It was Debra’s idea to meet in Bologna.
Debra Kolkka is a (lucky) Australian, who lives part of the year in Bagni di Lucca, a Tuscan commune near Lucca, and writes a delightful blog named – no prizes for guessing – Bagni di Lucca and Beyond! Do hop over and take a look if you are a fan of anything Italian.
I had all but finalised Venice for my solo trip last month, and Debra’s comment on my post stating “Come to Italy”, kind of sealed it.. That, and the chance to meet a blogger friend in the flesh for the very first time.
And so I hopped on a train from the estación Santa Lucia in Venice, one overcast day, and awaited her arrival under the Fountain of Neptune in the heart of the gorgeous medieval town.
It did not take long for Debra and her charming husband Jim, to locate the lone Indian under that fountain, and our online friendship transitioned to the ‘realness’ of a face to face meeting without missing a beat. And without the slightest hint of awkwardness!
I had somehow expected to sit around and chat over lunch, and had considered enrolling for a city walk late afternoon. I was also most ill prepared for the weather in my leather loafers and thin sweater. I should have known however that Debra isn’t the kind to sit around idly, and sure enough, after a brief pit stop for delicious sandwiches, she decided she would show me around her favourite parts of town, come hell or high water!
In the event, we couldn’t have chosen a better destination for a rainy day. Bologna, with its long (40km!) stretches of beautiful porticos, provided very aesthetic shelter from drippy weather and we managed to fit in a remarkable amount of sightseeing in our short time there.
Just off the Piazza Nettuno, is the Biblioteca Sala de Borsa, the old stock exchange where the foundations of the old city are showcased under a glass floor. It is now a library and a meeting place and exhibition center. The Piazza Maggiore nearby, awash in ochre and rust palettes is flanked by imposing palazzos housing the Town Hall and other government offices and the lofty Basilica of San Petronio.
A short way South of the Piazza was the Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio, once the university of Bologna, claiming to be the oldest in the Western hemisphere. It is now the municipal library and its most fascinating features are the grand staircases and reading room encrusted with commemorative inscriptions and colourful coats of arms, and the ornate wood paneled anatomical theater where medical students once performed autopsies. The latter sustained severe damage during World War II, but is supposed to have been faithfully restored to its original state based on old drawings.
The quadrilatero or market street is foodie heaven. This apparently is the place to return to later in the day – in better weather no doubt – when market stalls give way to bars and restaurants. It would have been lovely to have had the time to linger over a happy hour Spritz here.
Our last stop was the Basilica Santa Stefano, also known as Le Sette Chiese (the seven churches) across the beautiful Piazza of the same name…..a fascinating cluster of buildings of varying styles and periods, apparently built over an ancient temple to Isis! The XII century Romanesque complex is considered closest to the original of several existing copies of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the 1028 Byzantine restoration) in Jerusalem! A copy of Christ’s tomb in the temple inside, held the remains of Saint Petronius, the patron saint of Bologna, until they were moved to the basilica on Piazza Maggiore.
It was a good thing we hit the ground running, for the weather deteriorated rapidly towards evening, and I decided to return after a hurried goodbye. Venice appeared to have fared worse from the inundated plaza outside the station. A couple of tourists on the vaporetto wearing the ghastly orange and green plastic shoe covers (probably left over from the last Acqua Alta) smiled smugly at the wet shoes around.. I giggled at the thought of Debra’s reaction, if I had arrived sporting a pair!
By the time I tumbled out of the vaporetto and raced ‘home’ I was cold and drained. I had snacked on the train, so dinner that night was a bar of duty free chocolate (I am never without a store of chocolate) and some salted pistachios, along with a fragrant pot of coffee that the night receptionist very kindly brewed for me.
The day after was gloriously sunny across the region and I wished I had thought of staying overnight, to sample some of Bologna’s famous cuisine. But I was happy I managed those few enjoyable hours with my lovely friend and her husband. Thank you Debra and Jim. I look forward to meeting you again someday…..in Italy or Australia or who knows, perhaps even in blistering hot Chennai. Just make sure you don’t arrive in November, for walking in the rain here is not quite the same as in beautiful Bologna.
Jo’s Monday Walk