the best meal I've had in Bologna, it's one of the best meals I've had in Italy.  When I was close to finishing, some Americans were seated at the next table, which was only an arm's length away from me.  So I had some very enjoyable after dinner conversation with them.  

When Tomaso came to check on my satisfaction with my meal, I asked him if the chef was single, because I wanted to propose to him, at which time he informed me that he was the chef.  We all had a pretty good laugh about that.  Imagine being served personally by the chef--quite a perquisite.

On the walk home, I stopped at the main piazza and was entertained by a fire eater-twirler.  He was pretty amazing.  


Wednesday, October 23, 2013


So here I am back in my beautiful Italy, this time in a medieval city that has a few tourists and much interesting history to offer.  It is, for instance, the site on the very first university in Europe.  Another very interesting fact is that the citizens of Bologna chose to free their slaves back in the 13th century. That fact alone is enough to make me love this city.

I spent the first two days here in an old hotel in the city center.  It was very noisy, and I didn't sleep very much at all.  On Saturday, I moved to the apartment of my designated host for my two week stay here.  I have deviated from my norm of renting an apartment alone to increase my opportunities to practice the language.  It is a difficult transition, particularly because my host, a woman close to my age, is very particular about how I must do things and where I must put things.  Being the strongly independent woman that I am, it is difficult for me to be in such a controlled environment.  We shall see how long I last here.

Until last night, I hadn't slept for more than 3 hours, so I haven't had much energy for sightseeing.  Also, I had some errands to do on Saturday, like getting telephone service and buying a couple of cables I forgot so that I can download photos to my iPad.  I don't have wifi at my host apartment, so I won't be posting many blog entries here.

I have walked around the city center a bit, and here are some initial pictures.  These twin towers are a landmark here.  They have become my touchstone.  I look for them to know where I am.

I think there has been a statue of Girabaldi in every Italian city and town I have visited, and Bologna is no exception.

Piazza Maggiore is the central point of the city.  There is a church here, but it's not the city's cathedral, which is unusual.

The city's offices are in this once upon a time palace.

On weekends, there is a variety of entertainment in the piazza.  Last Sunday, I listened to a pretty good Italian salsa band.  

On weekends, sections of two main streets are closed to traffic, and people pour into the area to walk, window shop and bargain hunt at this street market.

I finally found a cover for my cell phone at this market for the bargain price of 5 euro.

Here, as in every Italian city I've visited so far, there are many street entertainers.  This fellow is a one-man band.

And you will typically see people in white face standing statuesquely.

A unique characteristic of Bologna is that many city sidewalks are covered--in Italian, portici.  You have little need for an umbrella when you walk the streets of the city center.

At the language school, I am meeting people from many different countries--France, Spain, Belgium, Israel, Japan, Korea, Australia, and Switzerland.  There are also a few Americans here.  I was pleased to find a few people close to my age, but the majority of students are young.

So far, I've sampled a couple of typical Bolognese dishes--tortellini in butter and sage and, of course, tagliatelle in Bolognese sauce.  Delicioso!  Believe it or not, I haven't had one lick of gelato yet.

So far, I'm enjoying this city, especially because there are no hills to climb!