Oof, yesterday was just rough. On top of the complaints from yesterday, the AC I guess was out, so few people slept too well, myself included. Thankfully, there were a few bus rides in store which meant built-in naptime!
We started the day trekking over to Bologna to visit the tomb of St. Dominic in the basilica that shares his name. This was a rare trip for our guide as St. Dominic isn’t usually one of the more popular saints. But considering that the parish hosting the pilgrimage is St. Dominic, we’d have been remiss to not stop in and visit their patron. Unfortunately for our logistics (but fortunately as someone that wanted something a little less touristy), Bologna isn’t really structured for large groups. Like they’d even shut down the bus parking lot. But whatever. They dropped us off as close as they could to the basilica in front of some random fruit stands, and we started to walk over.
I felt bad because some of the streets we were on had really narrow sidewalks, and here we were barreling through with a crowd of 40. Thankfully, pedestrian traffic on the streets wasn’t terribly heavy. But after about a ten minute walk, we finally made it to the Basilica di San Domenico. We went into the church, and they led us to the chapel with the actual tomb of St. Dominic for us to have Mass. After the Mass, we passed through the gate guarding the tomb and moved behind it to where the reliquary holding the head of St. Dominic is located. I really wish I knew more about symbolism in art and sculpture. There have been multiple occasions this trip alone where I feel like I would benefit from that information.
After the Mass, we were greeted by our tour guide, Fabio. While we all initially expected something more along the lines of the guy you’d see on the cover of erotic novels and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter commercials, he was a funny, balding, kind of fluffier guy. He will probably be my favorite of the city tour guides with Sergio from Venice being a close second. We learned something from him right off the bat: Bologna is learned, red, and fat. The oldest university in the world is in Bologna. The red comes from the fact that most of the building facades are a terra cotta color. And fat? Well, Bologna is the food capital of Italy. And just like that I fell in love. It was like all those hours of watching Giada de Laurentiis led me to this moment.
He walked us through the city a bit, stopping at a few places to note along the way. Our first stop was the courtyard of the Biblioteca dell’Archiginnasio. Fun fact: Bologna is home to the oldest university not only in Italy, or even Europe, but the world. THE WORLD. The first university EVER, and there we were standing in the main building, or at least what used to be the main building. Now, it’s a library. And the courtyard was being set up for an outdoor movie. Apparently, they’ve got an outdoor movie series going on during the summers here. Outside of the courtyard in the little square, there was a statue of Luigi Galvani, the guy that discovered that muscles are moved by electrical impulses and basically gave rise to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
We then walked down the Corte de Galluzzi to the Torre Galluzzi, one of the few surviving towers in Bologna and the last tower of its kind ever built. Apparently in the area, if you were rich enough, you got you some slaves to build a tower. It was less of a home or monument and more of a defensive strategy. But then slavery got abolished and no one wanted to pay for the labor so there went that.
We made our way over to the Piazza Magiore – which was also being converted into a large movie viewing space, and we got a quick lesson about the surrounding buildings in front of the Basilica di San Petronio. Lots of pretty architecture around there. At this point we were given the option of going to eat or taking a quick tour into the basilica. It was about 1300 when we finally made it to the basilica, and I think everyone was starting to get a little peckish so the group that joined Fabio in the basilica went from 39 to eight. But I’m glad I went inside though. I didn’t get to take pictures, but the option is there if you want to pay 2 Euros. I decided this would be as good a time as any to just listen, observe, and absorb, so I opted against it, even though I was severely tempted.
One of the coolest things I noted was that there was this pretty ingenious sundial system built into the church. The sun would shine through a hole in the church and hit the line just right. Today though was special. Fabio said that this is the first time in his 30+ years that he’s seen the beam of light actually line up with one of the special tiles. This one, of course was the one for the summer solstice, which is on Monday. There were 12 chapels lining each side. One of the chapels is where Elisa Bonaparte (Napoleon’s sister) is buried after she was removed as the Grand Duchess of Tuscany and had to flee Florence.
There was one observation I made prior to entering the basilica: there was a relatively heavy police presence compared to the other churches. We found out why from Fabio once we went inside. Apparently, there is concern for terrorist activity because of a mural painted on the wall in one of the chapels. The mural depicts the prophet Mohammed being tormented by a demon as inspired by Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell in the Inferno being reserved for religious schismatics. Normally nowadays, they require special permission to access that specific chapel, otherwise lights are off and it stays off limits. Luckily for us, someone had made a reservation and was in there, so we could actually get a decent view of the mural with the lights on.
After wandering the basilica for a while, we made our way outside to grab a bite for lunch before returning to the bus. Fabio walked us down the Via Clavature and paused for a second in front of the church of Santa Maria della Vita. He told us about the order of flagellates that founded the first hospital in Bologna. They apparently had two separate facilities based on your prognosis. Seems like their triage was a lot easier. “Will they probably live? You go here. Are you probably going to die? You go there.”
The little alleys were lined with people selling fresh fruit, vegetables, and pastas. I have never wished to have a kitchen at my disposal more in my life than at that moment. This is one of the reasons why I connected with Fabio. He is a man that loves food…and so am I. He did teach us to never order spaghetti bolognese because it doesn’t exist in Bologna. Instead, order tagliatelle al ragù. The ribbon-like tagliatelle holds the sauce better, and if you want a meat sauce, call it a ragù.
Sadly, I didn’t even get to apply this lesson since the restaurant we settled on had sandwiches. But Fabio’s recommendation didn’t disappoint. We stopped into Simoni and snagged a table outside. On display were wheels and wheels of aged parmigiano reggiano, legs of prosciutto looking like something from The Flintstones, and mortadella the size of a body pillow, so we figured this place has to be good. We settled with some glasses of prosecco (and beer for my brother) and placed our orders. While tempted by the meat and cheese platter, we ended up deciding on getting panini instead. We all got some variation of ham and cheese, but Marissa won with hers. We don’t remember exactly what it was called but the receipt says Bonbon del Salumier. Either way, it was prosciutto with some kind of cheese we don’t remember. But the game changer was the sun-dried tomato. SO. GOOD. Like I’m smiling just thinking about that damn sandwich. So good.
Anyhoo, we trekked back to the bus and we began to head up to the Santuario della Beata Vergine di San Luca (Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of St. Luke). Scariest bus ride of my life. It’s up this long, winding mountain road…on a bus. Like there were places that I’d have probably had to do a three-point turn in my Rav4, but Sebastiano just went right on through with the bus. The man is a BEAST. I don’t know how he did it, but he did. So fun story about this place. So it holds an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary possibly painted by St. Luke himself. Leading up to the church (if you didn’t cheat and drive), there is an arcade of 666 arches leading up the mountain and ending at the church called the Portico di San Luca. That seems a very specific number of arches and an odd choice of number for something religious. However, the portico symbolizes Satan/a serpent, and the Church is representative of the Blessed Virgin stomping the head of the serpent with her heel.
We explored that for a little bit, jumped into the middle of an Italian rosary, and then venerated the icon for a few minutes until Mass started. Then we peaced out to start heading to Firenze (Florence). Which meant NAP TIME!
I woke up as we were pulling up to the hotel. This time we’re staying in the Grand Hotel Mediterraneo. This place is swanky, especially in comparison to Padua. Same drill, we dropped off our carry ons in the room and went down to dinner. For the appetizer, we had this pasta with a mushroom sauce. Not really sure what it was, but it was delicious. I don’t like mushrooms though, so I had to eat around them. After the subsequent salad, then they brought out the main course, yet another round of meat and potatoes. This time it was thin slices of pork. So good. And I was freaking ecstatic when the waiter came by because he had extras. I swear I had five slices of the pork. And then gelato for dessert!
My brother and Marissa wanted to wander around the city for a bit after dinner. But between not sleeping well last night and the impending food coma, I ended up opting to stay in. They seemed to have fun though. They said they had gelato and beer in a place reminiscent of Rainey Street in Austin: lots of young adults, food trucks, live music. I’m sad to have missed it, but not sad enough to be willing to put pants on for it.
Alright, it’s almost 0200 and I have to be up at 0630. Tomorrow: exploring Florence and Siena before trekking down to Assisi for a couple of nights.