Tuesday was my second day in Bologna, and only then did I finally began to feel like I was settling in and starting to see that Bologna may actually be as interesting as I had heard.
So many things went well on Monday when I arrived in Bologna, yet for some strange reason, I didn't feel comfortable with the city overall, or with my neighbourhood. Which is basically the heart of the city, the Piazza Maggiore.
The Hotel Orologio, adjacent to Bologna's main square, is working out extremely well (other than the extraordinarily unnecessary weigh scale in the posh bathroom -- what are they thinking?) This hotel really is a four-star and my double deluxe is extremely comfortable (the manager left a nice bottle of prosecco for me as a welcoming gift.)
Further, I had a wonderful dinner Monday night at a great restaurant, Teresina, with two fellow Slow Travellers, Judy (TourMama) and Sharon, and their husbands. I think we almost all started with the heavenly tortellini in brodo. I never knew soup could be like this.
Yet I was not enjoying Bologna. Likely my expectations were too high. Further, when I arrived on Monday at about 1 p.m., it was roasting hot and so many restaurants and sights were closed until 3:30 or 4 p.m. So, I felt a bit lost and very sweaty. After Parma, Bologna seemed very hectic with too much traffic and noise. But very few tourists (except me, of course!)
Lest I sound too negative, I'm happy to say that by Tuesday afternoon, things were looking up. As usual, I just needed someone to give me a slap upside the head (and I don't mean that literally.) In this instance, I was helped a great deal by an excellent (and really inexpensive) walking tour. It opened my eyes to so many things that I was missing in Bologna and that my Cadogan guide only glossed over.
The Bologna tourism office offers the 2-hour English-language walking tours a few times a week, for a mere 13 euro, and these tours provide a decent overview of the city. On this day, only one other woman -- an Italian from Vicenza -- signed up, so she and I had a wonderful time sharing our guide, Emilia, an extremely energetic Bologna native. (Emilia, a retired teacher, was so into our tour that the other woman cried uncle after about 2 and a half hours and I finally dropped out -- tipping generously -- after almost 4 hours.) I suspect Emilia could have gone on for much longer.
Emilia explained Bologna's long history and development, including its famous towers that in medieval times numbered close to 200 and were quite a status symbol as well as offering protection in uncertain times. City fathers finally put an end to the tower-building craze and forced the demolition of most . Today, numerous towers still dot Bologna, but two main towers remain really crucial as symbols of the city. The taller one, which I have climbed (inspired by fellow blogger Girasoli) is called the Asinelli while the smaller but more leaning (and therefore, inaccessible) tower is called the Garisenda.
Emilia also introduced me to the Archiginnasio, the former home of Bologna's historic university -- one of the world's first. The ornate anatomical theatre, with a macabre marble slab in the centre of the room, was fascinating to visit and I could just imagine students dissecting corpses there 500 years ago. Fascinating!
Besides giving me some essential context for understanding Bologna, Emilia also steered me towards some great art (more to come on that.) Plus, she wanted to give me a lot of shopping tips. (I think she had me confused with Palma!!!)