Monday, September 18, 2006

Travel Chronicles I - Summer - From Rome to Montagnana via Bologna

And so I'm back, the travelling week having passed, quite unsurprisingly, very quickly. Here is the chronicles of the travel for you, my friends, who are curious about it and if you are wondering about the title, stay with me and read on, and you will understand. I think I will go on the whole week describing the travel, as there is really so much to say. As for the pictures, some are the ones we did take, some (you aren't allowed to take pictures in almost every museum and church in Italy, with or without flash) from the net, when I could find them. As usual, click to enlarge. Oh, and given Susanne is here these days, she will have her own (short) comments here... written in red. I just love red :)

Prequel - The White Night in Rome

Saturday the 9th of september was celebrated in Rome the 5th "White Night", a night of celebrations, exhibitions and happenings that since 2001 (when from White the night became Black as a major black-out hit the whole country leaving all 58.000.000 italians without power for 24 to 48 hours). That can only happen in Italy... Susanne and me knew we would had to wake up early the morning after so we opted for a very little thing near home, a little classical music concert held at the artificial lake of the EUR neighborhood with Mozart's music, fireworks and light games.

Turned out to be a magnificent show, even if the fireworks noise often covered the music and totally muted a young soprano trying to sing a piece from the "Magical Flute", so much that as the fireworks died, the cheering crowd was gifted with a bis of the piece. We returned home early, dodging the massive traffic jam that was at that point mounting and that would had paralyzed the city for hours, wondering idly if the taxi I had booked for the morning after for the house-train station leg would had arrived.

Sunday 8th - Rome - The journey begins

At 6.00 the alarm clock rung (or should I say sung, considering my alarm clock is a roster's yell that Susanne wholeheartedly despises? YES) and, truth to be said, despite my worries we were lucky with the taxi. The driver arrived even 5 minutes earlier than booked for, took the shortest route to the Tiburtina station (the secondary train station of Rome) and didn't try to add any surcharge (that I noticed, at least). Tiburtina station at 7.00 of a sunday is an un-patrolled no-man's land that even the boldest hearts tend to avoid and I was somewhat displeased to find out that our train was 30 minutes late, forcing us on the wharf at the track's side in less than pleasant company. If the good day can be said by the morning, I thought, that was definitely not a good sign.

Anyway, the train arrived (the 30 mins delay had became 35 by then) and we embarked finally on the trip, slightly too sleepy yet, at least in my case, to feel the typical "start of the journey"'s excitement. 4 hours and something later we stopped at the first of our planned stops, Bologna.

Sunday 8th - Bologna - The closed churches city

When we disembarked from the train we found ourselves in full summer. Sun, 30 plus centigrades, no wind. Of the 8 cities we would had touched in the coming week, Bologna was sadly the only one I had never visited, outside of the station at least. It was thus with more than a bit of curiosity that, after having left the backpack at the luggage depot of the station, I looked around the streets.

We immediately moved towards Piazza Maggiore, the main square of the city, passing along the way in front of one of the churches I wanted to visit, the one of S. Peter. It was closed. On a sunday, at half past midday, the third largest church of Bologna was closed for lunch. Ok, I said to myself, the people from Bologna are not exactly famous for their sense of religion (Bologna is the city where the 3 Italian communist parties and the Trotskist party are the strongest in Italy), it's almost understandable that this important, but after all so close to the city's cathedral to make it maybe redundant, church is closed.

We moved on, reached the square and from there we visited what could be seen of the "Palazzo Comunale", the political centre of the city since middle age. Not surprisingly, the courtyard was full of people taking part to civil weddings that are celebrated there by the mayor. Here I was confirmed that God protects the drunken people and the kids (and the United States, used to say Bismark) as a half dozen of them (kids, not drunkards) kept running up and down the main internal stairway, already treacherous by the way it is build ("a cordonata") and made even more so by the abundant quantity of rice laying on the floor (we throw it as a good omen to the newly wed couples as they get out of the churches or, as in this case, the communal house). Well, while Susanne and me (especially - no, only :P - me) had our troubles not falling down walking, they didn't even have a moment of hesitation in running head on down the flight of stairs. Its always surprising how much life kids can give to a place. Moving to the "Stanza Farnese" we had a nice view of the whole square from above, with the city cathedral on the right.

We descended, headed to the cathedral of the city, S. Petronio, personally eager to check it out due something that has happened in Italy a few years ago (I'll tell you later) and... it was closed. The cathedral on lunch break until 3.00 pm, on a sunday. Slightly disconcerted at this point, we sat down on its steps and had a quick break with fruits and then we stood and walked around the former jewish ghetto of the city, surprisingly bordering what was the bishop's palace and building. Okey, it might be more exhausting but if you really want to get an impression of a city, you just have to walk as well in areas outside of the crowded tourist trails.

We crossed a few towers, some of them incredibly pending (Bologna is famous for them, together with having been the first university of Europe and, consequently, quite probably, of the world) - wow, it's so strange to stand next to them... they are really above you at some point - , and a bunch of churches, inexorably closed. In our folly, we headed for S. Stephen, a complex of several churches ideally build in a way to represent the holy sepulcher of Jerusalem and, guess what? What?? It was closed as well... lunch break until 3.30 pm. At that point we had got the message and we sat down in a bar to have the classic "piadina bolognese" (me, and no, mine was far from being so thick as the picture's one) and a salad (Susanne, obviously). Hmmm... salad. And no, it's not rabbit food! At least not only. Anyway...

At around 3, we moved again towards the Cathedral and finally we managed to get into it, after having had our backpack checked carefully. In fact, in june 2002 a plot by an islamic cell was discovered to blow up this church and most specifically one of its side chapels where, in a final judgement painted a fresco at the beginning of the XV century, the prophet Mohamed is depicted as being tortured by devils in hell following the narration by Dante in the Divine Comedy (the only picture I could find is on the right, Mohamed is the figure lying on the right, with its name written next to it). The story had a large impact on the public opinion at the time with the usual corollary of "We will not be intimidated" statements of the various italian political figures. Fact is, I discovered by entering the church that the whole left navel is covered and allegedly "under restoration" since august 2002 and, even more interestingly, without an extimated date for the end of the works. Any comment is superfluous. Ehhh... but if I have a comment? Okey, considering that this could start a huge discussion between the two of us, as usual, I just want to add that Guido is sometimes slightly pessimistic.

Pretty disgruntled (me), we moved then towards S. Domenico, the church where the body of the founder of the Dominican order (the one which supplied the greatest number of men to the inquisition) lies in a wonderful ark (right) where also Michelangelo worked. We were also lucky in this circumstance as we arrived at the church together with a large "official" guided tour. Mingling with them, we were able to access the usually closed to the public wooden chorus behind the main altar, an incredible work of wood inlay of the 1330 and on which, something I had never done before, I was even allowed to sit. I can only agree. It was really great.

After San Domenico, we finally visited Saint Stephen's complex, this time open, finding it extremely interesting, with its intricate spaces and the three churches connected with a number of cloisters and peculiar rooms. Particularly interesting where the "Holy Sepulcrum" (left) and the "Pilates' Courtyard".

By this point, it was time to go back to the station. We walked the whole way back to Piazza Maggiore and passed in front of Saint Peter's church again, giving a brief look inside but nothing more, as the service (amazingly!) was going on. At the station, another surprise to show how little the world is, as I crossed Alessandra Brunello, a friend of mine from ELSA (Treviso, in her case) who, together with her sister, was heading back home after a month spent in and around Naples and who was coincidentally catching the same train. Probably to Susanne's desperation - Actually, not at all! I enjoy listening to italian - , the two hours trip to Montagnana was spent in ELSA reveries and gossiping. Reached Monselice, we parted as we had to change train which, slightly but acceptably late, took us to Montagnana, our camp base for the next few days.

Sunday 8th - Montagnana - The first night

Now, as I had the chance to say a while ago, Montagnana is a little gem almost intact inside its late middle age/early renaissance walls. We arrived at the station around 9.00 pm and quickly walked the short distance between the station and the house which would had hosted us, where the owner was still kindly waiting for us, delaying her own dinner (in the restaurant that we would had later used as well, following her suggestion). The apartment was small but nice, with a little kitchen hidden as a normal pantry and a sofa-bed, nothing exactly new. We dropped our stuff and we went to have dinner... with the quite strong feeling that everyone's was staring at us, which was probably the truth as it's quite probable everyone knows anyone in Montagnana and we definitely were kind of alien to the environment.

As we got back after a nice, but painfully long dinner (another rule in Italy in general and small places in particular: if you are not known, you get served after the known customers), a sentence that would had accompanied us for the whole wee resounded in the air "Damn, we forgot the toothpaste!" - he really hates to brush his teeth without toothpaste - followed by a soothing "it's ok, we'll buy it tomorrow". And the first day was over.

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