Bologna (boh-lone-yuh) is a beautiful city in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, known for its plethora of medieval architecture and its many towers. It's just an hour away from Milan on the fast Frecciarossa trains.
After a few weekends of trying to go and having things come up, I finally got myself to Milan Central Station last Saturday. Here, the first of many, many things went wrong. I had intended to take the 10:15am train, but it was nearly booked up with only the pricier business class tickets remaining. Being the stingy traveller that I am, I opted to wait awhile for the next train. Little did I know, this one was not one of the speedy Frecciarossa trains I've become accustomed to. This was a slower train which would get me to Bologna in 2 and a half hours instead of 1 hour flat. Of course, I realized this once we were pulling out of the station at the pace of a snail, and by then it was too late. I arrived in Bologna nearly three hours later than I intended.
Bologna's train station is located fairly close to the city center. I took a quick look at the map on my phone and set out to find Via dell'Independenzia, which is a busy, main street that would take me directly to the historic center of the city. Unfortunately, due to my terrible navigational skills and a problem called I Always Hold the Map in the Wrong Orientation, I set off confidently in the completely wrong direction. After a few minutes, I found myself in what would probably be referred to as "the wrong side of the tracks" in Bologna. I scurried back to the train station to try again.
After awhile I located Via dell'Independenzia (like, right outside the train station, obviously) and set off for the center. I picked up this glorious pizza with caramelized onions and ham on my way, followed by the creamiest gelato I've had to date. Little did I know, they would be the high points of my day (cue ominous music).
I got to the center and went immediately to find the St. Petronius Basilica. It's the fifteenth largest church in the world and was at one point meant to outdo St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It never quite reached that point; in fact, it was never actually finished. To this day, the facade is half beautiful marble (like Milan or Florence's cathedrals), half hideous brown brick. I really would have liked to see this juxtaposition in person, but as I crossed Piazza Maggiore my heart sank; the entire facade was covered in hideous scaffolding! A guard told me that the interior was closed for restorations, but I could climb the scaffolding if I wanted to. Well... sure, why not.
In hindsight, it might not have been the wisest decision. The makeshift stairs that wove their way up the side of the church were frighteningly rickety. As I made my way up, all I could think about was the fact that I had just signed a waiver which, despite being written in Italian legal jargon, I'm pretty sure said that I couldn't hold the church or restoration company responsible for any injuries obtained from said rickety scaffolding. Anyway, I made it to the top alive and managed to get a few good photos despite the fact that the structure I stood on was literally swaying back and forth with the wind.
Another bothersome thing? That smudge on the photo above and a few others. Apparently I need to clean my lens.
But things continued to go negatively for me when I was approached by a rather attractive gentleman who, to my surprise, struck up a conversation. Why, you ask, is this negative? Well, it wouldn't have been, except for the fact that the delicious pizza I had eaten left me with terribly oniony and garlicky breath! So obviously, in all my travels thus far, this would be the day that a cute boy decided to speak to me! I pretended I was really cold and muttered most of my replies into my scarf, so he probably thought I had a weird disfigurement of the mouth or something. I rationalized it by telling myself I was in Italy to see all of the art and architecture I'm obsessed with, not to seduce cute boys, but I mean... come on.
At this point I was in a mood as foul as my breath. I was about to have another stroke of bad luck as I crossed Piazza Maggiore. A pigeon few right into my head! It flapped and fluttered and got all tangled in my hair for five of the longest seconds in my life. Perfect, I thought. Now I have garlic breath and bird parasites.
Not even the plethora of festive Christmas sights strewn about the city's ancient streets could pull me out of my dreadful mood...
Eventually, I ended up at the base of one of Bologna's many towers. I wrote in my posts about Verona that in the Middle Ages, towers were how wealthy families showed off to one another. As one of the most prosperous medieval cities in Europe, Bologna had a ridiculous amount of these towers. Peasants were often employed to build the towers, and an average 60 meter high tower took anywhere between five years to a decade. This photo shows what the city probably looked like a few centuries ago.
Today, around twenty of those towers remain. The most recognizable is the very tall, very thin Asinelli Tower. It's located at what used to be an intersection of roads which led to the five gates of the medieval town. For three Euros, I got a ticket to trudge up the 200+ stairs (a piece of cake after climbing Brunelleschi's Dome in Florence!). The tower itself is extremely narrow, so the stairway up is a series of steep, wooden stairs and various platforms.
I finally reached the top and was greeted by a massive crowd of people squeezed onto the very tiny roof. I practically had to fight my way through with a sword to get to the edge to take photos. The domed building on the bottom left is the church of San Domenico, above it is the Basilica of San Petronius, which looks over Piazza Maggiore, and the large street on the right is Via dell'Independenzia.
At this point, I realized I wasn't just surrounded by other tourists, I was surrounded by couples. Literally every person up there was with a significant other. It was as if I had invaded some sort of enormous group date! I smell like a clove of garlic, there are bird fleas crawling through my hair, and I am all by my lonesome in one of the most romantic countries in the world, I thought bitterly.
I planned to stomp down the stairs furiously, hoping to bring the tower crumbling down along with all its lovesick occupants. But my plans were thwarted by the woman ahead of me. She moved slower than a quadriplegic sloth and grasped the railing as if each step were a life or death situation. I tried to brush by her once or twice, which resulted in a head on collision on the narrow stairs with someone on their way up. I was stuck. It had taken me about fifteen minutes to climb the tower, and it took me nearly thirty to descend.
By the time I got down, I was certain nothing could make my day worse. Of course, I was wrong. As I paused to watch a street performer doing a juggling act, I felt a slight tug on my boot. I looked down; the performer's dog was biting my leg and trying to pull me into the circle where the juggling act was taking place. Why? Why me? Of all the people standing around, the dog had viciously singled me out! What did this dog have against me?! I was rescued by the street performer, who had to stop in the middle of his juggling routine to get his dog off me. I smelled like garlic, I very likely had a bird disease by now, I was all alone and probably destined to be so forever, and a rabid dog wanted to kill me.
|"Barney, NO! Don't try to eat the tourists!"|
By now it was dusk, so I started to make my way back to the train station. The only thing that would make this worse, I thought to myself, is if I juuuuust miss the train and have to wait a million years for the next one. Sure enough, I arrived two minutes after a train had just departed for Milan. I waited an hour for the next one, which just happened to be delayed by 25 minutes.
So my trip to Bologna definitely wasn't perfect. You know when you're really angry with someone and you have a slew of vicious text messages ready to be sent, and you know you should wait to cool down before choosing wether or not to send them? Perhaps I should have waited to write this post and come up with something a little more positive instead. Or perhaps I should just hit Publish.