A few days after work ended for the summer, I met up with Chris in Bologna. After finishing the Camino Santiago, he spent a couple of days in Porto, then flew to France and visited Monaco, Genoa, Cinque Terre, and La Spezia by train, then met up with me.
Bologna is a fairly small city, with only a few historic or touristic attractions- and of course amazing food. We walked through the academic area of the city, home to the University of Bologna, Europe’s oldest, extant university. I went on a short guided tour of its library, including its hand-written card catalogue which includes over a million items. We saw the two remaining city towers, leftovers from the days when rival families would build tall fortress-like towers as either protection or simply to outdo the neighbors. Only two remain, one of which leans at an alarming angle. After researching some food tour websites, we settled on lunch at Nonna Aurora’s, to try the tortellini in brodo (meat broth) and the tagliatelle ragu (what we call Bolognaise sauce). Delicious. Bologna has 38 km of covered walkways, or porticoes, making it an excellent city for walking around in, even if it’s raining or hot out- you are nearly always under cover. The city hosts a film festival each summer, out in the main square, and so on Thursday night we watched a very odd 1968 Italian movie by Ferreri with subtitles, under the stars, while eating gelato of course.
Micro-states count as countries, so we didn’t want to miss the chance to go to San Marino. We took a train down to Remini, then a bus up to the mountain country. The air was cold and quite windy when we arrived, and the view was magnificent. Our hotel was like a little alpine lodge. We took a tiny shuttle train up to the top of the city, and visited the castle’s two towers and the Armes Antica museum- weapons and arms from the Middle Ages. It was actually a really great museum and I’m glad we went to it. Of course the views from the castle were just outstanding. It’s easy to see how San Marino, Europes oldest republic (dating back to 301 AD) has never been captured. The next morning, we went back into the main historic area and visited the Palazzo Publica and the State Museum, both very good. Then we returned to Rimini, and took a train to Venice.
The Most Serene Republic of Venice was founded by refugees from the Italian mainland, as the Huns and the Goths decimated the Roman Empire in the 5th century. The islands out in the lagoon offered protection from the invaders, and over two centuries, the marshy land was stabilized by millions of tree trunks driven into the ground, and waterproof marble from Croatia was used to keep the water from eroding the foundations and walkways. Now Venice is comprised of 124 islands (118 natural, six reclaimed land), and visited by more than 56,000 tourists per day. In earlier centuries, Venice sank approximately 2 cm per century, but now 20cm in the past hundred years, due in large part to the cruise ships and the water they displace/erosion from their wake (after 2018 the cruise ships will be docking off to the side). We did two walking tours in Venice- one on the art and architecture- which was incredible and we were shown the insides of all kinds of buildings and churches that had Titians, Tintorettos, and Bellinis hanging in them, free to the public- and one on the history of Venice, focusing on St Marks square. We also visited a crazy bookstore where they keep the books in gondolas and bathtubs, crossed dozens of bridges, drank many spritzes, and ate gelati. The Biannual Arts Exhibition was going on, with over 100 countries hosting pavilions featuring art from their national artists in buildings that are usually closed up for years at at time- a great chance to sneak peaks at the insides of Venetian palaces and former warehouses. We went to the Azerbaijan and Iraq exhibits, both very interesting. But Venice is super crowded during the day (before 11 am and after 6 pm it’s not so bad) and super expensive, so we decided that we’d seen enough and headed east.
Two hours on a train, and we arrived in Trieste. We spent the afternoon walking around the beachfront and the main historic district. We found a James Joyce museum (he and Rilke both lived here for a bit) and had a huge lunch at a Greek restaurant. There’s a strong Byzantine influence here, with several Greek Orthodox churches. We also visited some Roman ruins, an amphitheater from the 1st century and a gate to the old Roman city. There’s a Middle Ages castle here as well, which we walked up to, although it was closed (but the doorman let us peek inside the gates for a quick two minutes). A sailboat regatta was going on and we got to watch some of the sailboats for a while on the beautiful Adriatic Sea.